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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Governor insists on maintaining OGPE power in face of draft amendments to Permits Law

Rep. Jessie Cortés Ramos, chairman of the House Small & Midsize Business and Permitting Committee

By The Star Staff

Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia said Wednesday that he will wait for the legislative process of the 12 bills that amend the Permits Law.

However, he insisted that the function must be maintained in the Permit Management Office (OGPE by its Spanish initials), which must remain attached to the Department of Economic Development and Commerce (DDEC).

“Well, there are multiple bills. I understand that what they did was that they divided a bill that I vetoed into multiple bills, specifically because it had some provisions that were objectionable,” the governor said in response to questions from the press at an event in Maunabo. “So when they are approved, I will evaluate each one of them … and then make my decision as to whether I sign or veto.”

“If the function of OGPE is respected, if they are consistent with this vision of centralizing, of simplifying, then I am going to view them [the measures] favorably. If what they want is to return to what we had before, then I would not favor them,” Pierluisi added. “Again, I am going to wait, I am going to wait for the measures to reach me, see what the final text of each of them is, and then I make my decision based on the advice that I am going to receive from among other agencies, OGPE, the Planning Board, possibly the Department of Justice and my own work team at La Fortaleza.”

The governor pointed out that “there are many ways to streamline the permit process in Puerto Rico.”

“I think that at the legislative level something that can be done is to try to ensure that all permits reside in a single agency; that is, OGPE,” he said. “Because right now there are many agencies granting licenses and permits, and it is better to centralize the entire process in a single agency. Not in the municipalities, not in each municipality. Well, when the municipality is autonomous, it has the power to grant permits. But to the extent possible, there are 18 autonomous municipalities that can grant permits. With the rest, 60 municipalities, permits are handled in OGPE, but as I said, in many other agencies [as well]. … Again, OGPE is the agency that should be the one that has the leading voice. Of course, the Planning Board, in certain aspects, supervises it and must be under the umbrella of the Department of Economic Development and Commerce because it is in fact essential for the economic development of Puerto Rico that we have an agile and efficient permit system. And that agency, that is, the Department of Economic Development and Commerce, is the one that, to a large extent, is ensuring that this is the case.”

Late Tuesday, a package of 12 legislative measures that seek to simplify and streamline the permitting process in Puerto Rico received the backing of the House of Representatives upon being approved.

The bloc would amend, through separate pieces of legislation, the Law for the Reform of the Process (Law 161-2009). The measures are House Bills 1992, 2057, 2059, 2060, 2061, 2062, 2063, 2064, 2065, 2066, 2067 and 2068.

Legislators from the Popular Democratic Party and the New Progressive Party joined as authors of the bills in a substitute draft to temper a series of recommendations issued by the governor for Law 161 after vetoing a substitute bill last January that contained the same amendments.

“These bills are a relief to small and medium-sized merchants,” said Rep. Jessie Cortés Ramos, chairman of the House Small & Midsize Business and Permitting Committee. “They set aside a vague system of governance when it comes to submitting any renewal of permits in Puerto Rico and open doors to anyone who thinks they can contribute to the development of Puerto Rico.”

“It is important to vote in favor of this list of measures, which provides – once and for all – justice to small and medium-sized merchants,” the legislator said in a statement during the debate on the measures.

Cortés Ramos filed some amendments to the 1992 House bill that clarify the repercussions of inaction on the part of government agencies in issuing their recommendations to the Office of Permit Management on the desirability of a project.

The lawmaker proposed that instead of granting 30 days for agencies to issue their recommendations, the period be extended to 90 days as long as the desirability of a project does not interfere with the maritime-terrestrial zone, ecological protection zones and natural resource zones.

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