Governor signs bill to study the impact of COVID-19
By John McPhaul
Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia announced on Sunday that he had signed into law a package of 10 legislative measures, including Administration Bill 17 (Senate Joint Resolution [SJR] 71), which orders various government agencies, along with the private sector, to conduct an exhaustive study on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the island.
“For more than two years, the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted everyone’s lives and despite the fact that unemployment statistics are the lowest in history, and that our tourism industry has been recovering positively, along with other sectors of our economy, it is important that we have a study and specific data on the impact of the pandemic in Puerto Rico,” the governor said in a written statement. “Recommendations from the public and private sectors will help us continue establishing strategies for economic development and quality of life on the island.”
On the part of the government, the study will be directed by the Puerto Rico Planning Board in collaboration with the Department of Labor and Human Resources, the Office of Management and Budget, the Puerto Rico Fiscal Agency and Financial Advisory Authority and the Treasury Department. The Department of Economic Development and Commerce, the Municipal Revenues Collection Center, the Puerto Rico Innovation and Technology Service and the departments of Health and Education will also participate.
Representing the private sector will be the Chamber of Commerce, the Puerto Rico Manufacturers Association and the Society for Human Resources Management, Puerto Rico Chapter.
The agencies and private entities that are part of the study must submit their findings to the governor and the Legislative Assembly within a term not exceeding 180 days. In the document, among other things, they must analyze the effects of the pandemic on health, commerce, small and midsize enterprises, tourism, real estate, agriculture, services, and construction, among other things. Likewise, they must issue recommendations on possible legislation and regulatory measures that guarantee economic recovery.
Among the other measures signed by the governor are two Senate bills that amend the Rules of Criminal Procedure in the Puerto Rico Penal Code. With Senate Bill (SB) 192, an existing gap in the current Criminal Code regarding the arrest process is corrected. With the signing of the measure, it is now clear that arrest warrants can be served at any time of the day or night, except in the case of a misdemeanor, in which case the arrest cannot be made at night unless the judge who issued the order authorizes it.
The governor also signed SB 263 amending Rule 22 to authorize and regulate the simultaneous representation of people accused of crimes in an apparent conflict of interest. Both measures, which were approved unanimously, were endorsed by the Department of Justice.
Another security-related measure that was signed into law is SB 339, which amends the 2018 Adopt a Barracks Law so that citizens, businesses and non-profit organizations, among others, can adopt a fire station of the Firefighters Bureau and thereby contribute to maintenance work.
Regarding the municipalities, the governor signed Senate bills 517 and 303, as well as SJR 235. With the first measure, the Municipal Code of Puerto Rico is amended in order to reduce from 10 to 5 years the term of adjudication for property declared a public nuisance by a municipality when there are one or more heirs to the property and the property is not claimed within that term. The measure was favored by the Office of Management and Budget, the Department of Justice, and both island mayors’ organizations.
Meanwhile, SB 303 increases the maternity period for municipal employees from 8 to 16 weeks. The increase is made possible by increasing the period to four weeks before delivery with 12 weeks after delivery for the care and attention of the child. The bill was endorsed by the Mayors Federation but not by the Mayors Association.
Some municipalities have already amended their ordinances to provide employees with more rest time after childbirth. The municipality of San Juan established a maternity leave period of 24 weeks.
With SJR 235, the municipality of Bayamón is reassigned $50,000 from the funds allocated in Joint Resolution 41-2020 to carry out permanent works and improvements.