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  • The San Juan Daily Star

Governor: Vetoed bills on PREPA and salary of tipped employees were flawed

Speaker of the House of Representatives Rafael Hernández Montañez

By The Star Staff

Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia said on Tuesday that he vetoed several legislative bills related to the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) and the salary of employees who receive tips “for various reasons.”

“... [T]o summarize because there are some letters that detail the grounds for these vetoes. HB [House Bill] 1383, which is what is called the Law for the Restructuring of the Authority’s Debt, what happens with that, is that PROMESA [the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act] really occupies the field,” the governor said at a press conference. “On the issue of debt restructuring, the PROMESA law is paramount. Likewise, the federal court is the one that is overseeing the matter. There is an ongoing mediation and that bill basically ignores all this …”

“On the other hand, what the bill would cause if one were to implement it, which is impossible, because of its flaws, it violates PROMESA from beginning to end, it would delay the restructuring that we all want and would put at risk the coming of the state court [where] I will appoint a trustee to collect all the debt.”

Pierluisi also characterized the bill as toxic.

“Not to mention, that bill is totally toxic and that’s why, although it might sound nice, I had to veto it,” he said.

Meanwhile, the governor vetoed HB 775 and HB 774, related to PREPA, to change public energy policy and change the transformation of PREPA and the energy sector in Puerto Rico.

“What they want is to change the transformation that is under way and vice versa, what we want is to finish it,” he said. “The bills are clearly inconsistent with the fiscal plans of both the government and the Authority. That is why I had to veto them.”

Likewise, he vetoed a House bill related to the tips of private sector employees that he characterized as “harming them” since it would have changed the minimum wage of $8.50 an hour by half.

“I think it was a writing error,” Pierluisi said. “The main flaw of the bill is that, instead of helping, it harms the employees who receive tips. Right now, after the Minimum Wage Law in Puerto Rico, every employee who receives a tip has the right to receive the established minimum wage, which is $8.50 an hour, that is, if with the amount of wages given by the employer and the tips does not reach $8.50 an hour there is a violation of law. You have to give them $8.50. That is the current rule of law. Due to a drafting problem, that bill establishes that they are entitled to 50 percent of the minimum wage. Meanwhile, my vision and not only mine, but also that of the Department of Labor and the Minimum Wage Evaluation Commission that was created when the Minimum Wage Law was established, is the one that must establish what the minimum wage should be for tipped employees.”

The governor said they should sit down at the table again and draft the bill “in a better way.”

Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rafael “Tatito” Hernández Montañez responded by saying: “Consistent in the House of Representatives of Puerto Rico, we reaffirm that the correct vehicle for the Electric Power Authority (PREPA) can responsibly emerge from bankruptcy and lower energy costs by approving legislation by consensus to restructure its debt.”

“HB 1383 did justice to the country by putting a stop to the constant increases in the electricity bill, cutting PREPA’s debt by 75% and protecting the pensions of all its retirees,” the House speaker said. “We regret that the governor, once again, prefers to serve as the lawyer for LUMA, the bondholders and the Board, above the interests of the people.”

“For this reason, tomorrow [Wednesday] the country must take to the streets peacefully and firmly to demand that he cancel this disastrous agreement and that his administration act to stop the abusive increases that he has allowed in recent months,” Hernández Montañez added.

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