• The San Juan Daily Star

House makes its own amendments to HB 1003 in push for approval

Speaker of the Puerto Rico House of Representatives Rafael Hernández Montañez

BY The Star Staff

The Financial Oversight and Management Board on Monday virtually rejected the amendments proposed by the island Senate for House Bill 1003 to enable the debt adjustment plan, and the House changed the bill again so it will be approved today.

The amendments are mainly aimed at zero cuts in pensions, the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) and municipal funds.

“The amendment we made is the strongest it has and allows us to guarantee that the agreements are honored,” House Speaker Rafael Hernández Montañez told the press.

The amendment referred to by the House speaker establishes that “in relation to the accumulated pensions of retired government employees, the Legislative Assembly authorizes the issuance of General Obligation Bonds and IVCs, subject to the Board filing for confirmation by the Title III Court, an amended Plan that eliminates the Modification of the Monthly Benefit to the accumulated pension benefits, but this condition does not affect the freezing of future accumulations or the elimination of future adjustments for increases in the cost of living.”

“This is the amendment that gives more force to all our proposals, because any other transaction, if it was not tied to this, the measure could be approved and the Board could leave them without effect, and could only leave the part of the issuance of bonds,” Hernández Montañez said.

The second amendment made by the House establishes that the agreed budget allocations are not fixed, so the UPR can receive more funds year by year.

“With the purpose of advancing the objective of the Government of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico to preserve the capacity of the University of Puerto Rico to carry out its vital educational mission and ensure the necessary resources to guarantee the accreditation of all its programs and achieve fair access for those students with financial needs, the budgets submitted to the Board will include an allocation of funds for the University of Puerto Rico for a total of $500 million in each of the five fiscal years 2023 to 2027, providing that the additional appropriations above the amounts assigned in the Commonwealth’s fiscal plan certified in April 2021 will be used to improve the student experience and environment,” states the change made by the House of Representatives.

The third modification establishes that the island Department of Health will carry out a study on the feasibility of providing or facilitating access to health insurance coverage to approximately 225,000 citizens who today lack medical plans, with an allocation of $1 million for the study.

Finally, the fourth amendment is aimed at changing the calculation by which funds are allocated to municipalities, so that it is under the equalization mechanism.

“These are the four most specific amendments and the most important thing is the fact that at no time does it undermine the right of the Legislative Assembly to continue making contributions,” Hernández Montañez said. “This is legislation to get out of bankruptcy, and to get out of bankruptcy means that everyone contributes, not that someone is going to benefit more than another.”

Another amendment would change the retirement systems of teachers and judges to a defined contribution model and allow those professions to participate in the Social Security program.

House Minority Leader Carlos “Johnny” Méndez Núñez said that if the amendments made by the oversight board were retained, the New Progressive Party delegation would vote against the bill.

Also on Monday, hundreds of people gathered in front of the Capitol to protest against any approval of HB 1003. Organizers urged those in attendance to meet again on Tuesday to be present during the discussion of the measure, which is expected to lead to a final vote.

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