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House passes substitute bill for electoral reform


Rep. José “Conny” Varela Fernández

By The Star Staff


The island House of Representatives approved late Tuesday a substitute measure for House Bills (HB) 4 and 14 and Senate Bill 909, which seek to establish a new Electoral Code for the upcoming elections.


The House Committee for the Study and Evaluation of Puerto Rican Constitutional Law, chaired by the deputy speaker of the lower chamber, Rep. José “Conny” Varela Fernández, evaluated the bill, which was endorsed by the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) and Rep. Lisie Burgos of Project Dignity.


The New Progressive Party, the Citizen Victory Movement (MVC by its Spanish initials) and the Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) voted against the bill. The PIP and the MVC had complained that the new code would prevent minority parties from forming coalitions.


Varela Fernández highlighted some concepts presented and amended in the substitute measure.


“This bill that I will present to you is not perfect,” he said. “But I guarantee that it significantly improves how the State Elections Commission should operate; a fair, balanced, and equitable way for the people of Puerto Rico and the political parties.”


The No. 2 House majority lawmaker also highlighted that the new Electoral Code establishes greater protections for absentee voting and early voting as the rules for these types of votes must be approved a year before election.


“The Electoral Registry must close 50 days before the general election to avoid last-minute changes and lack of controls,” Varela Fernández said.


With 19 votes in favor and 26 against, the House also late on Tuesday rejected HB 1037, which seeks to decriminalize the simple possession of five grams or less of marijuana.


Although the bill initially proposed decriminalizing the simple possession of 14 grams or less of the controlled substance, lawmakers amended the measure to decriminalize the possession of up to five grams.


The bill, co-authored by the PDP Reps. Orlando Aponte Rosario and Juan José Santiago Nieves, would have exempted users from arrests and legal proceedings for the simple possession of an amount of cannabis for personal consumption.


The House recessed until Monday, Nov. 7.

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