NPP lawmakers accuse majority of low productivity, stalling cabinet confirmations
By The Star Staff
While the current legislative session began three months ago, the majority in the island House of Representatives has only approved seven bills, most of which are of little substance, displaying low productivity and an inability to work on pressing and historically vital issues, three New Progressive Party (NPP) lawmakers charged Sunday.
House Speaker Rafael Hernández Montañez said in a separate news conference that he is more focused on the quality of the legislation than about running up a box score.
At a news conference in the Capitol, Alternate Minority Leader Gabriel Rodríguez Aguiló and NPP Reps. Juan Oscar Morales and Víctor Parés chided the leadership vacuum existing under the majority Popular Democratic Party (PDP).
“It is a leadership vacuum. It is a pity that in the historical moment that we are going through, the ‘popular’ Legislature in the [lower] chamber has been unable to even submit a single bill for the governor’s signature,” said Rodríguez Aguiló, who in the previous Legislative Assembly presided over the Rules and Calendar Committee.
“We have the entrustment of the people of Puerto Rico to represent their best interests, to seriously attend to their needs,” he added. “That is what legislative work is all about.”
While the PDP has only approved seven bills, the previous Legislature, controlled by the NPP, for the same period in 2017 had already approved 22 measures on social, government, economic and security issues. Similarly, during the four-year term in which Jaime Perelló Borrás was House speaker (2013-2016), 21 bills were approved. When now-Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González Colón took the reins of that legislative body in 2009, 34 bills were approved.
By way of example, from Jan. 2 to March 10, 2017, the House approved 29 bills, while the current Legislature has only approved 3 bills, among which is House Bill 120, known as “the Dignified Retirement Act.” That measure is from the NPP delegation, noted Parés, the representative for District 4.
“One of the vital issues for Puerto Rico is economic development and to date [no bills to that effect] have been approved,” said Parés, who last February filed House Bill 549, with which he seeks to amend some articles of the Law for the Reform of the Permitting Process of Puerto Rico, to expedite the process of granting permits.
In 2017, both the House and the Senate gave way to 21 bills in the early months of their legislative work, in contrast to no bill passed to date in the current session.
Morales said “unfortunately time is running out in dealing with sterile situations that do not pay at all to consider the best interests of the people.”
“It is time for our clients to see results,” he said.
To date, Hernández Montañez, the House speaker, has not sent any measures to La Fortaleza for the governor’s signature.
The Legislature has yet to confirm Secretary of State-designate Larry Seilhamer and is putting up roadblocks to the confirmation of Manuel Torres as commonwealth comptroller. Torres is not a certified public accountant, but as a former electoral comptroller, has experience with audits.
Hernández Montañez rejected the accusations of low productivity. He said productivity cannot be measured by quantity.
He said the NPP majority approved House rules but left them without effect for two months. He noted that there is more transparency now because the public can see markups.
“We do not discharge bills for a vote without a hearing. The NPP did,” he said. “They also have had a chance to debate bills.”
The House, he said, is working on different bills, including one to hike the minimum wage and another to repeal labor reform.
Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia, he said, has five bills in the Legislature that are running their course.
“We always have had an open dialogue with the governor,” Hernández Montañez said.
The PDP is also investigating the controversial LUMA Energy contract that privatizes the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority’s transmission and distribution system and which was approved by the NPP, and “now everyone is in agreement that it should be amended,” the House speaker said.
He acknowledged that, as the NPP lawmakers charged, there is a high number of bills that seek to repeal legislation enacted by the previous administration, but Hernández Montañez said “it is abusive and insensitive.” He said he has not received the confirmation of Torres but plans to confirm Seilhamer in two weeks.