Party delegations lay out legislative agendas as session begins
By The Star Staff
The delegations of the New Progressive and Popular Democratic (PDP) parties presented their respective agendas for the year’s first legislative session, which starts today.
House Speaker Rafael “Tatito” Hernández Montañez, along with PDP Reps. José “Conny” Varela and Ángel Matos García, emphasized on Sunday that all legislation that is approved will take into account the impact caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“COVID-19 is here to stay and it must be recognized that this is a life change, so all legislation that we pass must be focused on this social reality,” Hernández Montañez said.
The third regular session will be focused on fighting public corruption, aligning education to today’s economy, stabilizing and increasing business participation, and exercising fiscal responsibility and discipline to avoid bankruptcy in the future.
Hernández Montañez detailed the economic development agenda that the House of Representatives will be addressing during this legislative session.
The House plans to legislate a uniform protocol so that the reality of the pandemic can be addressed while maintaining commercial operations in Puerto Rico; offer a salary incentive to mitigate the increase in the minimum wage; analyze the performance of Law 60 and its impact on the economy; establish a mechanism of transparency, supervision and accountability of the individuals and entities that grant permits; amend the Permits Law to guarantee a responsive and flexible process that allows obtaining, in most cases, a permit within 48 hours to operate businesses; separate from the Single Permit the licenses issued by the Treasury Department; and maintain collaborative alliances with all socioeconomic sectors on the island, the mainland U.S., and the Caribbean: business, professional, non-profit and labor organizations.
Hernández Montañez also spoke of proposals for fiscal responsibility and discipline, so that Puerto Rico does not fall into bankruptcy again. Among them is to follow up on the litigation processes in the federal courtroom of Judge Laura Taylor Swain in order to determine the final obligations agreed to in the debt restructuring and the actuarial contributions to finance the Retirement System.
The House speaker also proposed amending the island Constitution to reduce the borrowing margin including all income, discuss limitations on the types of debt contracted and require direct consultation of the people in certain cases, as well as reforming the Internal Revenue Code in a comprehensive manner to provide tax justice to workers without penalizing business success, and making the transition from Law 154 to income tax in the manufacturing sector.
Regarding the fight against corruption, Varela, the deputy House speaker, noted that among the proposals is to eliminate the Office of the Independent Special Prosecutor (FEI by its Spanish initials).
“The idea is that the resources that are currently allocated to this office be reallocated to strengthen the Division of Public Integrity and Comptroller Affairs of the Department of Justice and guarantee true autonomy without influence from the Secretary of Justice,” he said.
The House plans to pass a bill that would strengthen the Office of the Comptroller by merging it with resources of the Office of the Inspector General, without it losing its current functions.
“We want to be efficient and have an effective pre-intervention to prevent acts of corruption,” Varela said.
Likewise, he proposed repealing the Department of Public Safety to transfer the operational budget assigned to that institution to improve and motivate police officers.
The lawmakers also would standardize the processes in the three branches of government in sensitive areas such as government transition, contracting, human resources management, and ethics reports.
“It is known to all that the current administration of this House was deprived of having an orderly transition,” Varela said. “Hence the importance of creating a permanent legal structure that guarantees a transition at the end of each four-year term.”
On the area of education, Matos García, the majority leader, said the priorities of the House will include the establishment of a public policy to guarantee the return to close to 100% of face-to-face education, through investment in technology, and the design and establishment of new permanent and standardized health processes.
Officials will also work with the departments of Health and Education to develop and establish a uniform and permanent protocol to prepare communities, in a joint and participatory manner, to effectively address the situation of the pandemic; strengthen the teaching curriculum so that educational training is aimed at creating citizens with the values, skills and capacities required of professionals in the 21st century; and insert social workers from the Family Department into the evaluation processes of students to address mental health problems, dating violence, gender violence and other socioeconomic problems in Puerto Rican homes that are reflected in the student community.
They will also establish through legislation an inventory of existing labor market needs in order to reconcile the academic offering available and to create incentives and scholarships that promote education in areas of need in order to supply them with employees from the island; and fulfill the commitment to addressing university reform.
Minority Leader Carlos “Johnny” Méndez Núñez said that among the legislation that will be worked on is an orderly transition from Act 154-2010, the 4% tax paid by certain manufacturing firms, to avoid losing the income that the statute provides annually to the treasury, as well as the compliance metrics for changes to renewable energy and the matter of the island’s political status.
He also said the minority delegation wants to improve the working conditions of medical staff as well as establish processes for closing operations in landfills that federal agencies determine unusable.
“What we saw last year is legislative inertia that was unprecedented in our history,” Méndez Núñez said. The Popular Democratic Party majority did not attend to vital matters for the people. Our delegation has a commitment to Puerto Rico.”
The former House speaker indicated that his delegation is going to “investigate how the Electric Power Authority is doing on this much-needed path for the island’s economic development.”
“These metrics have to be met,” he said.