Rep. Nogales Molinelli calls for greater scrutiny of permits bill
By John McPhaul
At-large Citizen Victory Movement Rep. Mariana Nogales Molinelli called on Monday for the Small and Midsize Business and Permitting Committee in the House of Representatives to hold public hearings on a bill that amends the laws that regulate permitting processes and that is on track to be approved this week without due consideration, she said.
Last Friday, the legislator sent the petition to the committee’s chairman Jessie Cortés Ramos, after receiving a call for a public session of final consideration, which is to take place today at 10 a.m. Her request was denied by letter on Monday morning.
“That citation took us by surprise because until that very day we did not know that a bill was being worked on that replaces four other measures (PC 549, PC 688, PC 916 and PS 122) and that makes substantial amendments to Law 135-1967, the Plans and Projects Certification Law, and Law 161-2009, the Puerto Rico Permitting Process Reform Law,” Nogales Molinelli said in a written statement. “These laws are precisely what are at the heart of many of the cases of illegal permits and environmental destruction that we have been denouncing. Of course they need amendments, but what is being proposed does not solve the serious problems that we have identified.”
Among the points of concern regarding the measure, Nogales Molinelli emphasized those related to the authorized professionals who are hired by the proponents of a bill to certify its compliance with laws and regulations, without a public official confirming it.
“In many of the complaints we have made, a Licensed Professional made a certification that, at best, ignores circumstances that cast doubt on its determination and, at worst, blatantly lies to the agency, as happened with the [condominium] pool [project] in Rincón,” the lawmaker said. “Now it is established that this permit must be issued in two days. Additionally, professional geologists and planners are excluded from the Licensed Professionals who can do this work, leaving only surveyors and engineers. In other words, it limits that privilege precisely to the classes of professionals from which those who have abused it come. We must take this opportunity to eliminate that figure and order a review of all cases in which a Licensed Professional intervened.”
Nogales Molinelli rejected Cortés Ramos’ argument that the measure has already received enough comments from both the public and private sectors.
“The first of the replaced measures, PC 549, never had public hearings,” she said. “For the others, from the public sector, the Permits Management Office, the Department of Economic Development and the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources participated, and we already know what they are for. In addition, space was provided to multiple representatives of the business sector, including the Industrial Association and the Builders Association. But we don’t see a single organization or individual on the list that represents professionals in planning, conservation, or the natural sciences. Thus, it is not possible to responsibly evaluate a measure that affects not only the ease of doing business, but every aspect of life in this archipelago, including the health of people and natural resources.”
Nogales Molinelli also noted that, in previous public hearings, she noticed the lack of real participation of the small and midsize business sector.