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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Work stopped in House amid rise in COVID-19 cases



House Speaker Rafael Hernández Montañez, center, said that to “guarantee the continuity of legislative work, all public hearings, executive meetings or final consideration sessions must be held remotely, through videoconferences ...”

Separately, judge orders cease & desist in mandatory mask usage


By The Star Staff


Work in the island House of Representatives was suspended until March 4 due to a rise in COVID-19 cases, House Speaker Rafael “Tatito” Hernández Montañez announced on Tuesday.


“We are declaring a state of emergency in the House of Representatives to protect the health and safety of employees, officials and visitors to this Legislative Body,” the speaker said in a written statement, while indicating that during the past few days he has maintained communication with the Senate, reporting the increase in COVID-19 cases. “To guarantee the continuity of legislative work, all public hearings, executive meetings or final consideration sessions must be held remotely, through videoconferences, in accordance with the ordinary subpoena process established in the Rules of Procedure of the House of Representatives.”


Hernández Montañez added that visual inspections may be carried out on a regular basis, “always observing all applicable health protocols, and following the ordinary subpoena process established in the Rules of Procedure …”


The House speaker also announced through the administrative order that “each representative, director of legislative office and/or administrative agency will establish a plan, as it deems necessary, to guarantee the continuity of services to citizens.”


The House was expected to pass a measure Tuesday that would impose a mandatory jail sentence on drivers who leave the scene of an accident after hitting a pedestrian.


The measure would create the “Natalia Nicole Ayala Rivera Law,” which seeks to prevent a repetition of cases such as that of 20-year-old Ayala Rivera, who was the victim of a fatal hit and run on Jan. 5, 2022. The perpetrator, who left the scene of the accident, was found guilty of her death but will not serve a single day in prison since he received a 10-year suspended sentence.


The House shutdown decree came after Superior Court Judge Anthony Cuevas Ramos ordered the speaker of the House to cease and desist from the imposition of the use of surgical masks in the Capitol, as part of a lawsuit filed by Dignity Project Rep. Lisie Burgos Muñiz.


“In analyzing the facts alleged in this case, we understand that, if the defendants are not immediately ordered to cease and desist from their actions, it would be interfering with the constitutional function of the plaintiff to represent her constituents by discharging her ministerial duty to deliberate and vote for the measures of the day,” Cuevas Ramos said in his ruling. “In the case of the only chamber spokesperson of the Proyecto Dignidad political party, this Court understands that serious irreparable damage would be caused not to act at this time by issuing this provisional injunction … to order the cessation and desist from prohibiting her access to the Hemicycle of the chamber and to other areas that she needs to enter to carry out all her constitutional prerogatives … conditioning it to the use of masks, under penalty of contempt, while we elucidate the merits of the lawsuit at the interdiction hearing.”


Last week, a directive was issued, which later became an administrative order, mandating the use of masks in the House of Representatives for the entire month of February.


Burgos Muñiz was removed from the House chamber for refusing to wear a mask, which sparked the lawsuit.

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