Puerto Rico Senate passes resolution to create federal affairs office in Washington
SAN JUAN – The Senate of Puerto Rico began Monday its third ordinary session with the passage of a resolution that proposes establishing an office to keep an eye on federal legislative processes that directly affect Puerto Rico.
Resolution 554, authored by Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz, states that the Office of Federal, Social and Economic Affairs will be funded with the Senate’s budget, which was recently cut by $1.9 million at the request of the island’s fiscal control board.
“That office–we are going to establish it to have an area where we can operate,” the Senate leader said. It is not known how much money the establishment of the office will require. The measure allows acquiring equipment and materials, as well as “transportation vehicles” with the funds.
The legislative measure also establishes that the Senate president appoint an executive director who “will perform the duties of the office in accordance with the president’s guidelines.” The director must recommend the contracts for professional or consulting services needed, as well as propose the entity’s bylaws.
The proposal was announced by Rivera Schatz during his message at the start of the ordinary session. “This has been the most productive Senate in history,” the New Progressive Party leader said, adding that of the 1,565 measures presented in the Legislature, 793 were by the Senate.
During his speech, the Senate leader highlighted six factors that, he believes disrupted work at the Legislative Assembly, including the imposition of the fiscal control board by the U.S. Congress, having a bankrupt government, and September’s catastrophic hurricanes, Irma and María.
“Never, ever, had a government elected by the people have to assume budgetary chaos of that magnitude. We received a government that, without a drop of rain or a gust of wind, was already a total disaster area. There was no stone left on stone, and nothing worked,” Rivera Schatz said.
As usual, Rivera Schatz derided the “colonial system” on several occasions, which, he said, impedes progress on the island. “[The members of the] fiscal control board are good-for-nothings,” he claimed during a press conference at the conclusion of his message to the body.
In reaction to message of positive performance asserted by Rivera Schatz, Popular Democratic Party (PDP) Minority Leader Eduardo Bhatia said the upper chamber did not comply with its investigative mandate, in particular the controversial contract with Whitefish Energy to repair the electrical grid and the exodus of Puerto Ricans in the aftermath of the hurricanes.
“If these are the crises we have and none of them has been addressed by the Senate, how can we stand here and say it has been the best Senate? What Puerto Rico needs is a government that stands up and works for the problems of Puerto Ricans,” Bhatia said.
The new session was attended by several agency heads, mayors, members of the Supreme Court, representatives and former legislators. Among them were Justo González, the interim director of the Electric Power Authority (Prepa), and Secretary of State Luis G. Rivera Marín.
During the wait for Rivera Schatz’s message, which began more than an hour late, the House of Representatives made way for the first measures in the new session, among them, Senate Bill 185, for the Police to receive an annual seminar on sign language.
The second ordinary session, which lasted until Dec. 15, ended with the passage of several controversial measures, among them those seeking to amend the juvenile offenders law, which was recently vetoed by Gov. Ricardo Rosselló for containing “opposing public policies.”