Senate reservations prevail over New Government of Puerto Rico Act
SAN JUAN – During hearings on Puerto Rico Senate Bill 653, which would create the New Government of Puerto Rico Act, minority senators had strong reservations about the powers that would conferred to the executive branch.
If the bill is approved, Gov. Ricardo Rosselló will be able to present a government reorganization plan that includes the closure or consolidation of agencies. If the legislature does not vote on that plan within 30 days, it would be approved.
Senate Popular Democratic Party (PDP) Minority Leader Eduardo Bhatia and Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) Sen. Juan Dalmau argued that the measure was unconstitutional because the plan could enter into effect without the approval of the legislature.
Bhatia is not opposed to a government reorganization, but to allowing a law to be passed without the support of the Legislative Assembly.
“I share with the governor and with this administration the imperative need to reorganize the government of Puerto Rico. In that we agree. My problem is with the process you are presenting,” the PDP lawmaker said.
Bhatia questioned Justice Secretary Wanda Vázquez on the reasons for making way to said legislation when there are lawful mechanisms to reorganize the government. He also noted that the governor already has the power to assess the performance of agency heads.
“Why should I vote in favor of a bill when all these powers you [Vazquez] are saying already exist under the law? What I would like you to tell me, simply, is what this bill is for,” Bhatia asked the secretary.
Vázquez only listed the existing tools, but the president of the Government Development Bank (GDB), Christian Sobrino, added that the measure is in response to the need to move quickly due to the crisis the island is facing. The PIP’s senator, however, said that “in times of crisis, we must protect the legislative powers.”
Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz argued in the public hearing that the legislature was not giving the executive branch a “blank check” because if the governor did not present legislation consistent with the reorganization plan, said plan would take effect.
It should be noted that the Justice secretary clarified that even if the governor does not present legislation, the reorganization plan remains in force. She also explained that any provision in the organic laws of the agencies that is not in accordance with the plan is void.
“El proyecto tal y como está acordado, me refiero entonces a lo que sería el artículo 4.04 específicamente nos dice: ‘las disposiciones de una ley orgánica que creen una agencia operarán en la medida que no sean incompatibles con la Ley del Nuevo Gobierno de Puerto Rico”, dijo Vázquez.
“The bill…specifically tells us: ‘The provisions of an organic law that create an agency will operate as long as they are not incompatible with the Law of the New Government of Puerto Rico,” Vázquez said.