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Bhatia snaps back at Special Session critics

By on December 6, 2016

SAN JUAN — Senate President Eduardo Bhatia delivered a harsh rebuke Monday to media outlets and those who have criticized the Legislative Assembly for “wasting time” and not addressing more than half of the 113 legislative measures Gov. Alejandro García Padilla had requested to be considered during the special session, which ends Tuesday.

Bhatia said that those “who are writing in their newspapers that we are wasting time” during the special session simply “don’t understand the legislative process” nor “what we do here in the Senate.”

“It is very easy to attack the Legislative Assembly every day in a way I believe demerits Puerto Rico’s democracy,” the Senate president said, adding that those “critics” wouldn’t know ve able to explain how to evaluate more than 80 nominations and hundreds of bills in 20 days, which is the maximum time a special session can be extended.

The senator assured that the special session has been “one of the most productive…the country has had.” He encouraged critics to “leave behind cynicism on Twitter and the internet,” and to compare his notes and to take a look at the proposed bills “and tell me exactly which of these bills” should or shouldn’t be addressed, he stressed.

With the presence of nearly 10 senators—various legislators are currently on an official trip to Hawaii and others, such as Mari Tere González, weren’t present—Bhatia defended the upper chamber’s work, noting it addressed “over 85% of what it had to see” during the special session, since the rest must wait for the House to act.

Senate President Eduardo Bhatia / File

Senate President Eduardo Bhatia / File

“The easiest, the sexiest, the most populous or populist is to say the Legislative Assembly are lazy people and terrible legislators and all those things, and I say, you may not agree with my analysis, but the work has been done,” said Bhatia, adding that the legislative branch always faces harsher criticism than the judicial and executive branches.

Bhatia, who spent nearly 25 minutes expressing his discontent, said that during the past four years the senate had the “courage” to approve difficult bills, and wished “good luck” to the majority in the incoming Legislative Assembly, who will need to make decisions amid the island’s fiscal crisis.

Popular Democratic Party (PDP) Majority Leader Aníbal José Torres and New Progressive Party (NPP) Minority Leader Larry Seilhamer chimed in on Bhatia’s criticisms.

Seilhamer indicated that the legislative work is not only up to the Senate, “but the House must act as well.” In the lower chamber, which adjourned its special session Friday, there were problems approving several bills due to legislators’ absences, especially those of the PDP majority.

“There has been a de facto unicameral process,” Seilhamer said.

For his part, Torres stated that “it would have been ideal” so many of the chamber’s seats hadn’t been empty. “If what we are looking for with the criticism is to demonize, then let’s switch the lights off and we depart as a government and we don’t do anything.”

Torres urged the citizenry to scrutinize agency directors with the same rigor with which they judge legislators, since oftentimes they don’t even “execute legislated public policy.”

“If agency directors travel, it isn’t bad; if legislators travel it’s bad. For the record, I haven’t travelled,” insisted the PDP majority leader, referring to the criticism lobbied at the group of legislators that travelled to Hawaii for the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators.

During the session, more than 10 designations were confirmed, among them that of the head of the Senate’s personnel, Gina Méndez Miró, as appeals court judge, and that of PDP Rep. Efraín de Jesús as superior court judge. The latter substituted Sen. González in the ballot for the District 19 Senate seat, but wasn’t elected.

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