Bill that would consolidate Puerto Rico Energy Commission passed by House
SAN JUAN – The Puerto Rico House of Representatives passed Tuesday reorganization plans that propose to create the Public Service Regulatory Board (PSRB) and transfer the functions of the Board of Education to the Department of State.
Reorganization Plan 8, which the administration reintroduced to the Legislature with amendments at the beginning of March, would merge the Public Service Commission, the Telecommunications Regulatory Board, the Independent Office of Consumer Protection, the Energy Administration and the Energy Commission (PREC) under the PSRB umbrella.
The inclusion of PREC in the consolidation plan has produced significant discussion. Several sectors argue that merging the panel responsible for overseeing and enforcing the island’s public energy policy since 2014 would undermine its independence and transparency.
Gov. Ricardo Rosselló’s proposal, which would integrate three new bureaus under the same administrative structure, is expected to achieve savings of up to $13 million after the first year and close to $70 million by the next five years.
Although several legislators have denounced that the plan usurps PREC’s autonomy, the bill establishes that “the bureaus will have complete independence of decisional criteria and autonomy to address the issues under their jurisdiction and implement the public policy of their respective laws.”
One of the most debated matters is the power the chairperson of the PSRB would have to review the bureaus’ final decisions.
The spokesman for the House delegation of the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) minority, Rafael “Tatito” Hernández, joined this concern.
“This measure, as drafted, still has numerous doubts about how the decisions will be made. We are approving a plan for which we don’t know what the public policy will be,” he said while objecting that the plans should be approved along with the bills that will dictate how each reorganization will be carried out.
The president of the Government Development Bank (GDB), Christian Sobrino, said Tuesday that the intention of La Fortaleza, or the governor’s office, is to eliminate the Energy Bureau from the revision that would allow the chairperson to annul bureau decisions “when the repeal bill” that will accompany the plan “is presented.”
For his part, the spokesman of the Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) minority, Denis Márquez, echoed the PDP lawmaker’s claims when criticizing that the Legislative Assembly cannot make amendments to the plans, which has forced La Fortaleza to withdraw and amend several proposals.
“I will be voting against this and any reorganization plan that uses the mechanisms of Act 122 [New Government Act], for it is unconstitutional because it undermines the constitutional prerogatives of this body,” the legislator said.
In the case of Reorganization Plan 6, the faculties of the Board of Education are transferred to the Board of Postsecondary Institutions, a new entity that created by the plan that would be attached to the Department of State. The original plan, withdrawn by La Fortaleza, aimed to transfer board functions to the Department of Education.
“The savings and efficiencies projected with the implementation of this plan are estimated at up to $8 million for the first year and around $40 million for the next five years,” Rosselló’s plan reads.
Both plans were approved by the Senate on March 12. These join the reorganizations of the Model Forest Office and the Labor Department, for a total of four plans passed by the legislature.
The plans to make changes to the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture (ICP) and the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (DNER) await consideration.
In addition, the Senate passed Tuesday a resolution to express that “there is no agreement with the House” on Reorganization Plan 7, which proposes to consolidate five entities within the Economic Development & Commerce Department (DDEC by its Spanish acronym), including the Institute of Statistics.
“Through this resolution, we notify the Governor of Puerto Rico of the extension of 15 additional days to the original term [for evaluation] for the Legislative Assembly to express its approval or rejection of Reorganization Plan 7,” S.R. 683 reads. The Legislature will now have until mid-April to evaluate the plan.