Controversial ‘religious liberty’ bill vetoed by Puerto Rico governor
SAN JUAN – Gov. Ricardo Rosselló has vetoed Puerto Rico House Bill 1018, a controversial measure that would have allowed public employees to discriminate against others for religious reasons.
“The discussion of this measure has raised serious concerns and distractions that it could result in the violation of rights of sectors of our society and even limit public service to our population. We promised a government that serves every citizen of this Earth and that is what we will do,” the governor said Wednesday.
The bill, which was authored by House Speaker Carlos “Johnny” Méndez and Reps. María Milagros Charbonier and Guillermo Miranda, had generated controversy on the island between religious sectors and civil rights organizations. Religious leaders said the governor had to approve the bill because it was a “campaign promise,” while multiple entities warned it would serve to “legalize the discrimination.”
However, since last year, when the measure was introduced, the governor warned he would not sign any law that limited rights acquired by various sectors of Puerto Rican society. Regarding the religious leaders’ claims, Rosselló recently said, “I’m not anyone’s hostage” and asked for time to evaluate the amendments to HB 1018.
“Our administration has an unwavering commitment to guarantee and protect the fundamental rights of all our citizens. Religious liberty is one of the most important rights of our republican system of government,” the governor added Wednesday.
If two-thirds of each legislative body votes, the so-called “express veto,” could be overriden. This type of veto also requires an explanation for the action, for which Rosselló mentions that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, the federal legislation on which the bill is based, already applies in Puerto Rico and establishes the norm of not interfering with the religious freedom of a person.
The governor wrote that “our legal system already contains, through federal and local legislation, the local Constitution and the applicable jurisprudence, sufficient safeguards to guarantee the right of every person to religious liberty and it is the commitment of the current administration to protect such a fundamental right.”
The governor also signed Wednesday a bill that amends the Post-Sentence DNA Analysis Act to establish that the 12-month period for submitting a motion to request an analysis will start from the moment the convict becomes aware of the existence of proof that supports such a request.