Gov. Vázquez signs bill granting more autonomy to municipalities
New legal code seeks to establish a single framework for municipal gov’t obligations in Puerto Rico
SAN JUAN — Puerto Rico Gov. Wanda Vázquez signed a bill Friday that creates the island’s first municipal code, which apart from listing all the details related to the organization, administration and operation of municipal governments under a single law, also grants municipalities more autonomy.
The new law seeks to, among other things, establish a regulatory framework for municipalities to “renovate and find real alternatives in light of the new global scenario they face,” according to a press release from the governor’s office at La Fortaleza. “The bill recognizes the importance of municipalities, and that granting them autonomy helps drive their economic, educational and social development,” it read.
“We are firm believers in the work that municipalities carry out. Mayors and municipal workers represent the first line of response during emergencies and problems that are particular to each community and citizen. It was necessary to give them the legal importance they deserve,” Vázquez said while signing Senate Bill 1333 to that effect.
The municipal code also updates the 1991 Autonomous Municipalities Act, one of the first laws highlighting the key role of municipal governments in making public services available. As early as 1991 and every year after that, the law was frequently amended to meet the demands and needs of the 78 municipalities and their respective city halls throughout the island.
As part of the drafting process for the municipal code, various summits were held and a task force was established. “Before this, there were many laws and regulations that lacked uniformity,” said Margarita Nolasco, a former senator and mayor who co-authored the bill with Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz.
“Now all of that has been converted into a single code that will allow for a more efficient and transparent administration in each municipality,” added Nolasco, who used to lead the Senate’s municipal affairs committee and is now in charge of the Automobile Accident Compensation Administration (ACAA by its Spanish initials).
Ponce Mayor María “Mayita” Meléndez underlined the importance of municipal governments in providing services, especially considering recent emergencies such as hurricanes Irma and María in 2017, the earthquakes that took place on the island earlier this year and the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. “This law will allow us to have greater autonomy and accelerate municipal processes to the benefit of our people,” she said.
Meanwhile, Villalba mayor and head of the Mayors’ Association, Luis Javier Hernández, said the signing of the municipal code represents “an important step in bringing additional tools to city hall,” although he added that “there is still a way to go” toward achieving full autonomy.
“It is now time to call for the immediate implementation of these measures to help our fiscal development and continue our struggle for decentralization,” Hernández added.