House Ends Special Session with Hurried Appointments
SAN JUAN—During a session that lasted about six hours and was closed in a haphazard manner, the Puerto Rico House of Representatives began and concluded Tuesday its fifth special session of the current term, along the way approving two new people to the Independent Special Prosecutor’s Panel (PFEI by its Spanish initials) and six of the 18 legislative bills included in the call made by Gov. Alejandro García Padilla.
It was at 10:00 p.m. that the designations of former appeals judge Emmalind García and Justice undersecretary, Rafael Ortiz Carrión, were evaluated to join PFEI. Their appointments were presented during the session the same day, at about 4:00 p.m.
Although both had only the endorsement of 24 representatives, since 14 lawmakers abstained—among them Luis Vega Ramos, Manuel Natal and Luis Raúl Torres, from the Popular Democratic Party (PDP)—Rep. Charlie Hernandez, who at the time was the House speaker, gave the go-ahead to the appointments. Immediately afterwards, he ordered the special session to a close.
This took several representatives by surprise, leading many to question how the appointments were approved despite not having the requisite 26 votes to approve a legislative measure. This in turn prompted New Progressive Party (NPP) Rep. Lourdes Ramos to say that she would go to court to challenge the appointments.
However, Hernández, who is a PDP majority spokesperson in the House, told reporters that what he did complies with the law, since the rules of the legislative body do not establish a minimum of votes to approve the appointments, contrary to what happens with the approval of bills.
The legislator added that he does not see problems of legitimacy in the approval of the appointments, which will have to be considered by the Senate during their session on Wednesday.
Ten measures left on cutting-room floor
Six days before Governor-elect Ricardo Rosselló and a new Legislature get sworn in, the House left ten legislative bills on the cutting-room floor, among which was a bill to strengthen the poultry industry and register the mark Pollo Picú (Senate Bill 1721 ); the reduction of penalties for minimum possession of marijuana (S.B. 517); The designation of Spanish as the first official language of the government and English as the second (S.B. 1117) and two concurrent resolutions to allocate funds to Guayanilla and Villalba.
The House also didn’t take action on measures designed to create the Economic, Social and Cultural Revitalization of Santurce Act (S.B. 1713); amendments to the Permits Reform Act (S.B. 1716) and the changes to the new Wildlife Act (S.B. 1723), as well as the appointment of a new electoral subcontractor.
On the other hand, among the six measures approved was House Bill 1557 to prohibit service charges on purchase receipts if the services are non-existent or not capable of being corroborated.
This measure, like House Bills 3024 and 3025, was endorsed by the NPP minority, which voted in block against the other five bills considered in the partial final vote held around 8:00 p.m.
H.B. 3024 and 3025 amended the Internal Revenue Code to exempt non-profit entities seeking the welfare of municipalities from payment of taxes and to establish that items purchased in military stores of the National Guard are exempt from taxes respectively.
Likewise, the Senate approved the H.B. 2745 and 2995 to facilitate the renewal of driving licenses online—an issue that had been resolved thanks to an interagency agreement—and to create a childhood reading program.
Likewise, Senate Bill 1663 was approved to adopt the Law on Administrative Law Reform and to amend the Uniform Administrative Procedure Act (Act 170 of 1988).
However, Senate Bills 1598 and 1670 could not be approved because, out of the 27 representatives of the PPD present, Luis Raúl Torres abstained, Lydia Méndez Silva voted against both and José “Conny” Varela opposed the second. Rep. Jose Báez is the only PPD representative absent in the special session, which has been marked by absenteeism.
S.B. 1598 bill sought to amend Act 22 of 2016, which reforms the energy and water subsidies, in order to establish a limit to consumption for those who benefit from these subsidies and request an inventory of accountants in public residences, among other matters. Meanwhile, S.B. 1670 sought to clarify the special rules that apply in the case of entry of air or sea transportation.
After opening the special session at 4:30 p.m.—three and a half hours later than that scheduled—and with 33 lawmakers present, the House began the special session with the reading of the resignation letter from PDP Sen. Efraín de Jesús, from District 19 (Mayagüez and Aguadilla).
De Jesús, who replaced Sen. Mari Tere González and was not elected in the last elections, resigned his effective position on December 28 although his legislative work concluded on December 30 because he will begin work as a superior judge.