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Puerto Rico gov to modify order for new disaster funds management office

By on November 3, 2017

SAN JUAN – Gov. Ricardo Rosselló Nevares is preparing to “make some clarifications” to executive order 2017-065, which creates the Central Recovery & Reconstruction Office of Puerto Rico (OCRR by its Spanish initials) to address concerns from the leaders of the House and Senate, who have said the mandate has “serious and grave legal deficiencies of a constitutional nature.”

The move was announced by House Speaker Carlos “Johnny” Méndez and Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz, who had a meeting with the chief executive at La Fortaleza Friday morning.

House Speaker Carlos “Johnny” Méndez and Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz (Cindy Burgos / CB)

The legislative leaders did not detail what the governor would specifically alter, but during the press conference stated they were “pleased” with the amendments to the order they had previously threatened to take to court.

“Some clarifications are going to be made in the executive order. We are pleased,” Rivera Schatz said, referring to a letter he sent to the governor with the requested changes. “When the document is reviewed, you [the press] will have the opportunity to see it.”

The OCRR was created to manage the federal funds sent to the island for its recovery efforts after Hurricane María. However, Rivera Schatz criticized the new office because “it intends to attribute to the executive [branch] the powers and inherent responsibilities of the Legislative Assembly and, in some instances, of the judicial branch.”

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The governor reacted by saying the office would not “control funds,” but be a kind of “hub, a unique connector to facilitate the process with so many resources coming from the federal government.” The office was created by Rosselló, and not at the request of the fiscal control board or federal entities, he added.

The OCRR also led to the filing of a legal appeal by House Minority Leader Rafael “Tatito” Hernández, who asked the court for a preliminary injunction to temporarily suspend the implementation of the order, alleging it is unconstitutional.

Although he previously criticized the executive order, the House speaker now considers that the legal recourse arrived “late” and “is not going to pass even the crucible of analysis that there was any damages.”

“It strikes me as curious that in these recent days Tatito has filed a lawsuit that makes and reaches some of the same conclusions that we, with sincere dialogue and in the spirit of cooperation with the governor, have achieved. However, here at La Fortaleza, when it was government by decree, Tatito kept silent,” Méndez said.

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On the other hand, the legislative leaders reported that Senate Bill 655, submitted by the executive to create the “Law to Address Emergencies & Disasters,” will not be presented again, after the upper chamber voted against it.

This legislation was the subject of discussion at the meeting with the governor, and the agreement was to withdraw it, they said.

The measure included the creation of the OCRR and other determinations issued by executive order, such as to expeditiously process permits in the middle of an emergency, and grant more powers to the executive.

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