Puerto Rico Senate to investigate airlines after Hurricane Maria
SAN JUAN – Puerto Rico Senate Resolution 489, authored by Sen. Carmelo Ríos, was unanimously approved Monday. It orders the Senate Tourism & Culture Committee to conduct an investigation to determine why airlines allegedly prevented access to customers wanting to purchase tickets to leave Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria and, if necessary, push legislation to address the study’s findings to prevent such service refusals from being repeated.
During discussion of the measure, Ríos presented the methodology that would govern the investigation and said, depending on the results, the Senate would be filing a complaint against the airlines with the Federal Aviation Administration.
Regarding the methodology for the investigation, the senator indicated he would request the airlines’ flight plans from 2015 to 2017. In addition, he will ask how much money each flight generated, and a list of the aircraft used to fly from Puerto Rico, with the latter information being included after allegations were made that an older aircraft fleet was being used.
“In contrast, the treatment of other states in an emergency situation, such as in Florida, was different and the airlines were reducing or limiting the price of tickets to help a greater number of people, who could leave the area prior to the storm,” reads the measure’s statement of motives.
The Popular Democratic Party (PDP) minority asked to join as co-authors of the legislation.
“It is our duty as a government to conduct an investigation that provides us information to know if, in times of emergency, the airlines have protocols designed to adequately address the prevailing needs of their customers, [who are] often struggling with circumstances that can mean the difference between life or death, or whether it is necessary to create measures and protective legislation that is beneficial to customers,” Ríos said.
The legislator also pointed out that 110 days after Hurricane Maria, airfares from Puerto Rico to the States were excessive and questioned why they were less expensive from the Dominican Republic. “Now, since they [the airlines] realized that Puerto Ricans were leaving from the sister island, they also increased the prices there.”
The Tourism & Culture Committee, chaired by José “Joito” Pérez, will provide a report on the investigation–with its findings, conclusions and recommendations–within 90 days.
Meanwhile, the upper chamber unanimously approved Senate Bill 335, authored by Sen. Eduardo Bhatia, spokesman for the minority Popular Democratic Party delegation. The legislation stipulates that hospital medical services cannot be denied to any person who is suffering from a medical emergency condition or to a woman who is in labor, who goes to the emergency room of a public or private hospital, because of race, color, sex, age, religion, birth origin or ethnic or national identification, political ideology, present or future physical or mental disability, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation or immigration status. Neither gender nor gender expression were specified.
In step, Sen. Miguel Romero, who asked to be a co-author of this measure, which will now pass to the House of Representatives for consideration, indicated that the approval of this bill reinforces the commitment of the Legislative Assembly that, beyond political ideology, raises the discourse and “makes us a more just society because there cannot be a legal impediment to save lives.”
Sens. José Vargas Vidot, Luis Berdiel, Miguel Laureano, Nayda Venegas, Nelson Cruz, Carmelo Ríos, Migdalia Padilla, Henry Neumann, Zoé Laboy and Juan Dalmau joined as co-authors of the same.
Health Committee Chairman Ángel Martínez, who was in charge of presenting the report on the measure, reiterated it “provides justice to immigrants.”
In addition, the legislation would amend Section 3 of Act 25 of Sept. 25, 1983, as amended, to prohibit any public or private school in Puerto Rico from discriminating against students who do not have their certificate of vaccination up-to-date because of their immigration status and order, in turn, that the educational institution make all appropriate arrangements with the Health Department so that child receives the required vaccination, regardless of the student’s immigration status or that of their parent or guardian.
The Senate recessed its work until Wednesday, Jan. 24, at 1 p.m.