Puerto Rico Senate Confirms State, Treasury and Health Secretaries as well as Police Chief
SAN JUAN — The Senate has approved the appointments of Luis Rivera Marín and Raúl Maldonado as secretaries of Puerto Rico’s State and Treasury departments, respectively. The unanimous vote included those of the minority delegations of the Popular Democratic (PDP) and Puerto Rican Independence (PIP) parties, as well as independent Sen. José Vargas Vidot’s.
In addition, the appointments of Secretary of Health, Rafael Rodríguez, as well as that of Police Superintendent, Michelle Hernández, who was also confirmed as Public Safety and Protection Commissioner, were confirmed.
Although the PDP endorsed the nominations, the party’s Eduardo Bhatia, who is the upper chamber’s former president, criticized the speed with which the designees were evaluated, since there was only one public hearing to question the four of them.
Rivera Marín was the first to be confirmed, receiving praises from the senators. Rivera Marín was confirmed Tuesday by the lower chamber, so he can now fully exercise his role as secretary of State, which will be prioritizing job creation, he said.
The former Consumer Affairs secretary will also seek to boost the creation of new businesses by simplifying the licensing, permitting and registration processes. “[I want] to transform the government so it becomes a facilitator,” he said following his confirmation.
The only controversy surrounding Rivera Marín’s confirmation was a column he wrote in 2014 criticizing the Legislative Assembly, which resulted in remarks from members of the PDP, who asked the official to retract himself. He expressed his willingness to collaborate closely with legislators, whom he thanked for their trust.
At the request of Vargas Vidot, the Treasury secretary-designate pledged to prioritize payments the agency owes to nonprofit entities. Following his confirmation, Maldonado told reporters that his priority is “a combination of recruitment and social equality,” which will penalize tax evasion, but that balance will be sought for people with low incomes and small-business people.
Meanwhile, the police superintendent was the only designee opposed, specifically by the PIP senator, who also expressed concern about the police’s possible treatment of protesters due to the “military vision” of Hernández.
“I urge her to build bridges of dialogue, the vision of a community police, and I also urge her to review the necessary protocols for acts of violence against women and security in police stations,” Dalmau said during his turn. The senator also requested that details be provided of what happens with police recordings of demonstrators, since it could be a file that has not been disclosed publicly.
The Health secretary was the last to be confirmed unanimously. The official said that his priority will be health reform and seeking a solution to the end of Obamacare funds later this year.
Regarding the possible dismantling of Obamacare, Rodríguez stated that the U.S. Congress will be lobbied for Puerto Rico to be included in any future healthcare fund allocations.
Lobbying for the inclusion of island funds in the omnibus spending bill, which could be approved in April, will also take place.