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Senate Confirms Supreme Court Nominee; Budget Still Faces Uphill Battle

By on June 28, 2016

FILE - This Jan. 28, 2015 photo shows an aerial view of the south side of the Puerto Rico's Capitol building in San Juan, Puerto Rico. A federal judge ruled late Friday, Feb. 6, 2015 that a Puerto Rico debt-restructuring law that aims to protect the government from bankruptcy and make public corporations self-sufficient is unconstitutional. Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla approved the Recovery Act in June of 2014 after submitting a last-minute bill to legislators, urging them to approve it amid concerns that certain public agencies might collapse financially. (AP Photo/Ricardo Arduengo)

An aerial view of the south side of Puerto Rico’s Capitol building in San Juan. (AP Photo/Ricardo Arduengo)

SAN JUAN – The Senate confirmed Puerto Rico Supreme Court nominee Ángel Colón as associate justice Tuesday, highlighting his commitment in favor of equal access to the courts.

The vote was unanimous, Senate President Eduardo Bhatia declared. The upper chamber was slated to evaluate 24 other nominations Tuesday.

Sen. Luis Daniel Rivera Filomeno said Colón’s confirmation was “one of dignity” and had a lot of significance for marginalized communities. “This shows that decent people and our children can aspire to occupy top positions,” he said.

Senate Majority Leader Aníbal José Torres noted Colón’s profound commitment to public service, sacrifice and efforts. The nominee is described as a self-made professional who came from a needy community.

Minority Leader Larry Seilhamer said he had concerns about the nominee that were cleared up during his confirmation hearing. “I am sure he will know how to carry out his work with wisdom and prudence,” he said.

Colón told the Legislature during his confirmation hearing to avoid cuts to the judicial branch that could make access to the courts harder or hinder judicial independence.

“In tough economic times, any measure involving cuts to the judicial branch must weigh the impact to the fundamental principles of access to justice and judicial independence,” he recently told a Senate Judiciary Committee.

Colón, who began his legal career in 2004 as clerk in the Supreme Court, was named executive director of the panel in charge of devising the bar exam. In 2006, he was appointed Superior Court judge by then former Gov. Aníbal Acevedo Vilá but was detailed that year as chief of staff to former Chief Justice Federico Hernández Denton, a position he held for six years. He also taught part-time at Inter American University of Puerto Rico School of Law.

In 2013, he moved to La Fortaleza as legal adviser to the governor and the Legislature.

Colón said that as judge, he will not only protect access to justice, but will also make sure the island is “free of discrimination…and that rights and equal treatment under the law are guaranteed.”

“As associate justice of the Supreme Court, I will collaborate in the construction of a more just, fair and equitable country that guarantees access to justice,” he said.  

Colón had the support of former Gov. Rafael Hernández Colón, who called his nomination “an excellent choice.”

He also had the support of Puerto Rico Bar Association President Mark Anthony Bimbela, former Bar Association President Ana Irma Rivera Lassen, former Supreme Court Justices José Andreu García and Federico Hernéndez Denton, and Aibonito Mayor William Alicea, among others.

The last day to pass bills was June 25, but both chambers were working in conference committees Tuesday on creating single versions of bills before sending to La Fortaleza to be enacted.

The House sent to conference committee several of the 2017 budget measures and the proposed 10-year educational plan, which critics say would lead to the privatization of public schools and charter schools. House Speaker Jaime Perelló on Monday said the lower chamber does not support the Senate’s amendments to the bill.

“The legislation is stillborn. Unless the Senate takes out the amendments that were not the product of a consensus reached three years ago, the House will not pass it,” Perelló said.

Members of the Teachers Federation met with some of the representatives to ensure the legislation is not approved by the Legislature.

The House did not concur with Senate amendments to House Bill 2960, which creates the Emergency Fund; House bill 2961, which says appropriations required by special laws will be made according to the fiscal state of the government; and House Bill 2964, which allows the government to use funding from the State Insurance Fund, the Automobile Accidents Compensation Administration and the Temporary Nonoccupational Incapacity Insurance, as tax revenue anticipation notes, or TRANs.

The House also had differences with the Senate on House Resolution 893, which earmarks $4.1 billion for agencies, one of two budget appropriations; and House Resolution 895, which creates a fund for entities not covered in the General Fund. Another bill that went to conference committee was House Bill 2962, which allows the Government Development Bank to restructure debt with central government agencies.

On their way to La Fortaleza are House Bill 1820, which creates a new Stalking Law and House Bill 2698, which increases a tax to insurance premiums imposed by companies that do not have offices in Puerto Rico and repeals the 1% tax on insurance premiums.

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