Senate debates if bills in special session violate Promesa
SAN JUAN – Amid questions about whether the legislation violated Promesa, the Senate approved Thursday 13 of the 103 bills contained in the governor’s executive order convening a special session Thursday, but the House opted to slow its pace.
House Majority Leader Charlie Hernández said the lower chamber doesn’t put bills directly to a vote even though many of the measures already had public hearings in the past session. “We want to give the committees a chance to look at the bills,” he said.
The Senate debated a motion from incoming Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz, who said none of the bills should be approved until the Fiscal Management and Oversight Board examines their fiscal impact. He also said the approval of the bills could be in violation of Promesa.
Rivera Schatz noted that the governor’s transition committee has said the government will run out of money in February. He also criticized the fact that governor was trying to put PDP sympathizers in government seats even though the party lost the election.
“It is a shame we are here to tighten loose screws,” Rivera Schatz said, adding that voters rejected the PDP in the past election and that there will be a new government in January.
Senate Majority Leader Aníbal José Torres says it is up to the governor and not the Senate to obtain approval of bills from the board, which must decide if they don’t violate the fiscal plan the governor has submitted to the board, which has yet to be approved. He says Promesa doesn’t impose limits to the Senate as to the kinds of bills it must approve.
PDP Sen. Cirilo Tirado commented that Rivera Schatz’s request was valid but was setting a bad precedent because it would be like the Senate is delegating its powers to the board.
“Any bill would need to have a certification on its fiscal impact from the board and that is absurd,” he said.
Puerto Rican Independence Party Sen. María de Lourdes Santiago said the legislature had already abdicated its powers because it can approve bills, but the board decides if they should go into effect.
Senate President Eduardo Bhatia then clarified that bills have to be in agreement with the government’s fiscal plan. Section 204 of Promesa states that after a law is enacted, the governor has seven days to submit it to the oversight board.
With the law, the governor must submit a formal estimate prepared by an entity with expertise in budgets and financial management of the impact, if any, the law would have on expenditures and revenue.
If the oversight board believes the law is inconsistent with the fiscal plan, then it will direct the government to correct the law or provide an explanation for the inconsistency to the board’s satisfaction or take any other action deemed necessary to ensure that the enactment or enforcement of the law won’t affect the fiscal plan adversely.
Bhatia noted that the fiscal plan has yet to be approved.
“I agree that the board is a terrible thing and it shouldn’t take away the powers of the Senate,” Bhatia said.