Senate defeats Gov. Rosselló bill to establish gov’t response in emergencies
SAN JUAN – In what could have been the first definitive action of Puerto RIco’s Legislative Assembly to push forth the island’s recovery after the onslaught of Hurricane Maria, on Monday the Senate defeated a measure presented by Gov. Ricardo Rosselló Nevares to establish the Law to Address Emergencies and Disasters.
Senate Bill 655 seeks, among other things, to group several executive orders to deal with future emergencies. In addition, it proposes “to recognize the faculties and powers of the Governor of Puerto Rico during a disaster.”
In haste to address the measure, without holding a debate, Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz called legislators to the floor to cast their votes. “I want this bill,” he said after refusing to allow a brief recess.
The measure, which granted powers to the governor to manage state and federal funds was defeated in a 0-28 vote. The bill also proposed an “Emergency Response Group” with members appointed by the governor.
“We had let the governor and the secretary of Public Affairs [Ramón Rosario] know there were some provisions that were unconstitutional, because the Legislative Branch cannot yield or renounce rights that the Constitution expressly says it has to exercise,” Rivera Schatz said.
Among the Senate leader’s main concerns is the governor’s Executive Order 65, establishing the Central Recovery and Reconstruction Office (OCRR by its Spanish initials), created by Rosselló Nevares to operate “all funds and resources available” to address the crisis.
After stating that he discussed the unconstitutionality of the measure with Rosselló Nevares, the Senate president did not rule out going to court to fight the apparent pursuit of the executive branch to supplant powers conferred by the Constitution to the Legislative Assembly.
“What I wouldn’t accept is that the governor renounce his faculties, that’s why I fought the [fiscal control] board. Defending the faculties of the governor; I criticized the board and I cannot allow the executive or anyone to usurp the powers of the Legislative Assembly,” Rivera Schatz explained.
The New Progressive Party legislator held what he called a “productive meeting” with the president of the Government Development Bank (GDB) and government representative to the fiscal control board, Christian Sobrino, to discuss his concerns.
“I have the lawyers, our consultants, preparing a communication, detailing the objections [to the measure]. We are going to send it to the governor to evaluate it to see if the concerns we have are addressed, and thus put an end to the controversy,” he told the media.
Rivera Schatz stressed that section 1of the executive order was unconstitutional. It establishes that the OCRR would be able to identify, procure and administrate “all state, federal and / or private resources available to the Government or any Government Entity” to be invested after María.
Further on, the 12-page document signed Oct. 23 includes the Legislative Branch and the Judicial Branch in its definition of “governmental entity,” which Rivera Schatz said implies the executive branch intending to manage resources of the other branches, in violation of the Constitution.
However, Rosselló Nevares defended the executive order Tuesday, saying the new office would not have absolute control over the funds for the recovery of Puerto Rico. The governor attributed his decision to a “planning issue” to control the management of resources.
Regarding the so-called “Law of the New Government” that Rosselló Nevares submitted to the Legislature along with the defeated bill, Rivera Schatz said public hearings will be held for that particular measure, which proposes consolidating agencies by executive order.
Although the governor repeatedly assured that provisions of the bill were suggested by the Senate president, Rivera Schatz said that consolidating or establishing government agencies by executive order is “not the right thing” legally.