Special Legislative Session Possible as Key Bills Left Pending
SAN JUAN – Numerous measures were approved by both the House and the Senate before the June 25 deadline to approve bills and will go either to conference committee or straight to La Fortaleza to be enacted.
Among the most notable is Senate Bill (S.B.) 0904, which are amendments to the Closing Law to allow small pharmacies to open and sell whichever items they want Sundays, but will require businesses to pay employees working Sundays, at least $11.50 an hour. Both legislative chambers also passed legislation that would help advance renewable-energy efforts, allow public employees to work flexitime; legalize La Parguera homes built in the maritime-terrestrial zone line; create the Banco de Desarrollo Empresarial, a successor of the Economic Development Bank to focus on helping small and midsize businesses; allow candidates to accept raffle funds as donations; and create an anti-bullying law.
Yet many lawmakers do not dismiss the possibility the governor may have to convene a special session or extraordinary session. New Progressive Party Reps. José Enrique Meléndez and María Milagros Charbonier said the budget for the next fiscal year will go to conference committee, whereby both chambers must work on a single version of the bill, but it will be an uphill battle as “there are huge differences between House and Senate,” Meléndez said, adding, “If the budget falls through, there will in all probability be a special session.”
Another measure that went to conference committee would create the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority Revitalization Act, which is hanging by a thread because the Senate wants to limit the utility borrowing.
The Senate also failed to confirm several nominees, the lawmakers said. Legislators had until Saturday to pass bills. Afterward, they work in committees to create single versions of bills approved by both chambers. The official end of the session is June 30.
A measure that did not complete the legislative process was S.B. 1556, which would have created the Economic, Social and Cultural Revitalization of Santurce Act, and a special group dedicated to the Sector La Playita. The legislation, which was the subject of a Caribbean Business story in March, would have created the Community Land Bank for Santurce with the goal of dealing with development and properties in the area.
Bills that did complete the legislative process are House Bill (H.B.) 2309, to allow public workers to obtain licenses to work as security guards; H.B. 2803, to allow homeowners who have mortgage payments in arrears to have loss mitigation benefits offered by the bank; and H.B. 1032, which would create a 10-year educational plan. This bill was criticized by teaching groups because they allege it hinders teachers’ rights.
Other measures include H.B. 1575, which would create a credit for investment in renewable energy; H.B. 1664, to establish a fast permit process for small business; H.B. 2757, which would create a law to promote the retirement of public workers with 25 or more years in government; H.B. 2852, which would allow the Natural and Environmental Resources Department to regulate private and public children’s camps; H.B. 1984, which would allow public workers to voluntarily reduce their workweek; H.B. 2583, allowing towns to own property declared a public nuisance and sell or lease these; and Concurrent Resolution 66, which declares that the government recognizes schools managed by churches and will exempt them from needing to be licensed by the Puerto Rico Council on Education
Other bills that passed legislative muster include House Resolution 0892, which would order Transportation and Public Works Department (DTOP by its Spanish acronym) fines for drivers who did not pay highway tollgates after July 1, 2015; and S.B. 1636, which gives Vieques and Culebra residents priority in obtaining ferry tickets.
Lawmakers also voted to repeal bodyguards for all future governors.