Puerto Rico business organizations rail against expected inventory tax bill

The Puerto Rico Capitol in San Juan (CB file)

Assure it would not address issue of having sufficient provisions to face a natural disaster

SAN JUAN — Members of the Puerto Rico private sector issued public statements Tuesday in rejection of a draft bill they are urging the island’s legislature to reconsider as it would cap the inventory tax businesses pay and exempt any amount over it from being taxed, which they assure does not address what they call a national security issue. 

They said the proposal Rep. Antonio “Tony” Soto and the chairman of the Municipal Revenue Collections Center (CRIM by its Spanish acronym), Javier Carrasquillo, intend to introduce only days before the legislative session ends would keep inventory levels on the island too low.​

“At this point, we still have not had access to the draft and, according to media reports, the private sector and Puerto Rican citizens’ call for the elimination of the inventory tax is not being addressed at all. We have been discussing and analyzing for almost two years and it does not seem prudent for them to want to pass a bill that does not address the situation concretely,” Retail Trade Association President Iván Báez said in a statement.​

Meanwhile, Liliana Cubano, president of Hecho in Puerto Rico, the Made in Puerto Rico brand, warned of serious long-term consequences if the measure were approved because, as she put it, “eliminating the inventory tax is not even talked about, but rather a fixed amount for five years as the period to find a substitute [to the tax] that they have yet to exert the will to produce. Our call is to not introduce it and not approve it.”​

For his part, Puerto Rico Automobile Distributors Association President Julio Ortiz stressed that experts, economists and citizens had reached a consensus on the issue, that not learning from experience and past emergencies would raise the risk of a crisis occurring on the island.​

“The issue of the elimination of the inventory tax is critical to preparing for another emergency since it not only impacts food and water, but also all supplies and throughout the year,” he said.​

They all stressed the need to count on having sufficient basic provisions and supplies throughout the island, citing official statistics that Puerto Rico only has an inventory sufficient for less than 20 days were the shipping supply flow to be somehow impaired.​

They also pointed to reports by Professional Market Research, which found that 2018 ended with an alarming percentage, of more than 20 percent, of aisle products out of stock and that 2019 was averaging 15.7 percent in out-of-stock products, or almost double the 8 percent with which other markets operate, so they will continue advocating for the elimination of the inventory tax by emphasizing that the island’s geography requires a tax system that does not penalize businesses for preparing and stocking up on supplies to face natural disasters.

“It is beyond belief that this tax has not been eliminated two years after the [2017] hurricanes [Irma and Maria] and we are talking about waiting five more years. This imposition has transcended from being a bad tax to being an obstacle to the security of the people and for the economic recovery of the country. The pressure exerted by the mayors on the legislature has certainly been stronger than the duty to the people of Puerto Rico, thus we request that this measure is reconsidered and not approved,” said Kenneth Rivera, the former president of Puerto Rico’s Chamber of Commerce and CPA Society.​

The private sector representatives demanded that the government tackle the issue seriously, not with temporary bills that do not address the root of the matter.




Departing Puerto Rico gov enacts law to oversee PBMs

To establish protocol for those in government health plan network

SAN JUAN — Outgoing Gov. Ricardo Rosselló signed Tuesday Senate Bill 218, which seeks to establish oversight for pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs).

The new measure allows the Health Insurance Administration (ASES by its Spanish acronym) to regulate and establish protocols for PBMs it has contracted as part of its network to offer services through the Puerto Rico government’s health plan.

The measure, now known as the Pharmacy Benefits and Services Managers Regulatory Law, creates the Office of the Regulatory Commissioner for Pharmacy Benefits and Services Managers, which will be attached to the Department of Health.

This legislation will also control one of the components within the health services chain that, so far, has no regulation, according to a release issued by the governor’s office, La Fortaleza.

“My commitment to health remains firm. We need to protect patients and the provision of health services, thus effectively regulating PBMs” is necessary, said Rosselló, who is expected to officially resign Friday.

The governor added that “unjustified increases to medications are unacceptable. We need to regulate each link in the chain of production and dispensing of drugs effectively to ensure we obtain the most accessible prices for our citizens. In that sense, this measure is a step forward.”

The office created under this law will be responsible for requiring the licensing of any PBM that operates in Puerto Rico, addressing reimbursement claims and ensuring that payments to pharmacies are complied with.

In addition, the office will be tasked with prohibiting PBMs from unilaterally altering patient prescriptions; ensuring that the drug approval process does not exceed 72 hours; and with issuing fines for any violations.

“This initiative joins other efforts of the Rosselló Nevares Administration, aimed at serving the remaining participants in the chain with the aim of promoting transparency and solving the problem of the high cost of medicines,” the release concludes.




Upstart Puerto Rico Cannabis Industry Stunted by Politics

Medical Marijuana Growth Confined by Fits and Starts

Editor’s note: The following was first published in the April 11-17, 2019, issue of Caribbean Business.

More and more jurisdictions are partaking in the economic bonanza created by the medicinal, recreational and industrial cannabis industry, which is netting millions in revenue and has proven to be a driver of economic development, not only for the 43 U.S. states where the plant’s use has been legalized medically, recreationally or both, but also worldwide.

However, three years after the use of cannabis was legalized medically in Puerto Rico, the island continues to show signs of falling behind in the development of this industry, an issue tied, according to experts, to excessive regulation and improvisation by the state.

Although one of the first steps taken by the administration of Gov. Ricardo Rosselló Nevares when taking office in January 2017 was to create a law to regulate the industry through Act 42 of that year, the setbacks that keep the medical cannabis industry in a quagmire of uncertainty have been constant and appear to be a combination of a lack of coordination between agencies and branches of government, as well as pressure from conservative sectors of the Legislative Assembly that do not support the cannabis industry in any form.

The most recent incident that could be seen as a reflection of this presumed disdain and improvisation by the government regarding this industry—which offers an alternative to alleviate pain in patients and has shown great economic potential for the island’s coffers—occurred March 29, when the Puerto Rico Health Department’s Medicinal Cannabis Office issued a memorandum warning establishments that are licensed to manufacture and sell medical cannabis that they are not authorized to sell products containing cannabidiol, or CBD, a non-psychoactive component that can be extracted from the plant.

The Medicinal Cannabis Office categorically stated that establishments authorized by the Medicinal Cannabis Regulatory Board cannot grow, manufacture, transport or dispense products derived from medicinal cannabis. These include T-shirts, caps and vaporizers that do not contain medical cannabis, and “any action contrary to the provisions of Act 42-2017 and/or Regulation 9038 exposes the licensed establishment to be sanctioned according to the regulatory provisions.”

The order came just one month after the industrial hemp sector received a boost from the governor when he issued an executive order that created a committee to evaluate and present recommendations on the development of this industry. He based it on the plan that must be submitted to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), as provided by the 2018 farm bill, or the Agriculture Improvement Act, which opened the hemp market nationwide.

However, less than a week after the memorandum was issued and flags were raised by members of the island’s cannabis industry, the executive director of the Medicinal Cannabis Regulatory Board, Antonio Quilichini Arbona, issued a new circular letter April 4, canceling the previous notice related to products manufactured with CBD, with no explanation given.

What is CBD?

Although both are active components of the marijuana plant, the applications and effects of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, and cannabidiol, or CBD, are relatively different, although they produce the same effect—relieving pain and anxiety.

On the one hand, THC, is the principal psychoactive component of cannabis and interacts with nerve cells, resulting in an effect similar to that caused by dopamine in the brain, which produces the effect sought by people who consume marijuana for recreational purposes, whether smoked or ingested.

On the other hand, CBD is a compound that interacts with receptor cells and stimulates a nervous system response. CBD is the active ingredient in ointments, oils, extracts and pills used for medicinal purposes and has no psychoactive effects.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the human body produces its own cannabinoid chemicals, which play a role in the regulation of pleasure, memory, thinking, concentration, motor coordination, perception of time, appetite and pain, in addition to the five senses.

Lagging behind

Although medical cannabis continues to gain momentum worldwide, in Puerto Rico the government apparently continues to improvise its regulation, affecting several aspects of the industry, such as labor protections for cannabis patients and the balance between supply and demand which industry members continue to denounce, among other resulting obstacles.

According to Health Department data, 59,302 people are registered as cannabis patients in Puerto Rico, of which some 76 percent are of working age, or 21 to 60 years old. However, no law on the island protects patients from anti-narcotics regulations.

These patients could experience employment discrimination or be dismissed from their job if a company maintains a policy of zero narcotics, which includes cannabis. Employers can base their decision on the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention & Control Act of 1970, which lists cannabis as a Schedule 1 Drug, along with heroin and LSD.

Although Act 42 legalized medical cannabis in Puerto Rico, the fact is article 148 of Regulation 9038 categorically prohibits the use of medical cannabis in the workplace, in contradiction to the use of CBD recommended for patients with chronic or terminal conditions that produce pain.

Likewise, as Caribbean Business reported last year, Puerto Rico’s medical cannabis industry hangs from a thread and the island could be the only place where this model has failed if the cannabis regulatory board—which includes Health Secretary Rafael Rodríguez, Agriculture Secretary Carlos Flores and Economic Development Secretary Manuel Laboy—does not halt what industry stakeholders call the indiscriminate granting of licenses to manufacturers while the number of patients remains stagnant.

The president of the Members of the Medicinal Cannabis Industry (MiCaM by its Spanish acronym), José A. Rivera Jiménez, told Caribbean Business that the changes to the regulation are to the detriment of the industry and were not based on scientific analysis.

“Originally, when the regulatory framework was worked on under the administration of former Gov. Alejandro García Padilla, parameters were established that considered factors such as population, geography, the location of patients and the number of registered patients to ensure an organized growth of the industry,” Rivera said back then. Now, he is saying, “That lasted very little because the industry formally began operating at the end of 2016 and, already in January 2017, the new governor was sworn in and changed those parameters.”

He added that the original regulation included “a parameter that indicated that until the industry reached 100,000 patients, the cultivation and manufacturing licenses would not continue to be granted. This would give the industry a bit of order in its process and would allow for a leveling of the problem between supply and demand that now exists and that does not allow the industry to fully develop.”

The industry rep argued that the 20 manufacturing licenses the government has granted to date are sufficient to meet the demand of more than 200,000 patients.

Profitable market

The stigma cast on marijuana, which has lasted for decades, has shown signs of wear and tear in the 21st century due to the revenue the legalization of cannabis has generated for states, while industry growth seems unabated.

From Oregon to New York and from Alaska to Puerto Rico, what was barely unthinkable 20 years ago is being accepted by the majority of the population, and even by politicians. As recently as in January, during a roundtable convened by the governor to discuss strategies against crime, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz recommended the decriminalization of the plant as “a first step in the right direction” to tackle what at the time seemed like a rising crime wave on the island.

Among the conundrums policymakers face is the fact that while conservative sectors of the island continue to condemn the use of cannabis, coffers where it has been legalized or decriminalized across the nation have greatly benefited.

To put the pace at which this new industry is growing into context, one of the pioneering states, Colorado, saw $67.6 million in revenue from the cannabis sales tax, application and license fees in 2014, the year it was legalized. As of February 2019, the state had collected $948.8 million, according to the state’s Department of Revenue.

This trend is continuing throughout the country, with states showing high medical cannabis numbers. For example, according to a May 2018 Forbes article, Arizona recorded $406.7 million in sales over the past year and Michigan estimated its sales at $633 million.

Meanwhile, California reached $2.75 billion in sales in one year, taxed at 15 percent, while Colorado sold $1.13 billion and Washington state $975.3 million.

According to Fortune magazine, the U.S. marijuana industry grew to $10.4 billion in 2018 and has created more than 250,000 jobs. Last year, $10 billion was invested in the industry in North America, while projections for this year are of $16 billion.

Silver lining

For Puerto Rico, 2019 could very well become the year in which the island–with a public debt and unfunded liabilities of more than $100 billion and still recovering from two catastrophic hurricanes that struck in 2017–begins to pull itself out of an economic rut.

The players in the cannabis industry, including members of the legislative branch, should strive to reach a consensus that benefits patients as well as government coffers. Not establishing such a plan would be detrimental to both.

For Carmen Serrano, general manager of Nextgen Pharma, a pharmaceutical company specializing in the development and manufacture of cannabis-based products, 2019 is shaping up to be a magnificent year for the island’s cannabis industry, as long as it continues to develop in an organized manner.

“From the point of view of cultivation and manufacturing operations, 2019 is emerging as a year of high growth. With the entry of new patients into the program and the recognition of our brand through our products, we will continue to expand our production capacity,” Serrano said. “With the operation of dispensaries under our sister company, b.well Healing Center, we also anticipate a positive picture.”

Among Nextgen Pharma’s projections, Serrano indicated that six new dispensaries will be inaugurated, raising the company’s locations to 10 around the island.

For attorney Goodwin Aldarondo, president of Puerto Rico Legal Marijuana, which educates the public about the legal aspects of medical cannabis, concurred with projections pointing to this year being decisive for the industry.

“This is going to be the year of medicinal cannabis because there is already a board, there is a regulation and there is a law. There are over 50,000 patients and a digital platform where they can register immediately,” Aldarondo said.

According to Medicinal Cannabis Office data, as of Feb. 1, Puerto Rico has 70 dispensaries, backed by 20 cultivation and 20 manufacturing facilities. Of the 59,302 registered cannabis patients, 25,467, or 42.94 percent, are women and 33,835, or 57.06 percent, are men. The most prominent use is among patients ages 31 to 40, at 21.66 percent, while those age 20 or younger, is at 0.56 percent.

The Health Department region where most medical cannabis patients reside is Metro/Fajardo with 23,526, while Ponce has only 4,841. The condition most treated with cannabis in Puerto Rico is anxiety disorders, for which 12,219 people have received a prescription, followed by chronic pain, with 11,414 patients.




Puerto Rico gov announces legislation to legalize sports betting

(Courtesy)

Expected to bring in $44 million to $66 million a year if enacted

SAN JUAN – Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló announced the introduction of a bill to authorize betting on sports events and online video games.

The measure seeks to authorize this kind of betting, which has been booming stateside and could generate about $3 billion annually there by 2023, the governor said, adding that Puerto Rico could reap between $44 million and $66 million annually from online gambling, according to a study by Spectrum Gaming Group.

The governor’s office said in a release that another independent study, by the Innovation Group, projects $68 million in revenue by 2022, and that both “concluded that the introduction of this segment in Puerto Rico will not result in the cannibalization” of the island casinos’ income because the latter “have the potential to capture a different demographic than the one frequented” at casinos.

The revenue obtained from the industry “will be distributed to help defray the retirement of pensioners and programs aimed at promoting youth sports; for services against gambling addiction; to offer better equipment to the police; to promote educational initiatives; and for administrative and implementation costs of the new Commission,” according to the governor’s office.

“This industry has the potential to convert Puerto Rico into a jurisdiction in the vanguard of allowing the establishment of this new model, which will have a positive effect on our economy,” Rosselló said. “We have worked on aggressive legislation that aspires at being able to market the island at the international and national levels as an attractive destination for the millions of people who bet on sports events.”

The author of the legislation, majority New Progressive Party (NPP) Rep. Néstor Alonso Vega, also attended the news conference. He is chairman of the House Tourism Committee, where the legislation was to be introduced Monday.

In his remarks, Rosselló recalled the U.S. Supreme Court case last year Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association, which he said opened the door for the regulation of sports betting.

As of February, eight states were accepting sport event bets; three states and Washington, D.C. have approved legislation but are “not operational yet,” the governor said, adding that 23 states have introduced legislation, seven states have “expressed interest in introducing legislation” and only nine states have not considered related measures.

In addition, the legislation would authorize online fantasy sports, or esports, gambling, which the governor said, is not adequately regulated in other U.S. jurisdictions and allows for bets to be made on video games such as Madden, Fortnite, Rainbow Six and Gears of War.

“Electronic games are a growing segment, with an estimated 400 million people who form a younger demographic global audience,” the governor said. “It is estimated that in the gaming industry these will have a global economic impact of over $3 billion in 2023. With this aggressive step, we can position Puerto Rico as a destination that promotes esports, in order to attract investment to the Puerto Rican economy.”

The measure proposes generating revenue for the Treasury, from operating licenses and taxes on prizes and plays, for which a 6 percent rate is proposed for bets made in person and 11 percent on online bets.

Those rates are intended to be the lowest in the nation, the administration said, to be as attractive and competitive a jurisdiction as possible.

The legislation would create a new Gambling Commission, following a model similar to states that have adopted legislation. The commission would be composed of seven members of the public and private sectors and be responsible for regulating sports betting, equestrian sports, and electronic games, among others.

While the Gambling Commission will be the regulating entity, the Financial Institutions Commissioner’s Office (Ocif by its Spanish acronym) will be tasked with oversight, as is its current duty over games of chance.

These types of bets can be made at any place authorized by the commission, such as casinos, racetracks and lodging establishments.

The release said “sports betting licenses at licensed horse-betting agencies will also have a 50 percent discount for the first 10 years,” and that, “to help those Puerto Ricans who participated in the sport of cockfighting reinvent themselves, licenses will be authorized” free of charge for the first 10 years to legally run cockpits before the practice was made illegal.

Rosselló said that “on the social aspect, the legislation provides for all the security safeguards to exist in order to guarantee that children under 18 do not participate in these games. It will also firmly address those problems of gambling addiction that may arise. These matters are a priority, as well as providing adequate control to avoid money laundering and tax evasion.”

The governor made the announcement at the Plazoleta Lagos Salados located within the Puerto Rico Convention Center District in San Juan’s Miramar neighborhood.

Photo credit: WePC.com on VisualHunt / CC BY




Bill to exclude Puerto Rico insurers from federal excise tax introduced in U.S. House

Island is treated as a foreign jurisdiction for tax purposes

SAN JUAN – Puerto Rico’s resident commissioner in Washington, D.C., Jenniffer González and other lawmakers introduced legislation that would amend the 1986 Internal Revenue Code to exempt from the foreign insurer excise tax certain insurance policies issued by Puerto Rico.

Titled the Puerto Rico Insurance Excise Tax Exemption of 2019, House Bill 1483 was filed March 4. Currently, foreign insurance companies in Puerto Rico pay an excise tax imposed by Section 4371 of the U.S. Internal Revenue Code. However, Puerto Rico’s insurers are covered by the same federal laws and regulations as stateside insurance companies.

The bill would exempt certain insurance plans underwritten by insurers formed in U.S. territories from the federal excise tax (FET).

“While the Code exempts states and U.S. territories from the excise tax, the IRS considers Puerto Rico a U.S. possession and not a territory,” explains a release issued by González’s office.

The tax puts Puerto Rico’s insurers and reinsurers at a disadvantage to cover risks in the United States. The tax applied on gross insurance premiums is collected at a 4% rate for accident insurance and indemnity bonds; 1% for life insurance, accident insurance and annuity contracts; and 1% for reinsurance.

“This bill seeks to correct the treatment that is given to Puerto Rico under U.S. tax laws. It is highly improbable for the FET to have as a goal to put Puerto Rico at a disadvantage,” González said.

The bill was filed along with Reps. Peter King (R-NY), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) and Ann Kirkpatrick (D-AZ).




Puerto Rico Senate president to add municipalities to Opportunity Zone bills

Rivera Schatz says governor agrees
his bill should be amended

On left, Senate President Rivera Schatz (Courtesy)

SAN JUAN – The president of Puerto Rico’s Senate, Thomas Rivera Schatz, said Friday that the bill presented by the governor’s office, La Fortaleza, to create incentives that promote investment on the Island through the federal Opportunity Zones program, will be amended to give municipal governments “direct participation” in the negotiation of the incentives.

Saying that the commonwealth has been decreasing its assistance to towns “due to the economic situation,” Schatz argued while in the municipality of San Sebastián that continuing to alienate local governments is tantamount to “the gradual elimination of municipal governments, which we do not want because we want them to maintain the greatest number of faculties and resources to be able to serve citizens.”

The aforementioned bill would establish the island’s Economic Development and Commerce Department (DDEC) as the agency in charge of negotiating the credit incentive grants.

“What does that bill suggest as it was filed? That the state, not the municipalities can condone construction taxes and municipal contributions, and we do not agree with that. I contacted the governor and explained that we cannot in state legislation offer as an incentive what belongs to a municipality and the governor agreed,” the lawmaker said.

Opportunity Knocks For Whom?




Puerto Rico gov implores U.S. Senate to pass supplemental appropriations bill

Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz, Gov. Ricardo Rosselló and House Speaker Johnny Méndez (File)

SAN JUAN – Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló called on the U.S. Senate Thursday to approve, House Resolution 268, or the Supplemental Appropriations Act 2019, which includes recovery funds for Puerto Rico.

The bill provides $12.1 billion in supplemental appropriations for fiscal 2019, which ends Sept. 30, to several federal departments and agencies for expenses related to recent natural disasters.

The funding provided is designated as emergency spending, which is exempt from discretionary spending limits and other budget enforcement rules.

A provision would appropriate $600 million for the Agriculture Department to provide a grant to Puerto Rico for disaster nutrition assistance in response to presidentially declared major disasters and emergencies, such as Hurricane Maria.

“Puerto Rico must receive the federal resources necessary to sufficiently complete our recovery and reconstruction in a timely manner, and to assist the 3.2 million U.S. citizens who live on the island and are working each and every day to recover from the storm.

“I urge the U.S. Senate to pass H.R. 268, already approved in the House, which provides much-needed support to Puerto Rico to address critical infrastructure, education, nutritional, and housing needs on the island.

“In order for Puerto Rico’s recovery to be successful, we need federal investment that allows us to build back better. Anything less would be unacceptable,” Rosselló said in a statement.

The Office of Management and Budget recently issued a Statement of Administration Policy opposing as “excessive and unnecessary” the grant of $600 million for Puerto Rico’s Nutrition Assistance Program included in the House bill, which could help 230,000 new program participants.




Puerto Rico house introduces measure in support of dairy industry

SAN JUAN – Puerto Rico House Speaker Carlos “Johnny” Méndez and majority New Progressive Party (NPP) Rep. José “Memo” González Mercado announced Monday an initiative that seeks to strengthen the island’s dairy industry.

The NPP lawmakers said they introduced a joint resolution ordering the Corrections and Rehabilitation Department to mainly consume local milk at the island’s penal institutions.

“We cannot stay with our arms crossed to see how milk consumption in Puerto Rico is reduced,” Méndez said in a statement. “This is an industry that has served our island very well for decades and we have to give them a hand during these times. This is one of various initiatives aimed at solidifying this sector in our economy.”

The speaker said he considers it indispensable that the agriculture sector is kept in “a stable condition,” adding that “it is the government’s responsibility to protect and boost the development of this industry to its maximum potential.”

Rep. González said the measure’s objective is to “adopt a public policy that pursues to strengthen our local agriculture industry,” and “in turn allows us to be in a better position to face situations where we depend exclusively on the local industry.”

In 2016, the Puerto Rico milk industry sold more than 240 million pints, a number that has dropped substantially, to about 190 million pints, as of July, according to Puerto Rico Farmers Association data.

There are three major milk processing plants operating on the island Puerto Rico that are sourced by 257 dairy farms with some 45,400 cows. The industry is made up of about 16,000 direct and indirect jobs.

González, who also chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, spoke with Corrections Secretary Erik Rolón about the measure Sunday. Rolón said he would study the legislation.

“We must remember the weeks after the passage of Hurricane Maria, when we experienced great challenges at our ports,” González said. “The extraordinary situation that took many months to return to normal accounted for delays in delivering products to commercial establishments. As a consequence of the aforementioned, we faced a lack of basic products on the shelves. Products such as bottled water and others were scarce in stores. Despite this, thanks to the local dairy industry, we did not have a deficiency of that product.”




Puerto Rico gov enacts measures that reduce bureaucracy, raise funds

SAN JUAN – Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló signed into law several bills that seek to make the island’s central government and municipalities more efficient, as well as generate revenue.

The governor approved House Bill 1256, which was authored by Rep. José González Mercado to reduce bureaucracy by eliminating extra documentation required of bidders. The measure allows bidders who have received a bidding eligibility certificate by the General Services Administration (GSA) to participate in municipal offers without the need for additional documentation.

Rosselló said in a release issued by his office Sunday that the GSA’s inspection and accreditation process is sufficiently thorough, allowing for a “Single Bidder Registry.”

“It is unnecessary for a person or company to have to be certified in each municipality that might need their permits. This is a measure for efficiency and agility in government efforts, which shows that Puerto Rico is open for business,” Rosselló said.

Meanwhile, House Bill 839, authored by the Rep. Joel Franqui Atiles, makes it possible for the GSA to reach agreements with private companies for the sale of advertising space on certain government vehicles. Half of the funds raised by the initiative will be used to maintain the Department of Public Security’s fleet, which includes Police, Fire, Forensic Sciences and Medical Emergency department vehicles.

“At a time of great fiscal challenges, this initiative allows us to raise additional funds by allowing businesses to advertise on certain government vehicles,” the governor said.

Rosselló also enacted Joint House Resolution 228, authored by Rep. Michael Abid Quiñones Irizarry, which makes it possible for the Department of Transportation and Public Works (DTOP by its Spanish initials) to establish a pilot program for the renewal of a vehicle;s inspection sticker electronically.

He also signed Senate Resolution 242, which was authored by Sens. Thomas Rivera Schatz, José Vargas Vidot and Eduardo Bhatia to order the Office of Legislative Services to digitize any report or historical document produced in the drafting of the Constitution of Puerto Rico.

“As we approach 2020, we need to continue developing technological and innovative alternatives that position us at the forefront of the times. These joint resolutions comply with the public policy of innovation that we promote, while facilitating [government preocesses] for our constituents,” the governor said.

Rosselló also announced that he signed Senate Bill 940, which was authored by Sen. Miguel Romero. The measure aims to facilitate and clarify the process for the reconstruction of the Santurce and Río Piedras urban areas by allowing citizens to acquire abandoned real estate “directly,” with the objective of fostering their restoration and development.




Puerto Rico House passes Cofina restructuring bill

(Courtesy)

SAN JUAN – The Puerto Rico House of Representatives passed a bill sent by the administration that amends the “Law of the Urgent Interest Fund” to allow for the restructuring of Sales Tax Financing Corp. (Cofina by its Spanish acronym) debt under Title III of the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act.

House Bill 1837, introduced by Speaker Carlos “Johnny” Méndez Núñez and the majority New Progressive Party, authorizes Cofina to issue bonds as part of its restructuring and establishes the terms, as well as the government-owned corporation’s faculties and its board’s composition and powers. It also establishes Cofina’s ownership of a portion of the island’s sales and use tax (SUT, or IVU by its Spanish acronym) revenue and its use.

In addition, the bill creates a lien to benefit Cofina bondholders, establishes certain agreements in the name of the commonwealth and allows the sale of certain Cofina bonds held by the Puerto Rico Infrastructure Financing Authority. All of which would come in effect on the date Cofina’s debt adjustment plan is consummated.

Among other measures considered, the lower chamber also voted in favor of Senate Bill 984, which would create the “Puerto Rico Energy Cooperatives Law” within the public policy related to the Puerto Rico energy model.

Organizations exhort lawmakers to oppose Cofina restructuring bill