August 4, 2021

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A four-year term plagued by legislation ignored in the House of Representatives

Of the 2,600 bills based this four-year period in the House of Representatives, 1,693, or 65%, have failed to cross into the Senate, which is a reflection, in the opinion of three analysts consulted by Subway, from the mistaken idea that the quality of legislative work is directly tied to the quantity of measures presented by the legislator.

In 895 (52.9%) of the bills that were left hanging in the lower house, the measure was referred to the relevant commission, without it taking any action on the legislative piece. On another 120 occasions (7.1%), holding a public hearing is the last action recorded about a project in the legislative procedure portal, which means that 60% of the measures that were pending did not receive even a positive or negative commission report, despite having referred to some of the internal bodies.

From the examination carried out by this means of the legislative procedure portal, it can be deduced that on 319 occasions (18.8%) the chamber commissions gave a negative report of the project in question, while 115 times (6.8%) the measures were referred to the Rules and Calendar Commission, without it being included in the calendar for consideration by the plenary. Meanwhile, some 95 projects filed (5.6%) were given a first reading but were never referred to the commission for evaluation.

Other stages of the process that represented the end of bills were withdrawals by the author (64), executive meetings (28), returns to committee (21) and measures that were “pending further action” (13).

Data collected by Juan Marrero. Graphic: Javier Ruiz. Source: Unique Legislative Procedure System.

According to the legislative procedure portal, during this four-year period 357 bills originated in the House of Representatives have become law, while another 550 advanced to the Senate without becoming law, either because that body did not approve them, because they were amended without the concurrence of the Chamber or by vetoes of the Executive. In the Senate, a body that this four-year period had 30 members, instead of the 51 of the Lower House, 392 laws have been originated since 2017.

For the analysis of Subway Only bills were taken into account, so no resolutions, joint resolutions or concurrent resolutions presented in the lower house were included.

Playing for him box score

“For a long time in the Legislative Assembly there has been this idea that a good legislator is the one who sets up many bills. Then a kind of competition is established, a box score of how many projects each legislator has filed, and that creates a wrong concept of what the legislative process is. There is an overabundance of projects for which there is no time, not even in the entire four-year period, to be able to evaluate, analyze and process them ”, said the former New Progressive senator Orlando parga when asked to what he attributed the fact that practically two thirds of the chamber projects remained hanging at the end of this four-year period.

Mario Negrón Portillo, a retired professor of Public Administration, affirmed that, from an electoral policy perspective, filing a large number of projects can have value in the eyes of a legislator’s constituents, who with their vote have the power to re-elect or defeat him.

The data “give an idea of ​​how irrelevant or relevant the vast majority of the legislation that is presented in Puerto Rico is. Why is it presented then? Because it is not presented for the experts in legislation or analysts, but for the citizens, their clientele, the voters, ”said Negrón Portillo.

The expert also criticized the relevance of the vast majority of the commissions that have been created in both legislative chambers.

“Before there was a Finance, Government, and Health Commission. They were from eight to 10. Now you have up to the ‘Municipal Landfill Development Commission’ ”, the academic ironized. “Those commissions will see God knows what kind of projects that in the end do not end in anything.”

The former senator of the Popular Democratic Party Eudaldo Báez Galib He agreed that legislators constantly seek the media attention generated by the filing of measures, even when they know in advance that they have no future in the legislative process.

However, he also pointed out that there are necessary and well-conceived projects, but that they stagnate in the Capitol because they threaten interests represented by lobbyists or political investors of the party in power. Báez Galib, who was a senator until 2004, mentioned that he tried, without success, to promote a project that would have forced the legislative committees to render reports on each measure referred to him.

Ultimately, Báez Galib said, the number of measures that spend most of the four-year period in the labyrinth of the legislative process represent a waste of time and effort that could be invested more productively.

“It is not good for the legislative process. It is an expense. Each project is filed and processed. That has an expense not only for the internal process, going from office to office, but the time it takes for officials to work them to bring them to commission. There must be some kind of control. There are resolutions that are filed on the occasion of someone’s birthday or death. I had raised, and it was tried on one occasion, that this not go to the hemicycle, but that it pass through the secretariat and be distributed to the offices (of legislators), and if any legislator had objection to raise it. If there was no objection, it was automatically approved, ”said the former popular politician.

Báez Galib also thought that transitioning to a unicameral legislature it would reduce the amount of bureaucracy, without representing a risk to the internal control mechanisms of the branch in charge of dictating public policy.

“It has been suggested that thinking twice is better and that no mistakes are made. The unicameral systems of the world, and in the United States there is one, in Nebraska, they have shown that they deal with that internally. It is not a problem, “said the former legislator.

While Báez Galib pointed out that the establishment of useless projects has been seen in Puerto Rico “historically”, Negrón Portillo said that it began to occur more frequently since the implementation of the “full-time legislator” in 1997.

Parga, for his part, considers that, although it is a trend “with a long history”, it has “intensified” over the years.

“The legislator becomes a figure who loses influence, political power and respect for the people because solutions are not seen in the Capitol,” summarized the former vice president of the Senate.

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