Puerto Rico Legislative Assembly works on PREPA, labor, social laws
Back in January 2018, Governor Ricardo Rosselló announced that the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) would be privatized. The House of Representatives of Puerto Rico has already approved their version of the legislative measure while President of the Senate of Puerto Rico, Thomas Rivera Schatz, has expressed his inclination towards dividing the bill in order to address the sale of assets and the handling of power distribution through Public-Private Partnerships separately. Meanwhile, it was mentioned during a May 8 hearing about the current status of the electric grid, that the US Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources is keeping an eye on the process of privatizing PREPA. The Puerto Rican Senate plans on amending the bill by the end of May.
Another piece of legislation pushed forward by the Governor is the reform of the labor law. The proposed austerity measures were protested during May Day and have been heavily criticized for cutting workers’ rights such as reducing vacation days and sick leave to seven days, and eliminating the Christmas bonus. The presidents of the Senate and House of Representatives have restated their opposition towards the bill presented by the Financial Oversight and Management Board as they face pressure from labor unions. The Puerto Rico Senate has approved a bill to amend Law No. 80, which protects against unjustified dismissal from jobs, so that it will only be applicable to employees who are hired after the law is approved.
The labor reform law is part of a proposed fiscal plan by the Financial Oversight and Management Board that also touches the community of the University of Puerto Rico. Already, an increase of cost per course credit has been approved (from $57 to $140), with the cost of school increasing each subsequent year. This will escalate the cost of higher education studies for students and parents in the archipelago, with undergraduate degrees costing $7,241 (a 145% increase) by 2023. The Rio Piedras campus had an assembly on April 11, where they rejected a motion to strike against the increase in tuition.
Meanwhile, in terms of women’s’ health, Representative Jacqueline Rodriguez Hernández wants to make it cheaper to purchase menstrual products. The New Progressive Party (NPP) representative has proposed a bill that would exempt menstrual products from the Sales and Use Tax. Bill 1485 has been backed by several groups such as the Endometriosis Research Program of the Ponce School of Medicine and the Women’s Procurator Office (Oficina de la Procuradora de la Mujer). The Director of the Endometriosis Research Program, Dr. Idhaliz Flores, added that it would help women save money who have irregular menstrual cycles due to health conditions such as endometriosis. So far the bill has had public hearings, with Rodriguez Hernández campaigning for women to attend them.
While on the topic of women’s issues, NPP senator Nayda Venegas Brown has submitted a bill draft that would restrict women’s access to abortion in Puerto Rico. It should be noted that abortion is legal in Puerto Rico due to the Supreme Court decision Roe v Wade, yet abortion is still part of its criminal code (under Article 99). The bill defines the terms under which abortion may take place such as making abortions after 20 weeks illegal, requiring that a woman must give written consent to the procedure, take a sonogram, and 48 hours before the procedure, doctors must inform their patients that abortion “ends the life of a whole, separate and unique being.” It is not a unique bill, as it even references similar laws in the states.