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A Slew of Antibusiness Bills Shot Down; Private Sector Shouts Victor

Private-sector leaders emphasize need for businesses to make their voices heard


July 22, 2004
Copyright © 2004 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

The private sector is claiming victory after the Legislature rejected a series of bills that businesses had warned would hinder Puerto Rico’s economic development, local business leaders told CARIBBEAN BUSINESS .

"This is momentous," said Cirilo Cruz, head of the Puerto Rico Chamber of Commerce’s (PRCC) legislative services office. "Through our efforts, people have recognized that the private sector is a unified force. The circumstances [involving the proposed antibusiness legislation] incited us to create an improvised but effective coalition, and we told lawmakers they had to seriously analyze their proposals before submitting them for consideration."

"Of the 20 bills we opposed, 17 were rejected between the House of Representatives and the Senate," said Cruz. "The remaining three–the Consumer Code (House Bill 4410), a pharmacy law (HB 4243), and a law establishing a minimum starting salary for nurses (Senate Bill 2635)–were approved and are on their way to La Fortaleza."

Among those rejected by the Legislature are the Antitrust bill, the Minimum Wage Law, a bill requiring bilingual labeling of health and consumer products, a proposal to extend maternity leave from 56 weeks to 68, and a bill tightening regulation of entertainment establishment’s operating hours.

On May 27 and June 3, CARIBBEAN BUSINESS reported on the 27 bills that members of Puerto Rico’s major political parties had tried to rush through at the end at the legislative session. Private-sector leaders warned that the proposals would adversely affect the island’s business climate, discourage investment, and lower its competitiveness in the changing global economy.

Within a matter of days, Gov. Sila M. Calderon promised to veto any bill that would hurt Puerto Rico’s economic development and the administration’s job-creation strategies.

Cruz said Popular Democratic Party (PDP) Sen. Juan Cancel Alegria, New Progressive Party (NPP) Sen. Kenneth McClintock, PDP Rep. Ferdinand Perez, and NPP Rep. Anibal Vega Borges were receptive to the private sector’s concerns and recommendations when it participated in discussions at the Legislature.

According to Cruz, the public in general needs to change its perception of the private sector. "Public opposition to the private sector is intense, but also unfounded. There is a perception in Puerto Rico that making money is wrong. The truth is that only consumer confidence and support make a business successful. This experience demonstrates that the private sector has assumed its responsibility to society and Puerto Rico’s development," he said.

Other organizations collaborating with the PRCC were the Puerto Rico Hotel & Tourism Association (PRHTA); the Convention Bureau; the Inter American Society of Businesspeople; the State Society of Certified Public Accountants; and the Hospitals, Homebuilders, Construction Materials Dealers, Economists, and Consumer Finance associations.

Economists Association President Luis Benitez described the private sector’s initiative as a good start in helping to strengthen the private sector.

"The [antibusiness] bills might have been created with good intentions, but the proposals were poorly written, filed in a hurry, and community groups weren’t able to adequately participate in the process," Benitez said. "It is wrong to approve measures in such a way; the resulting laws would eventually require future amendments."

He said the private sector and economists alike could claim victory. "For a long time, economists have worked to boost the island’s economic development. We can guide the Legislature and the government in the right direction while striving to ensure that all economic sectors and Puerto Rico’s progress are in the best condition possible."

He regretted, however, that the Legislature didn’t pass HB 3755, which proposed the creation of a professional economists organization; he also would have liked to see HB 4720 passed. This bill would have established the International Insurance Center in Puerto Rico, allowing local insurance companies to export insurance and consulting services to international markets.

Cruz encouraged professionals and businesspeople to take an active role in discussing social and economic issues on the island.

Meanwhile, Erin Benitez, PRHTA executive vice president, was pleased SB 2912 and HB 4749 fell through. The first would have imposed a 10% withholding tax on casino winnings; the second pushed for taxes on foreign bank loans. "Here at PRHTA, we are very relieved. They would have seriously hurt our industry," she said.

She emphasized the importance of tourism as an economic sector, and said her agency was willing to cooperate with the Legislature to boost Puerto Rico’s economy and social progress.

This CARIBBEAN BUSINESS article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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