San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

What’s Next on the Legislative Agenda?

With the highly polemic three-year-old tax plan just days away from being voted upon, legislators are asking themselves what next, and wondering how to fill their remaining three months in office.

Rather than let their characteristic lack of productivity define them until the end, some legislators are asking the Executive Branch to send them more bills for discussion.

But with their terms up May 8, it is questionable how much progress can be made in this assembly,which for the past four years has taken on average a year and a half to process a bill. Furthermore, progress of the other highly controversial issue facing the assembly – the Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA) – was halted when the nine members of the International Affairs Commission decided last week to not discuss the agreement until the Supreme Elections Tribunal (TSE) announces a winner of the Feb. 5 presidential election.

“(CAFTA) is very delicate, and very conflicting. One of the candidates is in favor, the other wants to renegotiate. So we will see, we will wait to see what happens,” said commission president Rolando Laclé, legislator with the Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC).

Laclé would not say where CAFTA would fit on the legislative agenda once a President is announced. The International Affairs Commission can continue its discussion, and if it is approved there, but not voted on by the full legislature, the future assembly would discuss it on the main floor.

“Once it, or any bill, has been approved in commission, it cannot be discussed there again,” Laclé told The Tico Times.

Laclé says bills of “local character,” specific to municipalities or certain communities, are likely to fill the legislative agenda after the controversial Permanent Fiscal Reform Package, as the tax plan is called, is voted on.

However, only President Abel Pacheco can decide what legislators will discuss over the next three months. Until the end of April, legislators are in extraordinary session, meaning the Executive Branch defines the legislative agenda.

“I’m not going to send any bill that interferes with the processing of the tax plan,” Pacheco told the press Tuesday.

While legislators have been criticized over the past four years for their lack of productivity, they could instead be criticized in the next few months if they do too much, particularly when it comes to CAFTA, according to political analyst Luis Guillermo Solís.

Because no reelection exists in Costa Rica, the entire legislature is essentially lame duck, Solís explained. If the assembly, for some odd reason, strikes up a whirlwind of efficiency and moves CAFTA forward, it could be construed as disrespectful of the voting public, who proved to be divided Feb.

5 when it comes to CAFTA.

This “could bring about violence,” Solís said, because the assembly would be operating without a mandate.

Anti-CAFTA groups have announced as much, pointing to the equally divided support given to National Liberation Party candidate Oscar Arias, who insists CAFTA be passed, and Citizen Action Party (PAC) candidate Ottón Solís, who pushes for renegotiation of the agreement. Analysts across the board have warned whoever is declared President (see separate article) to act with great prudence, patience and negotiation skills when it comes to CAFTA.

Analyst Solís suggests that because the election was so divided, and because no party has a majority in the assembly, legislators should be wary of moving forward any bill, not just CAFTA.

Laclé disagrees.

“This Congress works until April 30, and we have the constitutional power to keep working,” he said.


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