San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Lawmakers To Debate Economic, Social Bills

After spending three months bickering over a free-trade agreement with the United States, lawmakers will begin debating bills to build housing, help small businesses and ease concessions projects.

President Oscar Arias, who will decide the legislative agenda until May, called for debate on the social and economic development projects this week in a concession to the opposition Citizen Action Party (PAC).

After rushing to pass bills required to implement the Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA), Costa Rica got a seven-month extension last week to enter the treaty.

Under pressure from PAC, which opposes CAFTA, the executive branch suggested lawmakers debate the social agenda in the morning and the CAFTA bills in the afternoon.

The full Legislative Assembly has regular meetings 3 to 6 p.m., but a two-thirds majority can vote to schedule extra meetings 9 a.m. to noon.

Lawmakers have discussed CAFTA bills during nearly every legislative session since November, when they approved the annual budget. The treaty was approved by national referendum in October.

The three new bills under discussion enjoy wider support. One would create a development bank to lend money under favorable conditions to small- and medium- sized producers.

Another would simplify the process involved in titling land and obtaining construction permits to eradicate shantytowns.

A third would cut red tape for the concession of public works projects to private companies.

Costa Rica must pass the 12 CAFTA bills before Oct. 1. Three of the bills have been approved, while four are under consultation in the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court (Sala IV).


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