San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Lawmakers eye host of bills before year’s end

Change seems to be sweeping through Costa Rica’s Legislative Assembly. As 2011 comes to an end, lawmakers are just beginning a long, five-month period of discussion guided by the Executive Branch. 

Last week, President Laura Chinchilla issued a proposed agenda for priority areas for members of the Legislative Assembly. After months of tax reform and budget talks, other issues are resurfacing. 

One issue is an anti-tobacco bill, which Chinchilla’s administration will call up during an extraordinary session in Congress, when the Executive Branch sets the agenda. 

However, with tax reform still on a fast track to approval by the end of December, a Casa Presidencial press release this week urged lawmakers to come to an agreement on the bill “as soon as possible.” 

“Tax reform … is crucial to achieving the goals set by this administration and to fix the economy,” the statement said. “We also encourage the discussion of other bills that complement tax reform.” 

Those bills call for restructuring and transparency in government finances, and better management of tax revenue. 

Other issues on the president’s agenda include a gambling regulation bill, a transit bill, an alcohol sales bill and a tourism bill. 

The gambling bill proposes a 25 percent tax on casino income. President Chinchilla is promoting the bill to generate revenue for security spending. The first draft reached the assembly in November 2009 and has since stalled in commission. 

The transit bill calls for more severe punishment for violations that endanger lives, including speeding, drunk driving and driving without a license. The bill had been stalled in Congress since 2008 until it moved forward to a full assembly session last June (TT, June 6). Last month, several lawmakers expressed concern that the bill was being left aside while attention was focused on budget talks. 

Lawmakers hoped to approve the transit bill before the December period of circulation permit (marchamo) and insurance renewals.

The anti-smoking bill would prohibit smoking in enclosed areas and would add warnings on cigarette packs. It also includes a cigarette tax increase. The bill is ready for discussion in the full assembly, but other bills, including the transit bill, are further along. 

Last year, the commission discussing the anti-smoking bill asked Casa Presidencial to call it up during the assembly’s extraordinary session. Chinchilla balked.

This year the tables were turned, and Chinchilla asked lawmakers to include it in their agenda.

Another bill seeks to regulate the sale of alcohol. The law’s main goal is to reduce the “abusive consumption of alcoholic beverages” by setting new guidelines on how municipalities sell liquor licenses. 

A tourism bill, in legislative commission, aims to declare tourism of public interest, as “tourism is an essential and strategic socioeconomic activity for the country’s sustainable development,” according to the bill’s text.

“I’m glad to see several issues up for discussion,” Legislative Assembly President Juan Carlos Mendoza said last Friday. “I hope we can move on from single-issue negotiations and extend debate to [include] Costa Rica’s other main issues.” 

According to Mendoza, the transit and anti-smoking bills are priorities for the country. 

Last week, Citizen Action Party legislators asked Casa Presidencial to include three additional bills in the extraordinary sessions. PAC legislators Carmen Muñoz, Manrique Oviedo and Jorge Gamboa urged President Chinchilla to include a human trafficking bill, an explosive and firearms regulation bill and a private security services bill in their list of priorities. 

“It is necessary to face the problem of insecurity by approving efficient legislation. We hope the president will listen to our request and allow us to move forward during extraordinary sessions by pushing bills that Costa Rica really needs,” said Muñoz.”

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