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Legislative Assembly Faces Packed Agenda

The Legislative Agenda this week began following its new marching orders from the Executive Branch, which presented several key bills for discussion after a few months of suspense as President Oscar Arias and his Cabinet drafted, refined and reviewed legislation.

Among the new items on the legislators’ priority list are a bill to delay the controversial new Immigration Law (see separate story); an income-tax reform that includes a tax on luxury homes; legislation required by the Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA), such as a bill to lift the state insurance monopoly; and a bill that would return autonomy to indigenous peoples.

The question at hand? Whether the assembly, where tax reform is expected to be a controversial issue and CAFTA is already dividing the leading National Liberation Party (PLN) and opposition Citizen Action Party (PAC), is ready to handle the onslaught. Still more controversial items, including bills to reform the Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE) and the rest of the tax reforms, are soon to come, according to Rodrigo Arias, President Oscar Arias’ brother, spokesman and legislative liaison.

Asked last month how he planned to avoid assembly gridlock, Arias said spreading the bills among the various commissions, or even creating new commissions to examine certain bills such as ICE reforms, would allow all the legislation to progress simultaneously. PAC legislator Nidia María González this week said she agrees.

“There are a lot (of bills), but they’re going to be distributed in commissions… it will make it easier,” she told The Tico Times.

She added that she thinks it’s wise the government didn’t present all the bills in the pipeline at once, saving the rest of the Arias administration’s proposed tax plan for later to avoid gridlock.

However, legislators from Liberation, the party that brought Arias to power, said this week that they don’t expect much progress on the agenda. Of the 38 items under debate, 33 must be discussed in commission before they can reach the assembly floor; before that process can begin, commissions must consult groups affected by the bills for a period of five to eight days, the daily reported. Assembly President Francisco Antonio Pacheco told the daily progress will be “timid” because of the legislative regulations.

Libertarian Movement Party legislator Luis Antonio Barrantes told The Tico Times assembly leaders can expect total opposition from his party’s six legislators when it comes to the newly proposed taxes.

“Independently of whether they (are presented) apart or together, we have to think about the effect they would have… if we haven’t restructured public spending,” he said of tax increases. According to Barrantes, his party will stick to its traditional line of urging measures to combat government inefficiency and faulty spending practices before approving new taxes. He said the Planning Ministry, headed by Second Vice-President Kevin Casas, is the place for these changes to take place.

He added that he opposes one of the five bills already on the assembly floor – a $30 million loan from the World Bank for education spending – because the Public Education Ministry failed to use approximately $28 million of its budget in 2005.

These changes must be addressed before approving new loans, he said.

The Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC) has also expressed its opposition to new taxes, including a 0.25% additional tax on land worth more than ¢75 million (about $146,000) containing houses or other buildings, La Nación reported.

A bill to reform the country’s 104-year old press law, which punishes libel with jail sentences and has been widely criticized for decades without result (TT, July 14), is not on the list.

Libertarian Movement legislator Mario Quirós released a statement last week criticizing this omission.

“The delay doesn’t favor rights and individual guarantees consecrated by the Constitution, nor does it favor a vigorous and healthy democratic life,” he said in the statement.



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