Wanda Vázquez has asked the Senate to postpone the vote on the controversial bill to amend the Civil Code, which offers the government the opportunity to thoroughly work on an issue of great social importance, following the rule of law and jurisprudence in Puerto Rico and the United States.
The governor, who knows the law and has a long career as a prosecutor and former Justice secretary, has asked for more time to discuss some provisions of the bill that the legislature has not properly analyzed in public hearings. The opportunity should serve to deepen the evaluation process so that academics, jurists and other sectors can also suggest recommendations.
Calendar barriers that hinder what should be an informed discussion and partisan electoral interests should not limit this effort. We insist that, with clear language, the document guiding life in our democratic society must allow Puerto Rico to advance in the field of individual, social and economic rights.
The governor´s request to postpone the vote was accepted by the Senate. However, there is concern that Senate president Thomas Rivera Schatz intends to impose terms on the evaluation requested by the governor. Vázquez has rightly reiterated that changes to the Civil Code should not affect acquired rights or be in conflict with judicial precedents. The Justice Department has shown objections related to the language proposed in the bill.
Experts express concerns regarding the fact that the draft lacks an argument to explain and justify the proposed provisions governing the private life of individuals from birth to death. These gaps must be addressed following the law and jurisprudence. The Civil Code must provide clarity; it cannot be subject to adaptable interpretations. The courts need to understand the legislative intention of the provisions when resolving disputes. There must be a record of the analysis made by lawmakers to add, eliminate or modify clauses.
However, the President of the Senate refuses to explain the amendments. He said that anyone who objects can challenge him in court. The Legislative Assembly must facilitate the life and coexistence of people in society, instead of affecting rights and imposing obstacles that cost time, money and energy.
Puerto Rico needs an updated Civil Code that does not subject people's private law to arbitrariness or particular interpretations.
The current Code, which dates back to 1930, is based on the Spanish Civil Code which governed the island by royal order since 1889. It arises from contexts that do not necessarily address our present, even though over the years it has been amended in specific areas. Hence the need to have a document that governs the rights of individuals following social, scientific, economic and technological transformations, but free from particular or political agendas.
Over the last twenty years, at a cost of $10 million, the Code has been under legislative consideration, partly due to pressure from sectors reluctant to update the document on the rights of individuals and family relations.
Without wide participation, the House of Representatives approved the first version in just one month, in March 2019. Over the past few months, the Senate kept the most recent version of the document behind closed doors until just a week ago. The amended document has received serious objections from experts and groups advocating for the rights of marginalized populations. These concerns must be addressed.
Governor Vázquez's request offers the opportunity to undertake a thorough debate that will lead to a Civil Code that protects the rights of all in harmonious and fair living conditions.