The House of Representatives of Puerto Rico (Spanish: Cámara de Representantes de Puerto Rico) is the lower house of the Legislative Assembly of Puerto Rico, the bicameral territorial legislature of Puerto Rico. The House, together with the Senate, control the legislative branch of the government of Puerto Rico.
The structure and responsibilities of the House are defined in Article III of the Constitution of Puerto Rico, which vests all legislative power in the Legislative Assembly. Every bill must be passed by the Senate and by the House, and signed by the governor in order to become law.
The House has exclusive power to initiate impeachments and bring an indictment. The constitution also establishes that the appointment of the Secretary of State and the Comptroller require the advice and consent of the House, with all other appointments confirmed by the Senate alone. Financially, all bills for raising revenue must originate in the House.
Structurally, the House is normally composed of fifty-one representatives: forty who represent the constituent representative districts across the commonwealth (with one representative per district) and an additional eleven which are elected at-large.[a]
The House has been meeting since 1900, after the enactment of the Foraker Act established the body formally. The current session is the 29th House of Representatives of Puerto Rico which has a simple majority from the Popular Democratic Party; giving the party control over the House without political opposition except for constitutional amendments.[b]
The House of Representatives, along with its members and staff, is housed in the western half of the Capitol of Puerto Rico, namely in the Ernesto Ramos Antonini House Annex Building, the Antonio R. Barceló Building, and the Luis A. Ferré Building.
Created in 1900 as the House of Delegates under the Foraker Act, the lower body of the Puerto Rico Legislative Assembly was the only elected body until the Senate was created in 1917 under the Jones-Shafroth Act, then creating a bicameral legislature.
The House of Delegates was controlled by the Republican Party from its creation in 1900 through 1904. In January 1905, the House switched to control by the Union Party, which would remain in power until 1924. A coalition of the Republican Party and Socialist Party of Puerto Rico controlled the House until 1944, save for a brief period from 1941 to 1943 of the Popular Democratic Party.
After the Popular Democratic Party's landslide victory in 1944, that party controlled the House until 1969, when the New Progressive Party won the House and the governorship, but not the Senate, creating Puerto Rico's first "split" government. Ángel Viera Martínez, a former prosecutor and freshman representative from San Juan, was elected to the first of three stints as Speaker.
In 1973, the Popular Democratic Party reacquired control of the House but was ousted as the majority party in the 1976 elections, won by the New Progressive Party. Viera Martínez was elected in 1977, to his second stint as Speaker.
As a result of the 1980 elections, the New Progressive Party had won 26 seats and the Popular Democratic Party 25, but the latter challenged the results of the 35th Representative District, creating a tie with each party holding 25 seats, pending the final results of that district. Since the new House in 1981 was tied, it was unable to elect a Speaker, as required, by an absolute majority. To complicate matters, Ramón Muñiz (PPD-32nd District) died on the House floor in January 1981 and Representative-elect Fernando Tonos Florenzán's election was invalidated due to him not having the Constitutionally required 25 years to serve in the House, leaving the House with 25 New Progressives and 23 Popular Democrats. House Secretary Cristino Bernazard, who normally would have presided over the House only until it elected its new Speaker in its inaugural session, became the first unelected Acting Speaker of the House. During Bernazard's incumbency, he appointed co-chairs to the House standing committees and required that all House decisions and legislation be approved by consensus. After some political wrangling, in what became known as the Viera-Colberg Pact, the House elected Viera Martínez once again as Speaker for the remainder of 1981 and maverick Popular Democratic Rep. Severo Colberg Ramírez as Speaker from 1982 until 1984. In late 1981, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Popular Democratic candidate in the 35th District, and with the Popular Democrats finally filling in the two vacancies they had, that party gained control of the House, with a majority of 26.
Even though the Popular Democratic Party retained the House in the 1984 general elections, Colberg was not re-elected Speaker, and instead José Ronaldo "Rony" Jarabo served as Speaker from 1985 to 1992. Jarabo was defeated in a primary in 1992, and as the New Progressive Party won the 1992 general elections, he was succeeded by the first woman Speaker, Zaida Hernandez Torres, who served until 1996, when she left the House to run for Mayor of San Juan.
Hernandez's Speaker pro Tempore, Edison Misla Aldarondo, became Speaker in 1997. After he left office in 2000, he was convicted of corruption charges in federal and state courts. He was succeeded in office by Carlos Vizcarrondo during the 2001–2004 term.
In 2005, as a Popular Democratic governor took office, the New Progressive Party controlled the Senate and the House, and José Aponte Hernández, a loyalist of former Governor Pedro Rosselló, was elected as Speaker of the House. In addition to the tension with the executive branch, Aponte's term was tinged with greater-than-average tension with the Senate, in which his support for Rossello's bid to oust Senate President Kenneth McClintock, whom he called a "traitor" to his party, took him to lead over 20 New Progressive representatives to converge on the Senate floor in opposition to McClintock's permanence as Senate President, considered by many the all-time historical low-point in Senate–House relations.
The current Speaker, as of 2017, is Carlos Johnny Méndez.
The House has exclusive power to initiate impeachment proceedings and, with the concurrence of two-thirds of the total number of members of which it is composed, to bring an indictment. The Constitution also establishes that all bills for raising revenue shall originate in the House. The appointment of the Secretary of State shall in addition require the advice and consent of the House.
Elections to the House are held every four years on the Tuesday after the first Monday of November, along with the elections for governor, resident commissioner, the Senate, the mayors, and the municipal assemblies. The last election was held on November 6, 2012 where the members of the 29th House of Representatives of Puerto Rico were elected. The next election is scheduled for November 8, 2016 where the members of the 30th House of Representatives of Puerto Rico will be elected. Members of the House are elected for a four-years term.
Citizens cast their votes in colleges (Spanish: colegios) which are simply usually the nearest public school to where the voter declared as residence. Votes are required by law to be cast in secret, unless the citizen has a physical impairment that does not allow him to. Those citizens unable to travel to colleges due to medical impairments may vote at their place of residence (homes, elder homes, etc.) or wherever they are convalescing (hospitals, clinics, etc.). In both of these extraordinary cases, officials from the Puerto Rico State Commission on Elections will provide aid so that the citizens can cast their vote—either by using verbal or non-verbal communication—with members from the different political parties required to observe the process in order to ensure accuracy, fairness, transparency, order, and legitimacy.
To elect the members of the House, Puerto Rico is divided into forty (40) representative districts that do not follow a particular pattern; they are strictly based on a similar number of inhabitants. These districts are in turn divided into one or more precincts: an electoral division which, in turn, is constituted by colleges. For each district, citizens may vote only for one candidate from the district in which they declared residence by first-past-the-post. District representatives are expected to give priority to matters related to the district they represent but are not required to do so by law.
In addition, citizens are allowed to vote for one candidate at-large of their preference by single non-transferable vote. The eleven at-large candidates with the majority of votes serve as representatives at-large alongside the district representatives with the same powers and rights. Representatives at-large are expected to serve any individual or group but are not required to do so by law; they also serve as a mechanism for citizens who do not wish to channel their affairs through their district representative for whatever reason.
Representatives serve terms of four years each. A member who has been elected, but not yet seated, is called a "representative-elect"; a member who has been appointed to a seat, but not yet seated, is called a "representative-designate". The Puerto Rico Constitution does not provide for term limits.
The annual salary for full-time work of each representative is $73,775 USD annually, except for the Speaker which receives $110,663, and the Speaker pro tempore, the Majority and Minority Leaders, the Majority and Minority Whips, and the presidents of the Commission on Government and the Commission on Treasury which receive $84,841 each.
Representatives are allowed to generate additional income from outside their legislative employment subject to restrictions, and only the representatives which do not receive an annual salary are entitled to additional benefits such as per diem or car allowance. Costs associated to traveling outside of Puerto Rico is reimbursed. Cost-of-living adjustments have been frozen since 2005. All representatives qualify for the same retirement and health benefits as of all other employees of the government of Puerto Rico.
In addition, all representatives are provided with office space, secretarial services, advisors, support personnel, office supplies, and stationery. Hiring of personnel working directly for each representative is at the discretion of each representative. Rather than providing these resources and services directly, representatives are instead assigned a budget from which they retrieve funds to cover such costs. Representatives that preside commissions are assigned larger budgets than those who do not, thus creating a difference between the budgets assigned to representatives from the party holding a majority in the House versus the ones in minority as majority representatives tend to be the ones who preside commissions.
The "Majority party" is the political party that holds a majority of seats. The next-largest party is known as the minority party. The president pro tempore, committee chairs, and some other officials are generally from the majority party.
Section 9 of Article III of the Constitution of Puerto Rico states that should a Party control more than two-thirds of the seats in the House of Representatives, the losing candidates with the most percentage of votes will be given seats in the Legislature until the total of minority members reaches seventeen (17). In order to qualify to a Section 9 seat, the candidates must belong to a party that received a minimum amount of votes in the General Elections of that year.
The House is served by several officers with and without voting powers, and elected from within and outside its ranks. Of these, only the Speaker was established by the Constitution; all other officers were established by internal rules adopted by each session of the House. Only the Speaker, Speaker pro tempore, the Majority and Minority Leaders, and the Majority and Minority Whips have voting powers as all are elected from within. Non-voting officers are elected from outside House ranks and simply assist in internal procedures and clerical tasks, and in the observance of internal rules, laws, and the Constitution. Typical non-voting officers include the Secretary, the Sergeant-at-Arms, and other officers appointed by the different commissions as part of their own internal affairs.
The Speaker of the House is the highest-ranking officer and the presiding officer of the House. The post was created by Article III of the Constitution of Puerto Rico which establishes that, "[...]the House of Representatives [shall elect] a Speaker from among [its] members." The Speaker is substituted by the Speaker pro tempore in his absence. Its counterpart in the Senate is the President.
The Speaker pro tempore is the second-highest-ranking officer of the House of Representatives and substitutes the Speaker of the House in his absence. Its counterpart in the Senate is the President pro tempore.
Each party elects floor leaders denominated "Majority leader" or "Minority leader", accordingly, as well as a "Majority Whip" or a "Minority Whip". Floor leaders act as the party chief spokespeople. The current leaders are Majority Leader Johnny Méndez, Majority Whip Angel Pérez Otero, and interim Minority Leader Luis Raúl Torres Cruz.
The House is served by several officials who are not members.
The Senate's chief administrative officer is the Secretary of the House, who maintains public records, disburses salaries, monitors the acquisition of stationery and supplies, and oversees clerks. The Secretary automatically presides over the House in the interim, once the term of the incumbent Speaker is finished, but before the House elects a new Speaker.
This officers are elected by the Senate, usually during its inaugural session, immediately after the election of the body's. The current Secretary is Manuel A. Torres while the current Serjeant At Arms is William Sánchez-Tosado. [relevant? ]
The current session is the 29th House of Representatives of Puerto Rico, the lower house of the 17th Legislative Assembly of Puerto Rico, which will meet from January 14, 2013, to January 8, 2017. All members were elected in the general elections of 2012 with a simple majority coming from the Popular Democratic Party (PPD).
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The Office of Legislative Services was headed in early 2009 by Kevin Rivera, while Eliezer Velázquez currently serves as Superintendent of the Capitol, the first to serve during two four-year terms.
The Puerto Rico Legislative Assembly also receives support services from the Council of State Governments (CSG), CSG's Eastern Regional Conference, the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) and the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators (NHCSL).