EL ESPECTADOR, May 20, 2024

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

Exactly 30 days away from the end of the second legislative year, several bills are hanging by a thread, because they haven’t been dealt with through the necessary procedures. The opposition is talking about a possible legislative “obstruction”, set off by the social reforms that have been proposed.

 Thursday, June 20, is the last day to find out what’s going to happen to several bills on which the administration and the Congress have invested months of work. There will be 30 days of turbulent debate in which all of the caucuses will be trying to impose their initiatives on the agendas of the Chamber and the Senate, as well as in their respective constitutional committees.

When all is said and done, there are only two ways this can end:

The bill will pass, or the whole idea will be placed on file, and they will be starting the whole thing over from zero.

On the table are, in the first place, the projects where the country’s attention, and thus the work of the legislators, has been concentrated. They are the so-called social reforms being promoted by President Gustavo Petro’s administration: health, pensions, labor, education, and the implementation of the agrarian jurisdiction. Paradoxically, even though all of them played leading roles in this last session of Congress, only one of them, pension reform, seems to have a clear possibility of going forward.

The third of the four debates on this bill will get underway this Tuesday, this time in the Chamber’s Seventh Committee where the administration expects to have majorities to put in place a system of pillars, beginning in 2025. The principal change being proposed, which in its turn will generate resistance from several sectors, is to require a contribution to Colpensiones[1], starting with 2.3 minimum wage values monthly, which even President Petro has not yet been convinced to support. He wants a threshold of 4 minimum wage values monthly.

Even though there is a positive atmosphere in the discussions, Congress members warn that if the administration offers a new health care bill, with a message of urgency as some Ministers have announced, its political capital will end up collapsing and both bills will go down to defeat.

That, however, is just one face of the panorama. Dozens of bills in Congress are in a similar situation, as they are within one, two, or more debates away from final passage. Outstanding bills on the list are rendering of accounts by members of Congress, prohibition of sex change therapy, changing party affiliation, and the “clean slate and new account” law 2.0, among other proposals.

Labor law reform, the administration’s sacrifice

The administration’s labor law reform package has been stalled in the Chamber’s Seventh Committee since December. At first, they proposed an increase in the night and Sunday pay differentials, as well as limiting outsourcing, along with other areas. With the difficulties in getting the health and pension bills through, the Historic Pact caucus themselves and the Interior Minister, Luis Fernando Velasco, opted for not going ahead with the labor law reform. Some administration officials insisted that it would still be possible to get through the first debate at least, so as to keep the bill afloat; however, the move could affect the debate on pensions, as would happen with the eventual introduction of the health care reform bill.

A darkening outlook for the education statute

Even though it was approved with a big majority in its two debates in the Chamber, the proposed statute on education reform is at the point of being blocked in the Senate’s First Committee. The members of the Senate insisted that the measure came too late and that it wouldn’t be easy to get it to the full Senate, since Paloma Valencia and David Luna have already issued opinions in opposition to the administration’s position. To be adopted as a statute, It can’t be discussed as an extra, which makes it unlikely to emerge from the two debates still required in these four weeks. Besides that, the administration has not resolved doubts about its fiscal viability, which has already knocked out other bills.

How has implementation of the agrarian jurisdiction been going?

Just as with the education reform bill, the ordinary law that regulates agrarian jurisdiction will face tough opposition from the Senate’s First Committee, and from the full Senate as well. According to speakers for the opposition, the administration has not reached agreement, or even had discussions with members of Congress, much less with the Supreme Court, particularly with the Civil and Agrarian Branches, who have made a number of comments about the bill. In this setting, the President will have to give in to several of the comments coming from the high court, and that will mean a more extensive debate for which the remaining four weeks will not be enough.

Reforming the Congress

Two debates that touch directly on the work of members of Congress are searching for a spot on the First Commission schedule and the full sessions. One of them is the one that proposes reducing the salaries of Senators and Representatives, which was an emblem for several during the campaign, but which was diluted in the midst of the legal mishaps and the differences among the caucuses. Right now, the only one still alive is the proposal by Senator “Jota Pe” (J.P.) Hernández. According to several spokesmen, it doesn’t have majority support and will probably be placed on file. With a more cheerful outlook, but also depending on two debates, is the proposal that requires the legislators to render accounts on a public platform.

The bills that never arrived.

For several members of Congress, the fixation by the administration all year with the health care and pension reforms left some projects that the country is calling for and President Petro has promised on different occasions, didn’t make it to the Capitol. In first place would be the law providing for submission by criminal gangs, the basis for the dialogs required for “total peace”. That failed in the last Congress and  didn’t return. The Mining Code is likewise on this list, and the bill on public services, announced at various opportunities but still making no progress; in fact, nobody is familiar with the key points that every bill text is required to have.

The ones that are seeking a place on Congress’s schedule

At the edge of the spotlights on social reforms, the projects of several members of Congress are looking for a spot in this final 30-day stretch. Coming from different caucuses and with all kinds of objectives, the outstanding ones are the prohibition of bull fighting, the “clean slate and fresh account” 2.0, measures against the wrongly called conversion therapy, the sanctions against vicarious violence, the public policy for productive prisons, and many other initiatives. Between debates on the official reforms and the numerous calls for debates on political control, none of those projects has a straight path, but in the midst of the political game, none of those can be written off.

[1] Colpensiones is a state-owned company attached to Colombia’s Labor Ministry and responsible for administration of the pension system.

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