The Legislative First Half

There are two coexisting dynamics currently running through the government regarding its legislative agenda. The first relates to the emblematic projects that were proposed during the election campaign. Programs like tax reform or health care reform. The second is newer and has a significant relationship with a number of bills introduced by former president Piñera. The Executive will continue to push them legislatively, though with adjustments aligned with its programmatic interests. By Ian Mackinnon (*)

22 June 2022

With the first two months of President Gabriel Boric’s administration now behind us, and following the announcement of the end of the inaugural period, a couple of trends related to his legislative agenda are beginning to emerge. The first, a push for tax reform, was entirely expected, and its pre-legislative process is already underway with the so-called “Diálogos Sociales” (Social Dialogues). Other important reforms committed to during the campaign, including health care and pension reform, will await the conclusion of the constituent process before being introduced to the legislature. In fact, on one of her many visits to the Senate Health Committee, Minister Begoña Yarza went as far as to say that her Ministry’s proposal would not be presented until 2023. Something similar was conveyed a few weeks ago by the Minister of Public Works, Juan Carlos García, when presenting his priorities, including the proposal for water governance, to the Congress in Valparaíso.

Given that, legislators understand that there will be a wait before embarking on these major discussions, but this does not mean that they will stand idly by without legislating, especially in the Senate, where the opposition holds the majority on several committees. In this case, the risk for the government is that it will be forced to follow the rhythm set by the different parties rather than its own.

The second dynamic is newer and relates to the significant number of bills introduced by former president Sebastián Piñera which the current Executive will continue to push legislatively, though with the adjustments needed to align them with his own programmatic interests. Just to mention a few examples, the Minister of Women and Gender Equity, Antonia Orellana, confirmed to the Senate Labor Committee that the government will begin discussion of the bill on the right to day care and the creation of a day care solidarity fund. This initiative is included in bulletin 14782-13 presented in January of this year. According to the Minister’s statements the proposal will be moved forward through a working group of members from Congress, the Executive, and other agents, with a view to resolving the main sticking points. The bill also includes provisions to strengthen the right to day-care centers, taking into account a child, gender and human rights perspective. For its part, the Ministry of National Assets, in bulletin 12551-12, has announced it will support establishing penalties for those hindering access roads to ocean, river, and lake beaches. Another initiative relates to water-front management and maritime concessions, as per bill 8467-12, introduced by Piñera in his first term. Along the same lines, there are high expectations regarding the reactivation of the Constitutional Reform that regulates the State Of Alert to prevent damage to critical infrastructure, according to Bulletin 13086-07. First introduced in congress in November 2019 during the peak of social unrest (“Estallido Social), but legislatively frozen since September 2020, the bill now seems to have taken on a second life as a tool to define an intermediate Military State of Exception that allows the Armed Forces to intervene in protecting roads and highways. This may also be a good example of the risk mentioned from the first trend. The members of the Joint Commission have already notified the Executive that they could move forward with their own indications if there is any delay in presenting the proposal. This can be read as a positive trend, unlike the less conciliatory positions held in the previous cycle.

In summary, the keys to the outcome of this “legislative first half,” as the Segpres Minister Giorgio Jackson termed it at the end of April, could come from these two key dynamics, i.e., managing the wait for the results about the new Constitution before starting with discussions of the major campaign promises and promoting different legislative proposals submitted by the last government. Let’s see if the designed direction stays on course in the coming months.

(*) Political Scientist, graduate of the Catholic University of Chile, and Master of Science in International Public Policy from University College London, England. Azerta Partner.