Extraordinary legislative periods: what’s the use?

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One of the hardest tasks in this country is to put Congress members to work outside of the less than seven months in which they gather annually. According to the Constitution, the Permanent Commission – formed by 37 of the 628 Congressmen – sessions during the recess of both Chambers, which is a period tantamount to 169 days per year. Nevertheless, the Commission cannot vote certain law proposals, but among its powers it may convene extraordinary sessions, though the specific criteria for holding them is not outlined. In 2013, this will become a reality: there won’t be one but two extraordinary session periods. Unlike regular periods, extraordinary ones are exclusively held for issues included in the specific agenda. That way, Mexican legislators will “sacrifice” a few days – which, let’s not get ahead of ourselves, may even be less than that, just like the first period, which lasted for a little more than six hours (not including a pause due to a blackout) – all with the purpose of cleansing the schedule of pending actions in the face of the second period of ordinary sessions. Beyond the discussion of the rulings, it is worth to reflect upon the implications of having both Congress Chambers working in the middle of summer.

Regardless that disappearing extraordinary periods and, perhaps, establishing an extended working schedule (only if it’s not too much trouble, of course) may be contemplated, to actually achieve it is a titanic duty. On June 2011, for example, a few months from concluding his administration, President Calderón requested legislators to convene an extraordinary period with the goal of enacting five reforms: political, labor, money laundering, anti-corruption and public-private associations. The President’s request was ignored and just like it happened throughout the second PAN term in office, the legislative agenda was conditioned by an experimented political filter: Senator Manlio Fabio Beltrones. Calderón had a sort of vendetta in the last months of his administration with the surprising use of the preferential initiative (no longer in use), although part of that success was due to the political operation of the then-President elect Peña Nieto. The leader of the PRI section in the Chamber of Deputies was able to sail through the storm, not only by taking advantage of the agonizing Calderón’s proposals – labor reform and the Law of Government Accounting – but introducing the agenda of Enrique Peña Nieto, even before he secured power. In fact, two out of the three initiatives of the then-President elect Peña – reforming the Federal Institute for Information Access (IFAI) and creating an anti-corruption agency – will seemingly return to the political stage, when the Chamber of Deputies holds its second extraordinary period in a year.

As of now, even if only the Chamber of Deputies was in session during the first period, it’s still a remarkable fact. Despite excluding or delaying issues such as the appointment for a post in the General Council of the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) or the IFAI reforms, the remaining three matters are not to be underestimated: the basis for a unique procedural legislation, the law for state and municipalities’ financial discipline and the regulation regarding land public registries. Ideally, the rest of pending issues – within or outside the Pact for Mexico schedule – should be settled by August. The rehearsals of the 62nd Legislature’s first year are about to be over. From September 1st onwards, the discussion of two major reforms, energy and taxing, will be at stake. The trial by fire for the federal government and its Congress members is quite close. They should get ready to work a bit more than six hours on July 17th (I stand corrected: let us also include the brief minutes of the extraordinary period’s opening act held a day earlier)


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