Tue, 12 Feb 2008 13:02:37 +1000 Subject:
Thoughts on yesterday's session, and announcements:
Good afternoon everyone,
The agenda for yesterday's House session was amended once again on the floor. Bills, initiatives, resolutions, and communications that were introduced on the floor that had not been prefiled and noted in the agenda I had sent out via email just before the session (February 11, 2008) include:
HOUSE BILLSHouse Bill 16-23: To appropriate $2,158,129.51 for the payment of claims incurred prior to privatization of the CNMI Government Group Health and Life Insurance Trust Fund, and for other purposes (Reps. Yumul, Tebuteb, Camacho, Quitugua, Santos, etc.) – ADOPTED House Bill 16-24: To implement Article XI, Section 6 Reporting by the Board of Marianas Public Land Trust, by requiring a certified annual report under penalty of perjury to the presiding officers of the legislature and the governor on all information required to be reported under Section 6, including but not limited to interest accrued on trust proceeds that is transferred to the general fund (Rep. Hocog) House Bill 16-25: To require the advice and consent of the Senate for appointees to the Medical Professional Licensing Board (Rep. Hocog) House Bill 16-26: To amend 3 CMC Section 1311 to change the general qualifications of future members of NMC's Board of REgents; to amend 3 CMC Section 1316 to provide for improved financial oversight of NMC; and for other purposes (Rep. Stanley Torres) HOUSE LEGISLATIVE INITIATIVES· House Legislative Initiative 16-3: To amend Sections 3, 4, 5, and 6 of Article XI of the Constitution of the NMI, to update the Constitution to reflect the dissolution of the Marianas Public Land Corporation and the creation of the Dept. of Public Lands (Rep. Hofschneider); and to establish a DPL Operations Fund, to be maintained by the Department of Finance, to be used to cover DPL's reasonable expenses, and to reserve at least $2 million for appropriation each fiscal year for the payment of debt service (Rep. Hofschneider)
· House Legislative Initiative 16-4: To amend Article XII, Section 3 of the Constitution of the NMI in order to change the term permitted for transfer of a leasehold interest in private lands to up to 75 years. (Rep. Hofschneider)
· House Legislative Initiative 16-5: To amend Section 4 of Article X of the Constitution of the NMI to authorize public indebtedness for operating expenses of the Commonwealth government (Rep. Hofschneider)
LOCAL BILLS· House Local Bill 16-3: To reappropriate section 2(a) of Saipan Local Law 14-31 and section 2(f) of Saipan Local Law 15-12, to fund the completion of various ongoing road paving and drainage improvement projects and other public facilities improvements in election district 4 (Rep. Quitugua).
· House Local Bill 16-4: To appropriate $98,000 from the local license fees for pachinko slot machines and poker machines in the 2nd Senatorial District to fund the Tinian Municipal Scholarship Program (Rep. Aldan)
HOUSE RESOLUTIONSHouse Resolution 16-6: To move Rep. Rosemond Santos' parking spot to enlarge the accessible parking area (Rep. Stanley Torres)House Resolution 16-7: To congratulate the Rotary Club of Saipan on its 40th anniversary (Rep. Ed Salas) HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS
House Communications 16-15, 16-16, & 16-17: Privileged speeches of Rep. Stanley Torres, questioning the activities of the NMC President and the DPS Commissioner; calling on the Governor to remove the Attorney General; and expressing concern about the status of the Legislative Bureau's reorganization. The House voted to suspend the rules and passed House Bill 16-23 on first and final reading. The House also passed all the resolutions except for HR 16-6 (the parking area resolution). I objected several times yesterday to the efforts to fast-track both the bill and the resolutions.
With respect to the HB 16-23, which proposed to appropriate over two million dollars to address unpaid insurance claims (and thereby avoid the termination of insurance coverage for government employees), I objected to the motion to place the bill on the calendar to adopt that day on the grounds that I (and probably other legislators) had not even had a chance to read the bill beforehand, and I wanted more information. That slowed down the process somewhat, but not much. We went into recess during the discussion of HB 16-23, and documents from the Retirement Fund were provided attesting to the facts stated in the bill as well as the urgency of addressing the unpaid claims. When the session resumed Ways and Means chair Rep. Ray Yumul confirmed that the source of funds for the appropriation would be MPLT interest payments into the General Fund that had been identified and reported to the Legislature on January 28, 2008.
I objected also to the adoption of resolutions that none of us had had a chance to read. The motion to adopt carried, however, and one resolution was even adopted while I was still reading it. The parking lot resolution was withdrawn at the request of several legislators, including myself, for lack of information about its necessity (i.e., we didn't know for a fact whether or not the Legislature's parking lot was actually not in compliance with accessibility requirements).
I ultimately ended up voting yes on the appropriations bill, and endorsed the resolutions to commend the Rotary Club, two local teachers, etc. But the more important point that I wish to raise is that I am convinced more than ever that the way in which we conduct business in the Legislature is in serious need of reform, and that we do a grave disservice to our constitutents when we fail to exercise due diligence in properly prioritizing, drafting, reviewing, discussing, and adopting legislative action. Obviously I cannot realize these reforms all by myself -- the effort to improve transparency and set priorities in the Legislature will need the sincere commitment of all my colleagues, as well as support from the citizens of this Commonwealth. I will expand on these thoughts in a separate letter.
In other newsMy weekly press conference will be held this Wednesday at 10am in my office. I'd like to share some thoughts on the budget process, provide updates on CUC and the need for a strategic plan, discuss the policies governing the Legislative Bureau, and discuss in more detail some observations of the way business is conducted in the Legislature, and suggestions for improvement. All legislators are invited to attend.The Health, Education, and Welfare Committee has announced that it is meeting on Wednesday, February 13 at 2pm in the House chamber to discuss NMC accreditation issues; and again on Friday, February 15 at 9:30am to discuss CHC. The chair of the committee is Rep. Ralph Torres. His office may be reached at 664-8903 for more information.The telephone numbers and email addresses of all our legislators are attached in this email.Thanks very much, and please feel free to contact me for questions, comments, or advice.
House of Representatives16th CNMI Legislature
PO Box 500586Saipan, MP 96950
Tel: (670) 664-8931
Cel: (670) 483-3935