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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center

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Despite Passing, CNMI Laws Face Implementation Issues
Although bills pass muster, legislation sometimes dormant

By Haidee V. Eugenio

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Nov. 16, 2012) – As of yesterday, only 20 percent or 88 of the 431 bills that were introduced and pre-filed by members of the Northern Marianas 17th Legislature became public laws, with freshman Rep. Teresita Santos (Ind-Rota) having the most number of bills that were enacted. She and others conceded, however, that the bigger task for the government is enforcing or implementing these laws.

Santos had eight bills that became law, mostly on homesteads and public lands.

"I'm grateful to the House and Senate, and the administration, for seeing the merits of my bills. But having many bills signed into law does not necessarily mean you're the best. Also, in the Commonwealth, we have laws that lack enforcement and that to me is the bigger responsibility," she told Saipan Tribune last night.

Another freshman lawmaker, House floor leader George Camacho (R-Saipan), came second with seven bills becoming public laws, including a major revenue-generating bill in February 2011 called the Japan Air Stabilization Program.

But even before it could be implemented, it had to be twice amended. A fourth bill pre-filed yesterday seeks a fourth amendment, this time raising the hotel occupancy tax by 5 percent to help the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands tourism industry.

His other major bill is a pension reform measure that gives active government employees options on what to do with the money they have already contributed to the financially troubled NMI Retirement Fund.

"I'm glad my bills became laws; it shows the work that my office does," Camacho said, adding that he is thankful for the administration for signing his bills into laws. Camacho was re-elected on Nov. 6.

Rep. Stanley Torres (Ind-Saipan) tied in second place with Camacho with seven bills that became law, including one authorizing the Commonwealth Utilities Corp. (CUC) to borrow $10 million. CUC has yet to execute a loan almost a year later. Torres, one of the longest serving lawmakers in the CNMI, lost his re-election bid last week.

Senate Vice President Jude Hofschneider (R-Tinian) and Sen. Jovita Taimanao (Ind-Rota) tied at number three with six bills each that became law.

Hofschneider's measures included removing the Office of the Governor's authority to administer personnel policies by moving the Office of Personnel Management to the Civil Service Commission. He also co-authored a repealer of the beneficiary derivative lawsuit act with three other senators.

"I'm grateful for my bills becoming law. It's a strong indication that majority of the policy makers agree with the intent of the legislation," he said.

Hofschneider said that passing laws is one thing but enforcing or implementing them is another thing. He said some of his own bills related to public lands signed into law years back have yet to be fully implemented.

Ranked fourth were Speaker Eli Cabrera (R-Saipan), Rep. Ray Yumul (IR-Saipan), and Rep. Ray Tebuteb (IR-Saipan) with five bills each signed into law in the 17th Legislature, whose term will end in early January.

"It's not about the number or quantity but the quality of laws because you can author bills to change street names and they become law. I'm paid as a lawmaker to do the peoples' work, so it's not extraordinary to have bills signed into law," he said, adding that debating the merits of legislation to protect the public's interest is a good measure of an efficient lawmaker.

Among Yumul's bills is one that allows the CNMI government to have access to dormant and inactive bank accounts and unclaimed funds for depositors' accounts. The others included reprogramming and earmarking.

Another freshman lawmaker, Rep. Ralph Demapan (Cov-Saipan), had four bills that became law including the Immigration Reform Act of 2010, the first bill signed into law during the 17th Legislature.

Sen. Juan Ayuyu (Ind-Rota), also a freshman lawmaker, had four bills that became law, along with Rep. Ray Basa (Cov-Saipan). Basa's bills included three budget bills that became the fiscal years 2011, 2012, and 2013 budget laws.

Three bills each that became law were authored by Rep. Sylvester Iguel (R-Saipan), Rep. Trenton Conner (Ind-Tinian), Rep. Edmund Villagomez (Cov-Saipan), and Rep. Joe Palacios (R-Saipan).

Those with two bills that became laws were former representative Diego Benavente who resigned in July 2011, Sen. Ralph Torres (R-Saipan), Sen. Luis Crisostimo (R-Saipan), Vice Speaker Felicidad Ogumoro (R-Saipan), Senate floor leader Pete Reyes (IR-Saipan), Sen. Frank Cruz (R-Tinian), and Sen. Henry San Nicolas (Cov-Tinian).

The following had one bill each that became law: Rep. Fred Deleon Guerrero (R-Saipan), Senate President Paul Manglona (Ind-Rota), House minority leader Joe Deleon Guerrero (IR-Saipan), Rep. Janet Maratita (IR-Saipan), and Rep. Tony Sablan (IR-Saipan).

These do not include local bills, resolutions and legislative initiatives.

Three members of the 17th Legislature also had legislative initiatives that were ratified on Nov. 6: Rep. Frank Dela Cruz (IR-Saipan) with his elected attorney general initiative; House minority leader Joe Deleon Guerrero with his pension obligation bond legislative initiative; and Senate President Paul Manglona with his Northern Marianas College mission statement initiative.

Deleon Guerrero's resolution impeaching Gov. Benigno R. Fitial was also among the most popular in the 17th Legislature but it was defeated by the governor-aligned House leadership. Deleon Guerrero and other members of the new super majority had said that they will re-introduce the impeachment resolution in the 18th Legislature.

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