New law requires, government employees to file leave before running for office

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GOVERNOR Ralph DLG Torres has signed a measure requiring government employees to take a leave of absence before running for office.

Authored by Senate Floor Leader Justo Quitugua, Senate Bill 21-31 is now Public Law 21-23.

Justo Quitugua

The new law states that the employer of a government employee who is certified to run for public office “shall be responsible to enforce the requirement that the employee take a leave of absence.”

“The governor shall enforce this subsection and require members of his or her cabinet (principal executives of departments and agencies) who opt to run for elected office to take a leave of absence from office,” the new law stated.

Quitugua said Section 8245 of the Public Employment Act requires government employees to take a personal leave of absence from their daily work when the Commonwealth Election Commission certifies that such employees are qualified to run for public office.

He said the law was enacted “to protect the integrity of government offices and to prevent political activities at such offices.”

The law also gives employees the opportunity to take an extended personal leave of absence to focus on their campaign for public office without fear of losing his or her job before the election.

But Quitugua said, “There was some confusion among certain government employers and employees prior to the 2018 CNMI elections as to who is responsible to enforce Section 8245.” Contrary to the intent of the Legislature, he said, “One employer opined that it was not responsible to enforce such law and allowed its employee to continue working after the employee was certified to run for public office. Similarly, the Commonwealth Election Commission has stated that it did not have the authority to enforce Section 8245(i).”

Quitugua said P.L. 21-23 clarifies that the government employer of government employees or the governor for his or her cabinet members, respectively, is responsible to enforce Section 8245(i).

Once a government employee is certified by the CEC to run for public office, the employee is required to take a personal leave of absence from his or her daily work to focus on the employee’s campaign and bid for public office.

If the employee does not voluntarily take a personal leave of absence, the employer must mandate and ensure that the employee takes a leave of absence from work.

After the election, the employee has several options: (l) return to the employee’s daily work if the employee loses the election, (2) return to work until the employee’s inauguration to public office if the employee wins, or (3) resign from work if the employee wins or loses and opts to do so.

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