Present for the discussions were committee chair Rep. Luis John Castro, Rep. Tina Sablan, Rep. Richard Lizama, Special Assistant for Military Affairs Glenna Reyes, House legal counsel John Cool, and the governor’s legal counsel, Gilbert Birnbrich.
Committee vice chair Rep. Joseph Leepan Guerrero, Reps. Ivan Blanco, Joel Camacho, and Ralph Yumul were excused by the committee chair.
During the discussions, Rep. Tina Sablan said the governor’s proposed revisions tripled the resolution’s number of pages.
“I wonder whether to some extent, we may also be diluting the original…resolution, which was all along meant to be an expression of this body,” she said.
“I would like to understand what transpired at the meeting with the governor, and also understand why it is so important to add eight more pages of ‘whereas clauses,’ because my understanding was that [for] the previous House substitute...[that] we have adopted…a committee report is being prepared. Why [are we] back here again and why [are we] reviewing a complete rewrite of this resolution after we have done so much work to this point and also conducted multiple public hearings?”
She questioned why the administration is asking to completely rewrite a legislative resolution expressing the sentiment of the Legislature.
Special Assistant Reyes said the governor’s proposed version does not dilute the intent of the resolution, as most of the provisions from the House substitute still remain.
Special Assistant for Military Affairs Glenna Reyes, right, and legal counsel to the governor Gilbert Birnbrich, left, appear before the House Committee on Federal and Foreign Affairs on Friday in the House chamber. Photo by K-Andrea Evarose S. Limol
She noted that the author of the resolution, Rep. Sheila Babauta, along with Rep. Joel Camacho, committee chair Rep. Luis John Castro, members of Our Common Wealth 670, and a Women’s Affairs representative all recently met with the administration for over two hours to discuss the joint resolution and to concur on a revision.
Castro said following these discussions, all parties agreed on the governor’s proposed amendments to the joint resolution.
Special Assistant Reyes said two provisions were deleted because they were based on information from an outdated study conducted over 30 years ago. Also deleted was inaccurate information that implied that military activities in the Northern Islands would destroy opportunities for resettlement.
She said there is a Department of Public Lands agricultural homestead program in effect for Pagan that gives former residents an opportunity to resettle there.
The administration and DPL are currently looking into ways to expand this program, Reyes said.
“We wanted to make sure that the substitute version that was submitted is something that reflects factual information,” she said.
For its part, the Department of Defense has not taken the CNMI Joint Military Training proposal off the table, although the CNMI government and the community have expressed their objection, Reyes added.
She said DoD is required to go back and reevaluate the environmental impact statements and the 27,000 comments submitted by the CNMI people and government; and conduct an environmental assessment or study.
Gov. Ralph DLG Torres, during a press briefing on Friday, said, “I want to emphasize that the resolution that [the House] has is basically the amendments we gave, a thorough synopsis of what has transpired since I got on board [from when] I was [still the] Senate president.”
He said the proposed revised resolution has thorough and accurate information for the Department of Defense and the CNMI community.
He said the resolution is an opportunity for the people to understand what their government has done to protect the CNMI environment, culture, Pagan, and Tinian.
It is also an opportunity for the Commonwealth to appreciate the CNMI relationship with the DoD, and to also acknowledge that the CNMI has never had a better relationship with the DoD than it has today.
“That doesn’t mean that we’re giving up everything, nor does it say that we’re not going to sit down and listen. It’s basically stating where we came from, what our current situation is today, and our working partnership with our DoD family,” the governor said.
The House Committee on Federal and Foreign Affairs will reconvene after allowing time for all committee members to review the governor’s proposed version of the resolution.