IN 100 days in office, and in keeping with our platform and pledge to the people of the Northern Mariana Islands, Democrat legislators have organized our committees in the House, introduced substantive legislation to uplift the lives of our people and create a more responsible government, and made the legislative process more transparent and accessible. We have also launched new oversight and accountability initiatives, and engaged with constituents and community partners to enhance our villages.
Democrats chair the following committees in the House: Ways and Means (Rep. Donald Manglona – P7); Judiciary and Governmental Operations (Rep. Celina Babauta – P1); Natural Resources (Rep. Sheila Babauta – P4); Health and Welfare (Rep. Tina Sablan – P2); Education (Rep. Leila Staffler – P5); Gaming (Rep. Ed Propst – P1); Federal and Foreign Affairs (Rep. Vicente Camacho – P3); Commerce, Tourism, and Cannabis (Rep. Denita Yangetmai – P3); and Public Utilities, Transportation, and Communications (Rep. Richard Lizama – P5). Democrats also lead the Minority in the Senate: Sen. Paul Manglona (Rota) and Sen. Edith Deleon Guerrero (Saipan).
Democrats are pushing meaningful legislation for a more fiscally responsible government, help for working families, safer communities, and investments in our healthcare and educational systems. In 100 Days, Democrats have introduced and passed out of the House legislation that asserts the legislature’s power of the purse over half a billion dollars in federal fiscal recovery monies coming to the CNMI government through the American Rescue Plan Act (HB 22-33), and a bill to restore the Earned Income Tax Credit to the CNMI’s working families (HB 22-19). Democrats have also introduced legislation to set clearer parameters for legislative allowances and expenditures (HB 22-30 and HB 22-31); to prohibit public officials from engaging in political activity while on government travel (SB 22-15); to provide a tax credit to taxpayers who donate to food pantries, homeless shelters, or soup kitchens (HB 22-34); to establish supplemental home investment programs to assist first-time homeowners (SB 22-13 and SB 22-14); and to authorize liquor licensing for locally owned online small businesses (HB 22-55).
For safer communities, Democrats have introduced the CNMI’s first Hate Crimes Act, to strengthen sentencing penalties for crimes motivated by hate (HB 22-18), and a package of criminal justice reform bills, including bills to prohibit convicted felons from possessing firearms (HB 22-35) and to increase protections for children who are victims of abuse (HB 22-38 and HB 22-39). For investments in our healthcare and educational systems, Democrats have introduced legislation to increase the tobacco tax and direct those revenues to health promotion and disease prevention and control programs, including health outreach in local schools (HB 22-54); to assist the CNMI Medicaid Agency in its efforts to build technical and staffing capacity (HJR 22-4; HB 22-48; and HB 22-53); and to support the Commonwealth’s only trade school, the Northern Marianas Technical Institute, in its efforts to secure funding and hire additional staff (HJR 22-3 and HJR 22-5).
Democrats are delivering on their promises for more oversight and accountability. In 100 days, the Judiciary and Governmental Operations Committee has reopened the investigation into Gov. Ralph Torres’ public expenditures, and the Gaming Committee has initiated oversight on Saipan’s troubled casino licensee, Imperial Pacific International. Democrats have also called upon the Governor to provide a report to the legislature on the findings and activities of the Development Plan Advisory Committee with respect to the Saipan casino project (SJR 22-01), and introduced legislation to authorize a second Saipan casino license and end the casino monopoly (SB 22-23). On the fiscal condition of the government and the disposition of federal funds, the Ways and Means Committee has convened meetings with Finance and the Office of Management and Budget, and begun the budget process for FY 2022.
The committees have also engaged with the departments and agencies under their respective jurisdictions, on the implementation of critical public programs and services. The Natural Resources Committee has held hearings with CNMI resource agencies, including Public Lands on key land leases. The Federal and Foreign Affairs Committee has met with CNMI Labor on the implementation of the PUA program, as well as with CNMI Veterans Affairs, Bureau of Military Affairs, and Office of Vocational Rehabilitation on their respective programs. The Commerce, Tourism, and Cannabis Committee has had meetings with Commerce, the Marianas Visitors Authority, and the Cannabis Commission. The Public Utilities, Transportation, and Communications Committee has toured the Saipan power plant and held briefings with the Commonwealth Utilities Corporation and Public Works. The Education Committee has conducted hearings with all three public educational institutions: Public School System, Northern Marianas College, and NMTI, and toured the NMC CREES Agricultural Station. The Health and Welfare Committee has conducted hearings with the Commonwealth Healthcare Corporation, the CNMI Medicaid Agency, and the Covid-19 Task Force, among others, toured the HOPE Recovery Center, and is now preparing for public hearings on the medical referral program.
Democrats have made the legislative process more transparent and accessible. Meetings of the House are now more accessible than ever, and sessions and committee meetings are held in the House Chamber, digitally recorded, broadcast live on cable television, and livestreamed on the Legislature’s Facebook page. All meetings are open to the public and public comments are accepted. Democrats have also proposed changes to the House and Senate rules to establish more accountability and reporting requirements for legislative expenditures.
Democrats are working hard to improve our villages. In 100 days, and in collaboration with numerous community partners, Democrats have undertaken projects throughout our precincts to beautify our villages and public parks, dispose of thousands of pounds of trash, remove junk cars, plant trees and community gardens, distribute hundreds of food packages and other care items to residents in need, and restore recreational facilities and community centers. Democrats have also introduced legislation to require pet owners to keep their dogs on leashes and contained within private properties (HB 22-23).
More to come! Meet your CNMI legislators at a town hall near you. Legislators in the House and Senate are planning a series of town hall meetings in the upcoming weeks to report to the community on legislative activities, provide an overview of plans for the months ahead, and listen to the issues and concerns of our constituents. Dates and times will be announced shortly.