General

Senate passes salary bill

THE Senate on Thursday unanimously passed the latest version of a bill that would reduce the lawmakers’ annual salary from $39,000 to $32,000.

Introduced by Rep. Joseph Deleon Guerrero, House Bill 20-195 now goes to the governor.

An earlier version of the bill, H.B. 20-194, proposed to retain the lawmakers’ current annual salary of $39,300.

The measure was vetoed by acting Gov. Victor B. Hocog, citing the attorney general’s opinion that the advisory commission that recommended the pay-rate went beyond its constitutional authority when it developed its own Composite Price Index.

During Thursday’s session, Sen. Jude Hofschneider said the  Fiscal Affairs Committee, which he chairs, sought the AG’s legal opinion regarding the new bill, H.B. 20-195.

He said the AG found it “legally sufficient because it ostensibly satisfies the three-prong test in Manibusan v Larson.”

In the case cited by the attorney general, the following requirements must be met: (1) The proposed salary is based on the Consumer Price Index published by the U.S. Department of Commerce; (2) It is within the percentage change of the accepted CPI from January 1978 to September 2018 (the most recent CPI publication referred to in the advisory commission’s report); and (3) the proposed salary does not exceed the commission’s recommended salary.

Hofschneider then asked the Senate legal counsel, Joe Bermudes, if senators would not be in conflict of interest if they voted on the bill even though it would applies to them when they serve in the next Legislature.

Bermudes responded that because they were holding a lame duck session, the bill must be approved by a three-fourth majority of the senators or seven of the nine Senate members.

Two senators were absent on Thursday: Rota’s Paul Manglona and Terry Santos. But the seven members who were present voted in favor of H.B. 20-195.

If the bill does not become law,  members of the incoming Legislature would each receive an annual salary of $8,000.

In an interview after the Senate session, Rep. Joseph Deleon Guerrero noted that the House, in passing the bill, “did not require a  three-fourths vote but we’re very much concerned about a possible conflict of interest, that’s why only those who do not have a conflict of interest voted for the bill’s passage.”

He said the senators believe that “even if somebody would later challenge their votes because of conflict of interest,  they could  take away the votes of the returning members, but the votes of the three members who do not have a conflict of interest  would still count.”

These three members are outgoing Senate President Arnold I. Palacios who will be sworn in as lt. governor on Jan. 14, 2019; outgoing Senate Vice President Steve  K. Mesngon who ran unsuccessfully for Rota mayor; and Sen. Justo S. Quitugua who is not receiving his salary as a lawmaker so he can continue receiving his pension as a retired educator. He donates his salary as a lawmaker  to the scholarship fund.

In an interview, Quitugua said he voted for the passage of H.B. 20-195 based on the advice of the Senate legal counsel and the AG who, he added, did not mention any legal insufficiency.

According to Rep. Joseph P. Deleon Guerrero, “I am sure the governor will act on the bill, but the question is, which way? Will he veto it or will the AG come out with his concerns?”

Last month, the House passed the bill by a 7-0 vote. Ten returning members abstained. Those who voted “yes” were the outgoing members: Deleon Guerrero, Angel Demapan, Frank Aguon, Greg Sablan, Ralph Demapan, Glenn Maratita and Edwin Aldan.

Source: Marianas Variety : http://www.mvariety.com/cnmi/cnmi-news/local/109800-senate-passes-salary-bill

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