CNMI GETS ASSURANCES AGAINST FEDERALIZATION: BENAVENTE

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By Benhur C. Saladores

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (July 22, 1998 - Saipan Tribune)---The U.S. House Committee on Resources is likely to put aside at least for a year legislation that seeks to apply federal laws on immigration and labor in the Northern Marianas, House Speaker Diego T. Benavente said.

Committee chair Rep. Don Young has assured CNMI officials of House support on local reforms which the commonwealth has promised to undertake.

Benavente said Young has agreed to visit Saipan by early next year to "look for himself at the progress that has been made" on areas of immigration and labor policies.

"It has always been his position that he wants the local government to resolve local problems," the Speaker said in an interview yesterday.

Benavente, along with other CNMI legislators and officials, flew to the U.S. capital on July 11 to hold talks with Young and other key congressional officials over immigration and minimum wage issues.

In that meeting, Young reiterated to the CNMI delegation that he would prefer that the local government initiate reforms, Benavente said.

The House panel, which has jurisdiction on issues involving insular areas including the Northern Marianas, is drafting a legislative proposal which will strip local control over immigration and minimum wage.

The bill was to have been ready by June, and a hearing was supposed to be held this month.

While the pending bill was not discussed during the meeting with Young, Benavente said they provided updates to some U.S. lawmakers and other federal officials on current initiatives being implemented by the commonwealth government.

"What (Young) is telling us basically is that he's not interested in pushing for the federal takeover plan," he pointed out. "He's interested in removing any doubts, accusations and bad publicity and to do that, we need to do what we have to do."

The commonwealth has come under fire over Washington allegations of labor abuse and inability by the local government to curb entry of mostly Asian migrant workers.

Although they had hoped to meet with Sen. Frank Murkowski, chair of the U.S. Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy, the eight-man delegation, which included Labor and Immigration Secretary Mark Zachares, was only able to hold talks with his chief aide, Jim Burne.

The committee is reviewing a marked-up bill which will impose federal laws on immigration and the minimum wage in the event that the commonwealth fails to institute reforms.

Benavente, however, considered the trip "successful because we were able to personally inform some of the things that we have done and intend to do."

Also part of the delegation were Senate President Paul A. Manglona, Sens. Pete P. Reyes, Joaquin Adriano and Juan P. Tenorio and Rep. Manuel A. Tenorio.

The CNMI team, the latest batch to travel to Washington D.C. since the Senate hearings held last March, which was attended by Gov. Pedro P. Tenorio, also took a side trip to the American territories of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

For additional reports from The Saipan Tribune, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The Saipan Tribune.

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