FEDERAL HEARING ON TAKEOVER OF NORTHERN MARIANAS IMMIGRATION AND THE MINIMUM WAGE

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DELAYED

By Benhur C. Saladores

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (July 19, 1999 – Saipan Tribune)---The U.S. Senate Energy and Resources Committee has delayed for a week the scheduled July 27 Washington, D.C. oversight hearing on the proposed federal takeover of CNMI immigration and the minimum wage. It rejected an appeal by the business sector to hold the hearing in September to coincide with the investigation by the House Resources Committee.

Gov. Pedro P. Tenorio confirmed Saturday the decision of the Senate Committee, which was relayed to him by CNMI Representative to Washington Juan N. Babauta.

(The local chief executive will fly today to the Federated States of Micronesia to attend the inaugural of FSM's new President, Leo Falcam.)

Asked if the CNMI government is prepared to face the committee, Tenorio said, "No matter how much preparation you make, if they are really bent on implementing a federal takeover you cannot stop them."

The Saipan Chamber of Commerce, the Hotel Association of Northern Mariana Islands and the Saipan Garment Manufacturers Association have sought a delay on the hearing to save on limited resources, since the business delegation would have to go back to Washington for another hearing on September 16, 1999.

Chamber President Kerry M. Deets said the postponement would allow the business sector enough time to consolidate its position on immigration and the minimum wage. The business group is planning to hold a forum to gather suggestions from its members to help the Board of Directors in drafting their position paper.

Business leaders have expressed opposition against compromising the Covenant provisions that would allow the federal government to take control of immigration and labor functions.

Currently, there are two proposed measures pending before the U.S. Congress -- SB1052, entitled Northern Mariana Islands Covenant Implementation Act, and HB 730, entitled U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Human Dignity Act.

About a dozen Northern Marianas officials, led by Tenorio, will travel to the U.S. capital to attend the hearing, the second since the CNMI leader took office in 1998.

Members of the delegation include Labor and Immigration Secretary Mark Zachares, Special Advisor on Finance and Budget Mike Sablan, Special Assistant for Policy and Research Mike Malone and Julia Sandvold, legal counsel for Lt. Gov. Jesus R. Sablan.

Senate President Paul A. Manglona, House Speaker Diego T. Benavente, Senate Vice President Thomas P. Villagomez, House Majority Floor Leader Ana S. Teregeyo and possibly Sen. Juan P. Tenorio will represent the Legislature in the hearing.

A "unified position" will be presented by the CNMI delegation before the panel, which deals with island issues, to bolster their fight against any federal takeover legislation awaiting action in the Congress.

"We will be going to Washington together with the administration with a unified position," Villagomez said.

Teregeyo pointed out the position paper is currently being drafted by the Office of the Governor "in collaboration" with the Legislature.

Both lawmakers, however, declined to give details about the paper, saying only that it will still stress long-standing opposition by the Commonwealth to Washington's attempt to strip local authority over island immigration, the minimum wage and customs standards.

"I can't really comment on what will be the final draft of the CNMI position," Teregeyo said, adding that she also is not privy to whether the stance of the local business sector will be included in the report. But she expressed hope the local delegation could meet with U.S. lawmakers and other congressional officials to personally lobby against the takeover measures.

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

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