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By Mark Ravage

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (March 23, 2001 – Saipan Tribune)---Not all U.S. lawmakers are in the opposite corner of the ring and ganging up on the CNMI.

California Congressman John T. Doolittle recently circulated a letter in the U.S. House of Representatives saying the legislature's decision to keep a "hands-off" policy in the CNMI a few years ago is now showing positive results.

Detailing the latest Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspection in the Commonwealth held three weeks ago, Mr. Doolittle told his colleagues in the House that the local garment industry has made significant improvements to the factories.

He also noted that CNMI garment companies have involved their workers in the process of ensuring health and safety standards are met in their factories and their dormitories.

He even quoted in full OSHA Regional Administrator Frank Strasheim's comments in the SGMA and it reads, "They're well on their way to becoming a model for the rest of the world. I'm impressed by the (SGMA) members' commitment in placing the safety and health of their workers first."

In a "Dear Colleague" letter, he also told to his fellow congressmen to take their hats off for the CNMI government and businessmen who have made the transformation possible.

"The progress made in the CNMI is worthy of our acknowledgment. Furthermore, it should serve as a reminder that Congress often acts best when it chooses not to act at all," Mr. Doolittle echoed in his letter.

In 1999, the Commonwealth was besieged by what industry players branded as "biased and unfounded reports" that placed the sector in bad light.

This, coupled by what was perceived then as uncontrolled entry of nonresident workers, sparked debate in the U.S. Congress to extend to the CNMI federal labor and immigration laws.

Last week, the issue of federal takeover was once again revived when Senators Frank Murkoswski (D-Alaska) and Daniel Akaka (D-Hawai‘i) filed S. 507, a bill which sought to extend the implementation of the federal minimum wage and immigration laws to the CNMI.

Mr. Doolittle's letter is like a whiff of fresh air for CNMI lobbyists in Washington D.C., local government officials and businessmen. The CNMI government and business sector are vehemently opposed to the federalization of its labor and immigration systems.

Mr. Doolittle is a member of the House of Representatives' powerful Appropriations, Resources and Joint Economic Committees.

The California lawmaker is also a member of the Republican Whip organization, a critical arm of the House leadership, which is in charge of marshaling votes for passage of important legislation.

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

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