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By Agnes Donato

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Jan 3) - Washington Rep. Pete A. Tenorio is urging Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands government leaders to personally lobby the U.S. Congress against the federal minimum wage bill, rather than getting others to do it for the Commonwealth.

According to Tenorio, a visit by top local leaders to Washington, D.C. will do more to advance the CNMI's purposes than the efforts of an expensive lobbyist.

"Stop hiring lobbyists. We don't have the money for them anyway. The best lobbyists we have are our elected leaders. It's extremely important that they show their faces in Washington, D.C. to share our problems with the U.S. congressmen. I can always arrange meetings for them," said the CNMI's representative to the nation's capital.

The U.S. Democratic Party, which takes control of the U.S. Congress on January 5, 2007, Friday (Saipan time), is expected to fast track a federal minimum wage increase bill that includes the CNMI. The measure would gradually raise the local minimum wage rate from US$3.05 to US$5.15 per hour. The increase will be done in 50-cent increments beginning six months after the bill is enacted.

A federal takeover of the CNMI's immigration system is also believed to be likely under a Democrat-dominated Congress.

The Fitial administration earlier announced a plan to hire a lobbyist to fight both measures. The Strategic Economic Development Council, a group of business and government leaders, has been tasked to serve as the main committee in charge of the CNMI's efforts against federal control of labor and immigration.

"There is a change in politics [at the national level], and we have to deal with that change," Tenorio said.

He also said that, in addition to meeting with U.S. lawmakers, CNMI leaders should write letters to argue their positions. "Putting something on record is a good thing. It reminds them that we have something to tell them."

In the last U.S. Congress, Democrat congressman George Miller, a longtime CNMI critic, introduced a bill that sought to raise the CNMI minimum wage, as well as to impose federal control of the CNMI's immigration system. The bill was co-authored by incoming U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

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