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By Gemma Q. Casas

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, April 10) – Washington Representative Pete A. Tenorio says the federalization of the islands’ minimum wage and immigration "is almost a certainty" and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) government should ensure that the interests of the indigenous people are protected.

He said his statement does not contradict U.S. Deputy Assistant Interior Secretary for Insular Affairs David Cohen’s earlier announcement that federalization is still uncertain.

According to Tenorio, Cohen may be referring to the timing of the federalization but not the concept itself.

"I don’t believe that there won’t be any action on the part of the federal government on (local) immigration and minimum wage. This is almost a certainty and what we’re looking for are areas and issues where we can be accommodated," Tenorio said during a press conference at his office on Capital Hill.

He noted that the newly created U.S. House Subcommittee on Insular Affairs has scheduled an oversight hearing on the CNMI for April 19.

He is scheduled to leave today for Washington, D.C. but he will be back on island in time for the State of the Commonwealth Address on April 27.

According to Tenorio, the minimum wage hike provision for the Northern Marianas and American Samoa is now a rider on H.R. 15-91 which deals with the Iraq war budget.

Section 7103 of the measure seeks to increase by 50 cents the CNMI’s decade-old US$3.05 an hour minimum wage to US$3.55 on the 60th day after the enactment of the legislation.

That wage will be further increased by 50 cents every six months.

Tenorio said he tried convincing U.S. lawmakers to make it easy for the CNMI local business community by implementing a US$1 increase within an 18-month period and creating a wage review board.

But his efforts appear to have been unsuccessful at this point.

Tenorio said he does not oppose Gov. Benigno R. Fitial’s decision to hire a lobbyist in Washington, D.C. but expects the firm to work with him.

He said he has been contacted by Oldaker, Biden & Belair LLP which has ties with another lobby firm, the National Group LLP.

The administration did not include Tenorio in the CNMI group that held Covenant Section 902 talks with Cohen early this month.

"I was surprised," said Tenorio, who headed the CNMI’s 902 panel when he was lieutenant governor from 1982 to 1990.

The administration, like CNMI business leaders, remains opposed to the extension of federal minimum wage and immigration laws to the islands.

Marianas Variety

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