CNMI GOVERNOR VETOES BILL LIMITING EMERGENCY POWERS

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Calls strict reporting requirement ‘unduly burdensome’

By Haidee V. Eugenio SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Jan. 26, 2010) - Governor Benigno R. Fitial vetoed Friday a bill that seeks to limit the governor’s power in making emergency declarations, saying the stricter reporting requirement is "unnecessary and unduly burdensome."

Fitial said he commends the Legislature for introducing House Bill 16-91, HD1, for stricter reporting requirements when a state of emergency is declared and to shorten the time of the emergency.

"However, the stricter reporting requirement is unnecessary and unduly burdensome at this time as all departments and agencies in government are currently operating with meager resources and less staff," Fitial said in a Jan. 22 message to legislative officers.

The governor also said that 60 days for a declaration is sufficient and adequate, adding that reducing the time to 30 days "does not provide any significant benefit to the community or the affected department or agency."

Since taking office in 2006, Fitial has issued several emergency declarations to take control of agencies that include the Commonwealth Utilities Corp., the Department of Public Health, and the Tinian municipality.

Fitial has been extending these emergency declarations every month since their original proclamations.

The emergency declarations provided Fitial not only full control of these agencies’ operations but also suspended regulations on procurements and the authority to reprogram all available funds to address the concerns.

Former House Speaker Arnold I. Palacios (R-Saipan) co-sponsored H.B. 16-191 with 15 other lawmakers in the 16th House of Representatives, mostly Republican and independent lawmakers. Many of them lost their re-election bid or did not seek re-election.

The co-authors who were re-elected in the 17th Legislature did not respond to requests for comment on Fitial’s veto of their bill.

The CNMI Constitution recognizes both the governor’s authority to declare a state of emergency under extraordinary circumstances such as an invasion of the Commonwealth, civil disturbance, and natural disaster, and the Legislature’s lawmaking authority to define other calamities and extraordinary circumstances in which the governor may invoke his emergency authority.

Authors of the bill said the measure seeks to strike a balance between empowering the governor to exercise such extraordinary authority and the equally important objective of preventing abuse of power.

Among other things, the bill would have required Fitial to transmit to the Legislature within 14 days a report describing in detail the emergency that required the declaration, and a financial plan for meeting the cost of these measures.

The bill would have also automatically terminated the emergency declaration within 30 days, unless it’s rescinded earlier, or unless the governor-prior to the end of the 30-day period-justifies its extension to the Legislature.

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