SPECIAL CNMI COMMISSION TO REVIEW U.S. COVENANT

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House yesterday passed bill creating commission

By Haidee V. Eugenio SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Sept. 16, 2011) - By a vote of 15-0, the House of Representatives passed yesterday a bill creating a commission that will reexamine the CNMI's political relationship with the United States since the signing of the "Covenant" 35 years ago.

[PIR editor’s note: The Covenant was negotiated over the course of twenty-seven months (December 1972 to February 1975) by the Marianas Political Status Commission, made up of representatives of the Northern Mariana Islands, and a delegation representing the United States. It was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives on July 21, 1975, and by the U.S. Senate on February 24, 1976. On March 24, 1976, President Gerald Ford signed Public Law 94-241 (90 Stat. 263), enacting the Covenant. Covenant Section 105 provides that many provisions of the Covenant may be modified only with the joint consent of the U.S. and Commonwealth governments. Other provisions may be unilaterally amended by the U.S. government; as of November 1997, only one such amendment has been enacted.]

That "Covenant" is the document that establishes a Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands in Political Union with the United States of America.

After several years of trying, Rep. Stanley Torres (Ind-Saipan) finally succeeded in having his bill pass the House.

"I'm glad that after many years, this bill passed the House. I hope the Senate will also do the same," the author of House Bill 17-7 said.

Vice speaker Felicidad Ogumoro (Cov-Saipan) said the bill's passage will finally give the CNMI an opportunity to reassess its relationship with the U.S.

Torres' House Bill 17-7 creates a Second Marianas Political Commission that will reexamine "whether the people desire continuing in a 'commonwealth' relationship with the United States pursuant to the terms of the original Covenant agreement."

The commission will also reexamine whether continuation of that relationship is in the peoples' best interest, "or whether some other political status would better enable them to fulfill their aspirations of full and meaningful self-government."

Passage of the bill also comes two years after the federal government took control of CNMI immigration pursuant to U.S. Public Law 110-229, which also paved the way for the CNMI to elect its first nonvoting delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives.

HB 17-7 will initially cost the CNMI US$50,000 for the operations of the Second Political Status Commission.

But during yesterday's session, Rep. Ray Yumul (R-Saipan) offered a floor amendment that will change the initial funding from US$50,000 to "up to US$50,000" that is authorized to be "reprogrammed by the governor" instead of the Legislature no later than 60 days after the appointment of the members.

House members adopted Yumul's floor amendment.

The Committee on Judiciary and Government Operations, which reviewed and recommended passage of the bill, said there's "justifiable reasons to support a Commonwealth return to the negotiation table with the United States in the matter of revisiting the areas of self-government and its political status with the U.S."

HB 17-7, House Draft 1 now goes to the Senate for action.

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