Judgment Settlement Bill Passed By CNMI House Members

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Bill empowers governor to negotiate judgments against government

By Haidee V. Eugenio

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Jan. 10, 2014) – A Senate bill authorizing the governor to negotiate a settlement and resolution of judgments against the CNMI government is now on its way to Gov. Eloy S. Inos after the House passed it without amendment or any discussion. The government has at least $27 million in unpaid judgments and the oldest among at least 17 existing judgment is over 10 years old.

Such settlement, under the bill, may include offsets and credits on any tax obligation or other obligations of claimants, members of their family or third parties who may have such obligations and payments of cash from the CNMI general fund or other funds set aside for payment of judgments.

These include all other settlement methods authorized by law other than cash, as agreed by the parties.

This judgment settlement bill was among the four bills passed and one measure rejected during the House’s session yesterday afternoon.

By a vote of 18-2, Senate vice president Victor Hocog’s (R-Rota) Senate Bill 18-26 passed the House at 3:50pm.

The two "no" votes were from Reps. Ray Tebuteb (Ind-Saipan) and Janet Maratita (Ind-Saipan).

Tebuteb’s objections to the bill include concerns that it gives away too much power to the governor and may become more political to benefit certain individuals, groups, or business rather than actually assisting in judgments. He said the governor already has the power to negotiate.

An identical bill was passed in 2011 but then governor Benigno R. Fitial vetoed it, noting that claimants would be allowed to circumvent the legislative appropriation power "while impacting the General Fund by offsetting and crediting tax obligations."

Rejected Senate version

The House voted 19-0 to reject a Senate substitute to a House bill amending the election law and the creation of a conference committee that will hash out the differences between the two chambers’ versions.

The speaker said House conferees on the election bill will be announced later.

Senators passed a substitute version of House Bill 18-107, House Draft 1, retaining only those provisions pertaining to the CNMI’s first election of an attorney general in November 2014, leaving out other earlier proposals such as changing the general election from Saturday to "the Tuesday next after the first Monday in November in even numbered years."

4 bills passed

Besides the judgment settlement bill, the House passed three other bills yesterday, including a just-introduced, 42-page House Bill 18-159 amending the Commonwealth Insurance Act of 1983 to provide for a premium rate review process.

This, after members took turns asking Insurance Commissioner and Commerce Secretary Sixto Igisomar about the urgency to have this legislation in place vis-à-vis the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare and other health insurance concerns.

Rep. Edmund Villagomez’s (Cov-Saipan) bill passed by a vote of 20-0 at 4:45pm.

Three minutes later or at 4:48pm, the House also passed by a 20-vote Rep. John Paul Sablan’s (Cov-Saipan) HB 18-160, establishing the "exit of the United States Post Office as an official Customs point of entry," so that Customs would have the authority to inspect mail when it arrives at the airport. Customs director Joe Mafnas testified in support of the bill. Also present was Finance Secretary Larrissa Larson.

The House also passed Yumul’s HB 18-142, SS1, requiring all unclaimed third-party funds within the CNMI Judiciary to be deposited into a special imprest account specifically for the Judiciary’s use. The bill passed by a vote of 19-0 at 4:53pm.

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