The idea of the CNMI having a part-time Legislature came up again, this time with an opposition lawmaker suggesting that lawmakers could take on additional jobs to supplement their lawmaking work.
Rep. Edwin K. Propst (Ind-Saipan) said he and his colleagues could look into the possibility that they could have another job aside from being lawmakers. This could be an alternative way of compensation for lawmakers in the aftermath of the controversy surrounding Public Law 19-83, he said.
PL 19-83 set a new base salary schedule and increased the salary ceiling for classified civil service government employees. It also increased the salaries of legislators from $39,300 to $70,000, the governor to $120,000, the lieutenant governor to $100,000, and the mayors of Saipan, Tinian, Rota, and the Northern Islands to $75,000.
It became law last Jan. 20 even without Gov. Ralph DLG Torres’ signature as he was on an official trip in Washington, D.C. at the time. Then-acting governor Arnold I. Palacios also did not sign it into law. The CNMI Constitution provides that proposed laws that are not acted on by the governor automatically becomes law.
Propst later introduced a new bill, House Bill 20-39, to remove the salary increases of elected officials.
He pointed out that once the salaries of elected official are increased, the increases would become constitutionally protected.
“We could no longer change it. Even if our economy crumbles, God forbid, it stays. Even though we are in bad shape, we can only take a voluntary pay cut, not a mandatory pay cut,” he said.
Propst said it makes sense to create a part-time Legislature since the way lawmakers work, they seem in essence to be part-time legislators.
“It could be an alternative way of compensation instead of paying $1.4 million every year. What we can do is work together, look into this, and, if it is possible, to make this a part-time Legislature.”
“We don’t time in or time out. The fact is we either come up here or not, unless there’s a session called by the speaker. Or we do our work within our precincts because we want to justify our current salary.”
He added that members of the CNMI Legislature are not obligated to report to their respective offices everyday. “There’s no time clock in the Legislature. We can come and go as we please. We can even not come in or we can go half day.”
“Honestly, if we wanted we could only attend sessions since we are required to do so. Or we could only attend committee meetings. But we are not mandated to attend committee meetings.”
Propst said that several state legislatures in the United States have been using the scheme. He expects people to disagree with his suggestion. “There are part-time legislatures in the U.S. The reason they do it is because it is a privilege to serve, in addition to their existing jobs.”
Propst said that he expect people to disagree with his suggestion. “Some U.S. states are doing it. Will it work here? I don’t know. But it is something that we could look into and we have to be very careful when we look into. I am also expecting some people might disagree with it, but I think a part-time legislature is a better option.”
How does it work?
There are currently 16 states that observe part-time legislatures: Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wyoming.
A part-time legislature will have lawmakers spending an average of half of a full-time job doing legislative work, according to the U.S. National Conference of State Legislature’s website.
Compensation for this type is a bit lower where it would require them to have another job or other sources of income for their daily living.
Part-time legislators employ a relatively small staff and they are often called citizen lawmakers. They are mostly observed in states or cities with a small population, mostly in rural areas.
Another type is a hybrid legislature where members spend more than two-thirds of time being legislators. Their income is also higher than part-time legislators but they would still need another source of income.
Full-time legislatures are well paid and usually employ a large staff similar to the U.S. Congress. They spend more time doing legislative work since they have longer sessions and their districts are larger.
A part-time Legislature, however, also has a negative effect since a low salary could reduce the ranks of those who would be likely to hold office to individuals who could afford to do it.
One Texas State legislator, Rep. Garet Coleman, according to the Texas Tribune, even went bankrupt once, but still managed to bounce back and improve his finances again while still in office. He is a Democrat serving the 147th district since first being elected in 1991.