The House of Representatives passed yesterday a 13-month-old bill that removes the mandatory requirement for CNMI employers to pay 100 percent of their foreign workers' medical insurance-a measure that some nonresidents said would force them to forego buying medical insurance altogether if employers do not commit to pay at least half of it.
Heated arguments over a land compensation bill also capped yesterday's House session, which saw the passage of six bills.
House Bill 17-147, introduced by former representative Diego T. Benavente, makes it “optional” and “voluntary” for employers to carry medical insurance for each foreign worker they employ.
HB 17-147 passed by a vote of 16-0, with four absences. It now goes to the Senate.
Rene Reyes, founding president of the Marianas Advocates for Humanitarian Affairs Ltd., said that removing this mandatory requirement for employers will further subject foreign workers to financial hardships and they could end up not having any insurance at all.
And if they do need to be hospitalized without insurance, the government hospital would have to bear the costs-at least until the foreign worker pays.
Reyes said he hopes the Senate will amend the bill to require the employer to pay at least 50 percent of their foreign workers' health insurance.
The House spent considerable time debating House Bill 17-63, which imposes a six-month deadline for private property taken under eminent domain to be properly processed and legally consummated.
Rep. Teresita Santos (Ind-Rota), author of HB 17-63, said she introduced her bill in March 2010, and members had plenty of time to have their concerns addressed.
Lawmakers said the Department of Public Lands needs some $80 million to compensate landowners for their private property taken by the government for public use such as roadways.
During yesterday's session, Rep. Joseph Palacios (R-Saipan) blamed the previous legislatures for failing to help private landowners and prevent the amount of unpaid land compensation from growing.
This didn't sit well with lawmakers who also served in previous legislatures. A heated discussion ensued.
Rep. Frank Dela Cruz (R-Saipan) said it's easy to target long-time lawmakers by members of the current House leadership that does not have a plan itself to help landowners and stem this government expense.
“For them it's a blame game. It's unfortunate it had to be brought up by Representative Palacios,” Dela Cruz later said.
HB 17-63 narrowly passed. Eight voted “yes,” and seven voted “no,” with five absences.
The eight who voted “yes” were Speaker Eli Cabrera (R-Saipan), vice speaker Felicidad Ogumoro (Cov-Saipan), floor leader George Camacho (Ind-Saipan), Reps. Ray Basa (Cov-Saipan), Fred Deleon Guerrero (Ind-Saipan), Joseph Palacios (R-Saipan), Stanley Torres (Ind-Rota), and Teresita Santos (Ind-Rota).
The eight who voted “no” were Dela Cruz, House minority leader Joseph Deleon Guerrero (R-Saipan), Rep. Janet Maratita (Ind-Saipan), Rep. Tony Sablan (R-Saipan), Rep. Ray Tebuteb (R-Saipan), Rep. Edmund Villagomez (Cov-Saipan), and Rep. Ray Yumul (R-Saipan).
Absent were Reps. Trenton Conner (R-Tinian), Sylvester Iguel (Cov-Saipan), Ralph Demapan (Cov-Saipan), Ray Palacios (Cov-Saipan), and Froilan Tenorio (Cov-Saipan). Demapan left the chamber before voting but he voted on other bills.
The four other bills passed didn't draw lengthy discussions.
HBs 17-250 House Draft 1, 17-288, 17-293 and 17-294, HD1 each passed by a 16-0 vote.
HB 17-250 HD1, introduced by Santos, designates 2 hectares of public land on Rota for a planned Rota Public Cemetery, while Basa's HB 17-288 provides for a tax rate for foreign corporations earning income from outside the CNMI.
Demapan's HB 17-293 amends the fiscal year 2012 budget or Public Law 17-55 to designate $5 million and counted toward the state share of the required matching funds for Medicaid reimbursements to the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp.
Maratita's HB 17-294, HD1 allows the Northern Marianas College Board of Regents to make certain exceptions to the basic residency requirement set by law.
The House will hold another session today.