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Sunday, April 20, 2014

Bipartisan Senate bill seeks to delay CNMI minimum wage hike, extend CW and E2-C
Hearing on omnibus territories bill set for July 11 in Washington, DC

A new bipartisan U.S. Senate bill has been introduced to address U.S. territories’ concerns, including an every-other-year delay in the CNMI’s minimum wage increase of 50 cents starting in September 2013, and an extension of the Commonwealth-only worker or CW program as well as the CNMI-only investor status or E2-C program beyond Dec. 31, 2014.

U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee chair Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), ranking member, introduced S. 1237 on Thursday.

That was the same day the U.S. Senate passed a bipartisan, sweeping immigration reform bill that includes a pathway to citizenship for thousands of long-term, legal aliens in the CNMI.

S. 1237 or the Omnibus Territories Act of 2013 contains all of the provisions in HR 2200 that Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP), along with other U.S. delegates, introduced in May.

Wyden and Murkowski introduced S. 1237 at the request of Sablan and other insular area delegates: Madeleine Z. Bordallo (D-Guam), Donna Christensen (D-U.S. Virgin Islands), and Eni Faleomavaega (D-American Samoa).

“Chairman Wyden and Senator Murkowski have also agreed to move quickly and hold a hearing on their legislation on July 11,” Sablan said.

Omnibus territories bills have traditionally been a means of enacting unrelated legislation dealing specifically with the insular areas, but the practice has fallen out of use.

“Moving territorial issues as a group in each Congress, rather than as individual pieces of legislation, has expedited consideration and encouraged a nonpartisan appraisal of proposals. We hope that will prove the case with S.1237 and H.R.2200 in this Congress,” Sablan said.

S. 1237 also conveys 3 miles of submerged lands to the CNMI.

A separate bill by Wyden and Murkowski, S. 256, also calls for a delay in the CNMI’s annual 50-cent minimum wage increase for 2013 and 2015.

This may move faster than S. 1237 or HR 2200. However, territorial delegates such as the CNMI’s are not taking any chances.

The CNMI’s current minimum wage is $5.55 an hour. It is supposed to increase by 50 cents every year until it reaches the federal wage floor of $7.25 an hour.

The CNMI minimum wage is scheduled to increase to $6.05 an hour in September 2013 unless delayed through legislation such as S. 1237, HR 2220 or S. 256.

Besides delaying this year’s minimum wage through legislation, the CNMI is also working to extend the CW and E2-C programs.

Sablan and Gov. Eloy S. Inos formally asked the U.S. Labor secretary to extend by five years or up to 2019 the CW program, so that the CNMI will continue to have access to over 12,000 foreign workers who have been relied upon by the local tourism-based economy.

The U.S. Department of Labor said it is already reviewing requests from the CNMI to extend the CW program.

The CNMI says it still does not have enough U.S. workers to fill the void that could be left if over 12,000 foreign workers are forced to exit the CNMI once the CW program is allowed to expire on Dec. 31, 2014.

Long-term foreign investors with E2-C status also face mass exit from the CNMI if the E2-C status is not extended beyond Dec. 31, 2014.

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