Gov. Benigno R. Fitial signed into law yesterday a two-year-old bill removing the mandatory requirement for CNMI employers to pay 100 percent of their foreign workers' medical insurance for nonresident workers-a new law that some affected workers said would force them to forego buying medical insurance altogether if employers do not commit to pay at least half of it.
House Bill 17-147, introduced by former representative Diego Benavente, is now Public Law 17-92.
The measure says the annual 50-cent minimum wage increase should be “sufficient for nonresident workers to provide for themselves and pay for their medical coverage as well.”
The CNMI's minimum wage is $5.55 an hour.
“Additionally, the removal of such mandated benefits will create fairness for all employees within the Commonwealth, nonresident and resident workers alike,” Public Law 17-92 reads in part.
The 100 percent health insurance coverage for alien workers now becomes “optional” rather than “mandatory” for employers.
Carlito Marquez, a nonresident worker, said yesterday the “impact is severe that affects all foreign workers' livelihood, considering the high cost of medication on the island.”
“Employers are indirectly driving away foreign workers,” he added.
Rene Reyes, founding president of the Marianas Advocates for Humanitarian Affairs Ltd., separately said yesterday that without this mandatory requirement for employers to pay 100 percent of their alien workers' health insurance, it will further subject foreign workers to financial hardships and they may end up not having any insurance at all.
He reiterated his earlier concerns that if workers need to be hospitalized without insurance, the government hospital would have to bear the costs, at least until the foreign worker pays.
“On the other hand, we also have to understand that there are small employers that are hardly making money because of the economy so this could also help them,” Reyes told Saipan Tribune.
MAHAL had hoped the Senate will amend the bill to require the employer to pay at least 50 percent of their foreign workers’ health insurance.
However, the bill went to the governor without amendments.
Vetoed tourism bill
The governor, at the same time, vetoed Rep. Edmund Villagomez's (Cov-Saipan) House Bill 17-185, House Draft 1, which authorizes the Marianas Visitors Authority to regulate tour operators and tour guides by amending an existing law, citing “some very serious concerns” that MVA raised.
“The MVA raised concerns with program's funding source because they anticipate that in order to comply with the bill to have the MVA enforce, regulate, and educate the tourism industry, it will require [the MVA to hire] additional personnel and purchase additional office equipment,” the governor said in his veto message to Senate President Jude Hofschneider (R-Tinian) and House Speaker Joseph Deleon Guerrero (IR-Saipan).
Fitial said MVA is also “very concerned with the overly broad definition of 'tour guide' which may make regulating the industry even harder.”
“I encourage the Legislature to work closely with MVA to address these and MVA's other concerns to ensure MVA can regulate tourism and further the legislative intent. Failure to do so would create an unnecessary burden to our number one money generating industry in the CNMI,” the governor added.
Villagomez, when asked for comment yesterday, said he was planning on recycling this bill had it not been passed by the Senate and acted on by the governor. He was planning on working with MVA anyway and make some changes to it before introducing it in the 18th Legislature.
$75,880 for Rota
The governor also signed into local law a measure appropriating $75,880 in poker license fees for Rota patients, scholarship and other programs and services on the island.
Rep. Teresita Santos' (R-Rota) House Local Bill 18-3, Substitute 1 is now Rota Local Law 18-1.
The $75,880 is appropriated as follows: $63,900 for the subsistence allowance of Rota patients undergoing dialysis treatment and with terminal illnesses; $4,500 for the Rota Municipal Scholarship; $4,500 for retroactive salary payment of Rota employees; $1,000 for the Rota Liaison Office on Saipan for fuel; $500 for the Rota Little League; $1,000 for the Department of Public Safety-Rota/Fire for fuel; and $480 for the Office of the Rota Mayor's fuel expenses.
The new local law also says that the Medical Assistance Board established under Rota Local Law 17-19 will continue to exist to make eligibility determinations under RLL 18-1.
The approved subsistence allowance shall not exceed $450 a month.