To reduce government costs and improve efficiency, the Inos administration wants to merge the Emergency Management Office and the Office of Homeland Security-a proposal first raised during the previous administration but not acted on.
Gov. Eloy S. Inos said this proposal has been on the drawing board “for quite some time” and the new administration hopes that the House of Representatives will entertain the bill in its next session “so that we can satisfy the requirements of the grant with DHS.”
House Floor Leader Ralph Demapan (Cov-Saipan) resurrected his bill to merge the two agencies and create the CNMI Homeland Security and Emergency Management. He plans to introduce House Bill 18-27 in this morning's House session.
This comes days after Inos announced plans to also merge the Department of Labor and Workforce Investment Agency, privatize parks maintenance, and transfer the operations of the Oleai Sports Complex to the Northern Marianas Amateur Sports Association.
Inos and Lt. Gov. Jude U. Hofschneider, in their first joint news briefing yesterday, also want the Legislature to hasten the passage of two other bills-one that raises the hotel occupancy tax by 5 percentage points or from 10 percent to 15 percent by April 1, 2013, and one that clarifies provisions of a bill allowing the refund of contributions to the NMI Retirement Fund.
The Senate, during its session on Tinian on Tuesday, passed the two House bills with amendments. They go back to the House, which is expected to either accept or reject the Senate amendments today.
Sen. Victor Hocog (R-Rota) offered floor amendments to the hotel tax bill, H.B. 18-2, to remove references to house, apartment, rooming house, condominium, and similar facilities on the list of those subject to hotel occupancy tax, as well as setting aside 2.5 percent of 5 percent for destination enhancement toward the hiring of full-time enforcement officers for Rota and Tinian.
Senators also passed with major amendments H.B. 18-12, which clarifies the provisions of Public Law 17-82 to expedite the refunds of NMI Retirement Fund contributions and change timelines. The Senate deleted the portion about the Defined Contribution Plan from pages 4 to 5, so that Defined Benefit Plan members can get 50 percent of their contributions, among other things.
Senate President Ralph Torres (R-Saipan) said senators agreed to have a separate bill addressing the needs of DC Plan members.
At yesterday's briefing, Inos and Hofschneider reiterated that they will request the U.S. Department of Labor to extend by five years the transitional Commonwealth-only worker program beyond Dec. 31, 2014.
By doing so, the CNMI will continue to have access to over 12,000 skilled and professional foreign workers.
Inos said this presents uncertainty in the business community at a time when the CNMI still does not have enough local labor pool to fill the void once foreign workers are made to leave the islands.
The administration is awaiting a joint resolution from the House and Senate supporting the five-year extension.
The governor said Hofschneider will have another key role besides being the point of contact for issues affecting Rota and Tinian including capital improvement projects. He said yesterday that the lieutenant governor will also be heading the CNMI Military Integration Management Committee that deals with military buildup and related issues.
Hofschneider has made initial communications with the Joint Guam Program Office for a status update related to the military buildup in the region, including the impact of federal funding cuts.
Inos and Hofschneider said they are still reviewing the performance reports that Cabinet members submitted.