Instead of simply reducing the number of lawmakers from 29 to 18 to help shrink the CNMI government’s size, Rep. Christopher Leon Guerrero (Cov-Saipan) is proposing a constitutional amendment to convert the current 29-member bicameral legislature to a 12-member unicameral chamber.
“The CNMI is politically overrepresented,” Leon Guerrero told Saipan Tribune last night. “It is now time to decrease the Legislature’s membership for it to become more efficient and less costly.”
Leon Guerrero will prefile today a legislative initiative that seeks to ask voters whether they want a CNMI Senate composed of 12 senators elected at-large.
If approved by three-fourths of each house, Leon Guerrero’s initiative will be presented to voters in the next general elections, which will be in 2014.
At least $2.1 million in salaries and operational accounts alone will be saved every year by reducing the number of lawmakers by 17.
But the actual savings just in terms of indirect costs could easily exceed this figure 10 times and could be used to save the NMI Retirement Fund and address other critical needs, Leon Guerrero said.
CNMI-wide, there is one legislator for every 1,827 people.
Guam, in comparison, has one legislator for every 10,000 people.
The CNMI has 53,000 people with 29 lawmakers, while Guam has 160,000 people represented by 15 senators elected islandwide.
The CNMI has a bicameral Legislature—a 20-member House of Representatives and a nine-member Senate, while Guam has a unicameral Legislature—a 15-member Guam Senate.
Conversion to a unicameral legislature rests with CNMI voters. But that is only after members of the current 18th Legislature give the initiative a chance.
Leon Guerrero said if majority of CNMI voters ratify the initiative, then that will be sufficient justification for the U.S. Congress to amend Section 203(c) of the Covenant “to reflect the decision of the people to convert to a unicameral legislature.”
Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) will then have to introduce legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives to “effectuate the will of the electorate,” Leon Guerrero said.
His legislative initiative seeks to amend Article 2 of the NMI Constitution by amending Section 1, repealing Section 3 and amending Section 4 to add a new subsection (c) to establish a unicameral legislature by eliminating the CNMI House of Representatives and enlarging the Senate from nine to 12.
The term of each CNMI-wide senator will be four years, the same as the current term of senators under a bicameral system.
“The resulting political entity will be substantially more efficient and still capable of fulfilling its constitutional duties to represent the interest of all of the CNMI’s people,” the yet-to-be prefiled initiative states in its findings.
Leon Guerrero, chairman of the House Committee on Judiciary and Government Operations, said he is inviting his colleagues to co-sponsor the legislative initiative.
The lawmaker was initially crafting an initiative seeking to ask voters whether they want to cut the number of lawmakers from 29 to 18 and a longer term for House members from two to four to help shrink the CNMI government’s size.