As early as next week, members of the House of Representatives may have to change some of their ways when it comes to their notice of absence from sessions, the manner in which they address their colleagues during sessions, and even their dress code.
That’s because an ad hoc committee chaired by House floor leader George Camacho (R-Saipan) is already done with its review of the interim Rules of Procedure for the House of Representatives.
The committee, which also includes Reps. Antonio P. Sablan (Ind-Saipan) and John Paul Sablan (R-Saipan) as members, made some changes they deemed “critical” to ensure that House members’ duties and responsibilities were clarified.
Now the ad hoc committee is recommending to the full House to adopt House Resolution 19-5 in the form of House Substitute 1, which includes the changes made. The House is set to hold a session on Rota this week.
Once the House adopts HR 19-5, HS1, lawmakers will—among other things—be required to give more information to the speaker about their absence from any session. Only “written” notice of absence from sessions will be acceptable if the committee-amended resolution is adopted. At present, “verbal” notice is also acceptable. The written notice, as proposed by the ad hoc committee, shall include the “duration of the leave of absence, purpose of leave, and objective of leave.”
This is a step in the right direction if this Legislature is intent on ensuring a transparent, accountable, and corruption-free government.
CNMI taxpayers have the right to know why their elected officials, in this case, House members, cannot attend sessions. If any House member will miss a session because he will be meeting with casino investors in Macau or Hong Kong, for example, the speaker and other House members need to be notified properly, in writing.
This proposed requirement should be able to complement what’s already in the rules about off-island travel: “Members who travel on official legislative business shall submit a written or oral trip report to the House during the next regular session after their return. The report shall summarize the official business activities undertaken during the trip. If no report is submitted, the cost of travel shall be deducted from the member’s salary.”
But then again, this has not been followed for years.
The ad hoc committee also proposes that House members refer to their fellow members as “Representative,” or congressman or congresswoman, and not “Mr.” or “Mrs.” during sessions.
As to the dress code, the committee proposes to require that members “shall” wear business shirt and tie. At present, the rules say they “may” wear those.
The committee recommends that on Fridays, House members “may” wear “formal island wear.” But what really constitutes “formal island wear?”
The committee also seeks easing the prohibition on electronic devices such as cell phones.
The ad hoc committee recommends giving the chairperson of each standing committee “the authority to create a subcommittee for any purpose that the Chairperson deems appropriate…” The chairperson may also delegate to such subcommittees such power and authority as he or she deems appropriate; “provided, however, that (1) no subcommittee shall be composed of non-committee members or fewer than two members of the Committee; (2) the authority conferred upon the subcommittee cannot exceed the overall authority of the Committee itself; and (3) the Chairperson may dissolve a subcommittee it determines to be no longer necessary.”
Documents, testimonies or other evidence may be attached to committee reports as supporting documents, the committee says.
The proposed changes to the interim rules also include abolishing the standalone Committee on Education, and combine it instead with the Committee on Health and Welfare, thereby reducing the number of committees from eight to seven. That goes with the fewer number of majority members in the House now, compared to the previous Legislature.
The maximum number of members of the Committee on Natural Resources will be nine, instead of eight.
The Committee on Judiciary and Governmental Operations’ membership will be only up to seven, while the Committee on Tourism will have no more than eight members.
Moreover, the committee added a line that states, “The Vice Speaker shall become Speaker upon the resignation or by death of the Speaker.”
The committee reduced the number of regular sessions to be held, from six to four.
The ad hoc committee’s report does not propose to shorten the 72-hour advance public notice for any regular or special House session. Here’s to hoping it stays that way.
Moreover, under the proposed house rules, lawmakers still won’t be subject to mandatory drug testing. Camacho himself cited the unconstitutionality of doing so, based on legal advice. Last year’s bill requiring mandatory drug testing among lawmakers was vetoed by Gov. Eloy S. Inos, saying the measure may violate constitutional rights and is “vague and problematic.” The House overrode the veto, but it did not gain traction at the Senate.
Kudos to the ad hoc committee for reviewing the interim House rules and recommending ways to improve it. But the House still has to adopt House Resolution 19-5, HS1 to make the House rules final.
But then again, coming up with better rules is an exercise in futility and a waste of time if the House of Representatives does not enforce them. It’s been said many times, many ways that the CNMI already has good rules and laws, except that they are not being enforced. (Haidee V. Eugenio)