This morning, Governor Ralph DLG. Torres announced that the United States Senate has passed H.R. 5956, the Northern Mariana Islands US Workforce Act of 2018. The bill now heads to the White House for the President’s action.
“I am happy to announce that H.R. 5956, the Northern Mariana Islands US Workforce Act of 2018, just passed the United States Senate. After another round of meetings in Washington between Senate staffers and my staff led by Matt Deleon Guerrero, we are proud to announce that the bill has passed the Senate with unanimous consent and is on the way to the President for signature. Over the last several days, we also held meetings with the White House and have been assured that the President will sign the bill within 10 days. I want to thank Chairman Murkowski and Chairman Bishop and their staff for their work on this bill and getting it through Congress. We are almost there, and I sincerely thank our entire community for working with us,” Torres said.
H.R. 5956, which was reintroduced by Rep. Rob Bishop, Chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, extends the CW permit program through 2029 and further strengthens ongoing local initiatives to develop the CNMI’s US workforce.
The bill also increases the number of Commonwealth-only Transitional Workers to 13,000 for fiscal year 2019. This fixes reductions made by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which had implemented policies dating back to the Obama administration to reduce the number of CW workers through 2019 in accordance with the law.
Since the summer of 2016, discussions about a long-term solution to the CW program began between Governor Torres and congressional leaders in both the House and Senate about a long-term solution to the CW program through the Section 902 Consultations between the CNMI and the US. The consultations resulted in the first report in history approved by both the CNMI and the White House and transmitted to Congress in January 2017. It provided a framework for workforce policy discussions between the CNMI and the US to this day.
Senator Murkowski, who chairs the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, created the congressional working group in July 2017 to initiate discussions on Governor Torres’ recommendations toward legislation that would develop the US workforce substantially over time, secure the CNMI’s ability to grow its economy, and ensure that legacy foreign workers will not be capped out during the annual renewal process. Chairman Bishop was also a member of the working group.
In December 2017, Governor Torres with members of the Northern Marianas Business Alliance then met with Senator Murkowski, Delegate Gregorio C. Sablan, and members of the working group to help move the bill further. Following the December meeting, Governor Torres worked closely with the working group resulting in the introduction of S. 2325 in January.
The Office of the Governor and the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources remained in direct communication after the introduction of the bill and through the Senate hearing of the bill on February 6, 2018. Governor Torres, joined by Congressman Angel A. Demapan, also met with senators on the committee and the Office of Speaker Paul Ryan regarding the bill.
While two bills were co-introduced in both the House and the Senate, it was only S. 2325 that was amended to reflect new language that directly addressed the needs of the CNMI. As a result, Senator Murkowski’s bill became the primary piece of legislation.
In late February, Torres invited Murkowski to the CNMI for a firsthand view of the CNMI economy. Senator Murkowski’s visit in March helped provide a clear picture of the CNMI economy and its challenges toward even greater levels of success in the CNMI. This eventually led to the passage of S. 2325 in the Senate in April.
After a parliamentary concern over the bill’s revenue provisions within the anti-fraud fee, Chairman Bishop then reintroduced in the House in late May as H.R. 5956. Since all revenue-generating bills must originate in the House, the language was then fully incorporated into this new version so that we can get it through the House as soon as possible then onto the Senate. The bill is also renamed to include “of 2018” in the short title to distinguish it from the various other versions of the bill floating around Congress.
H.R. 5956 includes the original text of the recently passed S. 2325 in the Senate, along with the blue-slipped language negotiated by the Office of the Governor, the Office of Senator Murkowski, and the Department of Homeland Security and cleared by the House Committee on Ways and Means.
The Bishop-Murkowski bill now goes to the White House for President Donald J. Trump’s action. Governor Torres received assurances that the President will sign the bill within ten days.
“The work we have accomplished together so far is attributed to many members in our community working with me to make our case to Congress. This will always be about advocating for the people in our villages who are actively trying to find a job in our growing economy, our small local businesses that have to make difficult choices, and families and friends that have been affected already. This bill will address our community’s concerns by ensuring that there is effective wage protection for US workers, an acknowledgement of our long-term guest workers, additional time to allow for the construction and progress of our islands to continue, and stronger safeguards against bad actors in our economy. We will continue to make sure that every able-bodied and willing local worker on island has access to a job in order to be self-sufficient, and we will continue to work towards saving our economy because it provides more opportunities for everyone to succeed as it grows.” (PR)