A senator’s bill to amend the succession law passed the Senate yesterday during a session in the Senate chamber on Capitol Hill.
With a vote of 6-1, Sen. Francisco Borja’s (R-Tinian) Senate Bill 20-79 SD2 passed the Senate with Sen. Paul Mangloña (Ind-Rota) against and Sens. Justo Quitugua (Ind-Saipan) and Teresita Santos (R-Rota) opting to abstain.
S.B. 20-79 authorizes the governor to appoint an individual to the mayor’s position if the current mayor is unable to serve or passes away with less than half of the term remaining and after garnering the consent and confirmation of the Senate.
Sen. Jude Hofschneider (R-Tinian) opted to further amend the bill by adding a provision that sets a timeframe for the mayoral successor. The amendment provides that if S.B. 20-79 is passed into law, the governor is given 15 days to appoint a nominee while the Senate is given 30 days upon the governor’s appointment to act on it. Should the Senate opt to not act on the appointment after 30 days, the provision provides that the governor’s appointment would be deemed confirmed.
When S.B. 20-79 was first introduced in a previous Senate session, Mangloña requested that the public hearing be first conducted as well. During the discussions in the passage of the bill, Mangloña said he remains “concerned” about how future officials would perceive the bill.
S.B. 20-79 was also not referred to a committee after its introduction last Nov. 21, 2017.
“We might be creating a bigger mess,” said Mangloña, adding that he was certain there would be more talks on S.B. 20-79 if it gets enacted.
Santos, who opted to abstain on the bill, said that although the intent of the bill brought up valid points on both sides, the “sentiments of [Rota] have its own competing influence.”
“Since there are both legitimate arguments on both sides of the equilibrium, I am going to abstain on the legislation,” she said.
Hofschneider, who was for the bill, stated that he had the “primary duty to provide stability” for the people of Tinian.
“It is our primary mandate to do our best to stabilize the community as much as possible. I understand that not all purpose and findings can be agreed by one another; that is part of being in a democratic form of government,” he said.
“The CNMI Constitution provided [the Legislature] to look at issues that may happen,” he said before recalling the recent passing of late Northern Islands mayor Jerome Aldan.
A statement from Sen. Borja’s office stated that the intent of the bill was to provide for job security of previous employees under the late Aldan. The employees reportedly lost their jobs as NI Mayor Vicente C. Santos took over.
Hofschneider said that no matter how others perceive the bill, whether political or not, he said he had a “responsibility to provide stability for the people I represent—Tinian—and provide them comfort in the event that the mayor passes with more than half or less than half of the term remaining, there is a guiding principle as far as this is concerned.”
According to author Borja, the intent of the bill was to protect the employees of the mayor’s office and municipalities in case “something happens to the mayor.”
With the Senate passing S.B. 20-79, he was grateful to the members that supported it.
“I’m happy [the bill] passed the Senate. That is the first step; we’ll see what will happen,” said Borja.
When asked why public hearings to gather comments on the bill were not conducted, Borja said public hearings on bills remained a prerogative of the Legislature.
Having been introduced just late November 2017 and now heading to the House of Representatives for review and action mid-December 2017, Saipan Tribune asked why the bill was passed with a sense of urgency.
Borja replied, “We cannot foresee what the future entails, so I am more comfortable that the bill is in place. Whatever happens–the mayor resigns or passes away–it doesn’t matter if it’s from Tinian or Rota. Part of being in the Legislature is [amending and creating] laws.”
Alongside the introduction of the bill, rumors of Tinian Mayor Joey Patrick San Nicolas resigning as mayor circulated. Although he denied the rumors after Saipan Tribune previously reached out to him, he said he supported “a move by the Legislature to amend the law regarding mayor vacancies.”