Clarification on intent of 5-pct. salary hike for law enforcers


This is intended to clarify the misconception of the intent of Public Law 19-8, Section 704(1) and its corresponding appropriations. In his transmittal message dated Sept. 29, 2015, to the House speaker and Senate president, the governor informed the Legislature that he signed into law, with the exception of several disapproved parts, House Bill 19-086, HD6, SS1, CCSl (Fiscal Year 2016 CNMI Budget Act). The budget act became Public Law 19-8. One of the parts that the governor disapproved was Section 704(f), which authorized a 5-percent salary increase for law enforcement officers.

Section 704(f) specifically states that: “Notwithstanding any law to the contrary, 5 percent of the law enforcement personnel budget appropriations of the Department of Public Safety, Department of Fire and EMS, Department of Corrections, Division of Custom and Quarantine, Division of Fish and Wildlife, Department of Commerce ABTC and Enforcement and Compliance officers shall be allocated to provide for a 5-percent salary increase of current law enforcement

personnel as provided in this subsection.”

The Senate intended to recognize and commend all law enforcement officers for their untiring and dedicated service to the people of the Commonwealth. Although public employees deserve to be recognized and commended for their hard work, law enforcement officers are expected to serve and report to duty during accidents, emergency situations, after working hours, during disasters, and other anytime law enforcement services are required by the public.

The Senate further intended to recognize the Division of Customs for seizing and intercepting over 23 lbs of crystal methamphetamine, commonly known as “ice,” worth over $4.3 million in street value in July 2015. Additionally, because of the increase in construction activities in the CNMI, the CNMI ports, especially the seaports, will see an increase in transportation activities requiring more inspections. The quarantine officers, who are tasked with ensuring that materials arriving into the CNMI ports are fully inspected and clear of unwanted insects and brown tree snakes, will also execute more inspections to ensure the public’s safety.

Typhoon Soudelor devastated Saipan in August 2015 and law enforcement officers were the first persons to respond to the aftermath of the disaster. Two months later, law enforcement officers continue to assist with the recovery efforts including assisting government agencies responsible for removing debris around the islands, directing traffic during peak times and school hours, securing the highways for the CUC line crews, and patrolling areas still without power. We all owe a debt of gratitude our law enforcement officers.

The Senate intended to express its gratitude to law enforcement officers by including Section 704(f) in the fiscal year 2016 CNMI budget, which authorized a 5-percent increase for law enforcement officers and increased their personnel appropriations accordingly. The Senate intended to authorize the 5-percent salary increase for all law enforcement officers within the named departments, divisions, and agencies listed in Section 704(f) as mandated by Inos v. Tenorio.

The case of Inos v. Tenorio involved a conflict of authority between the governor and the mayor of Rota regarding Art. III, Section 17 of the NMI Constitution also known as “Amendment 25.”

The court in Inos v. Tenorio makes it clear that: “Section 17(a) requires a mayor to ensure that resident department heads faithfully execute their duties to execute the policy directives of the central government…As used in this sentence, Commonwealth government policies refer to the policies of the central government mandated by the governor through his department secretaries. Thus, resident department heads work under a constitutional obligation to implement the policies issued by their superiors, the secretaries of the executive departments. Moreover, mayors have a supervisory responsibility over each of these resident department heads to ensure that they fulfill their responsibilities.”

See Inos v. Tenorio, Civil Action No. 94-1289, Memorandum and Decision and Declaratory Judgment at 22 (June 14, 1995). Inos makes it clear that the policies of a central department must be carried out at the First and Second Senatorial District resident department level as well.

Notwithstanding the court’s decision in Inos v. Tenorio, the governor in his transmittal message disapproved Section 704(f) stating in pertinent part: “Section 704(f) is disapproved as it is not equitable. This section provides a 5-percent across-the-board increase for law enforcement employed by the central government. The salary increase does not, however, account for law enforcement officers funded by the First and Second Senatorial District appropriations. This is not fair and will create morale problems for law enforcement. Moreover, requiring the law enforcement agencies to use 5-percent of their personnel budget to find this mandate would require agencies to cut staff and would run counter to the 25-percent cap on overtime. This is not workable. Along with this condition, the accompanying appropriation is also vetoed…”

Although the First and Second Senatorial Districts were not specifically listed in Section 704(1), it was understood by the Senate and clear from Inos v. Tenorio that a salary increase for law enforcement officers at a central department includes the officers at the resident departments within the First and Second Senatorial Districts because they are the same department. It was further not necessary and contrary to Inos v. Tenorio to specifically list the First and Second Senatorial Districts in Section 704(f).

Moreover, the personnel appropriations for all law enforcement officers included the additional funds required to implement the 5-percent salary increase. An examination of the personnel appropriations set forth in Schedule A attached to Public Law 19-8 will confirm that the departments, divisions, and agencies listed under Section 704(f) including those in the First and Second Senatorial Districts incorporated the additional appropriations for the 5-percent salary increase for law enforcement officers. Specifically, the following amounts were included in the personnel appropriations for the First and Second Senatorial Districts:

A. Rota:
1. Customs, business unit 1152 $6,597
2. Agriculture (Quarantine), business unit 1412 $3,420
3. Police, business unit 1352 $21,728
4. Fire & EMS, business unit 1353 $6,245
5. Fish & Wildlife, business unit 1422 $2,931

B. Tinian:
1. Customs, business unit 1151 $3,465
2. Agriculture (Quarantine), business unit 1411 $3,631
3. Police, business unit 1351 $23,848
4. Fire & EMS, business unit 1351A $11,983
5. Fish & Wildlife, business unit 1421 $2,649

The total amounts of $40,921 and $45,576 (inclusive of benefits and 1 percent OPA fee) for the 5-percent salary increase for the affected law enforcement officers of the First and Second Senatorial Districts, respectively, are clearly included in the corresponding FY 2016 personnel appropriations for Rota and Tinian.

Contrary to the governor’s veto message, Section 704(f) and the corresponding personnel appropriations of law enforcement officers include a 5-percent salary increase for every law enforcement officer in the Commonwealth as well as the additional funding necessary to pay for the 5-percent salary increase. Moreover, the affected departments, divisions, and agencies would not be required to cut staff or exceed the 25-percent cap on overtime in order to implement the 5-percent increase as stated by the governor in his veto message.

The govemor’s misunderstanding of the intent of Section 704(f) and conclusion that the additional funds necessary for the 5-percent increase must be taken from the personnel appropriations of other employees led him to line item veto Section 704(f). However, the governor made one correct statement—that the there will be morale problems for law enforcement—with the veto of Section 704(f). At least 100 law enforcement officers and personnel attended all the public hearings and sessions of the Senate and House of Representatives supporting the passage of Section 704(f).

The Senate Standing Committee on Fiscal Affairs hopes this statement clarifies any misconception regarding the intent of Public Law 19-8, Section 704(f) and corresponding appropriations for the 5-percent salary increase for all law enforcement officers in the Commonwealth. (Jude U. Hofschneider)

Jude U. Hofschneider (Special to the Saipan Tribune)

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