Fast legislative action seen on GHLI bill
The House of Representatives is expected to introduce and act as soon as possible on a bill that would adjust the fiscal year 2020 budget appropriations, despite it being already over two months into the fiscal year.
Rep. Ivan Blanco (R-Saipan) told Saipan Tribune Wednesday that he pre-filed a bill that would correct the Group Health and Life Insurance funding issue after Gov. Ralph DLG Torres vetoed Section 710(k) of the budget bill when he enacted it last September. That section mandated the Executive Branch to pay the GHLI premiums of Legislature and Judiciary employees.
Separately, House Speaker Blas “B.J.” Jonathan Attao (R-Saipan) told Saipan Tribune in an interview that the Legislature has to push the matter. “We’ve already got the numbers down…for both branches, so we are going to appropriate those funds to the respective branches to address their needs for employees,” he said.
“It’s something the Chief Justice [Alexandro Castro] brought up as a concern since October  and we wanted to get accurate numbers, so we’ve done all the calculations for that and we will be acting on that so we won’t have to worry about it [in the future],” he added.
The speaker noted that the bill is needed to confirm that the payments are being made in order to avoid an interruption in services.
“This bill is simply correcting what we missed,” Blanco told Saipan Tribune in a separate interview.
Attao noted that the bill would be introduced and immediately acted on in a future House session. He expects the House to support the legislation.
“…I’m sure that the members of the House [are] in full support of that and I believe the members of the Legislature in general supports the intent because that was the understanding, that the GHLI was going to be taken care of under the independent programs,” he said.
Blanco noted in a previous interview that the Executive Branch and the House Ways and Means Committee, which he chairs, had exchanged communications during the budget process for fiscal year 2020, indicating that the Executive Branch would be shouldering the GHLI payments of legislative and judicial employees for the fiscal year. However, at the signing of the fiscal year 2020 budget, Torres vetoed the section that specified that.
On Nov. 25, 2019, Torres’ chief of staff, Angel Demapan, told Saipan Tribune that the Torres administration is already working on a legislation that would clarify the payment of GHLI for fiscal year 2020.