Fitial admin no reapportionment plan yet, seeks AG opinion

Yumul also seeks written opinion from House counsel
Press secretary Angel Demapan said yesterday that the Fitial administration does not have a House of Representatives seat reapportionment or redistricting plan in place yet but is seeking the attorney general’s opinion on whether the 120-day period for the Legislature to come up with a plan started on Aug. 24 or Jan. 5. There were two sets of U.S. Census Bureau data released around these dates.

If an attorney general opinion concludes that the 120-day period from the release of Census 2010 data started on Aug. 24 then that means the Legislature has already lost its chance to plan for reapportionment or redistricting by Christmas time, and the second 120-day period is now ticking for the governor to come up with his own plan.

The governor also has 120 days after the expiration of the time for the Legislature to act on the matter.

“All the factors are there that are pointing to a right-sized government and this is one significant point to do, to go in that direction,” Demapan said, referring to a 22.7-percent decline in the CNMI’s population and a shrinking economy, among other things.

The CNMI population shrunk by 22.2 percent or by 15,338 in a 10-year period or from 69,221 in 2000 to 53,883 in 2010, resulting from a host of factors that include a series of economic setbacks, the demise of the garment industry, and the unremitting drop in tourist arrivals.

Saipan’s population alone dipped by 22.7 percent or by 14,172-from 62,392 in 2000 to 48,220 in 2010.

If both the Legislature and the Executive branches do not act on the constitutional requirement to reapportion and redistrict after the Census results are published, then any registered voter could petition the Judiciary to make a decision, as was the case in 2007.

Demapan said if the Legislature’s 120-day period had already lapsed, lawmakers can still submit its own plan to the Fitial administration.

Rep. Ray Yumul (R-Saipan), who brought up the constitutional provisions on reapportionment and redistricting on Friday, separately said yesterday that this time around, he will seek a written legal opinion from the House counsel.

U.S. Census Bureau data on the results of the Census 2010 were released on Aug. 24 that included the CNMI’s population count and population by districts.

Another set of Census 2010 data results were released around Jan. 5 that included the population of each village.

Yumul said an initial opinion from the House counsel was that the 120 days started on Jan. 5, not August so this means the Legislature still has until May to come up with its plan.

“Now that the AG is asked to review it, the Legislature also has to come up with its own position on when the 120 days started. The Constitution gives the Legislature authority to act on it, and we should not lose that chance to do so,” Yumul said.

He said if legal opinions conclude that the Legislature’s 120-day period has already lapsed, the Legislature can still act on Rep. Joseph Palacios’ (R-Saipan) initiative seeking to reduce the number of House seats for Saipan from 18 to nine and designate Saipan as one election district instead of five. This means Saipan House members will be elected islandwide, not by precinct.

Currently, the House has 20 members: 18 from Saipan, and one each from Rota and Tinian.

Palacios said his initiative will save the CNMI over $1 million.

Rep. Froilan Tenorio (Cov-Saipan), for his part, said yesterday that “the Legislature should do it. I don’t want the Executive Branch to do [the redistricting].”

Palacios’ initiative has yet to be acted on by the House Committee on Judiciary and Governmental Operations-almost a year since it was introduced in February 2011. JGO Committee chair Rep. Ralph Demapan (Cov-Saipan) said he personally supports the initiative but he has to get consensus on the matter. He said the committee will soon act on the initiative.

Under Article II Section 4(a) of the CNMI Constitution, the Legislature shall, at least every 10 years and within 120 days following publication of the results of the decennial census, reapportion the seats in the House or revise the districts for electing representatives as required by changes in Commonwealth population or by law.

Section 4(b) states that if the Legislature fails to act, the governor shall promulgate a reapportionment or redistricting plan within 120 days after the expiration of the time for the Legislature to act.

Haidee V. Eugenio | Reporter
Haidee V. Eugenio has covered politics, immigration, business and a host of other news beats as a longtime journalist in the CNMI, and is a recipient of professional awards and commendations, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s environmental achievement award for her environmental reporting. She is a graduate of the University of the Philippines Diliman.

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