An old rule that was reportedly borrowed from the CNMI Senate that prevents the minority bloc from being part of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee has been struck from the House of Representatives’ playbook, earning plaudits from minority lawmakers.
Rep. Tina Sablan (Ind-Saipan) said this move establishes a truly bipartisan approach at the House early in the 21st Legislature and allows the leadership bloc of House Speaker Blas Jonathan T. Attao (R-Saipan) and her minority colleagues to meet halfway.
Sablan, a Precinct 1 lawmaker, said that with Attao’s leadership and the cooperation of the ad-hoc committee, some of the minority’s proposed amendments were accepted for addition to the rules. “This is, to our knowledge, the first time that a truly bipartisan ethics committee is being established in the Legislature,” she said.
The three-person ad hoc rules committee is composed of committee chair John Paul P. Sablan (R-Saipan), and Vice Speaker Lorenzo I. Deleon Guerrero (R-Saipan) and Rep. Joel C. Camacho (R-Saipan).
Aside from Rep. Tina Sablan, the other members of the minority bloc are Rep. Edwin K. Propst (Ind-Saipan), Rep. Sheila J. Babauta (Ind-Saipan), Rep. Richard T. Lizama (R-Saipan), Rep. Donald M. Manglona (Ind-Rota), and Rep. Edmund S. Villagomez (Ind-Saipan).
Rep. Tina Sablan said that, under Attao, membership in the Ways and Means Committee is being increased, allowing for additional representation from the minority.
“And an old and unfair rule borrowed from the Senate that would impose restrictions only on the minority is being struck out. So, thank you, [House] Speaker [Attao], floor leader [Rep. John Paul P. Sablan], and the rules committee. Your fairness and reasonableness are very much appreciated,” she added.
Rep. Tina Sablan said the minority bloc also appreciated the floor amendment introduced by House Ways and Means Committee chair Ivan A. Blanco (R-Saipan) to House Resolution 20-4.
Blanco introduced an amendment to Rule XIII Section X on the House Rules where each House member must keep receipts and other records of all transactions and corresponding public purpose justifications to the authorized allowance.
“We also appreciate that the rules have been amended to explicitly require that all members who opt to draw an allowance must keep records of all transactions and their corresponding public purpose justifications. The paramount concern for the minority regarding these allowances was always to ensure transparency and accountability for these public funds,” said Sablan.
“So, thank you, chair Blanco for championing that amendment, and all members here who supported it. Only [Rep. Joseph] Lee Pan [T. Guerrero] (R-Saipan) did not support it, but he said he’s not drawing the allowance anyway so he should be okay.”
The other amendments proposed by the minority, however, did not pass, one of which would have clarified the details in the members’ quarterly financial reports while another would impose a penalty for members who fail to submit their reports in time.
Sablan said the allowances provided to members are public funds and all lawmakers must be transparent and accountable with their expenditures. “Our rules require that we submit reports for travel, and that we submit quarterly financial reports to the speaker. Our first report to the speaker is due in April.”
“With the Blanco amendment, our rules will further require that any member who draws an allowance must maintain records of all transactions, and their corresponding public purpose justifications. We are also, of course, bound by the ethics code in everything we do, and our records are public records under the Open Government Act and under our rules.”