Villagomez, Hofschneider appoint respective members to conference committee
With 14 voting “yes” and five voting “no,” the House of Representatives rejected yesterday afternoon the Senate’s version of a budget bill for the government’s operations in Fiscal Year 2023.
Following the rejection, House Speaker Edmund S. Villagomez (Ind-Saipan) and Senate President Jude U. Hofschneider (R-Tinian) appointed their respective members to the conference committee.
Conference committee refers to a joint committee appointed by the House speaker and the Senate president to resolve disagreements on a specific bill.
In this case, the conference committee will be working on a deadline to ensure that they come up with a budget bill that the Legislature will pass and bring to the table of Gov. Ralph DLG Torres before the fiscal year ends on Sept. 30, 2022.
Villagomez appointed Ways and Committee chair Rep. Donald M. Manglona (Ind-Rota) as chairperson of the House conference committee, and Rep. Celina R. Babauta (D-Saipan) and Rep. Ralph N. Yumul (R-Saipan) as members. Vice speaker Rep. Blas Jonathan T. Attao (R-Saipan) was appointed as an alternate.
Hofschneider appointed Senate Fiscal Affairs chair Sen. Victor B. Hocog (R-Rota) as chairperson of the Senate conference committee, and Sen. Vinnie F. Sablan (R-Saipan) as vice chairperson, and Sen. Karl R. King-Nabors (R-Tinian) as member. Sen. Francisco Q. Cruz (R-Tinian) was appointed as an alternate.
The five representatives who voted “no” for the rejection of the Senate budget bill version were minority leader Angel A. Demapan (R-Saipan), Roy Christopher A. Ada (R-Saipan), Joseph A. Flores (Ind-Saipan), Patrick H. San Nicolas (R-Tinian), and Joseph Lee Pan T. Guerrero (R-Saipan). Demapan, Ada, and San Nicolas voted for the passage of the House’s budget bill last Aug. 27.
During discussions of the Senate budget bill version, Rep. Manglona, who is the author of the House’s budget bill, 22-116, said the House legislation was a product of the Ways and Means Committee and was passed unanimously by the House.
Manglona said the House took time to review Torres’ proposal, held numerous budget hearings, and that despite not having enough resources to address all the requests made by the departments and agencies, they took every effort to ensure the government was not left to sit idle.
“The governor’s proposal lacked the resources to allow our hardworking people to provide services to our people,” he said.
Manglona said the proposal would have left the departments and agencies to beg the administration for any funding needed to function.
He said the Senate’s version of the budget essentially reverted their version of the budget back to what the governor had proposed.
Manglona said the House did not jeopardize anyone’s jobs as they were simply trying to give the various departments and agencies an operations budget so that they can perform their jobs.
“To quote my Senate colleagues, it’s common sense,” he said.
Manglona said they have a few days to pass a budget in order to avoid a shutdown and that he stands ready to work with the Senate to address concerns in the budget.
“But for now, for all these reasons that I’ve mentioned, I cannot support the Senate’s budget version of the budget and I ask my colleagues to reject HB 22-116, HD2, SS1,” he said.
Demapan said there is one point of contention that he believes they need to clarify for future budget sessions to come.
Demapan said that is the advice they’re getting from their legal counsel because he does not know who is right between the Senate and House counsels.
“But what I do know is both counsels work for the same Legislative Bureau and two houses are getting two different pieces of advice,” he said.
Demapan said that is causing confusion, not just amongst the members of the legislature, but the public as well as they look in and see a divided legislature based on legal interpretation.
Joe Taijeron Jr. is counsel for the House. Joe Bermudes is counsel for the Senate.
Demapan said in order to make sure this budget process is smoother and more comfortable for the public to consume, there needs to be some kind of understanding between the legal counsels employed by the bureau and not have this contrasting advice and confusing the members of both houses but most of all the members of the community.
He said they rely heavily on their own counsel so he’d like to find a way to address this discrepancy so that their process and their goals and decision-making is made in a more sound, fashionable manner.