‘Senate has authority to introduce retirees’ bonus resolution’


File photo shows Senate legal counsel Antonette R. Villagomez, right.

Senate legal counsel Antonette R. Villagomez is of the opinion that the Senate has the constitutional authority to introduce and adopt Senate Joint Resolution 22-05 that approved Gov. Ralph DLG. Torres’ request to reprogram $1.3 million from the general fund for the payment of $500 bonuses to government retirees.

Villagomez, who issued the legal opinion Monday upon the request of Senate President Jude U. Hofschneider (R-Tinian), was responding to questions raised whether the Senate had the constitutional authority to introduce the joint resolution and adopt it.

Hofschneider is the author of Senate Joint Resolution 22-05. He earlier stated that the senators agreed with the importance of expeditiously entertaining Torres’ request in support of the retirees.

Villagomez concluded that pursuant to the Senate’s constitutional authority under NMI Constitution Article 2 and its 22nd Official Rules of Procedure, the Senate properly introduced and adopted Senate Joint Resolution 22-05 last Dec. 15 by unanimous decision.

Villagomez said the Senate’s introduction and adoption of Senate Joint Resolution 19-04 and the House of Representatives’ adoption of that resolution is clear precedence that the Senate is constitutionally and statutorily authorized to introduce and adopt a Senate joint resolution pursuant to the Commonwealth Code.

The House did not act on the Senate resolution at its session Monday; House Speaker Edmund S. Villagomez (Ind-Saipan) said he’d like to keep the resolution on the agenda for further review.

He made the decision after vice speaker Blas Jonathan T. Attao (R-Saipan) underscored the need for more information from the Department of Finance and the administration.

Attao stated among the reasons that any distribution of funds should begin in the House and anything that has to do with revenues that’s coming from the Senate is illegal under the CNMI Constitution.

“It’s the authority of the House to move those funds,” Attao had said.

But Antonette Villagomez cited the Senate’s introduction and adoption of Senate Joint Resolution 19-04 speaks to the same issue. That resolution, which the Senate had introduced on Sept. 24, 2015 and adopted on Sept. 25, 2015, authorized reprogramming authority for the governor in excess of the limits of the Commonwealth Code and Public Law 18-66 to respond to the Typhoon Soudelor disaster and to meet the Commonwealth’s 10% cost-sharing obligation. Villagomez said the House adopted SJR 19-04 on Sept. 29, 2015.

Similarly, Antonette Villagomez said, SJR 22-05 intends to approve and authorize the governor’s request to reprogram funds to pay for the retirees’ bonus pursuant to a statute.

She also cited another case, SJR 14-04m, which authorized an increase in the number of full-time employment positions for the Legislative Bureau from 35, as authorized under continuing appropriations pursuant to the Appropriations and Budget Authority Act of 2003. She said the Senate introduced and adopted that SJR on Feb. 18, 2004 and Feb. 23, 2004, respectively. She said the House adopted the resolution on March 4, 2004.

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a senior reporter of Saipan Tribune. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and has covered all news beats in the CNMI. He is a recipient of the CNMI Supreme Court Justice Award. Contact him at ferdie_delatorre@Saipantribune.com
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