The Senate in last Friday’s sine die session passed Senate Bill 20-106, Senate Draft 1, House Draft 1 despite CNMI Attorney General Edward Manibusan and Senate legal counsel Jose Bermudes recommending to first address the legal implications of the said legislation. All eight senators, minus Sen. Paul A. Manglona (Ind-Rota), voted in the affirmative.
Manibusan, in a letter sent to House Judiciary and Governmental Affairs Committee chair Ivan A. Blanco (R-Saipan), said S.B. 20-106—although there are some differences with House Bill 20-181—would not affect the legal analysis he presented in another letter.
Sen. Justo S. Quitugua (Ind-Saipan) introduced S.B. 20-106 or an act that would establish a Northern Marianas Technical Institute by adding a new Chapter 12 to Title 3, Division 1 of the Commonwealth Code while Rep. Edwin P. Aldan (R-Tinian) authored H.B. 20-181 that aims to establish NMTI as a government entity.
Manibusan cited Article XV Section 2 (b) of the CNMI Constitution adding that both bills are a flawed plan of “converting NMTI into an independent public agency with duties and responsibilities that fall within the constitutional mandate of the Northern Marianas College.”
Article XV, Section 2 (b) states: The purpose of [NMC] shall be to provide the best quality and meaningful postsecondary and adult educational opportunities for the purpose of improving the quality of life for the individual and for the [CNMI] as a whole. [NMC] shall be responsible for providing education in the areas of adult and continuing education, postsecondary and adult vocational education and professional development for the people of the [CNMI]. The Board of Regents shall establish the mission statement of [NMC].”
“[S.B. 20-106] proposes to confer on NMTI the authority to provide services and programs to high school students, thereby encroaching on the constitutional domain of the public education system under the authority of the [CNMI State] Board of Education and the Commissioner of Education,” said Manibusan.
“Also problematic is the conversion of NMTI from a private entity into a public agency. As a private entity, NMTI is required to windup its affairs and transfer its assets in accordance with dissolution proceedings for non-profit organizations.”
His recommendation was to first address the problems. “[S.B. 20-106] contemplates a conversion and transfer provisions that may contradict statues and regulations governing non-profit organizations. I recommend that the Committee fully address the foregoing legal issues before sending it to the House floor for disposition.”
Bermudes said he and Senate senior legal counsel Antonette Villagomez reviewed and discussed the AG’s letter as it raised three things: NMC’s mandate under Article 15, Section 2 (b); the possible encroachment to PSS and the educational system; and a non-profit corporation that’s going to be converted to a public entity.
“There may be ways to fix it but the very first concern is the mandate of NMC is problematic. When this bill was first introduced, the first draft, that issue was always been brought up. From the beginning and up to this point, absent a constitutional amendment, I have advised that this issue was not addressed in the current bill,” said Bermudes.
“It is my opinion, that absent the constitutional amendment to fix that portion, the NMC mandate on adult education; unless the language is change and allows another entity to co-exist and have similar or identical, or differences on trades and vocational program. My advice is the bill’s amendment does not satisfy the first issue raised by the AG. I rendered decisions in the past and members had voted just the opposite.”
Quitugua said that they had redrafted the bill after it was first introduced in the 19th Legislature removing the words vocational education with NMC and Public School System officials also providing their comments on the said legislation.
“When we redrafted, we sent it to the House removing anything in reference to vocational education. When it got to the governor, the governor vetoed it but the AG did not put anything in the veto message saying the unconstitutionality of the bill. The [language] vocational education was no longer there. We changed it and made it a training center for trades and technical.”
“We added a transition period to make sure that NMTI, if it becomes public entity, just not change hands tomorrow or overnight; it would have a six-month transition period for the governor to work with new board and the existing board to move everything on the third part said by AG; moving from non-pro to government.”
He added that the recent version of the bill is not different from the one that was vetoed by Gov. Ralph DLG Torres. “The words vocational education was not there and it was to become a training center for trades and technical. This is a competition of funding.”
“For me, I don’t see anything that will prevent our people from getting the training that PSS and NMC cannot provide. It is our responsibility here in the Senate that other ways and opportunities must be provided to our people so they can receive training.
Quitugua said the extension of the CW-1 or CNMI-Only Worker Transition program to another 10 years would lose its purpose of preparing the local workforce is not addressed. “If we continue to not find other ways to train of our people, future legislatures and governors would again be discussing to extend CW for another 10 years.”
“[Beyond 2029], so that we can provide training for our people. In this legislation, it even encourages the three agencies—PSS, NMC, NMTI—to work together for the benefit of our people. Until such time that our agencies leaders can cooperate with one another, we will be forever closing the doors to providing training opportunities for our people in the CNMI.”