Sen. Jude Hofschenider (R-Tinian) said he would be focusing more on the needs of the CNMI’s Judicial Branch when his committee begins meeting with various government, agencies, departments, and divisions for the fiscal year 2018 budget hearing.
The CNMI Superior Court, Supreme Court, Drug Court, Law Revision Commission, and the Judiciary Administrative Office are the agencies under the Judiciary.
Hofschneider is the chair of the Senate Committee on Fiscal Affairs that’s tasked to review all the finances and financial administration of the CNMI government.
He said that he would first meet with House Ways and Means committee head Rep. Angel A. Demapan (R-Saipan) to begin their deliberations on Gov. Ralph DLG Torres’ budget proposal for fiscal year 2018.
“First, I need to meet with [Rep. Demapan]. We need to discuss each of the points raised on the governor’s budget for the coming fiscal year. We have to digest and scrutinize the proposal,” Hofschneider told Saipan Tribune in an interview yesterday.
That’s why the Tinian lawmaker wanted to pay close attention to the Judiciary’s budget since the third co-equal branch of the government’s needs and activities are expected to increase in the coming fiscal year.
The CNMI Drug Court, which is under the jurisdiction of the CNMI Superior Court, is expected to hire additional personnel for its operations.
“On the Senate’s side, the Judiciary’s budget request is what I want to pay close attention to. The Drug Court has stated its operations since it was established a few years ago and they would be needing [full time equivalents] to fill job positions,” added Hofschneider.
The CNMI Drug Court was created through Public Law 19-14 that was signed by then acting governor Torres on Oct. 28, 2015. Superior Court Associate Judge Teresa Kim-Tenorio was designated as the Drug Court judge.
The Drug Court is a specialized court that incorporates drug dependency treatment with judicial supervisions for both adult and juvenile defendants. The court would provide rehabilitation for drug dependents while at the same time protecting the community.
The CNMI Drug Court currently employs TaAnn Kabua (caseload coordinator), Jaclyn T. Mendiola, Jane P. McCale (certified caseworkers), and Matilde Bermudes (probation officer).
Hofschneider said the Judiciary is requesting at least an additional $2 million with most of it on the expected increase in their operations especially on the needs of the Drug Court, which goes together with the Torres administration’s anti drug campaign.
Yvette Sablan was appointed by Torres as the Governor’s Office’s special assistant for Drug Abuse and Rehabilitation Program, where she’s tasked to coordinate and collaborate with the CNMI Drug Court on how to serve individuals who chose to get treatment of their drug dependency.
“It is important to also note about the governor’s initiative in battling the substance abuse situation in the CNMI. This is one big issue and what we’ve been dealing right now in the CNMI,” said Hofschneider.
“The Drug Court is basically dealing with the same issue so we need to get a grasp on how the current structure right now is working. How would the structure would work hand-in-hand [Drug Court and Sablan’s office] to effectively address the problem.”
Last year, the Legislature gave the Special Assistant for Drug Abuse and Rehabilitation Program $1 million in funding as stated on chapter 3, section 302(c) of Public Law 19-75, a supplemental budget.
Hofschneider said that they would also look into the needs of other divisions of the Judiciary. He added that for years the Legislature allocates funds on what they think they would be needing for the whole fiscal year.
“The [Judiciary] is asking for more budget at least an additional $2 million based on their request. Now, the Senate would at least, want to take a closer look on their request and consider, if not all, some of it.”
Torres is proposing $5,981,195 for the Judiciary’s budget that would cover their daily operations, salaries of personnel, and utilities. In FY 2017, $5,975,369 was the approved budget for the Judicial branch with the Drug Court getting $361,266. Torres’ substance abuse and rehabilitation program is allocated $600,000.