Gov. Ralph DLG Torres laid down his legislative priorities last Thursday and asked the Legislature to focus on crafting legislation that will foster long-term benefits to the CNMI community.
In a letter to Senate President Victor Hocog (R-Rota) and House Speaker Blas Jonathan Attao (R-Saipan), the governor identified four priorities: local Occupational Health and Safety enforcement; the strengthening of the regulatory powers of the Commonwealth Casino Commission; the strengthening the independence and autonomy of the Office of the Public Auditor; and greater safety for students.
Torres said these priorities will “enhance transparency of administrative actions, pursue the strengthening of our enforcement responsibilities, and increase the efficacy of public services to the community.”
In a statement, press secretary Kevin Bautista said the governor’s legislative priorities respond to issues that constituents have brought to the attention of the administration.
“Partnership with the honorable members of our Legislature is the key to providing solutions for some our islands’ biggest challenges,” he added.
Local OSHA enforcement
Right now, the CNMI Department of Labor does not have the authority to act against violations of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act and it only has a consultative role.
To change that, Torres said, a CNMI law must be adopted to create, designate, and fund a local agency that would take on OSHA’s enforcement responsibilities. The CNMI Department of Labor, the governor said, would be an ideal for such a division.
“We simply cannot rely on federal enforcement to ensure the health and safety of our people. However, the Legislature should recognize the importance of this responsibility and locate or generate the sufficient funding to ensure a successful administration of these goals,” he added.
Strengthening of CCC’s regulatory powers
Torres also called for action regarding House Bill 21-11, authored by House vice speaker Rep. Lorenzo Deleon Guerrero (R-Saipan), which seeks to expand the regulatory authority of the Commonwealth Casino Commission over casino operations in the CNMI.
The “relatively young” casino industry on Saipan has exposed the weaknesses in the ability of the CCC to enforce casino regulations and the Commonwealth law, with Torres noting that legislation to strengthen CCC is already with Legislature.
“I will note that this legislation, in similar form, has been before you for several years. Action at this time is appropriate and requested…,” he said.
Last March, the Senate Committee on Cannabis and Gaming endorsed the bill’s passage, following its unanimous passage at the House in December last year.
Strengthening OPA’s independence and autonomy
Torres also asked the Legislature to review past proposals to strengthen the powers of OPA. “The present law relating to OPA is outdated and has not responded to changes in laws, agency responsibilities and the increased demands of the public for public accountability.”
Noting the “allegations of corruptions” brought by the Legislature, Torres said that strengthening OPA assures public accountability and transparency, and OPA’s authority to deter, detect, investigate, and prosecute crimes involving public corruption, fraud, waste, and abuse of public funds.
Greater safety for our students
To address allegations of sexual abuse of students by teachers or individuals of authority within the Public School System, the governor asked the Legislature to review and strengthen provisions of the laws dealing with the use of school authority to facilitate the abuse of minors.
Torres said the concerns have not been addressed satisfactorily, demanded stricter penalties for the sexual abuse of minors, and asked support for strengthening the elimination of the statute of limitations on sexual abuse of minors.
The governor also said he will be asking the Office of the Attorney General to conduct a formal investigation into previous allegations of sexual abuse at PSS. (Iva Maurin)