Thursday, November 5, 2009

Some information for voters in the CNMI

There will be 4 initiatives on the ballot this election, which is set for Saturday, November 7, 2009.

To help you figure out how you want to vote, I offer this information and analysis.

House Legislative Initiative 15-3. Introduced by Justo S. Quitugua. Passed in the house on 5/16/2007; in the Senate on 8/16/2007.

This changes Article XV of the CNMI Constitution as follows:
1. adds the language "high school" before student as a defining criteria for one of the non-voting ex-officio members to the BOE.

The effect of this change is to exclude NMC students from the position. Without the language, any public school student, including a high school student or an NMC student, could be appointed. With it--only a high school student can be appointed.

2. deletes the language to select a teacher member from "an exclusive bargaining representative" within the "Department of Education" to just selecting one teacher from PSS; and adds that the selection process shall be established by law.

The effect of this change is only to the selection process, changing it from one in which teachers have a say about their representative to a political choice.

If the reason for having a teacher on the advisory board is to hear their perspective, it makes more sense to let teachers have a voice in selecting that representative. It makes no sense to make it a political choice. (If you disagree with having a teacher representative at all, neither the existing constitutional provision nor the proposed amendment will give you what you want.)

3. adds term limits to the elected board members. This means that no BOE board member may hold office for more than two terms. It's not clear if this means only 2 consecutive terms or two terms all together.

The effect of this change is to require new blood on the BOE; it also means that the voters have less choice because we can't vote for someone who has experience and is doing a good job if they've already served 2 terms.

4. adds that the budget shall be made "through an annual appropriation."

At present, the budget is made through an annual appropriation, or if no budget is passed, by continuing resolution. This seems to eliminate the continuing resolution as an option. (If the initiative for a balanced budget passes, this option is also eliminated.)

What about the PROS and CONS listed on the Commonwealth Election Site? It's quite obvious to me that neither the pros nor the cons actually address the CHANGES being proposed or deal with them in a deep, meaningful, or analytical way.

The pros?
The first pro-about guaranteeing 15 % is irrelevant--that's already part of the Constitution and nothing in the Legislative Initiative changes it or adds to it.

Term limits as a means to encourage new ideas and public involvement? The Commonwealth Election Commission has provided no information on whether this reasoning has any validity.

Giving responsibility to youth and getting their perspective? That's already possible; as noted above, the actual language forecloses choosing a college student, whose views may be equally valuable and needed.

The pros say the HLI ensures that one member is a public school teacher, but that's already assured. What is actually changed is the selection method.

The cons?
15% might not be enough? The Constitution as written provides for at least 15%, but does not prevent more. Nothing in this initiative changes the Constitution in this regard. (Therefore the initiative is neither a pro nor a con on this point.)

Limiting terms limits choices: agreed.

Requiring the DOE rep to be a teacher may not take into considerations administrator issues. The existing Constitution calls for a teacher rep; and so does the change. The only difference is in the selection process. Neither voting for nor against the initiative will have any effect on this consideration.

The change leaves the selection process undefined. agreed.

House Legislative Initiative 16-11 (H.L.I. 16-11) Amends Article III, section 9 (a) of the CNMI Constitution. Introduced by Diego T. Benavente, Joseph P. Deleon Guerrero, Ed Salas and Ray Yumul.

It makes the following changes:
1. deletes the language that provides for budget allocation at the same level as the previous year when no balanced budget is approved before the first day of the fiscal year.

2. provides that no money shall be drawn for government operations without a budget;

3. makes an exception to the no money rule for "certain government services and employees provided by law... essential to the health safety, and welfare of the people... and to protect against damage to and destruction of property."

4. mandates that the Governor submit a balanced budget proposal to the Legislature by 4/1; and suspends his salary if he doesn't and until he does'

5. suspends the legislature's salary if they don't pass a balanced budget by 10/1 until they do pass one.

According to the information provided in the initiative, 23 states have similar balanced budget provisions. That must mean that 27 states don't. No idea about the other territories and insular areas under the American flag.

Balanced budget provisions seem to be popular in times of fiscal uncertainty and difficulty. While they are used by state and local governments, they are not used by the federal government.

You can find the pros and cons for this H.L.I. 16-11 in the CEC's Voters Manual, at page 3. I don't have any additional facts to add.

Public Initiative to extend the Open Government Act (OGA) to apply to the Legislature. This is the initiative spearheaded by Rep. Tina Sablan.

It changes the law as follows:
1. deletes the exception for the Legislature in the OGA, and adds expess language to make the OGA applicable to the Legislature
2. that means, the Legislature will have to prepare agendas, give notice 72 hours in advance of sessions, allow public comment, and respond within 10 days to requests for public records;
3. there is an exception to the 72 hour notice requirement for emergencies, provided the reasons for calling the session emergency are stated in writing, 2/3 of the members agree it is an emergency, and there is an emergency agenda that eventually gets filed in the public record.

The purpose is to provide for a more transparent government and greater ability for the public to participate in our democracy.

The OGA originally applied to the Legislature, but the exception to its applicaton was carved out in a subsequent Legislative term.

The CEC brochure on the OGA initiative lists some cons that I'll address.

* The 72 hour notice would require new notice if discussion is continued over to another day.
I don't know the source for this objection or opinion; I don't know of any legal opinion that supports this interpretation. In courts of law, when notice is required, if it's given and the matter is conintued, no new notice is generally required.

* If the Legislature mistakenly fails to give proper notice the act is null and void.
Yes. This is not a con--that is the objective of the proposal. The initiative wants all of our Legislators to have the full opportunity to participate in the legislative process, and have time to prepare; it is designed for the public to know about legislation before enacted. It is designed to stop secrecy and lies and quick deals behind closed doors that do not face public scrutiny.

* The 2/3rds rule may be hard to obtain in times of emergency.
I think this could be true, but I also think that this rule is designed to prevent false "emergency" declarations--like we're seeing all the time from the executive branch. To me, this is not so much a "con" to the amendment as a reason for the Legislature to do some planning. I think the Legislature can and should prepare some contingency plans for dealing with emergencies, having participation by cell phone, etc.

* Requiring notice will decrease the likelihood that legislators will meet outside of committee members to discuss matters.
The rule applies to official meetings--not informal discussions between legislators.

* The legislators and their assistants will have bigger workloads.
Paper or electronic notice is not significantly difficult; and the potential input from legislators who are prepared because they got notice, and from the public, means that the public will have a better chance to have good laws that won't need amending every few months.

Senate Legislative Initiative 16-11 (S.L.I. 16-11) has the same number as H.L.I. but is entirely separate and different. Not to be confused by the 16-11--be sure to check out the pre-fix.

S.L.I. 16-11 amends Article VIII, section 1 of the CNMI Constitution.

It makes the following changes:

1. It changes the day of elections in the CNMI from Saturdays to Tuesdays.
2. It sets all elections in only even-numbered years.
3. It adjusts terms of elected public officials to make sure the respective positions are filled until the next election in an even-numbered year. It does this by adding a year to terms, where necessary.
4. The next regular general election would be in 2012. The next governor's election would be 2014.

As noted in the CEC pamphlet on pros and cons, this means the governor we elect in this election, will have a 5 year term, the legislators will have 3 year terms, senators will have 5 year terms, and mayors will have 5 year terms.

It also means that we will not be having elections every year; will save money on the cost of elections; will not be hearing election "music" every year; and will have our CNMI election at the same time as the election of our U.S. delegate.

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