Marianas Variety

Last updateSat, 15 Dec 2018 12am

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    Saturday, December 15, 2018-7:02:17A.M.

     

     

     

     

     

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US Senate passes NMI workforce bill

GOVERNOR Ralph D.L.G. Torres on Tuesday commended the U.S. Senate for passing S.2325, which would address the islands’ workforce crisis.

The Northern Mariana Islands U.S. Workforce Act now heads to the U.S. House of Representatives.

In a statement, the governor said the U.S. Senate’s action “is a reflection of the hard work put in by everyone in the community who expressed concerns and worked collaboratively with our administration.”

Lisa Murkowski

He thanked the bill’s sponsor, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski and her staff “for their leadership, friendship and hard work. I also want to recognize our business community, particularly the Northern Marianas Business Alliance Corporation, for their input and hard work. I have already reached out to the White House and to my friend the chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources, Congressman Rob Bishop, to ensure a quick passage of the bill in the House.”

S.2325 proposes to extend the federal CW program for 10 years after Dec. 2019 and increase the CW cap to 13,000 which is two more than the fiscal year 2017 cap. The cap would then be gradually reduced over a 10-year period.

U.S. Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan introduced similar legislation in the U.S. House.

“While two bills were co-introduced in both the House and the Senate,” the governor said, “it was only S. 2325 that was amended to reflect new language that directly addressed the needs of the CNMI. As a result, Senator Murkowski’s bill became the primary piece of legislation. The markups were the result of discussions with her office, congressional leaders and input by NMBAC and the CNMI community. I’m thankful that the senator listened to our concerns about the construction ban in H.R. 339 and the problems it created which included leaving out many of our long-term CW workers from the cap and not effectively protecting U.S. citizen employment.”

Murkowski visited the CNMI last month upon the governor’s invitation.

“Senator Murkowski’s visit…was beneficial in providing a clear picture of the economy we are trying to build and the challenges we are facing toward even greater levels of progress,” the governor said. “Having her, Congresswoman Amata Radewagen [of American Samoa], and other leaders mean a lot to us in making sure this bill passes.”

Torres added, “As this bill now makes its way to the House, I received personal assurances in February from Rep. Rob Bishop, who chairs the House Committee on Natural Resources, that he will ensure the speedy passage of this bill in the House. The discussions have been very fruitful, and we truly are one step closer to a passage of the bill.”

The governor gave credit to the “many members in our community” who worked with him to make the CNMI’s case to Congress.

“This will always be about advocating for the people in our villages who are actively trying to find a job in our growing economy, our small local businesses that have to make difficult choices, and families and friends that have been affected already,” Torres said.

He added that the bill “will address our community’s concerns by ensuring that there is effective wage protection for U.S. workers, an acknowledgement of our long-term guest workers, additional time to allow for the construction and progress of our islands to continue, and stronger safeguards against bad actors in our economy. We will continue to make sure that every able-bodied and willing local worker on island has access to a job in order to be self-sufficient, and we will continue to work toward saving our economy because it provides more opportunities for everyone to succeed as it grows.”

Senate President Arnold I. Palacios hopes the U.S. House passes the bill in a timely manner. “The Senate action is good news and we are very thankful to Senator Murkowski, the NMBAC, the governor and others who have been working for the bill’s passage,” he added.

Speaker Ralph Demapan said the bill is crucial to the continued recovery of the local economy.

He also asked the employers “to continue the effort of hiring our own people and if they are not qualified to train them so they will become qualified.”

Demapan noted that the bill “is not a permanent solution, just an extension of the existing program, so we will sit down and continue the discussion until we can come up with a more permanent solution.”

Rep. Angel Demapan also thanked Senator Murkowski for leading the passage of S. 2325. “The bill is a result of collective work by everyone in our community who were determined to rescue our economy from the ill effects of previous pieces of legislation passed in the U.S. Congress. I want to especially thank the senator and her staff for their leadership and for personally visiting the commonwealth just a few weeks ago. I also want to recognize our Governor Torres and the business community, particularly the Northern Marianas Business Alliance Corporation for their input and work. I also had the opportunity to personally meet with Chairman Rob Bishop of the House Natural Resources Committee, along with Governor Torres and members of the NMBAC about the impact this bill will have on our economy. We are comforted by Chairman Bishop’s assurance and support to help move this legislation forward swiftly,” he said.

NMBAC  spokesman Alex Sablan said their group “is truly elated by the news that S.2325 passed the Senate. We humbly thank Senator Murkowski for her diligence in getting the bill passed shortly after the Easter recess. The hard work of Governor Torres and his administration with the working group along with a mandate from our 20th Legislature, all the island mayors and the community at large made the passage today possible.”

Sablan added, “We are hopeful that Chairman Rob Bishop of the House Natural Resources Committee will receive the bill this week and act on it swiftly as he assured during a meeting with Gov. Ralph Torres and Rep. Angel Demapan. We are pass the first step and are looking forward to seeing this bill signed into law by President Donald Trump very soon.”

In a separate statement, U.S. Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan thanked Murkowski for her partnership. “We began working on this policy together in 2017 and gradually built a working group of offices, representing House and Senate and Republicans and Democrats, to find common ground. Our strategy was to move the bill through the Senate, which can be more difficult, and then work in the House. Now, we have reached that first milestone of Senate passage, and I will be turning my efforts to winning passage in the House.”

According to Kilili’s office, “Because of the buy-in and consensus that Murkowski and Congressman Sablan had achieved with other offices during the long period of the bill’s development it was possible to have the bill reported out of committee and then placed on the Senate agenda on March 20.

“Over the following month, Murkowski, Sablan and Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell, ranking member on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, fielded inquiries from Senate offices that had not been directly involved in putting the U.S. Workforce Act together. The result was unanimous agreement in the Senate [Monday] evening to pass the bill.

“Legislative action comes none too soon. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which administers the CW program, has already begun the process of granting fiscal year 2019 CW permits. Congressman Sablan has requested on multiple occasions that the agency take a wait-and-see approach on next year’s permits, while the U.S. Workforce Act moved through Congress and to avoid negatively impacting the Marianas economy. But USCIS has, so far, declined.”

(With Emmanuel T. Erediano)