House to pass transparency bill

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THE House leadership and the minority bloc have agreed to pass a measure that would guarantee “full and open disclosure of federal and local spending related to the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Co-authored by Speaker Blas Jonathan Attao, House Minority Leader Edwin Propst, Reps. Luis John Castro, Tina Sablan, Sheila Babauta, Richard Lizama, Edmund Villagomez, and Donald Manglona, House Bill 21-114 will be placed on the next House session calendar for action.

The bill aims “to ensure checks and balances, and full transparency and accountability in the implementation of federal and commonwealth assistance programs related to the Covid-19 pandemic.”

In addition, the bill would “provide to the people of the Commonwealth full and open disclosure of federal and local spending related to the Covid-19 pandemic and will help foster more trust and faith in our government.”

In an interview, Attao said the measure is in line with the recent creation of the House Special Committee on Federal Assistance and Disaster Related Funding.

Chaired by Rep. Ralph N. Yumul, the special committee focuses on the federal assistance provided to the CNMI by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act and by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, as well as local funding spent on Covid-19 emergency measures.

“We don’t want a repeat of what happened in the past,” the speaker said referring to “several issues” that the CNMI government encountered when applying for Federal Emergency Management Agency reimbursements in the Super Typhoon Yutu recovery efforts.

The bill noted the “substantial losses in revenue as result of the natural and manmade disasters, which, in turn, resulted in deficits for three straight years — $8 million in fiscal year 2017; $25.9 million in FY 2018, and $98 million in FY 2019.”

Thankfully, the bill stated, “the United States Federal Government, through bipartisan support of the United States Congress, passed H.R. 748, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.  On March 27, 2020, President Trump signed H.R. 748 into law and it became U.S. Public Law 116-136, providing an estimated $2 trillion in a stimulus package to help all states and territories address health and economic challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

H.B. 21-114 would require the governor to report to the Legislature the hiring of temporary employees for the implementation of federal and local programs related to Covid-19 response and recovery including but not limited to U.S. Public Law 116-136, and to process tax refunds.

In addition, the governor would have to provide the Legislature the names of employees hired, the job positions, the length of employment, the cost of hiring, the source of funding, and the nature of the critical need that was filled.

In implementing the cash assistance procedures for the federal tax rebate program, the bill would prohibit the Division of Revenue and Taxation from allowing any abatement, attachment, or garnishment of the Economic Impact Payment except for child support.

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