Saturday, July 28, 2007

Senate Action On The Open Government Act

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Senate removes amendment from House Open Gov’t bill

By Gemma Q. Casas
Variety News Staff

SENATORS voted yesterday to remove the House amendment to the original version of House Bill 15-269 which seeks to apply the Open Government Act to the legislative branch and agreed to meet with members of the citizens watchdog group and House members before the final version is drafted.

Sen. Paul A. Manglona, R-Rota, said the Senate version of Rep. Cinta M. Kaipat’s H.B. 15-269 removed the clause: “Requests for financial records under this section shall be made directly to the member of the Legislature…. Financial records of a member shall not be released by any person other than that member.”
“That’s coming from concerns made by our legal counsel (Mike Ernest) so a substitute bill was presented,” said Manglona.

His measure, Senate Bill 15-96, which will apply the Open Government Act to the Legislature, will be “consolidated” in the final version.

But he said they want to hear first from Tina Sablan and her father, Eugenio Sablan, who favor Manglona’s original bill—S.B. 15-96--which will guarantee public access to contracts, memos, minutes of executive sessions once action has been taken, reports, communications between legislators and all the various special interest groups asking for donations or favors.

In related news, Senate President Joseph M. Mendiola said he supports transparency as called for in the CNMI Open Government Act but he doesn’t believe that it’s necessary to sign a pledge to prove his commitment.

During the Senate session yesterday, Mendiola, Covenant-Tinian, said when he took his oath as the Senate president before the Supreme Court chief justice, he already made his pledge to serve the public and follow all laws of the U.S. and the commonwealth.

“If anybody has any doubts (that I will) follow the CNMI laws, they can challenge me anytime. It is my own personal opinion that when I put my hand on the Bible, I must and should comply with CNMI laws,” he said.

“I have nothing against that pledge…. You can look at my records and let the people be the judge. (It’s not that) I am a bad Senate president because I didn’t sign the pledge. I believe in the Open Government Act,” he added.

Mendiola was the only senator who did not sign the pledge attesting commitment to support legislation that will apply the Open Government Act to the legislative branch.

Sen. Jude Hofschneider, R-Tinian, also didn’t sign the pledge, but he was off-island at the time.

Eugenio Sablan said they respect Mendiola’s decision.
“If you don’t want to sign the pledge that’s your prerogative,” he said.

Click here for the Variety page.

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