13 August 2010

Amer. Samoa, US Virgin Islands Removed from Political Status Legislation

Replaced by language on minimum wage delay for American Samoa, N. Marianas

Press Release - Office of the Congressional Delegate


Congressman Faleomavaega announced today that he is providing an update regarding efforts to delay minimum wage increases for American Samoa and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI).

“Since the GAO released its report in April 2010 on the impact of minimum wage increases in American Samoa and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, my office has had ongoing discussions with Chairman George Miller of the House Committee on Education and Labor regarding the need to delay increases in American Samoa for 2010 and 2011 and, in late April, we reached agreement to modify existing law.”

“By mid-May, Congressman Sablan decided to join this effort and we worked out language that was acceptable to Chairman Miller. As a matter of courtesy, we forwarded that language to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. At the same time, we asked the House and Senate appropriators to include our language in the Supplemental bill.”

“The House and Senate were unable to do this so, last week, Senator Jeff Bingaman and Senator Lisa Murkowski, Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, agreed to attach our minimum wage language to H.R. 943, a bill introduced by Congressman Sablan to convey certain submerged lands to CNMI.”

“H.R. 934 had already passed the House and was pending in the Senate, which made it possible for Senator Bingaman and Senator Murkowski to amend it to include minimum wage delays for American Samoa and CNMI, and then hot-line the bill for unanimous consent.”

“As I explained in a previous release, the hot-lining process is an informal term to describe the procedure whereby the Leaders inform Senators of their respective party caucus about changes to the floor schedule and/or proposed business. Part of the hotline is also to inform Senators of any unanimous consent (UC) requests the Leaders intend to eventually make on the floor. It is a way of clearing legislation by all Senators so that it can actually move to the floor and be called up, read for a third time, and passed by UC.”

“On Tuesday, July 27, 2010, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid signed off on the UC request and later on the same day the Democratic hotline went out. Normally, Senators are given about 24 hours to object and if there are no objections from the Majority party then the minority party will run its hotline.”

"No Democrats objected. But, when the Republicans ran their hotline, a hold was placed by one Senator. In principle, the Senator supported our minimum wage provision and has a great love for Pacific Islanders. His only reason for the hold was so he could add a non-controversial bill that would be helpful for his people and State, which is also understandable.”

“When my office reached out to the Senator’s office and explained that H.R. 934 was in all probability one of the few options left to include minimum wage language for American Samoa prior to the next scheduled increase going into effect on September 30, 2010, the Senator agreed to lift his hold on minimum wage delays for American Samoa and CNMI if the submerged lands request was taken out of H.R. 934.

“However, Congressman Sablan was unable to agree to this condition, and so the Senate was unable to pass either our minimum wage delays or Congressman Sablan’s submerged lands request.”

“In view of those facts, Senator Bingaman then agreed to amend H.R. 3940 and attach our minimum wage language to it, and Senator Murkowski had no objection. H.R. 3940 was originally introduced in the House by Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo and cosponsored by the Delegates to clarify the authority of the Secretary of the Interior to extend grants and other assistance to facilitate political status public education programs for the peoples of the non-self-governing territories of the United States. H.R. 3940 passed the House but the Senate had concerns.”

“To move H.R. 3940 forward by unanimous consent, we were asked to strip out portions pertaining to political status grants and assistance for all other territories except for Guam. In turn, minimum wage language for American Samoa and CNMI would be included. Each of us agreed to this request, including Congresswoman Donna Christensen of the U.S. Virgin Islands, and I thank her for her support.”

“On August 5, 2010, H.R. 3940 was hot-lined and no Democrats placed a hold. However, it is believed that the Republicans didn’t have enough time to review it before the Senate recessed last night, so we will have to hotline it again when Congress goes back in Session in September. If we are able to pass it in the Senate by unanimous consent, it will come back to the House, but not for a vote. The House will only need to concur to send it to the President for signature.”

“Once more, I thank Senator Bingaman and Senator Murkowski for their leadership. I also especially thank Al Stayman, Professional Staff Member and Isaac Edwards, Counsel, of the Senate Energy Committee for their hard work and dedication. As a result of our collective efforts and, with the support of our Democratic and Republican friends, I remain hopeful that we will be able to get this done before the deadline expires, although this is still an uphill climb, and other measures may also have to be considered,” Faleomavaega said.