Press secretary: Partnership with Legislature key to solving some of NMI problems

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PRESS Secretary Kevin Bautista said Gov. Ralph DLG Torres’ latest legislative priorities “are proactive, sensible, and necessary for longstanding issues that constituents have brought up to our attention. Partnership with the honorable members of our Legislature is the key to providing solutions for some of our islands’ biggest challenges.”

He added, “Regardless of it being an election year, Governor Torres and Lt. Gov. Arnold I. Palacios have been steadfast in their leadership to focus on our people and not politics, and their actions can be seen this year in how effective our preventative measures are against the Covid-19 pandemic that has affected the entire world economy, and how we are diversifying our economy through the recent opening of the cannabis industry and the marketing of our Northern Islands to new visitors beyond Korea, Japan, and China.”

Regarding the enforcement of Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, rules, Bautista said, "Governor Torres understands how important it is to protect the safety and well-being of every worker on every economic development project in the CNMI."

Bautista said while the US Department of Labor has enforcement authority, “we understand that in order to fully ensure workers’ safety at the worksite, collaboration is needed between the federal and state governments.”

Bautista said the governor and CNMI DOL have expressed interest in assisting in enforcement, "but it is limited."

He said, “Enacting local legislation to designate CNMI DOL for additional enforcement responsibilities will allow the administration to formulate a state plan with USDOL to ensure we protect the health and safety of workers.”

As for the Commonwealth Casino Commission, Bautista said: :The governor outlined in his priorities the need for strengthening the Commonwealth Casino Commission in order to provide for stronger enforcement within our young casino industry."

"Everyone can agree that there should be enforcement within this industry, and we look forward to the Legislature moving on legislation that has been with them for several years that addresses this priority," Bautista said.

Regarding the Office of the Public Auditor, the press secretary said, "Since entering office, the governor and this administration have always been transparent and responsive to Open Government Act requests, even when it takes away from more important government functions such as our economic recovery and protecting the islands from Covid-19."

He said concerns have been raised by lawmakers and OPA staff themselves about how outdated the laws pertaining to OPA functions are.

"We agree wholeheartedly, which is why strengthening and modernizing the autonomy and functions of OPA will allow for more efficient accountability by this important agency," Bautista said.

"As the Governor stated in his letter, proposals have been offered in the past by both majority and minority members to achieve this goal, but these bill proposals haven’t moved."

He said the administration will continue to be transparent, "despite the witch hunt, divisive politics, and social-media bullying that certain members of the Legislature choose to play for their own interests instead of offering solutions for more important issues."

As for the greater safety of CNMI students, Bautista said, "The governor and this administration have heard from constituents in the past and present about allegations of sexual abuse of our students by teachers or administrators and how they haven’t been properly addressed."

He added, "We commend and applaud the steps undertaken by Commissioner of Education Dr. Alfred Ada and the Board of Education for improving child protection systems to safeguard students from sexual abuse.”

He said the work that the BOE and the education commissioner have done in improving  counseling and reporting protocols "will help us root out this horrible act."

"This is why Governor Torres is proposing stronger support from the administration to work in partnership with PSS and the BOE to prevent this abuse from happening in the future, as well as working with the attorney general to conduct a formal investigation of past allegations," Bautista said.

"Our students deserve to learn in a community that fosters empowerment and character growth."

In closing, Bautista said: "We can all agree as one community that this abuse has no place on our closely knit islands and that anyone who has engaged in this abusive practice should be brought to light in order to protect our students for the future."

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