Jessop-Ta’ase nomination for AG rejected by House, again
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Following another vote, the House has — again — rejected the governor’s nomination of local attorney Mitzie Jessop-Ta’ase to the post of Attorney General, while the Fono is suspending the legislative session until later next month to combat the spread of the coronavirus.
Jessop-Ta’ase — former deputy AG — was unanimously confirmed by the Senate earlier this month and two weeks ago, she was rejected by the House, after failing to secure enough “yes” votes for confirmation.
Rep. Vailoata E. Amituana’i quickly moved for a motion of reconsideration, which was approved. Meaning the House floor can take another vote later, which was then carried out Tuesday and she was — again — rejected in a 8-no and 6-yes vote. Her nomination failed to get more than the 10 yes votes needed to be confirmed. The confirmation votes are carried out by secret ballot.
Now that she is officially rejected by the Fono, it’s up to the governor at this point to either renominate her or submit a new nominee.
In his nomination letter this month to Fono leaders, Lolo pointed out that over the last ten years, Jessop-Ta’ase has made great contributions to American Samoa by working as legal counsel in the Executive and Legislative branches. Prior to her work in the Senate, she was deputy attorney general and prosecuted many important cases.
“Her leadership in that role was critical to advancing the goals of the Department of Legal Affairs and she was key in developing and implementing programs like the local Sex Offender Registry,” he said, adding that Jessop-Ta’ase’s experience in prosecuting offenders, advising ASG departments and overseeing attorneys and staff will be a valuable addition to the AG’s Office.
Both the Senate and House officially closed their sessions effective Tuesday this week and will reconvene on Apr. 27th, takeing this break to combat the global COVID-19 pandemic.
The Fono action, through a joint resolution approved by both chambers, followed a request from the governor, who points out that COVID-19 emergency declaration calls for — among other things — the closing of all schools and banning public gathering, effective Mar. 23rd until further notice.
The objectives cited in the declaration “are predicted on our collective desire to prevent any deaths and the pervasive spread of the COVID-19 in our community,” Lolo wrote in a Mar. 20th letter to Fono leaders.
While prohibitions in the declaration “will certainly change our social landscape and will create personal discomforts for all of us,” Lolo pointed out that as “leaders of our Territory, we are morally and ethically obligated to safeguard the lives of our people and not to expose them to harm or danger.”
Since the coronavirus seems to target the elder population and the propagation speed is high in closed quarters, Lolo recommended suspending or closure of legislative session for the duration of the declaration, which is 4 weeks to reduce the risk of the virus transmission.
He explained that the “most salient and effective option” to contain the virus is “social distancing” and most of the banned activities contained in the declaration are designed to advance this recommendation.
The governor acknowledged that he is committed to the separation of powers between the two branches of government. However, “circumstances where lives are at risk, I look to you for support of the tenets of the approved emergency declaration so we can stamp out and blockade all possible channels which could propagate the virus,” Lolo wrote to Fono leaders.
According to the approved joint resolution recessing its regular session, the Fono wishes to comply with the government’s advisory and restrictions for government workers and prevent the spread of the virus.
“Many legislators are part of groups who are mandated to remain home to avoid contracting and spreading the virus,” it says. “It would be prudent to recess until health officials and the government deem it safe for full work schedules and permit age groups to return to school, work, and have social gatherings.”
The governor had called on ASG workforce of 60-years old and over to stay and work from home. He also stressed the same message to the general population in the same age group.