Senate postpones hearing on amended law to allow for a special election
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The Senate Government Operations Committee plans to hold another hearing soon, for a legal opinion and views from Senate Legal Counsel, Mitzie Jessop-Ta’ase on legislation seeking to amend local law to allow for a special election — during a non-election year — for a legislative referendum concerning proposed amendments to the American Samoa Constitution.
The decision was reached Wednesday following a 10-minute hearing, chaired by Sen. Togiola T.A. Tulafono, who first informed the committee-of-the whole, that the only witness planned was the Senate Legal Counsel, who had a family emergency that morning and therefore was unable to attend.
Togiola shared two concerns pertaining to the proposed law and the reason the legal counsel is needed for an opinion and view.
The proposed law, through a Senate bill, states that when a legislative referendum concerning the American Samoa Constitution is introduced by way of “concurrent resolution” in the Legislature, both Houses must have held at least one public hearing each, and it has passed both Houses with a two-thirds vote, and it would then be presented to the Governor to be put on the ballot.
“The Governor shall call a special election during a non-election year to determine the measure,” according to the bill.
Togiola, who is also a local attorney, said the proposed amendment of “special election” during non-election year, is in conflict with the Constitution, which makes no mention of a special election, to vote on a referendum.
Another issue, he says, is that any changes to the constitution made by the Fono should be through a “Joint Resolution” — in accordance with the American Samoa Constitution, but the bill uses the words, “concurrent resolution”. Togiola suggested postponing the hearing to a time in the future when the legal counsel can testify.
Sen. Soliai Tuipine Fuimaono, one of the bill’s three co-sponsors, gave a summary explanation of the proposed amendment. He said the focus is not to wait for the general election when there is an important issue — such as a legislative referendum — to be considered that would be beneficial to the community.
He agreed to wait for the legal counsel, who drafted the legislation, for an explanation, and also for use of “Joint Resolution”. He noted that the committee chair had voiced his views on the bill, in his official capacity as a senator, but not the Senate’s legal counsel.
ANOTHER SENATE ISSUE
This week the Senate approved a Senate resolution, sponsored by Senate President Tuaolo Manaia Fruean, amending a provision of current Senate Rules, currently in place to conduct Senate business during the 37th Legislature.
Senate Rule 13 establishes committee meetings and hearings where government agencies are summoned or subpoenaed for inquiries of the senators who represent the general public.
The resolution proposed an additional protocol under Rule 13 that to hold these committee hearings, a request is to be sent to the designated government department or agency in a form of a Single Senate Resolution.
Such resolution would detail the matters that the committee hearings will deliberate on, as well as the public officials that are in need of attendance.
According to the new approved additional protocol, a “single Senate Resolution shall be utilized to call for a committee hearing and inform the designated government department or agency to appear to answer questions.”
In past years, senators — also House members – had standing committees to hold hearings on various issues, which are not measures introduced in either chamber. The requests by the respective Fono committees are usually sent to the Governor’s Office as well as the specific agency involved regarding the hearing and issues in discussion.
Earlier on in January at the start of the 37th Legislature, there were issues that some senators sought to get answers from the government and suggested calling hearings. But at least two other senators — including Sen. Togiola Tulafono, a former governor — questioned whether summoning ASG officials to testify before a committee is appropriate as there is no resolution with a specific issue before the Senate that would required calling witnesses for a hearing.
Senate Rules Committee chairman, Sen. Magalei Logovi’i noted a resolution is not required on any issues raised by senators requiring testimony from ASG witnesses.