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“Veto override” referendum set for Nov. 2012 ballot

House Speaker Savali Talavou Ale is hoping to meet soon with the Senate leadership to discuss how best to provide public awareness programs on the measure that seeks to amend the veto override authority which currently rests with the U.S. Secretary of Interior.

The measure was approved by the Fono last September. It requests the governor to place this issue on the next general election ballot — which is November 2012— in order for voters to decide.

The Speaker’s comments during the House session on Tuesday followed a statement by Rep. Larry Sanitoa, who points out that the Fono has already approved this proposal to amend certain provisions of the American Samoa constitution.

Sanitoa asked Savali if the Fono leadership had any plans of organizing a special committee to work on an awareness strategy to make sure local residents will be well informed of the importance of this change to the constitution. 

“This amending change was in the ballot for 2008 but was narrowly defeated and most likely from lack of information on its importance,” Sanitoa later told Samoa News. “I thank our Fono leaders and the distinguished members of both Legislative Houses for their vision in re-introducing this important amendment to be on the ballot in the next election.”

The Tualauta lawmaker points out that all U.S. states and territories have their own law, which gives the power of a veto override to their local legislature as long as they override their governor's veto by two thirds majority. 

To ensure the essence and intent of the constitution and the true meaning of democracy, this veto override by the Legislature will ensure a check and balance of power exists within the Executive and Legislative branches of government. It is the right thing to have in place for our local government, Sanitoa said.

During the House session, Savali acknowledged this important issue saying that members of the public should be fully aware of the purpose of the veto-override since it was one of the issues on the agenda and discussed thoroughly during the 2010 Constitutional Convention.

The Speaker said he will make contact with the Senate leadership to see if a special Fono committee should be established to do among other things, conduct public awareness programs on television and radio stations to explain the purpose of this proposal.

In the meantime, he suggested that lawmakers also give their constituents an explanation of the proposed amendment to the local constitution.

When this proposal was defeated in the 2008 general election, Fono leaders at the time along with some lawmakers said the referendum was defeated because voters didn’t understand the issue.

Veto override was also one of several amendments to the constitution proposed by the 2010 Constitutional Convention but all those amendments — placed on the ballot as just one question — were disapproved as a whole in that year’s general election.

Currently, the Constitution provides that no later than 14 days after a bill has been vetoed by the governor, it may be passed over his veto by a two-thirds majority of the entire membership of each chamber.

A bill so re-passed is again presented to the governor for his approval. If he does not approve it within 15 days, the governor is to send it together with his comments to the Secretary of Interior. If the Secretary of Interior approves it within 90 days after receiving it, the bill becomes law; otherwise it does not.

The Senate measure, which is through a Senate Joint Resolution, provides that if the  Fono overrides the governor’s veto, then the legislation becomes law 90 days after the adjournment of the session.

Under the proposed amendment, all authorities vested with the Secretary of Interior on veto override are deleted.