Referendum to override gov's veto—without DOI — one step closer to ballot
The Senate has approved a Senate Joint Resolution giving the Fono the authority to override the governor’s veto and Attorney General Talauega Eleasalo Ale says the Lolo Administration supports this proposal, which will give American Samoa more self-governance.
Because the measure seeks to amend the local Constitution, it will require approval by voters as well as the U.S. Congress. The measure now goes to the local House for consideration and hopefully approval.
Prior the the Senate vote yesterday which endorsed the measure, the Senate Rules Committee convened a hearing last Friday, chaired by Sen. Laolagi F.S. Vaeao, who told his colleagues this is not the first time the Fono has moved to address the veto-override authority, which currently rests with the U.S. Interior Secretary.
Talauega informed the committee, “this is an important piece of legislation" which the governor had alluded to in his State of the Territory Address last month before the Fono.
In his address, Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga urged lawmakers to assess recommendations outlined in the 2006 Future Political Status Study Commission report for possible enactment through the Fono in order to have proposed changes to the constitution presented to voters for their decision.
“One of the critical issues I would like to see considered is the proposed change to the override veto authority of the Legislature,” Lolo said.
At the Senate hearing, Talauega said the measure provides the “ability of American Samoa to be a self sustaining and independent government body", which is captured in the spirit of this bill.
He also pointed out this move by the Senate to change the Constitution would give the Fono the ability to override the governor’s veto by two-thirds votes, if the governor rejects for the second time a bill twice approved by the Fono.
“That’s the basic principal of this legislation, and it is something important that the governor supports,” Talauega said, adding if “American Samoa has a chance to become more independent and be able to resolve its issues locally, we need this.”
The AG explained, “Whatever differences that the Legislature and the governor have,” when it comes to bills passed by the Fono, “Gov. Lolo and the administration believe it should be resolved here in American Samoa and not to be left to some bureaucracy in Washington D.C.”
Also testifying on the bill was the Fono legal counsel Henry Kappel, who concurred with Talauega’s statements, adding if this proposal is passed by the people — the voters — and approved by Washington, “it will strengthen our self-governance” and “it’s in line with the separation of powers doctrine.”
Because the measure seeks to revise the American Samoa Constitution, Kappel explained that there are procedures that must be met. For example, any amendment to the Constitution must be approved by “three-fifths of all members” of the Senate and House, voting separately and entered on the journals, with the yeas and nays.
The Constitution requires a record of the vote and the measure to be sent to the governor who will then present the measure to the Election Office to be put to voters in the next general election.
For the 18-member Senate “three-fifths” means 11-senators must vote “yes”, added Talauega, when asked by the committee. He also pointed out that to overturn or override a veto by the governor, it requires two-thirds of each Chamber voting separately. For the Senate that means 12 “yes” votes.
Sen. Gaea Perefoti Failautusi pointed out that the Interior Department provides millions of dollars in funding for American Samoa and asked if DOI funding would not be impacted with the move to remove the Interior Secretary’s authority to override the governor’s veto.
Talauega said he believes there will be no impact on funding, adding that DOI long ago gave the territory authority to make changes as it sees fit. And when DOI sees this change being proposed, it shows American Samoa is heading towards “full self-governance” he added.
Responding to a committee question, Talauega said the proposal covers veto-override for an entire bill or line-item veto. (Line-item vetoes are made by the governor, under his authority provided under the constitution, for budget bills.)
During his tenure as Senate President, from 2004 to 2008, Lolo pushed and the Fono approved the same proposal, but it was rejected by voters. Lolo told Samoa News at the time that American Samoa will not have full self governance, and the local government handling its own affairs, until the Fono has full authority to over-ride the governor’s veto.
At present, the Constitution provides that no later than 14 days after the governor has vetoed a bill, it may be passed over his veto by a two-thirds majority of the entire membership of each Fono chamber. A bill so re-passed is re-presented to the governor for his approval. If the Governor does not approve it within 15 days, he must send it— together with his comments— to the Secretary of Interior.
However, the Senate Joint Resolution seeks to amend the constitution where a bill so re-passed shall “become law 60 days after the adjournment of the session in which it was passed”. The Senate resolution would delete the rest of the current provision requiring the Interior Secretary’s approval.