Mid session recess announced
The Fono is taking a four-week mid session recess at the close of business tomorrow, Friday, while lawmakers await the final fiscal year 2018 budget, which is a priority measure for the Legislature.
The budget has to pass the Fono and be signed by the governor before midnight Sept. 30, 2017 — as the new fiscal year starts the next day.
Both the Senate and House approved this week each other's concurrent resolution calling for the mid session recess, which starts at the close of tomorrow’s session and reconvenes on Aug. 21st.
Fono leaders informed lawmakers this week that reconvening on Aug. 21st still gives the Legislature enough session days to tackle the FY 2018 budget bill.
There is no official confirmation yet as to when the FY 2018 budget bill will be submitted to the Fono, but lawmakers are hopeful that it is received by the time they return from the mid session recess.
During yesterday’s Senate session, Sen. Nuanuaolefeagaiga Saoluaga Nua announced that a Senate measure to return two senatorial seats to Manu’a, will be the subject of today’s Senate Rules Committee hearing.
Senate President Gaoteote Tofau Palaie noted that this is not a new measure for the Senate as it was introduced in the previous 34th Legislature and was the subject of hearings, where witnesses — including traditional leaders — had testified and senators had debated the issue at length.
Gaoteote said he is not sure who else could be called as a witness to provide testimony that has not already been presented to the Senate. However, he said it’s up to Nuanuaolefeagaiga if he still wants to move forward with another hearing and bring in witnesses — again.
He said senators have already given their “blessings” on the measure and the next action rests with the House.
The identical measure was approved by the Senate during the previous Fono session but the House wasn’t able to act on it because of time constraints with the closing of the 34th Legislature.
Nuanuaolefeagaiga said yesterday there are some new senators in the 35th Legislature who are not fully aware of the issue and this is the reason for holding a committee hearing. Perhaps after today’s hearing, the measure will be reported to the Senate floor for a vote, he said.
Because the measure seeks to amend the Constitution, it must be approved by two-thirds of both the Senate and House before it is sent to the governor for inclusion in the next general election, which is November 2018, for electors to vote on.
Nuanuaolefeagaiga, along with two other Manu’a senators, Misaalefua J. Hudson and Galeai M. Tu’ufuli, introduced in early April this year, a Senate Joint Resolution, seeking to return two senatorial seats to the Manu’a islands that were taken away 57 years ago. Prior to this, there were five seats in the Senate representing Manu’a’s five counties — Fitiuta, Faleasao, Ta’u, Olosega, and Ofu.
A Senate committee hearing was held in the second week of April where senators heard testimonies from ASG witnesses including Attorney General Talauega Eleasalo Ale, who explained the process of amending the Constitution, and that voters will have the final say on amendments. He noted that this particular issue has been discussed and debated in past years and he believes it should be presented to the voters for a final decision.
Also called by the committee to the hearing was Tapa’au Dr. Daniel Mageo Aga, executive director of the Office of Political Status, Constitution and Federal Relations so that senators could learn more about why the 1967 Constitution was changed, reducing Manu’a’s senatorial seats. (See Samoa News April 18 edition for details)
Talauega and Tapa’au are again expected to be witnesses at today’s committee hearing. Galeai had argued in the past that “we are not asking for two additional senatorial seats, we are requesting the return of the original seats that Manu’a held for many years, representing each Manu’a county.”