Senate considers two resolutions requiring voter approval
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Two new measures were introduced in the Senate late last week that seeks to amend the Revised Constitution of American Samoa and therefore will require a public vote. Both issues are not new and have been introduced in previous years, including one proposal, which went to voters, who rejected it.
Both measures — sponsored by Manu’a senators, Malaepule Saite Moliga, Tauiliili Paopao Lauifi and Ma’o Fa’auma S. Gogo — are the subject of a Senate Rules Committee hearing tomorrow, Tuesday.
One measure — Senate Joint Resolution 37-02 — would give the Legislature the authority to over-ride the governor’s veto of legislation, instead of the U.S Secretary of Interior.
The language of the bill states, at present, the Constitution provides that no later than 14 months after the governor has vetoed a bill, it can be passed over the governor’s objection by a two-thirds majority of the entire membership of each Fono chamber during a regular or special session.
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.
The Senate Joint Resolution seeks to amend the constitution where a bill so re-passed shall “become law 90 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.
If approved by the Senate and the House (via a vote of three-fifths in each chamber) the measure states that the governor is requested to submit the amendments to the voters during the next general election in November 2022.
The last move to override the governor’s vote was in 2018 — which was approved by both the Senate and House, and placed the amendments in a referendum in the November election that year, but it was overwhelmingly rejected by voters.
The same issue was presented to voters in the 2014 general election but was also overwhelmingly defeated. The first time a veto override referendum was rejected was in 2008, but only by a narrow margin of 22 votes.
ADDITIONAL MANU’A SENATORS
Senate Joint Resolution 37-03 seeks to amend the constitution providing Manu’a with two additional seats in the Senate.
The measure recalled that the Constitution originally mandated 15 members of the Senate: 5 each from the Western, Eastern and Manu’a districts. However, the membership was changed in the 1960 Revised Constitution, where the Senate membership was increased to 18.
It points out that the basis of the representation was changed from one senator per traditional political county or five per district to “population” of districts.
And this change increased senators for the Eastern District from five to nine; five to six for the Western District and a reduction of Manu’a from five to three.
Additionally, there’s no explanation regarding the reduction of senatorial seats for Manu’a and no explanation for the meaning of “population” of districts.
Despite having five counties, Manu’a is represented by only three senators, it says, adding that Manu’a traditional counties are under-represented in the present composition of the Senate.
The resolutions recalls the history of the island group, whose traditional leaders ceded it to the United States. “It is the wisdom and foresight of our Manu’a forefathers who saw it was best for our people to align ourselves with the United States of America by entering into the Deed of Cession in 1904,” the measure said.
“We should... honor the wisdom and foresight of our Manu’a forefathers, Rapi Sotoa, Tauala, Laapui, Ma’o, Tuiolosega Tuumamao, Misa and Velega when they signed the original American Samoa Constitution... where Manu’a allocated five senators to represent the five counties of Manu’a,” it says.
According to the proposed amendment to the Constitution, the Senate shall consist of 20 members — instead of the current 18 senators.
And “five” are from Manu’a District; composed of one Senator from each of the five respective traditional counties: Ta’u, Fitiuta, Faleasao, Olosega/Sili, and Ofu.
The number of senators from Western and Eastern districts remains the same as they now are.
A similar Senate Joint Resolution to increase the number of Manu’a senators from three to five was rejected by the Senate in 2017 after the measure failed to muster a majority vote for approval.
Prior to 2017 there were discussions and other measures addressing the same issue over the years.