Thursday, August 20, 2009

Rep. Tina Sablan's 16-208 Update

The bill was amended by the Senate to further clarify that U.S. citizens and local permanent residents shall be given first preference for employment, to cap the number of foreign national nursing graduates who may be hired under that subsection at 100, to require that these foreign national nurses shall be treated as local hires without employer-provided benefits mandated for all other foreign national workers, and to allow these employment contracts to be renewed annually subject to all applicable labor laws. I expressed concerns about the part of the Senate amendment regarding employer-provided benefits for these foreign national nursing graduates, and asked if the intent and effect of the amendment was to prohibit such benefits for these foreign national nurses, including medical coverage and repatriation expenses. Would the government then be responsible for these expenses? Some members, and particularly Reps. Diego Benavente and Dave Apatang, said that the intent of Senate amendment was to simply equalize benefits provided to foreign national nurses and resident nurses, and did not bar employers and prospective foreign national nurses from negotiating for their benefits. Others, including Reps. Frank Dela Cruz, Ed Salas, and myself thought the language was unclear and might create further complications. Rep. Dela Cruz described the Senate amendment as "discriminatory" and asked why we would single out nurses, of all the occupations in the CNMI. Rep. Benavente said that singling out nurses was a policy call that the Legislature could make, and argued that doing so would be a good start towards ensuring that residents are offered equal benefits in all occupations.
I noted that Public Law 15-108 already clearly states that employers are no longer required to provide housing, food, and transportation benefits for foreign national employers, and reiterated my concern that what is required of employers who hire foreign national workers – such as medical coverage and responsibility for repatriation tickets — would seem to no longer be required for employers who hire foreign national nurses, under the Senate amendment. I again asked, who would be responsible for these expenses if the bill is signed into law and employers opt not to cover medical expenses or repatriation costs? I then offered an amendment to delete the language prohibiting foreign national nurses from receiving benefits that are required for all other foreign national workers. A voice vote was initially taken and the Speaker ruled that the amendment had been defeated. I then requested that a roll call vote be taken, and the amendment passed. Six members voted against the amendment: Reps. Edwin Aldan, Ray Palacios, Diego Benavente, Ralph Torres, Stanley Torres, and David Apatang. Ten members voted in favor of the amendment: Reps. Frank Dela Cruz, Oscar Babauta, Ed Salas, Ray Yumul, Joseph Deleon Guerrero, Vic Hocog, Rosemond Santos, Heinz Hofschneider, Arnold Palacios, and myself. Rep. Justo Quitugua was absent for the vote; Reps. Reps. Joseph Reyes, Ray Tebuteb, and Joseph Camacho were absent for that session. We then moved on to a vote on the bill itself. All 15 members present voted yes on the bill, myself included; Rep. Stanley Torres voted no. Rep. Dave Apatang was absent for the vote; Reps. Joseph Camacho, Joseph Reyes, and Ray Tebuteb were absent for the session. Update: In the Senate session held on August 14, this bill failed to pass.

This information was found on Rep. Tina Sablan's website. I wish there was some information on exactly how many nurses this law helped. With the nursing situation in the Philippines, clinics can easily hire off-island, so the law is not the help the clinics. With the economy the way it is, clinics are even turning away residents right now. I think the law is really designed only to help the educational institutions keep up their student enrollment taking nursing and prerequisite nursing classes.

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