Murkowski Holds Hearing on CNMI Economic Expansion Act

Bill Would Raise Worker Caps, Help Northern Marianas Future Economic Growth

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, today held a legislative hearing to receive testimony on H.R. 339, the Northern Mariana Islands Economic Expansion Act.

Murkowski kicked off the hearing by highlighting the fact that for the last two years the CNMI-Only Transitional Worker (CW) permit cap has been reached before the end of the fiscal year. The hearing provided Senators with the opportunity to better understand how this legislation will help CNMI’s future economic growth beyond 2019.

“It’s not too difficult to connect the dots between the increased amount of construction activity, and the increased applications by construction companies for CW permits, to understand why the cap has been hit in the past two years,” Murkowski said. “On one hand, it is encouraging to see this level of economic growth and investment interest in the CNMI. On the other, it is hard not to wonder if the CNMI would be in this situation had the business community taken the transition program seriously when Congress enacted the Consolidated Natural Resources Act in 2008.  Instead, very little progress was made in moving away from foreign labor during the first five years, which led Congress to enact the hard 2019 sunset date for the transition program.”

H.R. 339 contains legislative text similar to a measure introduced in the 114th Congress. If passed, the measure would amend the Consolidated Natural Resources Act of 2008 to increase the numerical cap for CW permits in Fiscal Year 2017 from 12,998 to 15,000. It would also implement a permanent ban on issuing new CW permits to construction workers and increase the fee paid for each permit from $150 to $200. H.R. 339 passed the U.S. House of Representatives in January 2017.

Murkowski is chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. Archived video of today’s hearing can be found on the committee’s website.

Related Issues: Energy