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Gregorio 'Kilili' Sablan

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The U.S. Representative for Northern Mariana Islands's At large district, serving since 2009.
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More time needed to decide how to protect corals
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has postponed a decision on whether to list 29 corals found in the NMI as threatened or endangered species. The decision, originally expected this week, will now be delayed until the end of summer to allow more time to review available information. Listing under the provisions of the Endangered Species Act would mean increased protection for the corals. Coral reefs are essential to our island community. They support subsistence and commercial fishing by providing safe breeding areas. They protect our shorelines from storms. And they attract hundreds of thousands of tourists to the Marianas each year. To avoid potential resource conflicts, however, I have asked NOAA to give careful consideration to all possible conservation measures and take into full account the work that states and territories are already doing to protect our corals.

House and Senate move to expand access to medical care for veterans
Spurred into action by 23 deaths linked to delayed appointments at Veterans Affairs health facilities, the House and Senate both passed legislation to improve veterans access to medical care. The House passed H.R. 4810, the Veterans Access to Care Act, which I co-sponsored. The bill requires the VA to pay for care from a non-VA provider for eligible veterans, requires an independent review of care provided at VA medical facilities, and requires the VA to submit a plan of action based on that review. The Senate legislation, too, allows enrolled veterans to get help from non-VA providers and also authorized hiring more heath care providers for VA facilities. The rush to act leaves both House and Senate bills in need of further refinement over the coming days; but some action is better than no action when it comes to serving the veterans who have served our country.

NOAA reopens public process to nominate marine sanctuaries
The public may now nominate areas of America’s oceans or Great Lakes to be considered as national marine sanctuaries. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued its final rule, reopening nominations and setting out the criteria NOAA will use to evaluate recommended areas. Designation of a marine sanctuary, typically a multi-year process, takes account of many factors, including the complexity of the area, the level of support from those who use it, and the availability of agency resources to manage a new responsibility. In 1995 the agency closed nominations for new sanctuaries so it could focus on managing the existing sanctuary system. But over the last two decades Members of Congress, state and tribal governments, non-governmental organizations, and academic institutions have continued to recommend possible marine sanctuaries, eventually leading NOAA to reopen a formal process of nomination and selection.

FY15 appropriations bills continue to advance
The fiscal 2015 appropriations process continues to move forward. We highlight the legislative action and funding decisions important to the Northern Mariana Islands: The House of Representatives passed a $52 billion Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations bill, H.R. 4745, $1.8 billion less than in FY14. This is mixed news for the three largest HUD programs in the Northern Marianas. The Tenant-Based Rental Assistance program – Section 8 Vouchers – is increased $328 million over the current year. But Project-Based Rental Assistance goes down $170.6 million. And the Community Development Block Grant, although dropping $30 million nationwide, remains the same for the territories, which get a fixed $7 million set-aside. The T-HUD appropriation also keeps transit formula grants at the FY14 level of $8.6 billion, so the Commonwealth grant should be the same as this year’s $812,806. At the committee level, House appropriators approved $491 billion in defen

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