Palau - hate speech
A Palau government committee has endorsed a bill to combat hate crimes.
The Island Times reports the bill establishes a new offense for acts "motivated, in part, by animus" against someone's protected characteristics, including gender, sex, race, religion, language, clan affiliation, or deeply held beliefs.
The bill also specifies certain forms of verbal abuse as hate crimes.
However, the committee excluded general offensive remarks from the hate crime definition.
Speech is only criminalised if it directly harms another's honour.
The proposed legislation faces further debate before potentially becoming law.
Bougainville - calm
President Ismael Toroama has appealed to all Bougainvilleans to remain calm after turmoil in the urban centres of Papua New Guinea.
He said there is nothing to be gained from what he called 'such unruly behaviour'.
The Post-Courier reports the president saying he will not tolerate any form of dissent and opportunistic behaviour that wants to capitalise on what is happening throughout the nation.
Toroama said he wants to reassure the business houses that in Bougainville it is business as usual.
Fiji - penalties
Save the Children Fiji's chief executive officer Shairana Ali is calling for heavier penalties for sexual offences.
It follows the release of the December 2023 Rape and Sexual Offences Statistics, which shows nine people are facing 44 charges related to sexual offences.
Half of the incidents involved victims who were known or related to the perpetrators.
Ali said such heinous crimes against children are becoming the norm in Fiji and asks the country to denounce the behaviour in the harshest possible terms.
Cook Islands - complacency
There are concerns about Covid complacency in the Cook Islands.
Cook Islands News reports Te Marae Ora Ministry of Health saying some people have become complacent and relaxed as Covid becomes the norm.
New cases have emerged in Rarotonga and the outer islands.
As of Monday, nine cases have been reported this month.
Secretary of Health Bob Williams said there's also a flu circulating and some people may have both flu and Covid simultaneously.
His advice remains unchanged: those who test positive for Covid should self-isolate, take medication, drink plenty of water, and get sufficient rest.
Northern Marianas - upbeat
Northern Marianas Governor Arnold Palacios says he is upbeat about the territory's recovery this year.
Palacios created the tax collection taskforce last July and it has been executing instalment agreements and recovering approximately US$8 million.
He said his administration expects more than $24m in disaster-related reimbursements from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Palacios also reported the Marianas Visitor Authority projects a 36 percent increase in overall visitor arrivals in fiscal year 2024 compared to fiscal year 2023.
Meanwhile, the CNMI government's chief executive says he's hopeful that new bills will come in and provide more financial stability for critical operations and services.
Northern Marianas - sentenced
A Chinese national sentenced last year for his involvement in sneaking into Guam has tried it a second time.
Weng Bin was recently caught trying to enter the US territory illegally by boat, when he and several others had to be rescued by the US Coast Guard.
The US Probation Office has filed a petition with the US District Court for the Northern Mariana Islands, seeking to revoke Weng's supervised release.
Weng was one of 14 Chinese nationals who were arrested last year.
According to court documents, Weng was sentenced on 8 November 2023, on charges of conspiracy to transport illegal aliens.