Senate

Senate counsel Jose Bermudes, center, and Senate President Jude Hofschneider, left, listen to a community member's testimony during the public comment portion of a Senate session in September. Also in photo are Senate Vice President Justo S. Quitugua, and Sen. Paul A. Manglona. Partly hidden is Sen. Frank Q. Cruz.

SENATE counsel Jose A. Bermudes on Wednesday issued a memorandum stating that local law can amend the Rota Casino Act of 2007, which, among other things, allows the Rota Casino Gaming Commission members to receive a salary of $60,000 a year.

Bermudes’ memo was issued in response to the request of Sen. Victor B. Hocog during the Rota Legislative Delegation Session on Dec. 9, 2021 to review Senate Local Bill 22-6 and S.L.B. 22-8, which have been pending for several months now.

Authored by Sen. Paul A. Manglona, S.L.B. 22-6 would abolish the annual salary of the Rota casino commissioners. He noted that even though there is no casino revenue on Rota, its municipal government spends $300,000 each year for the Rota commissioners’ salaries, putting “a huge burden on the municipality's obligations.”

As for S.L.B. 22-8, which is authored by Sen. Teresita Santos, it would provide for a limited time to act on the reconfirmation or rejection of the Rota mayor's appointment of Rota casino commission members.

Short answer

Can S.L.B. 22-6 and S.L.B. 22-8 amend the Rota Casino Act of 2007, which became law through a local initiative passed by Rota voters?

Bermudes' short answer is “yes.”

He provided the following analysis:

In Blanco-Maratita v. Borja, the Commonwealth Supreme Court addressed the issue whether a local law passed by the Tinian Legislative Delegation can amend the Tinian Casino Gaming Control Act which was passed in 1989 through a local initiative approved by Tinian voters.

In 2004, the Tinian Legislative Delegation passed Tinian Local Law 14-1, which amended the gaming law to allow the commission “to grant a casino license while a hotel-casino complex is being constructed in phases; lower the minimum age of casino employees from 21 to 18; reduce the casino license application fee from $200,000 to $5,000; reduce the penalty rate for late payment of casino license fees and gambling revenue tax from 5% to 2% of the unpaid balance; and allow casino operators to accept credit wagers.

In 2013, the Tinian delegation passed Tinian Local Law 18-5 that again amended the gaming law by removing the gross revenue surtax and gambling amusement tax and replaced it with a two-tier structure.

The issue at hand is identical to the issue addressed in Blanco-Maratita v. Borja, Bermudes said in his memo.

The Blanco-Maratita v. Borja Court ruled that the CNMI Constitution grants power to the legislative delegation to pass local laws pertaining to local matters defined by the Legislature, he added.

“The Court noted that in accordance with Article II, Section 6, of the NMI Constitution the Commonwealth Legislature enacted the Local Law Act of 1983 which, among others, defined local matters that are subject of local laws. The Court further noted that ‘Local laws…enacted...by initiative...may be amended, altered, repealed, [superseded] or altered in any fashion by the enactment of a subsequent local law enacted by the Delegation.’ In other words, the Local Law Act of 1983 expressly allows a delegation law to regulate gambling and to amend a law enacted by local initiative. As such, barring other prohibitions, a delegation law may amend a gambling law enacted by local initiative.”

The Senate counsel said the Rota Legislative Delegation can pass S.L.B. 22-6 and S.L.B. 22-8, both of which propose to amend specific provisions of the Rota Casino Act of 2007.

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