How not to pass legislation

THE bill that is now Saipan Local Law 22-6 was passed unanimously by the Saipan delegation, according to Rep. Angel Demapan. The island has 21 legislators  — 18 representatives and three senators. Yet it was the brother of IPI’s CEO who had to introduce the bill. Early this year, Rep. Ralph N. Yumul gave up his seat on the gaming committee so he would not have to recuse himself, he said, from “meetings  or actions” on gaming-related legislation. In the case of the e-gaming-fee-hike bill, no one among the 21 lawmakers saw a potential conflict-of-interest concern if Representative Yumul sponsored the measure. No one among them said: “If we truly believe that this is an important bill that we should pass, perhaps someone else should introduce it; just to cover all the proverbial bases — and spare our dear colleague from unfair and unfounded criticism.”

Among the 21 lawmakers are those who had previously complained about the leadership’s failure to conduct public hearings and draft committee reports on legislation, especially controversial ones. But apparently, it’s now OK not to conduct public hearings and/or present a committee report  as long as they support the bill (and the Saipan mayor is in the gallery). In other words, transparency for thee but not for me.

And what’s this? No expressions of sympathy or concern for the local workers who may lose their jobs because of S.L.L. 22-6? Is it because they’re not IPI’s foreign workers?

Which brings us to our main point.

The bill’s supposed goal is to “raise revenue.” But how can that be possible if the robbery victims, er, target businesses, may have to shut down? The economy is still in a coma and the tourism industry has not fully reopened (and may not fully reopen this year) so let’s single out a not-so-popular business enterprise that has to comply with Covid-19 protocols to remain open, and further raise its cost of doing business! Then let’s call it “due diligence” and refer to ourselves as an “august body”!

According to the consultant of the e-gaming companies, they are “already paying the highest tax rates on island:  15% gaming tax, 5% business gross revenue tax, a $100,000 license fee per year, on top of the regular CNMI income tax.” These will be gone if the e-gaming businesses are gone. So no. It is not a “revenue-raising” measure if it would result in zero revenue.

It was only after this point was publicly and loudly made that the Saipan lawmakers started asking questions about figures, numbers, data, etc. that could have been discussed during a public hearing before they acted on the bill. Now some lawmakers want a “dialogue” after passing the bill which the governor should not have signed.

As for those who oppose gambling even if it raises much-needed revenue for this ever wasteful and perennially overspending government, please introduce the necessary bill.  Seven years ago, one of the current House members, an anti-casino proponent, spearheaded a referendum petition to repeal the e-gaming law. Not enough voters signed it back then, but no one can stop anyone from circulating another petition — or introducing the required legislation. Come on now. Pre-file the bill or circulate the petition to ban e-gaming machines, poker machines, casino gambling. Have the courage of your supposed convictions.

Less talking (and moralizing), more walking (and doing).

Editor

Zaldy Dandan is the recipient of the Best Editorial Writer Award of the Society of Professional Journalists, and the CNMI Humanities Award for Outstanding Contributions to Journalism. His three books are available on amazon.com

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