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Casino commission bill fails to get required number of votes

A MEASURE that would clarify the Commonwealth Casino Commission’s powers  failed to get the required three-fourths vote in the lame duck House of Representatives on Friday.

Fifteen votes were needed to pass the Senate version of House Bill 20-82, but only 13 voted yes and four voted no. Three members were absent.

Those who voted no were Speaker Ralph Demapan, Vice Speaker Janet Maratita, Reps. Alice Igitol and Ed Propst.

Senators earlier said they amended the bill to address the attorney general’s concerns.

But Speaker Demapan said he wished the bill was sent back to the committee to allow members to review the Senate amendments.

Rep. Ivan Blanco asked House legal counsel John Cool if the secretary of Finance can be sued in her official capacity. Cool said yes.

Blanco said he raised the issue because there is a provision in the bill stating that commissioners cannot be sued in their official capacity. If the secretary of Finance can be sued for doing her job, why not the casino commission, Blanco asked.

Speaker Ralph Demapan, 2nd left, talks with casino commissioner Ramon Dela Cruz and commission chairman Juan Sablan during a break from the House session on Friday. Photo by Cherrie Anne E. VillahermosaSpeaker Ralph Demapan, 2nd left, talks with casino commissioner Ramon Dela Cruz and commission chairman Juan Sablan during a break from the House session on Friday. Photo by Cherrie Anne E. Villahermosa

Rep. Frank Dela Cruz expressed concern with a provision that gives the casino commission the option to refuse disclosing some information.

Rep. Edwin Aldan, for his part, said he and other members of the House Gaming Committee “scrutinized the bill thoroughly  with an assistant attorney general to make sure that they don’t skip any legal issues concerning the bill.”

The bill’s author, Rep. Joseph Deleon Guerrero, said as  chairman of the House Gaming Committee, and in his 16 years as a lawmaker, he has never reviewed any bill as critically and as extensively as he did with H.B. 20-82. He said they have gone through the bill page by page and looked at it at every angle to make sure it is a good bill.

He said he may not agree with all the amendments made by the Senate, but the casino commissioners are “the eyes and the ears of this casino industry and their primary duty is to protect the interest of the CNMI and the its people.”

Rep. Leepan Guerrero asked if the casino commissioners can be considered government employees. The House legal counsel said no because the commissioners are not directly paid by the government but by a separate account funded by casino revenue.

“The bill has so many important provisions but it didn’t garner enough votes,” Rep. Joseph Deleon Guerrero said in an interview after the House session. “I am sure it will be introduced in the next Legislature and it will not need three-fourths vote so it will be passed. It has already been scrutinized by the House and the Senate and the AG’s concerns and comments have been addressed already, so hopefully it will make it in the next Legislature.”

Casino Commission Chairman Juan Sablan, in a separate interview, said: “We have to pursue this in the next Legislature. I respect the House action today. They did their job as part of the democratic system.”

Source: Marianas Variety : http://www.mvariety.com/cnmi/cnmi-news/local/109749-casino-commission-bill-fails-to-get-required-number-of-votes

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