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Public-land lease extension now law, but Hocog urges Legislature to look into AG’s concerns

ACTING Gov. Victor B. Hocog has signed into law a measure that extends the lease terms for certain public-lands from 40 to 55 years.

At the same time, Hocog urged the incoming Legislature to look into the attorney general’s concerns regarding its constitutionality.

Hocog on Friday signed Senate Bill 20-35 “to amend 1 CMC Section 2806 (c) to increase the terms of public land leases up to 40 years plus an extension up to 15 years for a total of 55 years; to authorize certain existing public-land leases to be amended to extend the existing lease term up to 55 years; to amend 1 CMC Section 2807 to authorize [the Department of Public Lands] to negotiate a new public-land lease with certain existing public land leases under new terms and consideration without publishing a request for proposals.”

The bill authored by Senate President Arnold I. Palacios, the lt. governor-elect, is now Public Law 20-84.

The measure was supported by the Hyatt Regency Hotel, Fiesta Resort and Kanoa Resort whose land leases will end in the next few years.

In his transmittal letter, Hocog said the new law needs “critical amendments to address the AG’s concerns.”

From left, Vice Speaker Janet U. Maratita, Sen. Jude U. Hofschneider, acting Gov. Victor B. Hocog, Janina Maratita, policy analyst, Office of the Governor, Senate President Arnold I. Palacios, Senate Vice President Steve K. Mesngon, Sen. Frank Q. Cruz and Rep. Alice S. Igitol. Photo courtesy of the Office of the GovernorFrom left, Vice Speaker Janet U. Maratita, Sen. Jude U. Hofschneider, acting Gov. Victor B. Hocog, Janina Maratita, policy analyst, Office of the Governor, Senate President Arnold I. Palacios, Senate Vice President Steve K. Mesngon, Sen. Frank Q. Cruz and Rep. Alice S. Igitol. Photo courtesy of the Office of the Governor

He noted that the new law authorizes the Legislature to approve public land leases, a power it exercised prior to the abolition of the Marianas Public Land Corp.

Following the dissolution of the MPLC, however, the CNMI Supreme Court found that Section 5 of the CNMI Constitution’s Article XI, including the provision granting legislative authority to approve leases, was no longer in effect when the MPLC’s functions were transferred to the executive branch.

“Thus the Legislature’s permitting of the required legislative approval of public land leases under this legislation would violate the separation of powers doctrine of the CNMI and United States Constitutions,” Hocog said.

Hocog said he agreed with the bill’s intent and supported the Legislature’s objective of utilizing new and innovative ideas to attract new economic development and investors into the Commonwealth.

But just the same, he appealed to the Legislature “to revisit this matter and regrant the Department of Public Lands the approval authority of public land leases in order to adhere to the constitutionality implications of the passage of this legislation as raised by the attorney general.”

In an interview, Senate President and Lt. Gov-elect Arnold I. Palacios said he will work closely with the incoming Legislature to ensure that the AG’s concerns are addressed.

“The next Legislature has to come up with a proposal,” he added. “The acting governor who is an incoming senator in the next Legislature said this is also something that he will look into and address.”

Source: Marianas Variety : http://www.mvariety.com/cnmi/cnmi-news/local/109768-public-land-lease-extension-now-law-but-hocog-urges-legislature-to-look-into-ag-s-concerns

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