House OKs $8.3M funding bill for judiciary, Docomo fiber-optic cable

FOLLOWING a lengthy discussion, the House of Representatives on Friday passed a measure to appropriate $7 million for mold remediation and a new air-conditioning system for the judicial building and $1.3 million for the Docomo Pacific’s fiber-optic cable on Rota and Tinian.

Both items were included in an earlier bill, H.B. 20-164, which has been referred to a bicameral conference committee after the House rejected the Senate amendments. The conference committee has yet to convene.

The new bill’s author, Rep. Angel Demapan, said: “Upon review of my bill [H.B. 20-164] and the Senate version, I discovered that the provisions for the judiciary and Docomo were not disputed by either house. It’s the other provisions regarding the use of reserved funds and land compensation that were disputed. So I went ahead and introduced a separate bill so we can take care of the judiciary and the Docomo obligations,” Demapan said.

The $8.3 million will come from the Saipan casino-tax payments.

Demapan said if his new bill, H.B. 20-165, is passed by both houses and reaches the governor’s desk, the conferees can remove the provisions for Docomo and the judiciary from H.B. 20-164.

On Friday, the House passed H.B. 20-165 by a vote of 19-1. The bill goes now to the Senate.

Casting the lone “no” vote was Rep. Edwin Propst. Reps. Frank Dela Cruz and Joe Itibus voted “yes with reservations.”

Propst said he was not against appropriating $1.3 million to subsidize the installation of  Docomo’s fiber-optic cable for Tinian and Rota so both islands can have internet connectivity.

But he said they should be cautious when passing funding measures.

He noted that the MOU signed by the CNMI government and  Docomo did not include the signature of the attorney general, adding that he, Propst, is not sure if the MOU is binding.

He said funding this project could result in a taxpayer’s lawsuit.

Propst said they should see the contract first and learn the terms and conditions before they go ahead with the agreement.

He also asked if the governor requested that the Legislature appropriate $1.3 million for the Docomo fiber-optic cable.

The chairman of the House Ways and Means, Rep. Angel Demapan, said the governor asked the committee to allot funding.

Demapan said the MOU was executed in 2016 and it is now 2018, adding that Tinian and Rota must share in  the opportunities Saipan is enjoying.

Rep. Frank Dela Cruz offered a floor amendment to delete the Docomo provision so that the $7 million funding for the judiciary could go through.

But Rep. Joseph Deleon Guerrero objected to the amendment and reminded his colleagues that they had supported the Docomo funding when they passed House Bill 20-164.

Deleon Guerrero said the $1.3 million funding provision has not been disputed so it should not be deleted. He added that the $7 million allotment for the judiciary is also “urgent.”

Deleon Guerrero said when the lone IT&E fiber-optic cable was damaged in July 2015, the 19th Legislature asked for redundancy and competition. He added that Docomo stepped up to the plate to offer an alternative fiber-optic cable, but it could only provide service for Saipan and extending the same service to Tinian and Rota would require financial assistance from the CNMI.

Deleon Guerrero said then-Gov. Eloy Inos agreed to subsidize the installation of a fiber-optic cable for Tinian and Rota.

Deleon Guerrero said they should pass the funding measure and let the AG do his job by advising the governor to veto the provision if he finds it unconstitutional.

Dela Cruz’s proposed amendment was rejected by a vote of 13 to 7.

Source: Marianas Variety :

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