CNMI Casino Opposition Decries New House Bill

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Citizen activist claims effort aimed at avoiding referendum, lawsuits

By Emmanuel T. Erediano

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, June 11, 2014) – Concerned citizen Glen Hunter says the new House bill that will repeal and reenact the Saipan casino law is designed to dodge the lawsuits filed against it and the referendum petition.

This latest maneuver of the casino proponents, he added, is just "disrespectful political trickery."

The still unnumbered bill will retroactively "ratify" "good faith actions" of the Lottery Commission, but has not been pre-filed yet. If it is pre-filed today it can be introduced on Thursday but the House can’t act on it because it won’t meet the 72-hour Open Government Act requirement, according to Rep. Ramon A. Tebuteb, Ind.-Saipan.

Tebuteb said the measure appears to address Hunter’s lawsuit which states that the passage of the Saipan casino law violated the Open Government Act.

The measure to "repeal and reenact P.L. 18-38 as amended by P.L. 18-43 and to make the reenactment apply retroactively" acknowledges "some ambiguities and conflicts" in the Saipan casino law or P.L. 18-38.

In an interview yesterday, Hunter said those behind the bill are attempting to repeal the casino law and enact exactly the same thing in the hope that it will "negate the referendum."

This means that once the petition gets enough signatures and the referendum to repeal P.L. 18-38 and P.L. 18-43 gets on the ballot and is approved by a majority of the voters in November, it will be moot because those laws don’t exist anymore.

"What they also hope to do is if they kill the casino law, then, the lawsuit that addresses the Open Government Act will also be moot. It is really disrespectful and…it is very tricky," Hunter said.

He said instead of doing it the right way by allowing his lawsuit to move ahead or letting voters decide in a referendum, the casino proponents are trying everything they can to achieve their goal.

"They are counting on it for the election, but the truth is they think the voters are dumb. And the truth is the voters don’t want to be treated like a joke which is what they are doing now. I think the voters will remember this in November."

Asked for comment, Speaker Joseph P. Deleon Guerrero, IR-Saipan, said he is aware of the draft bill but he has not really seen it. He said he will comment as soon as he reads the measure.

Rep. Ralph N. Yumul, Ind.-Saipan, said he may ask the speaker to recuse himself from presiding over the session if the measure is put on the floor.

Yumul said the speaker, along with House Floor Leader Ralph S. Demapan and Rep. Felicidad T. Ogumoro, are defendants in the lawsuit filed by Hunter.

But Hunter said the lawsuit is not really against the speaker and the other defendants.

"This lawsuit is not stopping the speaker from presiding over the session," he added.

He said Deleon Guerrero, Demapan, Ogumoro, Senate President Ralph DLG Torres and Gov. Eloy S. Inos became the defendants in his lawsuit because "that is just the way the statute is written."

It is not an attack on them, as individual elected officials, he added.

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