CNMI Senate Ruling May Allow Corporations To Own Land

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Amendments will change heritage requirements for ownership

By Emmanuel T. Erediano

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, June 22, 2012) – The Senate is expected to pass next week its own version of the House legislative initiative that will amend the land alienation rule of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) Constitution.

The original version was introduced by Vice Speaker Felicidad T. Ogumoro, Covenant-Saipan, and the Senate changes include a provision allowing corporations to own land even if only 51 percent of the corporation is owned by persons of Northern Marianas descent (NMD).

House Legislative Initiative 17-3 also restricts to persons of Northern Marianas descent only the right to vote on initiatives to amend Article 12.

It will likewise change Article 12’s definition of Northern Marianas descent. Instead of having at least one quarter NMD blood, according to H.L.I. 17-3, an NMD is a person who has "some degree" of NMD blood.

The Senate also wants an adopted child to receive the combined blood quotient of his or her parents.

The Senate version of H.L.I. 17-3 states that "a corporation shall be considered to be a person of NMD so long as it is incorporated in the commonwealth, has its principal place of business in the commonwealth, has directors 51 percent of whom are persons of NMDs and has voting shares at least 51 percent of which are actually owned by persons of NMDs."

This means that foreign partners who own 49 percent of the corporation can be owners of land.

Variety learned that this provision existed in the original CNMI Constitution but was scrapped by members of the Second Constitutional Convention in 1985.

The Senate version also seeks to increase from 55 to 99 years the leasehold interest in real property. Moreover, it gives lease holder the right to extend an existing lease "for valuable consideration."

In an interview, Senate President Paul A. Manglona, Ind.-Rota, said most of his colleagues prefer a 99-year lease term to an outright repeal of Article 12 as he earlier proposed.

The deadline to pass H.L.I 17-3 is on Aug. 8, but Manglona said the Senate has to act on it early next week to give the House ample to time to consider the Senate amendments.

A legislative initiative must be passed by three-fourths of the members of each house before it can be placed on the ballot. It does not require the governor’s signature, but voters can either reject or ratify it.

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