By a vote of 8-0, the Senate passed yesterday a House legislative initiative on Article 12 of the NMI Constitution by changing the 25-percent blood quantum requirement to only “at least some degree” of Chamorro or Carolinian blood or a combination of these, in order to be considered a person of Northern Marianas descent and therefore can own land in the CNMI.
But the Senate amended House Legislative Initiative 17-3, House Draft 1 to increase the maximum private land lease from the current 55 years to 99 years to attract more investors while protecting the interests of NMDs.
The initiative now goes back to the House to either accept or reject the Senate amendments.
If the House accepts the 99-year lease agreement amendment, then the initiative will be on its way to the Nov. 6 ballot for voters to ratify it.
Article 12 of the NMI Constitution restricts ownership of land to people of Northern Marianas descent, or NMDs.
The Senate's passage of this initiative amending only the blood quantum requirement of Article 12 comes over a month after it rejected another initiative seeking to repeal Article 12 in its entirety.
The Senate Natural Resources Committee, which recommended passage of House Vice Speaker Felicidad Ogumoro's (Cov-Saipan) HLI 17-3, HD2, Senate Substitute 1, said it recognizes that during the economic situation, Article 12 “may be considered a hindrance in terms of encouraging and attracting investors through leasehold agreements.”
It therefore recommended increasing the lease term in Article 12, Section 3 of the NMI Constitution from 55- to 99-year leaseholds for non-NMD investors to “help stimulate the economy by attracting more investors, while protecting the interests of the indigenous residents.”
The panel also said that, as NMDs continue to marry non-NMD’s, future generations of Chamorro and Carolinian families will not own land merely because they fall below the 25 percent blood quantum requirement
“The Committee took into account that NMD persons express concern that as their children may not bear the minimum blood quantum requirement, they may never get to pass on their inherited ancestral lands. Moreover, your committee finds that a constitutional proposal to amend the one-quarter blood quantum requirement to 'at least some degree' will continue to preserve the culture and traditions of the indigenous Chamorros and Carolinians and allow future generations of all Northern Marianas descendants own ancestral lands,” it said.
NMC legislative initiative
Senators also passed yesterday the House-amended Senate Legislative Initiative 17-12, seeking to amend Article 15 Section 2 (b) of the NMI Constitution authorizing the Northern Marianas College's Board of Regents to revise NMC's mission statement.
The initiative is now on its way to the Commonwealth Election Commission, for placement on the Nov. 6 ballot.
Prior to this, only one other legislative initiative will be presented to voters on Nov. 6-the elected AG initiative.
Frank Eliptico of NMC, who was at the Senate session yesterday, said the college is “pleased” with the Senate's passage of two NMC-related pieces of legislation.
Besides SLI 17-12, the Senate also passed House Bill 17-294, House Draft 1, allowing the NMC Board of Regents to make certain exceptions to the basic residency requirements set by law. NMC earlier said it wants flexibility in setting the residency requirements for its students so that more recipients could avail of lower tuition.
“Both give the NMC Board of Regents the flexibility to set those things, the mission and the residency rate,” Eliptico told Saipan Tribune.
He said NMC will now work with the election commission in a public awareness campaign, to educate voters on the importance of amending the constitutional provision on NMC.
The initiative seeks two changes: the word “mission” will be revised to “purpose” and a provision will be added stating that it will be the Board of Regents that will establish the mission statement.