A bill increasing the hotel occupancy tax by 5 percentage points effective April 1, 2013, to help fund the marketing and promotion of the CNMI as a tourist destination and another measure clarifying the provisions of a law allowing refund of contributions to the NMI Retirement Fund are now on Gov. Eloy S. Inos's desk for action. The House of Representatives passed the two bills on Friday morning.
The governor is expected to act on the bills as early as today.
By a vote of 19-1, the House passed the Senate-amended House Bill 18-2, House Draft 1 or the hotel tax hike bill.
If signed into law, the CNMI's hotel occupancy tax will increase from 10 percent to 15 percent next month.
The bill is a “compromise” between the government and hoteliers following the non-implementation of three previous laws that aimed to generate more funds for the Marianas Visitors Authority's tourism destination marketing and promotion programs.
Rep. Janet Maratita (IR-Saipan) voted “no” to the bill, citing the need to further clarify some of its provisions.
House minority leader George Camacho (R-Saipan), author of HB 18-2, said the measure's passage is “welcome news” at a time when “things are looking good for tourism and the CNMI.”
“We must continue to invest in our tourism industry,” he told Saipan Tribune.
The House also passed Vice Speaker Frank Dela Cruz's (IR-Saipan) HB 18-12, which clarifies the provisions of Public Law 17-82 to change timelines and help expedite the refunds of NMI Retirement Fund contributions.
House members agreed with the Senate's removal of the portion about the Defined Contribution Plan from pages 4 to 5, so that Defined Benefit Plan members can get 50 percent of their contributions, among other things. Lawmakers agreed to come up with a separate bill addressing the needs of DC Plan members.
The House also passed floor leader Ralph Demapan's (Cov-Saipan) H.B. 18-27, merging the Emergency Management Office and the Office of Homeland Security to help reduce government costs and improve efficiency.
The bill now goes to the Senate for action.
If the merger bill is signed into law, it will create the CNMI Homeland Security and Emergency Management. The EMO-OHS merger bill's passage comes days after the Inos administration announced plans to also merge the Department of Labor and Workforce Investment Agency.