PUBLIC LAND LEASES
Hocog asks Legislature to amend new law
Acting governor Victor B. Hocog enacted last Monday a Senate bill that increases public land lease terms to 40 years, and allows an extension of 15 years—for a total of 55 years. The new law, Public Law 20-84, also authorizes extending existing lease terms to 55 years.
Based on the new law, the Department of Public Lands is now authorized to negotiate new public land leases from existing lessees under new terms and conditions without publishing a request for proposal.
Hyatt Regency Saipan is among the hotels that will benefit from the new law, having a lease that’s expiring in December 2021. Its management is hoping their lease will be extended so they could move forward with plans to renovate the hotel. Fiesta Resort & Spa Saipan also has an expiring lease. The lease of Mariana Resort and Spa has already lapsed before the bill’s passage.
Saipan Tribune tried to get comments from the Department of Public Lands, the Hotel Association of the Northern Mariana Islands, and the Marianas Visitors Authority, but their officials have yet to respond as of press time.
Under the old law, public land leases were only allowed up to 25 years, plus an extension of 15 years, for a total of 40 years.
Hocog, however, urged the Legislature to clarify certain provisions of the new law. “Although I have approved this proposed legislation, I must gravely urge the Legislature to make critical amendments to its existing law in accordance with the [CNMI] Attorney General’s recommendations regarding the bill’s constitutionality concerns, specifically the separation of powers doctrine,” Hocog wrote Senate President Arnold I. Palacios and House Speaker Rafael S. Demapan (R-Saipan).
The Legislature is granted authority to approve public land leases, a power it previously had when the Marianas Public Land Corp. was still in existence. The CNMI Supreme Court, after MPLC’s dissolution more than 20 years ago, found that Article XI Section V of the CNMI Constitution is no longer valid after the executive branch took over MPLC’s functions.
“Thus, the Legislature’s permitting of the required legislative approval of public land leases under this legislation [P.L. 20-84] would violate the separation of powers doctrine of the CNMI and the U.S. Constitution,” Hocog said.
Hocog then asked the Legislature to further study P.L. 20-84 and make the necessary amendments so the law would be in accordance with the CNMI Constitution.
“Accordingly, whereas I agree with the intent of the this [P.L. 20-84] and support the Legislature’s objective of utilizing new and innovative ideas to attract new economic development and investors, I appeal to this body [Legislature] to revisit this matter and regrant DPL the approval authority of public land leases in order to adhere to the constitutionality implications of the passage of this legislation as was raised by the [CNMI AG].”