AG: FTZ bill for the Northern Islands is unconstitutional

Bill to allow 18-year-olds to serve alcohol deemed ‘legally sufficient’

The Office of the Attorney General has commented on a couple of bills under review by the House of Representatives’ tourism committee, calling one bill to establish free trade zones in the Northern Islands unconstitutional, and another, to allow 18-year-olds to serve and handle alcohol, legally sufficient.

In a Nov. 19 letter to committee chair Rep. Joseph Lee Pan Guerrero (R-Saipan), Attorney General Edward Manibusan said that Senate Bill 19-29, SD1 bypasses the Department of Public Lands’ authority to manage, dispose, and designate public land as free trade zones.

The Senate bill would essentially task government agencies to expedite the establishment of free trade zones in the Northern Islands, notably the island of Pagan.

It states that “no action” has been taken on establishing free trade zones in the Northern Islands despite a previous law that established this provision. This inaction has “continued to delay economic growth for the Northern Islands,” the bill states, in tasking the departments of Public Works, Public Lands, and Lands and Natural Resources, along with the Bureau of Environmental and Coastal Quality and the Commonwealth Ports Authority to “work expeditiously” with the Northern Islands mayor to identify these free trade zones.

The bill also states that in the event DPL fails to act within 180 days after the bill is in effect, the Legislature would declare these free trade zones.

In his letter to the House, Manibusan calls this provision unconstitutional. “It violates the separation of powers doctrine,” he wrote.

He cited the CNMI Constitution and Public Law 15-2, which gives the authority to manage and dispose of public land to DPL. He said the designation of FTZs fall within this ambit and therefore is the province of DPL, not the Legislature.

“[The Senate bill] does not pass legal muster. It is unconstitutional and should not be sent to the floor…for approval,” Manibusan told Guerrero.

House Bill 19-104, on the other hand, would essentially amend the Commonwealth Code to lower the legally allowable age to serve alcohol from 21 to 18. Manibusan said this measure is legally sufficient.

Dennis B. Chan | Reporter
Dennis Chan covers education, environment, utilities, and air and seaport issues in the CNMI. He graduated with a degree in English Literature from the University of Guam. Contact him at

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