Bill will now go to Torres for action
The House of the Representatives unanimously passed yesterday a bill that clarifies and enhances the powers of the Commonwealth Casino Commission. The bill now goes to Gov. Ralph DLG Torres for action.
All 20 representatives voted to the passage of House Bill 21-11, which also made changes to the Commonwealth Code, given the commission’s unique regulatory oversight of the casino industry in the Commonwealth.
House vice speaker Rep. Lorenzo I. Deleon Guerrero (R-Saipan) introduced the legislation in February 2019. The Senate unanimously passed the bill with amendments last March 13.
Under the bill, CCC, and not the Finance secretary as provided under the current Commonwealth Code, shall establish and maintain a CCC regulatory fee fund to be kept separate and apart from the general fund of the government.
The bill provides that, as an autonomous agency, CCC shall determine its staffing levels for full-time, part-time, seasonal and temporary employees.
The bill also gives, among other things, CCC the authority to issue a casino license. Current law gives that power to the Commonwealth Lottery Commission.
CCC board chair Edward C. Deleon Guerrero said in an interview that this bill has been in the Legislature since the 19th Legislature. It came up in the 20th, and then this 21st Legislature. Deleon Guerrero hopes that Torres would support the bill.
“It would strengthen the casino commission’s ability to enforce the mandates of the original gaming law, [Public Law] 18-56. And would really clarify and remove some of the ambiguities,” Deleon Guerrero said.
He said the CCC has worked diligently with the appropriate regulatory body this past four-and-a-half to five years to make sure that IPI is in compliance. “We, the CCC, do not have the authority on quite a lot of areas that we are blamed for,” he said, citing as an example that anything having to do with the building itself that falls within the purview of Department of Public Works and its Building Safety Code Section. However, he said, CCC always gets blamed for any safety issue involving the casino licensee, Imperial Pacific.
On the labor issue, the chairman said it is his understanding that the CNMI Department of Labor doesn’t have jurisdiction over employers with more than 500 employees. “That’s the U.S. Department of Labor,” he said.
Also, the CNMI does not have the authority to enforce Occupational Safety and Health Administration rules as that’s a federal law, Deleon Guerrero said.
Rep. Joseph Leepan Guerrero (R-Saipan), who hinted earlier that he does not support the bill, said he will change his stance if the CCC commissioners are going to diligently exercise their fiduciary duties. He said he wants to hear from the CCC commissioners that they are going to resolve the issues with IPI. “No more of this, ‘We’re thinking of imposing fines.’ Impose it! Put a lock on that casino if they are not in compliance,” he said.
Guerrero said the commissioners should do their duties— not to hurt IPI but to let it know that “enough is enough.”
“I have some reservations with this, but if members are going to vote for it, then so be it,” Guerrero said.
Minority floor leader Rep. Tina Sablan (D-Saipan) said this bill is a long time coming as it has gone through several legislatures.
“I think all of us share an interest in seeing increased enforcement and increased accountability for [the] Saipan casino licensee. And that is exactly the intention of this bill,” Sablan said.
She said there are provisions in the bill that would clarify and strengthen the investigative and enforcement powers of the commission, and clear up the ambiguities.
“There’s provision that would enhance the independence and autonomy of the casino commission as well as the disclosure requirements of the casino licensee,” she said.