The House of Representatives on Wednesday defeated a bill that would have increased the excise tax on imported betel nut after failing to get the needed three-fourths vote to pass it.
Rep. Blas Jonathan T. Attao (Ind-Saipan) introduced House Bill 19-72 to increase the excise tax in importing areca nut (betel nut) into the CNMI.
Thirteen members voted yes, three voted no, and one decided not to cast his vote. Reps. Anthony T. Benavente (Ind-Saipan), Francis S. Taimanao (Ind-Saipan), and Ralph N. Yumul (Ind-Saipan) were absent.
The Senate made amendments on HB 19-72 to increase the excise tax from 2.5 percent to 7.5 percent. That was why House Speaker Rafael S. Demapan (R-Saipan), vice speaker Joseph P. Deleon Guerrero (Ind-Saipan), and minority leader George N. Camacho (R-Saipan) chose not to support the measure. They said the increase was too much.
“I honestly felt that it should go through the committee for further review but the Legislature now is in a lame duck session and any bill that requires appropriation or related to government operations requires a three-fourths vote,” said Demapan. “We see a huge difference in the increase. The bill’s intent is good. No doubt that we should control and impose additional tax but it was just too high. Sometimes timing is a factor and I believe the bill would be re-introduced in the 20th Legislature.”
Camacho said the increase would have an adverse effect on stores that sell betel nut. “There are some who are already saying that they won’t sell any more [betel nut] if the excise tax increases to $5 per lb,” said Camacho.
Last September, Gov. Ralph DLG Torres signed into law a separate bill, HB 19-65 authored by Rep. Lorenzo I. Deleon Guerrero (Ind-Saipan), that prohibits the sale, offer, or giving of betel nut to minors (under 18).
The House also passed several other bills while deciding to send some to their respective committees for further review.
HB 19-22 (to establish a new public highway on Tinian), HB 19-85 (to prohibit smoking in vehicles in the presence of minors), HB 19-110 (mandating Customs to have K-9 units), HB 19-118 (to include lime in Pure Food and Drug Control), HB 19-141 (ID card requirements), HB 19-153 (to prohibit taking and selling of certain sizes of fish species), HB 19-155 (to establish a patient medical referral office), HB 19-189 (to empower the Commonwealth Ports Authority to grant concessions), and HB 19-211 (funding for family violence prevention) all passed the House.
HB 19-23 (minimum wage increase), HB 19-52 (to include the Northern Marianas College and Northern Marianas Trades Institute as recipients of the business gross revenue tax), HB 19-71 (requiring public schools to prepare a fiscal year budget), HB 19-103 (waiving contractual obligations of educational assistance recipients), and HB 19-109 (penalty for repeat offenders) were sent back to the committees on Ways and Means, Education, and Judiciary and Governmental Operations, respectively.