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‘It’s time to talk about Article 12’

Hofschneider says legislative initiative just a proposal and is not final
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It’s time for the CNMI to talk about Article 12 of the CNMI Constitution because it is more than just a statement of landownership, according to Senate President Jude U. Hofschneider (R-Tinian) yesterday.

Hofschneider said Article 12 also means to ensure that Northern Marianas descents as a whole would remain a primary stakeholder in the development of the economy and the Commonwealth, by way of landownership.

Article 12 was established to restrict landownership in the CNMI to persons of Northern Marianas descent, or NMD.

The president also clarified that Senate Legislative 22-01 that he introduced, which seeks to amend Article 12, is not final as it’s only a proposal. He said the Legislature needs the affirmative vote of three-fourths of the members of each house present and voting to amend Article 12, then it will be put on the ballot for people to vote on at the next election.

Hofschneider said in a statement yesterday that, along with labor and capital, land is one of three primary inputs needed to produce final goods and services for the wider economy. “No amount of labor and capital can produce a good without land where the good can be created,” he said.

By restricting landownership to NMDs, the Constitution gives NMDs the sole right to own a fundamental building block of the economy. “Is this right truly complete, though? Can it be called ‘ownership’ when a landowner is restricted from using her or his asset to its fullest potential?” he asked.

Jude Hofschneider

Hofschneider believes it should be the individual—not the government—who decides what to do with their land. “Not all NMDs are interested in remaining on our islands, nor can they guarantee that they or their heirs will be around in 55 years to reclaim leased lands,” he said.

Thus, should the government restrict individual landowners from garnering the best value for their assets. “Is Article 12 fulfilling its intended purpose?” he asked.

Hofschneider introduced Senate Legislative Initiative 22-01 last Feb. 25 to amend Article 12 to remove the restriction on the alienation of land in the Commonwealth.

Hofschneider said the legislative initiative will allow Northern Marianas descents landowners to fully exercise their real property rights, and to reduce the NMD percentage of ownership interest in an NMD corporation.

Hofschneider said he introduced the legislative initiative to place these questions before people at a significant moment in Commonwealth history.

“The difficulties we’ve endured over the last five years highlight the need for us to remain open-minded about how we build our economy,” he said.

Although amending Article 12 is not the only option for the CNMI, it is one that opens up a variety of other options for NMD landowners, he said.

Hofschneider also clarified that S.L. 22-01 applies only to private landownership and that public will not be affected by his proposed legislation.

Further, he said, an amendment to Article 12 does not take away landownership rights or prevents private citizens from leasing their properties—it merely adds the option for them to sell their land fee simple.

Hofschneider said SLI 21-01 is by no means in its final form, that the Senate intends to ensure SLI 22-01 reflects the best interests of the people.

Since introducing SLI 22-01, Hofschneider said he has heard from many residents about their opinions on Article 12 and has been engaged in passionate debates about the legislation on social media, with many proposing ideas on how to free up the real estate market while maintaining some degree of land alienation.

“This is a good thing. We need to have periodic conversations about our fundamental laws in order to more fully understand how they affect our Commonwealth over time,” he said.

He is also interested to hear from what is termed as millennials (typically between 25 and 40 years old) and Generation Z (typically between 6 and 24 years old). Hofschneider said these are generations of NMDs that have struggled to obtain homesteads due to unavailability of land or significant bureaucratic roadblocks.

“They are also quickly entering leadership positions throughout the Commonwealth, and will soon become the primary decision makers for our communities,” said the Senate president, adding that their views will shape the future of land alienation in the CNMI as well as its ripple effects throughout the economy.

Hofschneider said the legislative process would be incomplete without people’s involvement.

He said the Senate intends to give constituents on Saipan, Tinian, and Rota a formal opportunity to speak on SLI 22-01. He urged people to keep an eye on the Legislature’s Facebook page and website, as these public hearings will be announced in the near future.

Hofschneider has invited all CNMI residents—NMDs and non-NMDs alike—to attend these hearings and share their views on SLI 22-01 and the future of Article 12.

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a senior reporter of Saipan Tribune. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and has covered all news beats in the CNMI. He is a recipient of the CNMI Supreme Court Justice Award. Contact him at ferdie_delatorre@Saipantribune.com
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