Only a few of the 29 CNMI lawmakers who either voted “yes” or “no” to the Saipan casino bill have broken their silence to help address concerns on what some describe as a “faulty” measure, including calling for a joint leadership meeting with Gov. Eloy S. Inos before he acts on it, putting the question before Saipan voters once again, vetoing and “fixing” it then putting it to a vote once again, or signing it then amending it, among other things.
Sen. Pete Reyes (Ind-Saipan), one of the five senators who voted to pass the bill last week, said he prefers that the governor “call both the Senate and the House of Representatives and address his concern and what needs to be changed and sign the bill and we’ll amend it.”
“Easier and faster that way,” he said.
The governor has 40 days starting on March 10 or until around April 18 to act on the bill, or the bill automatically becomes law without his signature.
Inos said he won’t necessarily exhaust the 40-day deadline before acting on the bill, which he’s still reviewing as of yesterday.
“As soon as I’m ready, I will take action, whatever that action would be,” the governor told Saipan Tribune.
At this point, Inos said he has not taken a position yet, but has been pointing out some issues in the bill that he said he would like addressed if the bill is approved.
House vice speaker Frank Dela Cruz (Ind-Saipan), one of the six House members who voted against the bill’s passage, said yesterday he would rather see “that this is put forth for the voters of Saipan and Northern Islands to decide.”
“My vote will always remain the same in the House,” said Dela Cruz, who consistently voted against casino bills in at least the past four years.
Rep. Christopher Leon Guerrero (Cov-Saipan), among the 11 House members who voted “yes” to the bill’s passage, said he would “like to see the Executive [Branch] and the Legislature having its leadership [meeting] to discuss the issues” so that there would be a “unified” position on the matter.
For his part, Rep. Antonio Benavente (Ind-Saipan), among those who voted “yes” to pass the bill, said the governor “should sign it; then if it needs amendments, then so be it.”
Rep. Ralph Yumul (Ind-Saipan) said he would rather have the governor veto the bill and put the question before voters once again.
“At a minimum, conduct a public hearing on the bill,” he said.
Rep. Edmund Villagomez (Cov-Saipan) shares the same sentiment of having the casino issue “go through the process of an initiative.” Villagomez voted against the bill’s passage.
He said if the governor signs the bill, it has to be “fixed,” taking into consideration public input. When public comments and inputs were taken into consideration and the bill is put to a vote once again, Yumul said he might change his vote to “yes.”
Sen. Frank Cruz (R-Tinian), who voted against the casino bill’s passage, said last night that his vote remains the same, adding that he “highly respect the desire of the people of Saipan.”
“Let the majority of the people decide whether they want casino or not,” he added.
Saipan voters twice rejected a casino initiative; the last one was in 2007. Some lawmakers who support a casino bill said that “times have changed,” referring to the growing government obligations and the need to restore the 25-percent cut in retirees’ pension, among other things.
The Marianas Economic Research and Development Foundation, led by president and board chair Isidoro T. Cabrera, launched a signature drive to put the question on the ballot in November, while other concerned citizens such as Ed Propst are organizing a forum to have lawmakers and the governor answer questions or clarify the provisions and intents of the bill.
Within 15 days of the bill’s signing, an exclusive casino license holder is required to pay a nonrefundable $1 million application fee and a $30 million license fee partial payment. The exclusive casino license fee holder is also required to invest at least $2 billion in the CNMI and build an entirely new hotel with at least 2,000 rooms.
House floor leader Ralph Demapan (Cov-Saipan) said he would be the first one to offer amendments to the bill after it’s signed into law, adding that it’s never the bill’s intention to negatively impact other businesses in the CNMI. Sen. Paul Manglona (Ind-Rota), Senate floor leader Ray Yumul (Ind-Saipan), and Rep. Trenton Conner (Ind-Tinian), who all voted “no” to the casino bill, said the bill has lots of flaws and ambiguity that need to be addressed.
Other lawmakers asked yesterday declined to comment because of repercussions on their November re-election, while others didn’t return calls or text messages about the casino bill.