Lease extension bill heads back to Senate

The House of Representatives passed yesterday—with amendments—the Senate bill that extends the maximum initial number of years for public land leases. That means the bill would have to go back to the Senate for the upper chamber to adopt the amendments before the measure can head to Gov. Ralph DLG Torres’ desk.

During yesterday’s session on Capital Hill, the House voted 19-1 in support of Senate President Arnold Palacios’ (R-Saipan) Senate Bill 20-35.

The bill extends from 25 years to 40 years the maximum number of years allowed for public land leases, with some amendments inserted by House Committee on Natural Resources chair Rep. Alice Igitol (R-Saipan) and Vice Speaker Janet Maratita (R-Saipan)

Igitol’s amendment adds to those qualified for an automatic 15-year lease extension upon the passage of the bill.

S.B. 20-35 was amended in the House to reflect that only schools, religious organizations, hotels, or golf courses on leased property may be amended to extend the existing lease term up to 40 years plus an additional 15-year extension, subject to negotiated new terms and consideration based on at least two new appraisals, instead of just one new appraisal as proposed.

Maratita wants S.B. 20-35 to direct the Department of Public Lands to make a leasing decision prior to the expiration of the lease and after public notice of intent to renew providing for public comment and public hearings commence. S.B. 20-35 already includes a provision that requires DPL to initiate negotiations when at least five years or less remain on the lease agreement.

The House adopted both amendments, but then met opposition when it came to passing S.B. 20-35 through Rep. Donald Barcinas (R-Saipan).

According to current law, the request for proposal, or RFP, process is not in effect until the Legislature declines negotiations. However, in S.B. 20-35, DPL may negotiate new terms and considerations without first publishing an RFP—which Barcinas opposed.

“Taking away the RFP process is not in the best interest of those of Northern Marianas descent,” he said.

“Why are businesses afraid to go through an RFP process after a 40-year [lease agreement]? Regular contracts with the CNMI government goes through the RFP process,” he said, adding that land is a scarce resource in the CNMI.

Through the RFP process, the CNMI government could weigh which proposal could reap the most returns, said Barcinas.

The House passed the bill with amendments after over three hours of discussions, with only Barcinas voting against.

Erwin Encinares | Reporter
Erwin Charles Tan Encinares holds a bachelor’s degree from the Chiang Kai Shek College and has covered a wide spectrum of assignments for the Saipan Tribune. Encinares is the paper’s political reporter.

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