The Saipan and Northern Islands Legislative Delegation passed Friday a local bill that will appropriate unobligated funds under Saipan Local Law 22-10 in the amount of $430,000 from the casino license fees collected from the casino licensee, Imperial Pacific International (CNMI) LLC.
All 13 SNILD members present at the session voted “yes” to pass House of Representatives Local Bill 22-43, Substitute 1. Rep. Sheila J. Babauta (D-Saipan) abstained from voting.
Babauta said she completely supports passing this bill, but she also serves as a board member on one of the non-profit organizations listed. She said she also has done work with many of the NGOs listed and has personal relationship and friendship with people “doing a lot these good work.”
“So I am going to abstain from voting,” Babauta said.
SNILD chair Sen. Vinnie Vinson F. Sablan (R-Saipan) presided over the session.
Vice Speaker Blas Jonathan T. Attao, who is the principal author of the original bill, said these are the unobligated funds that were line-item vetoed. Attao said the money was supposed to go to the mayor of Saipan and the Kagman Watershed Project.
“Just to let the members know that the Kagman Watershed Project is not a forgotten project,” he said, adding that they will address the funding for that project in the next appropriation once they get into the 23rd Legislature.
Attao said they are not moving money away from the Kagman Watershed Project, but it has already been line-item vetoed twice so they will address the funding in the 23rd Legislature.
Attao’s original bill proposed to appropriate $430,000 for the mitigation of flood and road repair project on Flores Rosa Street in Garapan and surrounding areas.The vice speaker then moved to file a substitute bill to Local Bill 22-43, as some NGOs asked for some help.
He said the only main difference in the substitute bill is they’re removing $150,000 from the Flores Rosa Street project funding, reducing the amount to $280,000.
“Hopefully this should be enough money to address that issue. Although we took away $150,000, that’s fine. We’re willing to sacrifice some money from Precinct 3 to address the needs of the non-government organizations,” Attao said.
He said they added the Northern Marianas Athletics, which will be receiving $40,000.
Attao said the Northern Marianas Protection and Advocacy Systems Inc. will be getting $15,000; Karidat, $15,000; Chief Aghurubw Foundation, $10,000; Northern Marianas Library Association, $10,000; Manhita Marianas, $10,000; Our Common Wealth 670, $10,000; Talaya Club, $10,000; Pride Marianas, $10,000; Empty Vessel Ministry Foundation, $10,000; and Marianas Outrigger Canoe Inc., $10,000.
For legislative intent, Attao pointed out, these monies that go to the NGOs can only be used within the Third Senatorial District, or Saipan and Northern Islands.
He said the funds should not be used or shared with other senatorial districts as provided by the Office of the Attorney General’s opinion.
Rep. Christina E. Sablan (D-Saipan) offered technical amendment to the bill.
Under the bill, the expenditure authority for the funds allocated under Section 2 of this Act shall be responsible for reporting all expenses to the Finance secretary by the end of the calendar year 2023.
Entities that fail to provide all expenses that were given funds under this appropriation shall not be able to avail to any future funds appropriated by the SNILD.
SNILD members favored the substitute bill and subsequently passed the legislation.
In April 2022, Gov. Ralph DLG Torres line-item vetoed House Local Bill 22-27, S1, D1, that proposed to appropriate $430,000 in unobligated funds to the Office of the Saipan Mayor and for the ongoing Kagman Watershed Project.
Torres strongly advised SNILD that the $350,000 of the $430,000 be appropriated instead to support the Saipan Higher Education Financial Assistance office so that the CNMI may continue to invest in the future of its students.
In May 2022, then-acting governor Jude U. Hofschneider (R-Tinian) vetoed similar legislation, House Local Bill 22-31, authored by Rep. Corina L. Magofna (Ind-Saipan), that would appropriate $430,000 in unobligated funds to the Mayor of Saipan for operations and for the Kagman Watershed Project. Hofschneider reiterated Torres’ recommendation in vetoing the bill.
With respect to Kagman Watershed Project, the president said correlating departments and agencies have assured that this project will be prioritized and provided with adequate and related federal funding assistance in the coming months.