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Senate will amend bill to allot $15M casino license fee for retirees

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THE Senate on Tuesday did not act on a House measure that would allot the $15 million annual casino license fee to pay for 25% of the retirees’ pensions.

One seat apart and wearing face-masks, Senate Vice President Jude U. Hofschneider, left, and Sen. Paul A. Manglona confer during a break from the Senate session on Tuesday.

Photo by Emmanuel T. Erediano

 

Instead, the senators agreed to refer House Bill 21-76 to the Senate Fiscal Affairs Committee chaired by Senate Vice President Jude U. Hofschneider who said he will propose “necessary” amendments to address possible adverse impact on Tinian and Rota.

Authored by Speaker Blas Jonathan Attao, H.B. 21-76 was unanimously passed by the House last week to repeal Public Law 20-10 and guarantee the $15 million casino license fee for the retirees’ 25%.

All the senators expressed support for the bill’s intent, but Senate President Victor B. Hocog and the lone minority member, Rota Sen. Paul A. Manglona, doubt if the island’s lone casino operator, Imperial Pacific International, could pay this year’s $15 million license fee that is due in August.

Hocog, who also represents Rota, noted that it was the desire to save the NMI retirement program that led to the enactment of the casino law so he agrees that the $15 million license fee belongs to the retirees. But he noted that IPI continues to be bombarded by lawsuits and negative publicity amid a deepening economic crisis. “What kind of investment environment are we creating if there are people who keep on attacking IPI?” he asked.

For his part, Manglona said the measure, “if passed, would make our retirees feel a little better, but there is no guarantee that there will ever be $15 million in August,” considering the dire economic situation due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Senate Vice President Jude U. Hofschneider and fellow members from Tinian, Frank Borja and Frank Cruz, expressed concern about the $2 million for the senatorial districts allotted by Public Law 20-10 that would be “removed” by House Bill 21-76.

Borja reminded his colleagues that without the support of the Rota and Tinian legislative delegations, the legalization of casino gaming on Saipan would not have been approved by the Legislature.

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