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Governor signs bill to ‘adopt’ revised Tinian gaming law

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DESPITE several concerns raised by the Attorney General’s Office, Gov. Ralph DLG Torres has signed into law a local bill that adopts the Revised Tinian Casino Gaming Control Act of 1989 as approved by the CNMI Superior Court.

Authored by Rep. Antonio SN Borja, House Local Bill 21-38 is now Tinian Local Law 21-9. The delegation passed the bill on Feb. 24, and the governor signed it on March 30.

The Revised Act was a product of Superior Court’s ruling and “modification” when the Tinian casino law, as originally ratified in 1989, was challenged by the central government in Superior Court in 1991. It was found out years later that the Revised Act was not codified although it “became operative and governed the actions and conduct of the Tinian Casino Gaming Control Commission.”

To codify the Revised Act, the Tinian Legislative Delegation needed to enact a local law adopting the Revised Act. However, the delegation could not immediately pass the required legislation because its authority to do so was challenged in the court in 2004 and 2015.

In August 2017, the CNMI Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Tinian delegation, allowing the local lawmaking body to amend the gambling law enacted through a local initiative.

In his transmittal letter to the Tinian delegation, the governor said he was signing H.L.B. 21-38, but he also informed the lawmakers that several legal issues were brought to his attention by the AG’s office.

He said the delegation “has likely exceeded its lawmaking authority with respect to its enforcement provisions. The language in the bill appears to override Commonwealth law concerning criminal prosecution, the promulgation of rules and regulations, and alcoholic beverage and tobacco controls. The delegation must be mindful that it cannot, by local law, direct Commonwealth officers to perform their respective duties and responsibilities in contravention of their authority provided under the Constitution or Commonwealth statutes. Also, the municipality of Tinian and its officers and employees lack immunity from prosecution, unlike the Commonwealth and its departments and agencies. Thus, allowing TCGCC staff to ‘deputize’ others to assist in inspections, searches, and seizures raises the proverbial red flag and may expose the municipality to lawsuits in the future.”

Torres said the local bill also “presents policy changes that warrant measured consideration. Lowering the age of persons who may be present in Tinian casinos from 21 years old to 18 years old is a significant departure from the original Act. The mayor will have a greater power to remove commission members under vague usage of the phrase ‘conflict of interest.’ Given the realities of the Tinian demographics, this expanded authority adds the potential of injecting politics to a supposedly apolitical body.”

The governor asked the Tinian lawmakers to “please take note of these concerns and consider amending the legislation to address some of these underlying issues.” 

November 2020 pssnewsletter

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