House rejects Senate version of Northern Islands homestead bill

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THE House of Representatives on Tuesday rejected the Senate version of a House bill regarding homestead lots in the Northern Islands.

All the 19 House members present voted to reject House Bill 21-43, which will now be referred to a House-Senate conference committee that will draft a new version of the measure acceptable to both chambers.

Authored by Rep. Joel Camacho, House Bill 21-43 aims to “provide proper eligibility for people who wish to avail [themselves] of the village and agricultural homesteading programs under the Department of Public Lands.”

Co-sponsored by Speaker Blas Jonathan Attao, Reps. Ivan Blanco, Luis John Castro, Jose Itibus, and Marco Peter, the measure is for former residents of the Northern Islands who “have long expressed their desire in relocating…to the beautiful and pristine islands in the north to establish a home for themselves and their…loved ones.”

The House version of the bill stated that Northern Islands homestead applicants currently residing or have resided in the Northern Islands must be registered to vote in the Northern Islands elections or must have resided in the Northern Islands for at least 45 days prior to the application.

The Senate amended the measure by removing the five-year residency and three-year voting requirement.

Camacho expressed concerns about the changes that the Senate made, adding that he supports the creation of a bicameral conference committee.

Rep. Sheila Babauta said it is very urgent to support the Northern Islands residents’ plea to resettle in their homes, but she also supports the move to refer the measure to the conference committee.

In other news

The House on Tuesday passed the Senate version of H.B. 21-27, which would exempt alcoholic beverages manufactured for home or personal consumption from license requirements.

The Senate struck out the proposed exemptions for sacramental wines or those used in religious rites, and those carried by persons who entered the CNMI for the first time.

In addition, the House approved H.B. 21-28, which would prohibit the importation, sale and distribution of sunscreen containing oxybenzone and octinoxate without prescription.

The bill was amended by the Senate to include the recommendations of the Attorney General’s Office and the Division of Coastal Resources Management pertaining to the deadline to import banned sunscreen lotions; the establishment of the ban on June 1, 2021; and the designation of the Department of Commerce as the enforcement authority.

Moreover, the House passed H.B. 21-60 to establish the CNMI Cultural Masters Award. The bill includes a Senate amendment that aims to “further strengthen” the intent of the legislation.

These three bills now go to the governor.

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