Community member concerned about ‘annexation’ of Garapan

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CONCERNED citizen Liana S. Hofschneider on Thursday expressed her opposition to House Bill 21-68 and House Local Bill 21-35, both authored by Rep. Ivan A. Blanco.

H.B. 21-68 proposes “to allow senatorial districts to enact laws and regulations to establish within its own district the community improvement districts or CIDs,” while H.L.B. 21-35 would “establish a Special Improvement District in the Third Senatorial District.”

The bill was referred to the House Standing Committee on Judiciary and Governmental Operations, and was later passed by the House and then transmitted to the Senate.According to H.B. 21-68, “The purpose of establishing CIDs is to improve the community through infrastructure investment and creating conditions that attract new growth. CIDs may include capital improvements, beautification, community safety, business retention, and economic development,” the bill reads.

The Senate referred the bill to its Committee on Judiciary, Government, Law and Federal Relations, which met on three separate occasions to discuss the legislation.

The Senate committee received written comments from Tinian Mayor Edwin P. Aldan, the 17th Rota Municipal Council, the 17th Tinian Municipal Council, Attorney General Edward Manibusan, and Saipan Chamber of Commerce president Velma Palacios.

After deliberations, the Senate committee recommended the passage of the bill with amendments. It was passed unanimously in both Houses and it now goes to the governor.

But community member Liana Hofschneider on Thursday said House Bill 21-68 and House Local Bill 21-35 violate Article 12 of the Commonwealth Constitution, which places restrictions on alienation of land.

Hofschneider said H.L.B. 21-35 “not only proposes to establish a special improvement district, but the intent of this legislation is to annex Garapan, and to levy tax from the property owners within the scope of ‘special improvement district.’”

She added, “This 51-page proposed annexation legislation is littered with annexing jargon from real property tax, levying of tax, levying of fees, and conditions such as a written notice to the landowner that will impose severe hardship to the landowner and some land lessors with the ultimate goal of dispossessing the people [of] their land and property.”

Hofschneider noted that both the bill and the local bill intend to transform Garapan into something similar to Waikiki in Honolulu, Hawai’i, which, she said, “is very disturbing,” adding that the annexation of indigenous land is “callous and colonial.”

“We don’t want to be like Hawai’i and we don’t want to be like our neighbor…Guam,” she added.

Speaker Blas Jonathan Attao said that the House JGO Committee and the Saipan and Northern Islands Legislative Delegation had just received H.L.B. 21-35, and the committee will schedule public hearing dates for the legislation.

For his part, Blanco said, "I value and appreciate the comments shared during the session from members of the public. They help shape legislation and policy. Comments were made on the…bill, which we passed, that raised concerns that language might be inserted to peel away the protection set forth in Article 12. But that is not the intent of H.L.B. 21-35.”

He added, “The bill is in the SNILD JGO Committee for research and to solicit further comments. Its intent is to allow landowners, lessees, lessors, the mayor's office, and the Saipan & Northern Islands Municipal Council the opportunity to create a Special Improvement District to allow for improvements to roads, sewer, buildings, safety, attractions, and other benefits in specific areas, such as Garapan Business Core.”

He said the “provisions in this bill were modeled after Waikiki's Improvement District Ordinance. There is no language in the bill that would inadvertently peel away the protections set forth in Article 12. Our legal counsels will continue to review the draft bill, and I welcome other counsels in the community and the general public to provide their input as well. Comments can be addressed to SNILD JGO Committee Chair Rep. Joel Camacho referencing H.L.B. 21-35."



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