Lawmakers discuss a plethora of bills in today's legislative ses - KUAM.com-KUAM News: On Air. Online. On Demand.

Lawmakers discuss a plethora of bills in today's legislative session

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by Ken Quintanilla GUAM -

 Lawmakers spent the entire morning and most of the afternoon discussing one measure -- Bill 100, relative to requiring the deposit of unclaimed or unpaid tax refund checks into the Income Tax Refund Reserve Fund. Specifically, it was an amendment proffered by Senator Tina Muna Barnes to use 3.6 million dollars to be disbursed to the Department of Administration for computer system upgrades, to Rev and Tax for real property revaluation, to pay merit bonuses for the judiciary and to Guam police for police vehicles. After lengthy debate, that amendment was eventually withdrawn leading lawmakers to add a list of other bills to the agenda.

It all started with Senator Rory Respicio.  

"Before we discuss Bill 132, I move to place Bill 20-32 as substituted by the committee on health and human services, health insurance reform, economic development and senior citizens at the top at the second reading file" the senator added.  

Substituted Bill 20 authored by Senator Dennis Rodriguez Jr. would tax gaming devices that were the subject of a five year old lawsuit that was dismissed earlier this year and revert the revenue to the Guam Memorial Hospital. And from there, it opened up a can of worms rather bills to be introduced on session agenda as well.  

"Mr. Speaker I move that Bill 19 as substituted by the author to the second reading file. It has a committee report and everything is complete in regard to putting it on the floor" Senator Chris Duenas chimed.  

"On behalf of one of my colleagues I move to place Bill 87-32 as substituted and just for information of the public this is relative to implementing a limited helmet law" Frank Aguon Jr added.  

Bill  19 would allow the director of Rev and Tax to take on the role of the dormant gaming control commission and assess an interim 20 percent tax on all GRT from all gaming activities in Guam that don't have a specific tax rate. Specifically it aims to tax the GNOC bingo lottery. Bill 87 meanwhile is authored by Senator Tommy Morrison.

But it didn't stop there, Senator Ben Pangelinan wanted to include three more measures that were all vetoed by Governor Calvo -- Bill 64 related to licensing of service contracts sold on Guam, Bill 9 relating to the QC review board and Bill 81 regarding health insurance. Evidently, lawmakers were pressed for time.  

"And we're up against time, because we can't meet past 10 oclock and I will tell you, Madam Speaker and if I need to remind you, as president of APIL and we have to be at that presentation and if time runs out on us, then we won't be able to get to these bills" Senator Tina Muna Barnes warned.  

Senator Tina Muna Barnes ultimately put three measures on the agenda as well. Bill 121, 124 and 122 were all added but eventually removed from the agenda. Lawmakers hinted at possibly meeting late this evening to discuss all the added agenda items as well as vote on close to two dozen measures discussed throughout this week. 

About a half hour ago, Senator Dennis Rodriguez, Jr implied that several bills were added on to the agenda after Bill 20 was added to suppress discussion on his bill. Immediately after he made that comment, there was a motion to refer Bill 20 back to committee, the motion failed.   Senator Ben Pangelinan then rose to a point of order noting the substituted version of Bill 20 is not germane to the original bill. After meeting in recess and going over the standing rules, Speaker Judi Won Pat agreed and ruled on its non-germaness.   

Rodriguez then proceeded to overrule the speaker's ruling saying both the original and substituted versions had a public hearing as a way of being open and transparent to the public. He further reiterated that the obstructions to the bill are an attempt to suppress discussion on Bill 20. He said it was important to move forward on the measure to clarify a lot of the "lies and untrue statements made in the public" about the bill adding it was "condemned and demonized".  

The matter to overrule the speaker's decision on the non-germaness was put to vote and failed short one with a vote of 7-yes, 7-no and one excused absence. With Bill 20 now out, Senator Rodriguez proceeded to move forward with Bill 132 - considered his second alternative to the original Bill 20 in addressing GMH's debt. Bill 132 expands the borrowing ability of the hospital by pledging two million dollars annually in compact impact money to pay a loan of up to 13 million dollars that GMH is already authorized to obtain through public law introduced in the 30th Guam Legislature.

After lengthy debate on Biill 132, it was eventually sent to the third reading file. Immediately thereafter, Senator Rory Respicio raised a point of order saying not-withstanding the house rules, that substitute Bill 20 be reconsidered once again by calling for another vote to overrule the speaker's ruling on the bill's non-germaness.    

Speaker Judi Won Pat however ruled Respicio out of order where debate and accusations ensued.  

"Madam Speaker, your job as speaker is not to be abstinent," Respicio said.  

Won Pat responded telling Respicio he can't keep going back and forth on the agreed upon agenda.

  "I am trying to move forward in bills and it's almost, five till eight and we have not even recessed for dinner," Won Pat said.     

Respicio however says despite trying to move forward on bills, the speaker's rulings have instead been just the opposite saying he's disheartened that the speaker is using her position to suppress.    

"Your rulings have been to suppress discussion on certain bills that have properly been placed on the agenda, so I believe that my motion not withstanding is in order that we reconsider the actions of the body with respect to the vote taken," Respicio said.  

He further argued that anytime a member makes a not-withstanding motion, it generally waves any rule that would prevent a motion from being made.  

Speaker Won Pat disagreed saying she was not abusing her position.  

"I think we're abusing the not-withstanding provision that's what it is, and why have rules when we're constantly throwing everything out, there's the not-withstanding clause," she said.  

"And you just conveniently decide NOW that we've overused the not-withstanding provision," Respicio responded. 


"No, I think we have to consider the use of that not-withstanding, that we can't just use it frivolously," Won Pat shot back.  

And after recessing for half an hour in which Won Pat further reviewed mason rules, Won Pat proceeded by trying to continue on with bills in the second reading file and once finished she would recognize the majority leader on his motion.  

However, that didn't satisfy Respicio who felt that decision did not dispose of what should happen next procedurally relative to his motion. He asked Won pat to recognize the procedures and moved to overrule the decision of the speaker.  

While Speaker Judi Won Pat tried to move on with the agenda and recognize Bill 87's author senator Tommy Morrison, Respicio would not budge saying the actions of Won Pat were unprecedented.   Won Pat responded saying what actually is unprecedented is what Respicio is doing.  

"And I think to be fair with everyone here, and everyone's waiting here to have their bills heard and we don't want to stay too late, I made a motion to remove three of MY bills so that then we can hear all of the other bills," Won Pat said.

She reiterated that proceeding with bills in the second file first did not mean she would not recognize Respicio's motion later. Respicio however further accused Won Pat of allowing filibustering on two other measures prior.  

After going past 8 o'clock on Friday evening, Speaker Judi Won Pat recessed until Saturday morning at 9am.

 

Anti-gambling group Keep Guam Good's Jackie Marati issued the following statement after tonight's debate on Bill 20:

 "Like other elected officials, the 32nd Guam Legislature is ignoring Guam's elected Attorney General and intending to act on Bill 20 tomorrow morning. Will the 32nd act against the people's will and vote for special interests?"


Senators need to be reminded that they work for the people.

 

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