Guam - After moving Bill 87 to the third reading file during session earlier today, Senators then began debate on Bill 19. The legislation authored by Senators Chris Duenas and Tommy Morrison would allow the Department of Revenue and Taxation to take on the role of the dormant Gaming Control Commission and assess an interim tax on all Gross Receipts Tax from all gaming activities in Guam that don't have a specific tax rate. The revenue from the tax would go to things like improving the island's sports facilities.
During debate on the legislation, Senator Michael San Nicolas introduced an amendment to provide clarity once and for all on the position of the body on the issue of gaming. Senator San Nicolas' amendment would illegalize all forms of gaming on Guam.
Senator Michael Limtiaco asked his colleagues whether they were prepared to go down this road expressing concerns about what impact the amendment would have on nonprofit groups that utilize certain gaming activities to raise funds.
Senator Aline Yamashita spoke on the amendment saying there are several non-profit organizations on island and to unilaterally say it's illegal is not fair and not the right way to do this, " I don't believe totally eradicating gaming is the way to go," she stated.
Senator Tom Ada didn't support the amendment either saying it would force the community into a life of deception because people will find a way to gamble if that's what they want to do. He suggested instead focusing on providing parameters such as limiting the hours of operation for gaming parlors similar to how bars are regulated.
Senator Ben Pangelinan and Vice Speaker BJ Cruz meanwhile were in support of the San Nicolas amendment citing the five gambling initiatives the people of Guam voted down in the last several general elections. Vice Speaker BJ Cruz also reminded his colleagues that it is not the responsibility of non-profit groups to raise money to take care of the needs of our community but rather the Legislature's responsibility to find revenue to address the island's problems.
The vote on the amendment was 8-7 in favor. Here's the breakdown of the votes:
Tom Ada: No
Tony Ada: No
Frank Aguon, Jr: Yes
BJ Cruz: Yes
Chris Duenas: Yes
Mike Limtiaco: No
Brant McCreadie: No
Tommy Morrison: Yes
Tina Muna Barnes: Yes
Ben Pangelinan: Yes
Rory Respicio: No
Dennis Rodriguez, Jr. No
Michael San Nicolas: Yes
Judi Won Pat Yes
Aline Yamashita No
Following the vote an emotional Sen. Tina Muna Barnes said she didn't support gambling but that they were playing with people's lives, "there's a bigger picture that we have to look at, I didn't know we were going to do this." She said there were unintended consequences bigger than all of them there, "I just got called saying what are you doing to us, to the funding source we need to run these programs?" Senator Barnes said she was getting texts coming in and made a motion to reconsider the vote. She was the only lawmaker to change her vote. The result was 7-8 which meant the San Nicolas amendment eventually failed.
Senator Dennis Rodriguez, Jr. then had the floor and introduced an amendment to merge language in his substitute Bill 20 into Bill 19 currently before lawmakers. Bill 20 would tax gaming devices that were subject of a few year lawsuit (that was recently dismissed) and divert the revenue to the Guam Memorial Hospital. Senator Rodriguez said the funding source in both measures were the same accept that his bill was being suppressed. He also responded to critics that claimed Bill 20 would legitimize gaming devices. Senator Rodriguez said they were already legitimized when many legislature's ago the body amended the $25 licensing fee to $500. He also said that it was no secret that the authors of the bills have had discussion to merge the two bills because it does the same thing, "it taxes gaming devices and diverts it to specific causes," Sen. Rodriguez stated.
Sen. Ben Pangelinan rose to a point of order stating he didn't think Sen. Rodriguez's amendment is germane to Bill 19. Speaker Won Pat recessed for a few minutes. When session resumed they broke for dinner and are scheduled to return at around 7 o'clock this evening.