Senators discuss Bill 174 - KUAM.com-KUAM News: On Air. Online. On Demand.

Senators discuss Bill 174

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by Sabrina Salas Matanane

Guam - Senators went into another legislative session just before 9:30 Saturday morning, but instead of discussing a proposed fiscal year 2014 budget, Senator Rory Respicio moved to add Bill 174 to the agenda. The Bill makes appropriations for medical and dental insurance premiums for employees of the executive and legislative branches and retirees of GovGuam. Bill 174 was introduced and co–sponsored by all 8 democrat senators. Republican Senator Chris Duenas objected to adding the bill to the agenda, because he said he just received it and did not have the opportunity to review it. Speaker Won Pat however said she had already gaveled it in. Discussion would follow on the legislation.

According to Section 1 of Bill 174 the Legislature criticizes the Governor's decision to contract with the non–exclusive healthcare insurance proposal for government of Guam employees and retirees stating it is "not the most economical and beneficial insurance plan". Section 1 also  references a Memo from the Government of Guam Health Insurance Negotiating Team to the Legislature which indicated the exclusive healthcare insurance proposal offered government of Guam savings of $18.7 million as compared to the non–exclusive healthcare insurance proposal savings of approximately $1 million. The bill states the Legislature finds the Governor's decision an injustice to the government of Guam employees and retirees. Lawmakers deleted Section 1.

The bill however proposes using the $18.7 million from the savings from the exclusive plan to pay for other "government operations such as education, health, and public safety as well as for Hay Study pay increases and Cost of Living Allowances for government of Guam retirees," the Bill states. We should note according to the bill, a major portion of the savings $16.6 million would go to the Government of Guam Retirement Fund to pay for retiree group medical and dental insurance premiums.

Senator Duenas said that the bill might be a good idea, but the problem is that the bill did not have a public hearing and also raised the issue of the separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches of government, "this is an attempt I think to interject the Legislature into a negotiation that was comprised of a negotiating team, evaluated sent to the Lt. Governor and eventually to the Governor for his concurrence... we don't even have a contract that's been executed," stated Duenas.  Senator Duenas also raised the issue that the negotiating team was sworn to non disclosure and was concerned about the disclosure of the numbers that were included in the bill. He was hoping to resolve into the Committee of the Whole and call the Attorney General as well as representatives from the Calvo Administration.

Vice Speaker BJ Cruz said they were not overstepping their bounds. "What we're doing here is doing what the legislative function is, appropriating the amount we believe and can and should be spent for health insurance," he stated. The Vice Speaker added the numbers came from a memo signed by the Department of Administration that was sent to the Governor which he used as the basis for his announcement," he added.

When Senator Tony Ada spoke on the floor he said "we haven't even passed a budget yet and we're already appropriating." Like Senator Duenas he was concerned that he along with the public weren't given the opportunity to thoroughly review the bill, "We were called for session at 9 o'clock and the bill was introduced at 9:02, what kind of transparency is that."

Senator Michael San Nicolas said the bill was part of the budget process, and is "setting us on the road to compromise." He added their basic function is to appropriate "let's stop the gamesmanship on whether we have the legal authority to appropriate."

Senator Rory Respicio meanwhile recognized the retirees that are at the Legislature this morning watching session from the public hearing room. He would later raise his voice and address his colleagues "I'm sick and tired of the separation of powers doctrine... are you going to let the governor dictate when you sit and when you stand are you not ashamed, colleagues are you not ashamed, enough is enough!"

He also said that the bill does not tell the governor to go with the exclusive contract but instead appropriates the money.

As lawmakers  continued debate on Bill 174, Adelup sent a press release to media stating lawmakers are in session, not discussing the budget, but returning to a "three–year old political attack on the Governor: health insurance."

The press release went on to state:

'Bill No. 174 is an interesting twist to the three–year–old political attack on Governor Calvo. For three years, certain Democrats have attacked the Governor for the exclusive health insurance option. Last year, Governor Calvo was prepared to respond by choosing the multiple insurance carriers option. The Legislature interfered with the procurement process in the middle of last year's negotiations, and the entire process was thrown into protest before the Governor could choose the multiple carrier option.  This year, the health insurance negotiating team was able to complete the process, and the Governor did choose the non–exclusive option... providing employees and retirees with a choice among three insurance companies in the upcoming Fiscal Year 2014.  For some strange reason  the very same critics who for three years have been advocating for choice are now advocating to protect the interest of  one insurance company. "

The Governor's Legal Counsel has issued a Freedom of Information Act request to the budget chairman requesting public correspondence between him and the Office of Finance and Budget director with a certain insurance company. However they have not received a response.

Adelup meanwhile responds to Majority Leader Rory Respicio claim that the Legislature is not mandating the Governor choose an exclusive option for insurance. The Governor’s office argues however the new budget bill only appropriates enough money for the exclusive contract, effectively cutting the multiple carrier option from employees and retirees.

Contract negotiations are already underway for a multi-carrier plan. Notices of award have already been given to these three insurance companies.  Interrupting this process is more than just bad faith negotiating, but also in clear violation of procurement laws. This sets the stage for another year of protests just one month before the new fiscal year will start with a new plan year for health insurance,” a press release stated.

Just before one ‘clock Saturday afternoon the bill passed by a vote of 8-6 straight down party lines. Senator Dennis Rodriguez, Jr. was absent. Senators are in recess and will go back into session at 2 o’clock.

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