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New senators get to work on promised goals

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 by Ken Quintanilla

Guam - Four familiar faces joined the Guam Legislature this week and the new senators already have their priorities set. But they also come in at a time when there's been criticism of lawmakers and elected leaders who were the recent beneficiaries of raises and retro-pay. 

Senator Mary Torres says her priorities as a freshman senator range from restoring voter confidence along with seeing the evolution of Guam. She told KUAM News, "We clearly need to reexamine our self governance we've had the Organic Act of Guam for 65 years and we've had the same status in order to really take hold of your destiny, governance is crucial to that." 

Torres will serve as the minority whip for the GOP. Senator Nerissa Bretania-Underwood says her attention as a new senator will be on the cycle of poverty and the belief that everyone has the potential to success, noting, "The first generation initiative is primarily intended to promote success especially for those who are struggling, not only in the school system, but at the community at large." 

The former superintendent of education was tapped as the chair for early learning, juvenile justice, public education and first generation initiatives. And while he's not new to the legislature, Senator Frank Blas Jr. says his priority will be on improving the economy and the disparity on costs with the Compacts of Free Association. "And again, there's another opportunity maybe to be able to meld the two and find some way to be able to while reducing the amounts that are owed to us and reduce the burdens that we continue to have for our island," he said.

Blas served in the 29th to 31st Guam Legislature even serving once as minority leader. And rounding out the batch of new senators is Jim Espaldon, who like Blas, also has some experience having served in the 29th and 30th Guam Legislature. Espaldon declined an interview at this time but says his priority will be on "good public policy" whether it deal with the military buildup to the needs of government agencies along with looking back at bills that actually may be hampering the ability for agencies to function effectively. All four come in at a time when raises and retro-pay for elected leaders has raised controversy. So what are their thoughts on the matter and recent legislation to repeal it?

"With regards to the bill, I haven't seen it, and I would like to see what the merits are to it, and if there are merits, I for one, I'm not opposed to any increase in anybody's salaries," he said.

Bretania-Underwood says she is in favor of the intent, saying, "So I'm supportive of that bill, but that still has to go through the process and I am very interested in what the community has to stay further because I believe we should listen to the people when they voice their opinions about what we're doing here." 

She doesn't believe passing a bill relative to raises, especially during a lame-duck session was the best idea given its magnitude adding the retroactive payment portion was considered "a slap in the face" by constituents. Torres in the meantime says the retro-component is at the heart of what's aggravating most people. "And I know at the time I wasn't a senator, I found that extremely problematic given all the needs of our island, when you start to prioritize where resources ought to be placed, we have to be very truthful with our selves and a little more open minded to what the true needs of our community are," she said.

Torres also looks forward to the public hearing process adding the bill is not "cut and dry" as repealing raises may have some implications. Espaldon had no comment on the bill only saying there are a lot of factors to consider. All of the new senators say they will be introducing their first bills soon. 
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