$5.9M recycler retro payout fails after Terlaje tirade

Acting Speaker Therese Terlaje (D) and Sen. Mike San Nicolas

Guam – After hours of special panel testimony and heated discussion on the senate floor, the 34th Legislature has defeated a measure that would have paid a local recycler nearly $6 million retroactively, 20 years after the company completed a government waste-hauling job.

Bill No. 350-34 (COR) went down by a vote of nine to four. The nine who voted down the proposal include the following:

  • (1) Sen. Tom Ada (D) – NAY
  • (2) Sen. Frank Aguon, Jr. (D) – NAY
  • (3) Sen. Jim Espaldon  (R) – NAY
  • (4) Sen. Fernando Esteves (R) – PASS/NAY
  • (5) Sen. Regine Biscoe Lee (D) – NAY
  • (6) Sen. Tommy Morrison (R) – NAY
  • (7) Sen. Telena Nelson (D) – PASS/NAY
  • (8) Sen. Therese Terlaje (D) – NAY
  • (9) Sen. Mary Torres (R) – NAY

Here are the other votes:

  • Sen. Wil Castro (R) – AYE
  • Sen. Louise Muna (R) – EXCUSED
  • *Sen. Dennis Rodriguez, Jr. (D) – AYE
  • *Sen. Joe San Agustin (D) – AYE
  • Sen. Michael San Nicolas (D) – PASS/AYE

*Note: asterisked senators were the sponsor and co-sponsor of Bill No. 350-34 (COR), respectively.

Senatorial tempers flared at the legislature when Committee of the Whole Acting Chairman Mike San Nicolas (D) gaveled down Acting Speaker Therese Terlaje (D) over a controversial pending payout from Guam EPA to a recycler about 20 years after a debris removal job was done.

The 34th Legislature had reconvened by early Wednesday evening to take up voting on more bills before sine die. Following more than three hours of Q&A with a special panel on Tuesday, Bill No. 350-34 (COR), legislation to finally pay the Ko’ku Recycling company $5.9 million rapidly approached a vote . And it was up to senators whether to pay or withhold.

“Acting Speaker, you are recognized on an amendment to Bill 350,” Acting Chairman San Nicolas told Sen. Terlaje.

“It’s very hard to pass an amendment right now, because we only have eight people here, and it’s very clear where their allegiances are lying, but I would like to ask…” Terlaje said before being interrupted by San Nicolas’ gavel.

“Acting Speaker, you will refrain from making comments about our colleagues in such a manner,” San Nicolas said.

“Mr. Chair, you have cut me off from asking questions of the panel, you’ve cut me off from the middle of my questions…” Terlaje continued. But San Nicolas gaveled again.

“You will not recess until the rest of the members are here, so…” Terlaje said.

The fireworks came halfway through the reconvening of session Tuesday, after senators had returned from lunch and the panel Q&A was drawing to a close. It all started off calmly enough.

“Motion fails,” San Nicolas had said earlier when a motion by Terlaje failed to garner enough support for a third round  of questioning before the panel departed. “We will conclude the question segment of this panel,” San Nicolas added.

After an exhausting day of inquiry, the Committee of the Whole had heard enough and wouldn’t be asking anything further of the panel for the time being.

“Thank you all very much for taking time to be with us all day today,” San Nicolas said to the excused panel of lawyers and specialists that had been brought in Tuesday for questioning about the proposed lease amendment.

“The floor is open, Senator San Agustin, if you’d like to have any amendments or discussion,” San Nicolas continued.

“The bill recommends–or authorizes and recommends–the CLTC to change the lease or the agreement they have and identifies a source of funding to pay it,” Sen. Joe San Agustin said, offering a brief summary of the legislation that he had co-sponsored.

And that about sizes up what was then before the Committee: whether Guam Environmental Protection Agency’s Recycling Revolving Fund must foot the bill for an almost $6 million-dollar debt to Ko’ku Recycling for removing and shipping away boatloads of old tires, junk cars, and metallic waste about two decades ago. The lease had originally designated Chamorro Land Trust lands as temporary scrapyards for waste collection.

After the panel departed, the ranks of the legislature thinned out, arguably making it harder to ratchet up the votes needed to amend, eviscerate, or kill the bill.

For senators set to vote, ayes and nays were likely to hinge on whether each lawmaker truly believes that they and their colleagues are within their authority to amend and approve an agreement between the recycler and the recycler’s scrapyard landlords at the Chamorro Land Trust in order to legalize the payout.

“And, as we’ve heard, that may be the point of contention on the separation of powers issue,” Sen. Dennis Rodriguez (D), the bill’s primary sponsor, said. “So if there’s a move to strike that, then I won’t object to that.”

“I don’t believe that we should be in the business of doing that without a court order, ordering that the Government of Guam is liable without at least–at the very least–an attorney general’s opinion stating that this is an obligation on behalf of the government of Guam,” Terlaje said.

Terlaje had more choice words for anyone who would support the legislation without awaiting an opinion from the Attorney General’s Office, much less a court order. Her full speech can be seen here. Terlaje’s speech begins at 36:52.