CLT settlement bill passes unanimously

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On January 28, 2022, the 36th Guam Legislature passed Bill 229-36 with a unanimous 13-0 vote. Two senators were excused.

The bill was introduced to satisfy the conditions of a 2020 settlement between the federal government and the CHamoru Land Trust Commission. According to the US Department of Justice, the federal government alleged that the Senator Paul Bordallo Rules and Regulations for the Chamorro Land Trust Commission (CLT Law) “discriminates against non-Chamorros,” violating the Fair Housing Act.

The bill will also allow for $25 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to develop housing on CHamoru Land Trust Property.

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Status Quo

The CLT Law determines who is eligible for leases on Chamorro homeland. In total, it provides for 3 different types of leases: a residential lease, an agricultural lease, and a commercial lease.

Specifically, it provides any number of those leases to “Native Chamorros,” which the law defines as any person who was granted US citizenship through the Organic Act and their descendants.

According to Speaker Therese Terlaje, the sponsor for the bill, “The Court and the Department of Justice were willing to agree that the CHamoru Land Trust . . . is a restoration program.” In effect, the CLT Law provides justice to the CHamoru people whose land was taken from them after the war, many of whom lost their land to the federal government by eminent domain.

“During these settlement discussions, the history of Guam became very important,” said Terlaje. “The land-takings really became central to the discussions and . . . to the settlement.”

But the law as it’s written now violates the 14th Amendment, which ensures equal rights, privileges, and protections to all American citizens.

Changes to Language

The settlement bill also changes the language to the CLT Law. All mention of the word Chamorro that hasn’t been changed to beneficiary or eligible beneficiary has been changed to CHamoru, to reflect the current orthography of the CHamoru language.

The bill also replaces “Chamorro homeland” with “CHamoru Land Trust Property.”

Eligible Beneficiaries

According to the US Department of Justice, the Government of Guam agreed to stop “taking race and national origin into account in awarding the land leases.” They would award a lease on the land to anyone who had lost land to the federal government between 1898 and 1968.

Accordingly, a major change is that Bill 229-36 removes the term “Native Chamorro” entirely and replaces it with “eligible beneficiaries,” which the bill defines as “any person regardless of race, color, or national origin . . . whose land was acquired by the United States government between 1898 and 1968, or descendants of such person.” Another condition is that an eligible beneficiary must have occupied, farmed, or ranched on that land for at least a year.

The language, said Senator Chris Dueñas, who was the former President of the Guam Housing Corporation, would provide more leasing opportunities for the people of Guam. He said the CLT Law is restrictive. “Because of the terms and [Chamorro homeland] not being feasible property, it is difficult, if not impossible, for conventional loans,” he said.

Under the law’s definition of Native Chamorro, if a person with CHamoru ancestry had become a US citizen through naturalization and not the Organic Act, neither they nor their descendants would qualify for a lease on Chamorro homeland.

Furthermore, Dueñas argued that the settlement bill will enable many people to acquire mortgages for property on the CLT. He mentioned the public’s eagerness to move the bill forward so that Guam Housing and other loan institutions can “start to provide financing to people who can provide suitable homes on these properties that are resilient to peril.”

 

Below is Bill 229-36 in its entirety. Note that this is the bill before the amendment to include Senators Telo Taitague, Chris Dueñas, JoAnne Brown, Sabina Perez, Tony Ada, and Telena Nelson as co-sponsors:

Bill No. 229-36 (COR)