DPHSS: Legislature already has the power to end a public health emergency

Department of Public Health and Social Services director Art San Agustin (PNC photo)

The Legislature passed Bill 11-36 by a narrow vote on Monday.

That’s the bill that would require the governor to seek permission from the Legislature to extend a public health emergency.

Guam Public Health director Art San Agustin shared his thoughts on the bill Tuesday morning during an interview with Newstalk K57’s Patti Arroyo.

He said he thinks the bill is unnecessary.

The main reason he gave is that the Legislature already has the power to terminate a public health emergency.

Under Article 4, Chapter 19, Title 10 of the Guam Code Annotated, under the section entitled Termination of Declaration, it says that the Legislature can terminate a public health emergency by majority vote if it determines that the public health emergency is over.

Under the law, a termination by the Legislature would override a renewal by the governor.

San Agustin said that contrary to the title of the bill — which is called the “Restoration of Separation of Powers Act” — a separation of powers already exists.

The governor has called the bill a blatant power play by the Republicans.

San Agustin said he hopes that the Legislature won’t override the governor’s veto because even though Guam’s COVID numbers have been good, the public health emergency is far from over.

He said the governor is doing a good job and the current system is working.

San Agustin contrasted the bill with the help the federal government has provided local jurisdictions during the pandemic.

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“They were doing everything they can to assist local government and agencies respond, and not be overly concerned about having to submit a report, and they would say ‘The report, you can extend it, we’re going to give you an automatic extension,’ so people could focus on the crisis. And I say that in relation to that, we should be supporting our public health emergency and not putting up a step that would be subject to legislative review,” San Agustin said.

The next step for the bill is for it to be sent to the governor for her signature.

It’s expected that she’ll veto the bill.

Ten senators would be needed to vote to override the governor’s veto.

The bill passed Monday by a vote of 8 to 7.