Legislature suspends discussion on local war claims bill

Senators of the 35th Guam Legislature voted to pass Substitute Bill No. 282-35 (LS) — the FY 2021 budget bill. (PNC file photo)

After spending much of the day going back and forth with Congressman Michael San Nicolas, the legislature has suspended discussion on the local war claims bill.

Senator Regine Biscoe Lee says they will respect the congressman’s request and rise out of the committee of the whole.

With continued tension in the air, Guam’s legislative and executive branches spoke with Congressman Michael San Nicolas over the phone today during committee of the whole on Bill 181-35 or the local war claims measure.

Speaker Tina Muña Barnes confronted San Nicolas over his concerns that the local legislation would jeopardize his efforts in Congress to pass H.R. 1365 to pay out adjudicated war claims to World War II survivors.

“I definitely believe that that’s never been the intent. I have in front of me proof of two Trump administration cabinet officials that say they are on board with our local initiative,” the Speaker said.

However, San Nicolas made it very clear about how he felt.

“If we add new variables at this time it changes the tenor of how everyone is perceiving things,” the congressman said.

Senator Telo Taitague also chimed in saying they have emails, which PNC was able to obtain, from Assistant Secretary of Insular and International Affairs Doug Domenech and Chief Counsel Paul Wolfteich from the U.S. Department of the Treasury saying they are still working with Guam to make war claims happen. She also questioned if San Nicolas had a letter saying Guam’s plan won’t work.

“Any kind of letter at all that you submitted to treasury, submitted to the legislature, submitted to department of the interior, about Bill 181? Yes or No?,” Taitague said.

In response, San Nicolas said: “Senator my only reference to a letter was letters from the interior and treasury supporting H.R. 1365 and my only statement is that there are no letters from treasury or the interior supporting Bill 181.”

San Nicolas stressed that if the legislature passes Bill 181, “we may compromise 1365 on a federal level.”

Senator Regine Biscoe Lee says she is well aware of how Congress works having spent time in the House and having been a Guam senator for over five years.

“I understand the difficulties and the challenges that you are encountering but my question to you is, should Bill 181 pass, will you sponsor language permitting this local reimbursement?” Lee asked.

San Nicolas responded: “With your experience in Congress, I would hope you would advise your colleagues that it is very unwise to pose that question. Trying to change directions on an issue that has a very clear path at this point is a very, very, very bad thing to do.”

Putting everything into perspective, Senator Therese Terlaje expressed her support for the congressman, but asked him how long Guam has to wait for the U.S. Senate?

“We want to support you but how long would you suggest that we, you know, if we can pay the manamko some of these claims, like in advance, how long do you suggest that we hold off on that so that we do not impede you efforts?” Terlaje asked.

San Nicolas responded: “I very much intend for this to happen as quickly as possible. And the passage of Bill 181 will create a whole new variable that will undoubtedly make it take longer.”