Senators hit lack of debate on local war claims bill

Guam lawmakers passed the Speaker's war claims bill by a vote of 12 to 3. But the opposition to the way the bill was passed without debate was bipartisan and cut across party lines.
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Governor Lou Leon Guerrero does not expect to sign the war claims bill until next week.

She hopes to get the first checks out to war survivors by the end of January and she defended the way Bill 181 was passed by the legislature last week, despite reservations voiced by a number of senators after the vote.

All of Guam’s senators have made it clear that they support the payment of war claims as soon as possible, including senators Mary Torres, James Moylan, and Louise Muna who voted against the revised war claims bill last Friday.

Following the 12 to 3 vote for Bill 181, a number of senators, even those who voted for the bill, rose to object to the manner in which it was put to a vote without debate leaving many questions unanswered.

Senator Mary Torres said there are many issues with the bill, beginning with the lifting of the local fund cap.

“And so many questions about how this claim is going to be administered locally. What will happen to the funds, for example, that are already held by the federal government? Why are some of us not entitled to get the information?” Sen. Torres asked.

Senator Telo Taitague said: “I pray that we as a body will work hard in the weeks and months ahead to restore public trust in this 35th Guam Legislature. And not to repeat what happened these past few days when transparency was not adhered to.”

And it was not just Republican senators. The opposition to the way the bill was passed without debate was bipartisan.

Democrat Senator Therese Terlaje said: “We stand here without the ability to look at an MOU that has supposedly been drafted or will be drafted or is promised to be drafted. We still have not been able to see that. In denying debate on Bill 181, the legislature has really taken a departure from its own rules.”

Democrat Sen. Sabina Perez said: “I have the solemn responsibility to provide accountability to how our people’s money is spent. I would be remiss if I didn’t feel we lost the opportunity to create a better bill. Had we had more opportunities for discussion, we might have been able to make the changes to the bill to create more accountability.”

The governor has defended the passage of the bill, saying senators gave her office a list of questions about the provisions in Bill 181 and they were all answered, without the need for further debate

“The leadership felt that there was no need to do that because they’d done that. And so Speaker Tina Muna Barres, with her leadership, was very clear that she wanted it to be moved to the third reading file so that it could be voted on and that’s what happened,” the governor said.

Speaker Tina Muna Barnes said: “Congressman San Nicolas, I have to believe and I know that you will keep fighting for passage of H.R. 1365 and I sincerely pray that by January, when you come to this chamber, you will be able to report back some positive news.”

Democrat Sen. Therese Terlaje said: “I don’t want to name names, but definitely, it’s very obvious, that it seems to be a political battle between persons in our congressman’s office, our governor’s office and here in the legislature.”