San Nicolas: Local war claims bill flawed; no action yet on H.R. 1365

Congressman Michael San Nicolas (PNC file photo)

Guam Congressman Michael San Nicolas believes that the local war claims bill approved Friday by Guam lawmakers is flawed “because it has no statutory authorization for GovGuam to actually cut checks.”

In response to a request for comment on the bill’s passage, San Nicolas told the Pacific News Center that Speaker Tina Muna Barnes’ Bill 181 “has the exact same fatal flaw” as the original war claims bill introduced by former delegate Madeleine Bordallo.

Like Bordallo’s bill, San Nicolas says Bill 181 is “a local mirror image of the exact mistakes in the (World War II Loyalty Recognition Act)) that I am trying to fix.”

In response, Speaker Barnes’ policy advisor, Chirag Bhojwani, told the Pacific News Center that “Section §11301 of the final engrossed version of Bill 181 addresses that problem.”

That section deals with the creation of the Guam Liberation War Claims Fund. Bhojwani said he could not elaborate further.

Although the legislature’s website shows that a “Substitute Bill 181” has now been posted, Bhojwani said that is not the final engrossed version that remains under review.

Governor Lou Leon Guerrero has said that she intends to sign Bill 181, but she has not yet done so.

“The measure has yet to be transmitted,” said the administration’s policy director Carlo Branch. “We wish the Congressman a very Merry Christmas. For months now we have hoped that HR 1365 would become law. That hope continues—this time in January of 2020.”

In a statement following passage of the bill Friday, the governor said she stands “firmly behind this local effort, which we believe complements the work of our Washington Delegate.”

“Next, we will work quickly with the Department of Treasury to execute a Memorandum of Understanding and get our manåmko’ paid,” said the governor.

However, San Nicolas maintains that “an MOU cannot grant that authority.”

He says if he had been allowed “to weigh in” on Bill 181 last week, he would have pointed that out and the problem “could have been avoided.”

The revised and still unpublished final version of Bill 181 was advanced to the voting file without debate last Wednesday and approved by lawmakers on Friday by a vote of 12 to 3.

Only senators Mary Torres, James Moylan, and Louise Muna voted against it — all of whom said they support war claims, but not the manner in which the bill was amended without debate.

Bordallo’s flawed bill

The Guam World War II Loyalty Recognition Act was passed in 2017. It authorizes the Justice Department’s Foreign Claims Settlement Commission to award reparation payments to the survivors of the Japanese occupation of Guam in World War II. The bill relies on Guam’s own annual Section 30 reimbursement as a funding source.

However, Bordallo neglected to include a provision in her bill that authorizes the U.S. Department of the Treasury to issue the checks.

She never revealed that flaw in her 2018 campaign for re-election which she lost to San Nicolas.

San Nicolas only discovered the flaw in Bordallo’s bill when he took office in January and he subsequently introduced H.R. 1365 to correct Bordello’s mistake.

H.R. 1365 not law yet

However flawed the Speaker’s and Bordallo’s bills may be, San Nicolas’ own war claims correction bill has not yet been passed by the U.S. Senate. Congress has adjourned for the Christmas holidays until Jan. 3.

H.R. 1365 cleared the U.S. House in June and was assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

On Dec. 10, San Nicolas announced that H.R. 1365 had cleared the Judiciary Committee and was headed to the Senate floor with no objections and the “current mood is favorable.”

“A favorable outcome in the Senate is likely to occur soon,” said San Nicolas in a release Sunday announcing his introduction of H.R.5526, a bill to authorize a non-voting delegate for each U.S. territory in the Senate.

He suggests that “the lack of Senate representation” has prevented his war claims bill from being passed sooner.

“If we had a U.S. Senator, we could have had a mirror version of H.R. 1365 moving through the Senate at the same time, helping the process to move even faster,” said the congressman.