VIDEO: Lawmakers Pass Bill 496 With ARRA Extension & Without Mental Health Provision

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Guam – During special session last night lawmakers voted down party lines with all 6 Republicans voting no on the override of bill 516. Afterward the override failed lawmakers passed bill 496 a measure previously introduced by Speaker Judi Won Pat that dealt with the ARRA funds.

The legislature received a lot of flack from the governor for passing bill 516 because it included provisions that had nothing to do with ARRA funding. The measure included a provision that de-appropriated money from mental health and re-appropriated it to the retirement fund as well as UOG and GCC in order to prevent raises in tuition. lawmakers believed that mental health didn’t need the funding anymore since the federal receivers have been removed.

However, the governor vetoed the bill saying that the money was still needed by mental health as mandated by the permanent injunction issued by the courts. The governor then called the legislature into special session in order to pass a measure that only dealt with the ARRA fund extension.

The legislature went into special session last night and attempted to override the veto but failed after all six Republicans voted no. Senators then voted on and passed a bill that Speaker Judi Won Pat had previously introduced bill 496. The speaker says this bill contains the ARRA funding language that the governor wants without the mental health funding provision. It also corrects a mistake in the budget bill that prevents all branches of government from hiring unclassified employees. The legislature is entirely staffed by unclassified employees and all judges are considered unclassified employees. The mistake was the omission of the word executive.

 “It just so happened that in drafting the bill the committee forgot to put that word in that word and that provision has been in previous budgets and all,” said Senator Frank Blas Jr. The Republican minority leader says that this omission probably happened because the budget bill was hastily put together. In fact one reason that he didn’t vote for the override is because bill 516 was hastily put together and not properly vetted. After receiving information from the governor’s office that the money for mental health could not be touched he decided to vote no on the override. “I’m not saying that it’s not possible down the future because now we have an opportunity in a separate piece of legislation if they so choose to be able to vet this out properly,” said Blas.

 Speaker Judi Won Pat also believes that the mental health funding could be looked at later. “I think that the best thing to do here is request that Senator Rodriguez hold a roundtable meeting specifically on that subject area and find out basically where the government is and where the court is at also on that particular funding because our understanding is that there are also additional monies that are there for mental health,” said Won Pat.

 Bill 496 also includes a provision that requires organizations that receive tourist attraction funds to provide ten hours of community service per every one thousand dollars that they receive. Speaker Won Pat says this was done in order to help out with this weekend’s Micronesian island fair which is currently seeking volunteers. “The third section was to address the language at least for these individual groups or non profit organizations and groups that have written to request some funding from the GVB for tourist attraction fund monies that they must provide some type of community service for the monies that they are receiving,” said Speaker Won Pat.

 The speaker believes that bill 496 will be more palatable to the governor. Even Republican Senator Blas believes that bill 496 accomplishes what is needed for ARRA funding without the provisions that the Governor objected to. “It does the job it addresses those issues that were time sensitive the other provisions while I believe that there can be a discussion was it time sensitive meaning that it had to be taken care of at the time that we had last week or is there something that we could’ve done over the next couple of weeks,” said Senator Blas.

 The Speaker says bill 496 also takes out a provision that authorizes the use of $5 million dollars in additional section 30 money that has yet to be appropriated. This is an appropriation that the Speaker says they will have to deal with later.