- By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
As of end of May, Guam senators have introduced 103 bills and 137 resolutions. “This single metric alone tells me the legislature has way too much time on its hands,” said Ken Leon-Guerrero, speaking for the Citizens for Public Accountability.
Some of the bills don’t go past the introduction phase. Others may be publicly heard but are not guaranteed to hit the floor or get squeezed into the voting file. Historically, only about half of the total number of bills stay in the drainer. But that is not a damper for lawmakers, who gauge their relevance by their prolificacy.
And if you’re keeping tabs on this factory, you’d realize some of the bills are redundant. Consider Bill 29-34, which would require “that gaming activities authorized during village fiestas be conducted within the legal boundaries of the respective village.” You would think this is a matter of effectively enforcing an existing law.
Some seem like power trip measures, designed to micromanage every agency. Bill 23-34, for example, seeks to establish “operational continuity plans for each agency of the government of Guam.” A sad indictment of how our government works, if indeed agencies operate fleetingly.
In the same category — albeit quite idiosyncratic — Bill 48-34 proposes to allow “administrative leave for employees of the government of Guam for the purpose of donating organs, tissue and bone marrow.” Sounds like fine print lurking in an insurance policy. If you’re donating one of your fingers, you’re not eligible for admin leave. The irony of expanding the law is that it limits its scope.
There are five proposed bills related to fixing the Simon Sanchez High School— ranging from funding strategies to converting it into a charter school—as if the legislature is a bazaar where senators hawk different ideas from separate stalls.
No wonder Sens. Tommy Morrison and Fernando Estevez wish to see less of their colleagues. Morrison and Estevez are proponents of Bill 60-34, the Citizens’ Legislature Act, which would shift the legislature to a part-time gig with a monthly $1,000 stipend for lawmakers, plus $140 for every session day.
Those who testified at a public hearing backed this proposal for its obvious merits. Senators would get paid less, and the money can be reprogrammed to other services. Prior to the salary rollback, senators were each making $85,000 a year; the rate has rolled back to $55,000.
People don’t think a full-time house is needed to complete the job necessary to keep the government effective and efficient. Consider the government boards, which have clearly delineated tasks that leave no room for distractions.
In a part-time legislature, the limited period to do the people’s business will create a sense of exigency. Senators will be compelled to prioritize and focus on issues that are more pressing than “clarifying standards for riding in the bed of a pickup truck” or “expediting the production of special recognition veterans license plates.” They will have less time to nanny the public. And frankly, Guam will not fall apart if people don’t receive congratulatory resolutions.
“The time constraints could be adjusted so that the focus is only on essential tasks such as a passing a budget, passing legislation and appointments, and oversight,” said former Sen. Michael Limtiaco. He filed the same bill when he was in the legislature, noting that “there was significant amount of time spent on what I believe were non-essential tasks.”
Besides shifting to a part-time legislature, extending the senators’ term from two to four years —as proposed in Bill 92-34— may not be a bad idea; it would allow continuity and reduce the disruptive political campaigns that come with costly elections every two years.
Knowing that their colleagues aren’t going to kill their own golden goose, Sens. Morrison and Estevez are wise enough to file an accompanying measure, Bill 61-34, that would let the voters decide in a referendum. Credit goes to both senators for having the fortitude to revive and push the part-time legislature — an idea that makes career politicians frown.