Guam Legislature votes 12-3 to pass war claims bill
WWII survivors , whose claims have been adjudicated, are likely to receive their compensation through Bill 181, which would tap the government of Guam's general fund. File photo by Pacific Island Times
Guam senators on Friday voted 12-3 to pass the substitute version of Bill 181-35, which would establish a 75th Guam Liberation War Claims Fund to cover the payments of adjudicated claims of living survivors of World War II.
The substitute version lifts the $7.5 million cap on the amount that the governor would be authorized to transfer from the general fund.
“After being misled by false promises, after months of delay, I am blessed to be a part of a dynamic body of legislators that is finally able to fulfil our commitment to our greatest generation,” said Speaker Tina Muna Barnes, author of Bill 181-35.
“I have received the commitment of our Maga'håga that she is awaiting to sign this measure into law. While we overcame a major obstacle by passing this bill, I hope that the executive branch of government expeditiously begin working with the Trump administration to sign the Memorandum of Understanding so that we can begin the process to pay our survivors what is due to them,” the speaker said.
Republican Sens. Mary Torres, James Moylan and Louise Muna voted against the bill, as they objected to legislative action on the revised bill without debate.
“It is quite disappointing that the majority opted to ramrod Bill 181-35 straight into the voting file, without giving the measure a fair opportunity of discussion on the legislative floor,” said Sen. James Moylan in a statement following the vote.
The bill passed despite pleas from Guam Delegate Michael San Nicolas, who asked Guam senators not to jump the gun a related bill pending in the U.S. Senate. "I am confident that, provided any local political efforts don't cause unforeseen delays, we should have this passed and done at the federal level before the end of January," he wrote on his Facebook post.
San Nicolas has asked the local senators to put off action on Bill 181-35 until the U.S. Senate acts on his bill, H.R. 1365, which would fix technical errors in the Guam World War II Loyalty Recognition Act.
“While we did what we could within reason, by prioritizing our living survivors, I still hope for, and support, the passage of HR 1365 so that all descendants of our World War II survivors can receive their claims,” Muna Barnes said.
“Congressman San Nicolas, I know we have been at odds on a slew of things, but I know that we both share one thing in common, our Heart is for the People of Guam. I know you will keep fighting for the passage of HR 1365 and I sincerely pray that by January when you come to this chamber, you will be able to report back with some positive news,” the speaker added.
Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero welcomed the bill’s passage.
“We are thankful to the Guam Legislature for recognizing the importance of paying adjudicated war claims through the successful bipartisan passage of Bill 181-35,” the governor said. “Our remaining survivors have endured more than a world at war, but also a lifetime’s wait for reparation We stand firmly behind this local effort, which we believe complements the work of our Washington delegate.”
She said her administration will work with the Department of Treasury to execute a Memorandum of Understanding and get the war survivors paid. Adjudicated claims are estimated at 750.
“More than payment, this measure acknowledges the pains of the past and is symbolic of the peace in our present,” the governor said.
Chirag M. Bhojwani, the speaker's communications director and policy advisor, said the amount remains unclear, pending availability of the most recent list of survivors whose claims have been adjudicated.
“The funding source is the FY19 lapses and FY 20 budget subject to the governor’s transfer authority,” Bhojwani said.
He said the Speaker has requested the governor “to expeditiously work" with the U.S. Treasury to sign the MOU so claimants can begin signing over their claims to the government of Guam.
"Just like our office checks with the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission on the status of our constituent’s claims, they need to sign a consent form. Once we get a signed consent form, we are then able to get the status of their claims and the amount. This same process would need to take place so GovGuam can get the names and adjudicated amount,” Bhojwani said.