Guam’s Republican senators have introduced a bill proposing to extend financial assistance to local families, local businesses as well as first responders, law enforcement personnel and strengthen emergency communications.
“We’ve proposed several economic stabilization measures that benefit as many of those who are affected by the pandemic and not any one group of people. These proposals help businesses and individual consumers by reducing taxes and help to maintain if not reduce the costs of goods and services,” Minority Leader Telo Taitague said of Bill 319-35.
The Guam Chamber of Commerce earlier released results of its membership poll, showing that 87 percent of Guam businesses are adversely impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Some businesses reported temporary closures, payroll cuts and furloughs.
“Hundreds if not thousands of families are suffering financially,” Sen. Louise Borja Muna said. “We want to help by prioritizing the paying out of tax refunds as quickly as possible and giving 100 percent exemption for prescription drugs and equipment for our most vulnerable helps their money go farther in this time of crisis.”
Sen. Wil Castro, Republican delegate hopeful for U.S. Congress, said protecting Guam’s first responders, medical professionals and residents with technology, equipment and timely information is mission critical to preserving life and health on Guam.
“The proposals we offer provide allotments and enables telehealth for medical practitioners on Guam,” Castro said.
In a letter to Republican senators, Christine Baleto, chairwoman of the Guam Chamber of Commerce board, said the business community is counting on elected leaders to put aside party politics and work collectively in a bi-partisan effort to provide relief to the community.
“This is indeed a period of uncertainty, and we appreciate and welcome legislation that will help employees and businesses get through this crisis. Our community needs help, and they need it now,” Baleto wrote.
“The Republican Party of Guam acknowledges that these solutions may result in tough negotiations and supports the proposed legislation proffered by the caucus. In the end, a final comprehensive bipartisan package is what will ultimately benefit the island,” said Republican Party of Guam Chairman Tony Ada.
Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero earlier vetoed a bill that would grant her additional transfer authority, capped at $1 million, during the Covid-19 pandemic crisis.
While it may be well-intentioned, the governor said, Bill 308-35 would unintentionally handicap the government’s ongoing effort to fight the spread of COVID-19 throughout the community.
“Put simply, the current statute governing public health emergencies grants the governor of Guam the authority to transfer such funds as are necessary to counter the impacts of a dynamic threat - keeping Guam safe,” the governor said. “By acknowledging the limitations offered by your measure, the legislature may unintentionally leave Guam at the mercy of political bureaucracies when it can least afford it.”
Leon Guerrero said current pandemic responses require resources that cannot be easily predicted in advance.
“Thus, I cannot limit the effectiveness of our endeavor to the $1 million cap this bill arbitrarily sets. Our predecessors understood this and knew that certain emergencies commanded speed and efficiency - not decision by committee. We must acknowledge the wisdom in the provision of law they enacted.”
Speaker Tina Muna Barnes said when Bill 308-35 was introduced, the intent was to create a mechanism so that the experts on the front lines can take a proactive approach to combatting a pandemic before it arrives on our shores.
“While it is important to learn from history and be prepared for the next pandemic – right now, we need to remain steadfast in addressing the current crisis at home,” Muna Barnes said. “As we approach the budget season, I remain committed to ensuring that we have a mechanism in place to ensure that our front-line responders - the experts in the field, can proactively take the necessary steps to acquire the necessary PPE and tools they need to protect our Island and combat any emerging threats.”