While underscoring the need to limit people’s movement to contain the spread of Covid-19, Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero said she cannot implement a complete lockdown until the Legislature grants her the authority to do so.
“Some members of our community asked for a complete lockdown of Guam. Let me be absolutely clear, that is not possible in a free society protected by a constitution that guarantees certain fundamental rights,” she said during the video press conference on Tuesday.
“The legal authority I need to restrict movement during a public health emergency or enforce the mandate of an executive order must come from the legislature. Without this specific authority these measures are not in effect,” the governor said.
While noting that emergency powers are serious measures necessary to save human lives, Leon Guerrero said, “I cannot ignore the fundamental rights of individuals of the legitimate role of the legislature must play in this process.”
However, she doing the right thing on the part of the community does not need new laws. “Staying home saves lives and will end this crisis sooner. No one needs legal permission to take that simple step,” she said.
She is aware that this disease is changing the culture of the island, but that Guamanians need to do their part in stopping the
spread. “In theory this is very simple but in practice I know how difficult it can be. This requires us to change our habits and our mentality,” she said “It forces us to avoid practices we’ve been taught to show respect like embracing each other and manning. The very core of our culture involves socializing and being around our families and friends. But for social distancing to work, you must limit to people within your household.”
Since the governor is unable to restrict people from leaving their home, she has asked GPD to pull over speeding vehicles to remind drivers the importance of staying home.
“We're using our legal authority to provide guidance and provide education to these drivers,” she said.
“My directive to the chief is if we can use those opportunities that we can legal authority to ask people to stay home and educate them on the importance of staying home. We don’t have any authority to do any citations right now because we have nothing in the law that reflects that or allows that. We are doing it more for education purposes and reminding people to follow the directives which is to stay home and to travel for essential purposes and essential business.”
Also a topic of concern was a bill that proposes a $5,000 fine for violation of the governor’s directive. The governor said earlier the fine was a bit too high.
“I did not say I was going to veto it. I do appreciate the help (senators) are doing,” she said. “Whatever policies, whatever legislations that the senators feel would allow me greater authority and much quicker resources, I’d much certainly look at that. I never once said I didn’t appreciate it. I never once said it’s dead in the water. I never once said I’d veto anything. I’m just saying I’d like to look at how we could use federal monies instead of our general fund monies.”
As for the federal rebate under President Trump’s CARES Act, Leon Guerrero said Guam Revenue Director Dafne Shimizu is working with the Internal Revenue Service to help facilitate the fund distribution.
“She's meeting with them to tomorrow to approve implementation. Some of the concerns that may have delayed it have been addressed,” the governor said. “So we are moving forward as fast as we can to first of course provide the tax rebate for our community which would be a great shot in the arms of our individual tax payers, our couple tax payers, and into the community The other one of course is the pandemic unemployment benefits, which would give our people a weekly means of financial assistance for 39 weeks.”
Another topic of discussion was funding for unemployment. “Some of the bills are appropriating money from the general fund to those programs to provide for I guess a bridge,” said Leon Guerrero. “I think one of them is like $1 million to sort of help with the unemployment period. We are looking at doing something like that. I am working with our Department of Revenue and Tax. If they feel like want to give me some help or some authority, certainly we are welcoming that. But in my inventory of what the federal programs are, there is funds available without having use our general funds money. As I had said earlier my concern is if we don’t have to use our local funds and federal grants, federal monies are coming in, that would be the route I would like to go more. So, I can save money in our general fund so I can provide means to continue on our public services.”
Leon Guerrero said she hasn’t read the local bills recently introduced in the Guam Legislature. “I'll look at them and discuss with them accordingly what the course will be in the area trying to save our general funds money,” she said. “A lot of these expenses are not expenses that are fronted with the money. We have to get reimbursements. In order for me to provide PPES and test kits, we have to use our local monies and get reimbursed.”
Leon Guerrero has been working with Tess Arcangel to make sure the application process and eligibility process is expedited in order to quickly provide relief. “I also asked her what has she done to increase the income poverty level so more individuals can qualify,” said Leon Guerrero. “The local assistance that I have said that is immediate right now is the public assistance general welfare and also the SNAP program which has been elevated, given more money, to provide for more people to take its benefit.”
The governor also mentioned that 300 people have newly qualified for SNAP and Medicaid.
Another issue of concern was the differential pay and who qualifies for it. “This is our Covid-19 special pay we had actually vetted through and decided there are three layers,” said the governor. “One layer is direct contact. One layer is incidental contact and the last layer is those that are there to provide administrative support for staff that are dealing with Covid virus. It’s all related to risk. We try to make it as equitable as possible, going from the one with the most risk to the moderate, to the less. Our cabinet members aren’t getting any of those. I’m not getting it. Lieutenant governor isn’t getting it.”
Homeless is another major issue the government is hoping to address during the pandemic. “We’re getting guidance from CDC and also National Governors Association,” Leon Guerrero shared. “My preference is put them all in one place, but the guidance is not to do that. We cannot involuntarily put them those situations, its voluntary. Instead of them being brought in for resources, the advice is to bring resources out to them. wherever they are, we try to set up individual tents for them, be able to have Porto potty and shower.”