Speaker Tina Muna Barnes and Sen. Therese Terlaje exchanged caustic remarks on Thursday after the legislature's emergency session that quickly adjourned without taking action on any bill.
“It is obvious now that the speaker declared an emergency without any real intention of discussing or acting on emergency pay. It was a charade, feigned urgency," Terlaje said. "The integrity of the entire legislature is put at risk by going along with this questionable and insincere behavior."
Muna Barnes had called the emergency session to tackle four bills related to double pay and extra leave credits for government employees who were called to work throughout the public health emergency months.
Terlaje objected to the placement of bills on the emergency session agenda without requests or motions from the authors to waive the public hearing.
"It is not normal practice and perplexing that the speaker, on her own, had waived the public hearings and then consented to immediately adjourn for a public hearing, resulting in no action by the legislature on any business," Terlaje said in a press release.
She added that calls to session "should not be used to serve political agenda but must seek to serve the people’s best interest in the best way possible.”
In response, Muna Barnes issued a statement defending her call for emergency session.
"Our people are hurting and front liners deserve answers now to their pay. Our office worked with our executive director to set up a committee of the whole –chairs, tables, and mics were already set up."
Senators have filed bills seeking to address the double pay issue for frontliners, which according to the Office of the Attorney General is not legally applicable.
"Senator Therese Terlaje objected to placing the bills on the agenda to get answers to address the issue today. She did not object to the recess. My intent was to always help our constituents – our frontline heroes," Muna Barnes said.
"I hope my sense of urgency for front liners inspired Senator Therese Terlaje to better understand the committee process especially since most of this Legislature’s bills never see the light of day once it is referred to Senator Therese Terlaje’s committee."
Muna Barnes noted that when Terlaje acting speaker in 2017, she called for an emergency session only to address her two measures.
"Today, in all fairness, to both this body, and our front liners, I wanted all relevant double pay bills to be on the session agenda, not just my bill, again to be fair to our front liners. Sen. Therese Terlaje seems to be ok with emergency session for her measures but not for our front liners," Muna Barnes said.
"I respectfully ask that Senator Therese Terlaje to please not speak for me and only speak for herself and not take ideas from imagination and place words into my mouth. If this is manufactured – feel free to ask any nurse, doctor, police officer, firefighter, EMT, the many countless heroes, that stepped away from their families to take care of our residents who have been affected by this pandemic. I will not pit one against another – let’s get work done," the speaker said.
Prior to the session, Sen. James Moylan wrote to the speaker requesting that the bills in question be heard publicly.
"Because there are multiple measures on the table, it is critical that the voices of stakeholders be heard," Moylan wrote. "Hence, it is with this regards, I humbly request for your consideration to allow these measures to attain public hearings, and to request the oversight chairperson to hold one at the earliest available schedule."