By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
AG Camacho clears way for RISE Act payments, says program is lawsuit-proof
Attorney General Leevin Camacho has given Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero the green light to implement the local stimulus program known as the Recovery Income Support and Empowerment or RISE Act, assuring her that the law can withstand any legal challenge.
The law allows the use of federal Covid-19 relief grants to cover this program , but Adelup said funds are not yet available to make payments.
The governor has had a lukewarm response to this program since it was proposed in the 35th Legislature. She argued that the $1,400 Covid relief aid from the federal government superseded the local program, which provides $800 per eligible resident.
The bill, introduced by then Sen. Regine Biscoe-Lee, has lapsed into law and became Public Law 35-136 without the governor's signature.
Leon Guerrero sought the attorney general's opinion, claiming "there is a concern" about the exclusion of government employees and retirees from the RISE Act.
"Based on the deferential standard of review, it is unlikely that a legal challenge brought on the grounds that the RISE Act excludes government of Guam employees and federal employees would be successful," Camacho wrote.
He noted that the RISE Act intends to provide financial relief to those impacted by the Covid19 related public health emergency.
"Whether one agrees with the classification drawn, it is not arbitrary to find that members of the private sector have been more adversely impacted during the Covid-19 pandemic than government of Guam and federal employees and retirees," Camacho said.
In general, Camacho added, social and economic legislation is presumed to be valid, even where classes of people are treated differently. "[T]hose attacking the rationality of the legislative classification have the burden to negate every conceivable basis which might support it," he said, citing criteria for a successful legal action.
Sen. James Moylan welcomed the attorney general's opinion.
"We have been fighting for quite sometime -- even before introducing this bill -- for the RISE Act to be implemented," Moylan said during virtual forum on Initiatives on Economic Recovery livestreamed on Facebook today. "The governor has decided to use every reason and continues to find every reason not to (implement the law."
Moylan reminded the governor that she has the ability to amend the law, if she so desires, by introducing a bill and asking the legislature to hold a special session to deliberate it.
"The good senator is anxious to spend money we don't have yet without the federal guidance these funds must comply with," Communications Director Krystal Paco-San Agustin said.