Cabinet officials nix proposal to clip Guam governor’s emergency power
Updated: Feb 17, 2021
Guam’s Cabinet officials warned the legislature that a proposal to hold the governor’s emergency authority in check will impede the government’s Covid-19 response strategies.
“Without question, the Covid-19 public health emergency continues to pose a grave threat to the health and safety of our community,” the officials stated in a written testimony opposing Bill 11-36.
The bill, introduced last month by Republican Sens. Chris Duenas, James Moylan, and Tony Ada, seeks to prevent Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero from further extending a public health emergency without legislative consent.
The public health emergency has been extended 10 times since the first two Covid-19 cases on Guam were detected on March 15 last year.
“Paramount to an effective response is the ability to move nimbly, pivot quickly, and respond swiftly to emerging issues and concerns," stated the joint testimony signed by Fire Chief Daniel Stone, Police Chief Stephen Ignacio, Guam Memorial Hospital Administrator Lillian Perez-Posadas and Homeland Security Advisor Esther Aguigui.
"We believe that this ability will be severely compromised if the legislature becomes the party responsible for extending the public health emergency,” they added.
The officials asked senators to vote against Bill 11-36 and allow them to perform their tasks using all the tools and resources currently available to them.
"We simply cannot afford to be reckless with the health and safety of our community,” they wrote.
Last year, the legislature attempted to scrutinize the governor's policy decisions, including emergency procurement, hiring of unclassified employees, lockdown implementation and other actions under the mantle of public health emergency. But the chief executive has managed to keep the senators at arm's length.
Leon Guerrero earlier slammed Bill 11-36 as “totally irresponsible,” saying it was the Republicans’ attempt to challenge her executive decisions.
Moylan, however, explained that Bill 11-36 “is not just about questioning her decisions with lockdowns during a public health emergency, but it’s about transparency. It is about checks and balances.
“One of the problems which many of my colleagues and I faced throughout the pandemic in the previous legislature, was attaining answers from Adelup for simple questions related to procurement, hiring, the spending of federal monies, and the list goes on. Even reports which had to be legislatively mandated were never delivered,” he added.
In their joint testimony, executive officials sought to justify the processes involved in developing coronavirus-related policies.
“We meet with a larger group of government agencies convened specifically for operations related to Covid-19, at least three times a week to discuss and plan our on-going response,” they said.
“Our agencies also coordinate responses, particularly with the identification, transport, quarantine and isolation, and hospitalization, of individuals who have been exposed to Covid-positive individuals or who have themselves tested positive," they added.
They noted that the Department of Public Health and Social Services, as the lead agency in the public health emergency, has largely directed a coordinated response.
“It has not been an easy road. A crisis of this magnitude is unprecedented on our island and around the world,” the officials said. “The science surrounding the virus and its many variants is emerging and shifts at a rapid pace. It is critical to ensure our ability to react to the emerging data that the chain of command is clear, and that we have the ability to organize and mobilize resources as quickly and efficiently as possible.”
At the legislature, Sen. Jose Pedo Terlaje said under Guam's law, eight affirmative votes could nullify a state of emergency through a resolution.
"That resolution was never proffered in the 35th Guam Legislature or the 36th Guam Legislature. If anyone felt so strongly that the bars should open, then why did not one senator introduce a resolution to cancel the public health emergency?" he asked. " The bottom line is lock down saved lives. Deep down everyone here knows that. That is why nobody introduced a resolution to cancel it."
Terlaje said the authors of Bill 11-36 could take the resolution route to cancel the public health emergency every month and achieve the same effect proposed in their bill.
"I understand the intent of this bill. I know a public health emergency lasting nearly a year was never envisioned by the current law. States and territories all across the United States are grappling with the question of executive power," Terlaje said.
"But there is an existing mechanism to check and balance that is not being utilized. The tool is already in your hands. The bushcutter is already in your hands senators, just cut the grass."