Leon Guerrero seeks to shield turf; insists emergency declaration is an executive duty
Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero said Friday she will continue to place Guam under public health emergency "for as long as necessary" to keep federal assistance rolling in.
"In order for us to get this financial aid, we have to be a declared public health emergency and by law the individual who does that is the governor," Leon Guerrero said at a press conference.
The governor has been at odds with Republican senators over Bill 11-6, which would require a legislative review and approval for an emergency declaration.
"I made myself very clear: it is totally irresponsible; it’s dangerous legislation," Leon Guerrero said, vowing to veto the bill if it reached her desk.
In a statement, the Guam Republican Party said the proposed measure was not intended to usurp the executive authority.
"Bill 11-36 is not a legislative power grab, rather it is an elevation of the authority to promote checks and balances between the authority being delegated to the governor from the legislative branch during an emergency, which the people of Guam expect and deserve," the Republican Party said.
The bill, introduced last month by Republican Sens. Chris Duenas, James Moylan, and Tony Ada, seeks to prevent further extension of 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.
Some Democrats are lukewarm on the bill, saying the legislature is already equipped with an official tool to nullify any emergency declaration through a resolution that needs at least eight affirmative votes.
"Several senators, they asked why hasn’t anyone invoked that that provision and they didn’t because they knew that we were still under public health emergency and they knew that is an executive branch authority," the governor said.
"It is unfortunate that some senators refuse to accept this additional responsibility and work," the Republican Party said.
"While not many will disagree with the necessity or the consistency in the implementation of certain measures of the governor’s emergency declaration, one constant is evident, that the government of Guam needs to be more open and transparent with their actions, inclusive of how local and federal funds were, and continue to be spent," the statement reads.
Seeking to iron out the confusion with the bill, the Republican Party stressed that the bill does not terminate the emergency declaration. "Rather it requires the executive branch to be more forthright with their actions. Why would any senator not want this?"
Leon Guerrero, however, questioned the practicality of a legislative review proposed in the bill.
"You know how quickly the legislature cannot move and to even say 90 days, I don’t think they should have the authority to review this public health emergency within three months," the governor said.
In a written testimony, Cabinet officials warned the legislature that Bill 11-36, if enacted, would 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,” heads of frontline agencies stated in a written testimony.
"We would like to clarify that, Bill 11-36 does not impede the work of front liners who are placing themselves in harm’s way to foster the safety and well-being of island residents, nor does it delay the management of this crisis. The individuals who strongly oppose the measure seem to be those very decision makers who would have to face the legislature and address the people’s questions. What do they have to hide?" the Republican Party said.