Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero on Friday made good on her threat to veto Bill 11-36, maintaining that the proposal to require a legislative review of her public health emergency directives would usurp on an executive function.
“We should recognize this bill for what it really is: an effort to dictate the terms and conditions of a public health emergency by a body that does not have supervision or control over the agencies responsible for doing the necessary work to respond to the emergency and keep our community safe,” the governor wrote in her veto message addressed to Speaker Therese Terlaje.
The bill, titled “Separation of Powers Act,” was introduced by Sens. Chris Duenas, Tony Ada and James Moylan. It passed by a vote of 8-7. The legislature will need 10 votes to override the governor's veto of the bill.
“Bill No. 11 is not an attempt to ‘restore’ the separation of powers; it is an attempt to destroy it. It is for this reason that I veto Bill No. 11,” the governor said, telling senators to stay in their lane.
“Fundamental to the stability of our government is a recognition and understanding of the critical roles that the executive, legislative and judicial branches play,” the governor said.
The bill’s authors said the legislation was designed to ensure transparency on executive actions, including spending and hiring decisions authorized under a public health emergency directive.
Leon Guerrero, however, reminded the legislature that each branch of the government has corresponding duties and responsibilities under the Organic Act of Guam.
“The legislative branch's job is to provide for the government's finances; it makes appropriations, levies taxes and authorizes the incurrence of debt for the government of Guam,” she said.
Dealing with public health matters is an executive duty, she added.
“Coupled with an obligation to maintain general supervision and control over executive branch departments and entities, the authority and responsibility to recognize public health dangers and declare emergencies when necessary properly resides with the governor,” the governor said.
The power clash flares up as Guam is nearing the first full year since the governor first declared the public health emergency, which has been extended nearly a dozen times.
“ When I first declared the emergency, Guam had not yet even identified its first cases of Covid-19. But just two days later, our first three cases emerged. Under the current law, any declared public health emergency terminates after 30 days unless extended,” the governor said.
“Each time I have extended the emergency, it has been after a careful analysis of whether such continuance is supported by the data and our practical experience.”
She warned that if Bill 11-36 became law, a legislative review of directive would derail quick response to a public health emergency.
"Very often, our response has required quick pivots in light of emerging science, changing federal guidelines, and data trends,” the governor said. “This work does not lend itself well to decision making by committee. Delays in decision making can and will result in unnecessary death and suffering. I cannot believe that anyone would want such an outcome.”
Aware that she is under the microscope, the governor said she acknowledges that every official decision "should not be made in secret and without explanation about its underlying reasoning."
"I recognize that my actions are regularly being judged by members of our community, who have both a right and an obligation to understand and abide by any restrictions and mandates designed to safeguard our public health," she said. " But let's not pretend that Bill No. 11 is about a desire for legislative involvement or even transparency, as several legislators indicated during the debate."