'No need for duplicate legislation'
Governor says Guam legislature has an existing authority to terminate any emergency declaration
By Pacific Island Times News Staff
While continuing to defend her now-expired emergency policies implemented during the Covid-19 pandemic, Gov. Lou Leon reminded senators that both the legislature and the judiciary have an existing authority to keep her powers in check.
“The Emergency Health Powers Act already provides that the legislature may terminate an emergency declaration at any time by a majority vote,” the governor said, rejecting Sen. Chris Duenas' Bill 7-37.
The bill, passed by a vote of 9-6, would authorize the Guam legislature, with a majority vote, to end the governor's public health emergency declaration and to veto an executive request for extension.
There is no need to duplicate the law, the governor said.
The Emergency Health Powers Act: By a majority vote, [the Guam legislature] may terminate the declaration of a state of public health emergency at any time from the date of original declaration upon finding that the occurrence of an illness or health condition that caused the emergency does not or no longer poses a high probability of a large number of deaths in the affected population, a large number of incidents of serious permanent or long-term disability in the affected population or a significant risk of substantial future harm to a large number of people in the affected population. Such a termination by [the Guam legislature] shall override any renewal by [the Governor].
Bill 7-37 was prompted by the governor’s Covid-related public health emergency that ran for three years, from March 15, 2020 to Jan. 6 this year.
Covid-19 has subsided and related restrictions have since been lifted, but the governor and the Guam legislature remain at odds over the chief executive’s emergency power.
The legislature needs 10 votes to override the governor’s veto of Bill 3-37, which was a rehash of a similar bill that passed by the 36th Guam Legislature and vetoed by the governor.
"The new bill is based on the same false premise as the last bill: that a declaration of a public health emergency somehow suspends or terminates the strict application of the US. Constitution," the governor said in her veto message.
“Bill 7-37 does not protect our people. It merely prioritizes the political views and preferences of the few over the safety of our community as a whole. It is for these reasons that I veto Bill 7-37,” the governor said in her veto message.
Leon Guerrero said executive orders are already subject to constitutional challenges on allegations of “arbitrary, capricious, or an abuse of discretion.”
“Asserting these claims does not require duplicative local legislation,” she said.
“Bill 7-37 does nothing to protect rights that are already protected under the U.S. Constitution and the Organic Act of Guam,” the governor said.
She noted that court cases that challenged the quarantine mandates have been resolved in her favor.
“In the 2021 case In re Leon Guerrero, the Supreme Court of Guam determined that the Organic Act of Guam vests ultimate authority over quarantine in the governor of Guam, and that the legislature's laws related to quarantine cannot overrule the governor's quarantine regulations,” the governor said.
In the meantime, she said, “The virus remains active in our community even today.”
Guam's Covid death toll was 416. The governor noted that a majority of those who died had comorbidities that made them “uniquely susceptible” to the virus.
“Despite the enhanced risk Covid-19 posed to our community, proportionally, our island suffered significantly fewer deaths than the rest of the nation,” the governor said.
“The U.S. reported approximately 1,123,836 Covid-induced deaths, representing 341.11 deaths per 100,000 individuals, she said.
With 252.12 deaths per 100,000 individuals, the governor said, Guam landed on the list of 15 U.S. jurisdictions with the lowest rate of Covid-19 deaths.
“At the onset of the pandemic, it was estimated that Covid-19 would claim over 3,000 lives in Guam,” she said.
The governor said the measures put in place during the emergency period allowed Guam to defy the staggering odds.
“Despite our enhanced medical vulnerabilities and limited healthcare resources, we endured without resorting to the crisis level of care that other jurisdictions were forced to implement,” she said.
During the Covid-19 crisis, the governor shut down the community, mandating quarantines and forced vaccinations, imposing crowd limits at business establishments and prohibiting social gatherings and religious congregations.
“Without question, Covid-19 restrictions we implemented on our island were more rigorous than those imposed in other U.S. jurisdictions,” the governor said.
“As a community, we saved lives by observing these mitigation strategies. Other jurisdictions that employed similar strategies, like New Zealand and Iceland, experienced similar positive outcomes.”
Against this backdrop, the governor said, Bill 7-37 must be evaluated, factoring in the "efficacy of implementing health policy based on partisan politics instead of scientific data."