- By Phillip V. Cruz, Jr.
Part-time legislature: The holy grail of the Republican Party of Guam
The part-time legislature is a recurring proposal that always hits a dead end. Most Guam senators never seem fond of this proposal but the Republicans don’t give up on this idea, hoping it eventually sees the light of the say.
Shortly after the inauguration of the 36th Guam Legislature, four Republican senators —Joann M. Brown, Vicente “Tony” Ada, Christopher Duenas and James C. Moylan— introduced Bill 15-36, titled “The Citizen’s Legislative Reform Act of 2021.”
The bill's authors believe the part-time legislature would attract more candidates from cross-sections of the community, as one would not have to leave their career or situation to represent their peers. It is also viewed as a way to reduce personnel cost in the legislature.
Will the part-time legislature proposal ever be taken seriously?
“It could, but it will take a major cultural shift,” said Dr. Mary Therese F. Cruz, associate professor of Political Sciences at the University of Guam. “Constituents in Guam view their senators as problem solvers—not just for the purpose of policymaking but also for solving the problems in their everyday lives.”
Guam legislatures introduce an average of 400 bills and 500 resolutions every cycle.
In the U.S. mainland, dozens of states either have a part-time or hybrid legislature.
Cruz said a part-time legislature meets only during limited amount time rather than year-round. Part-time senators do not work a normal 80-hour shift, but they could meet from anywhere of three to five months of the year, focusing only on passing legislation and the annual budget.
In the 35th Guam Legislature, Moylan introduced a similar bill that proposed two 30-day sessions a year, with hearings held in the evening, and a stipend payment of only $100 a day. His bill was never publicly heard.
The latest proposal, Bill 15-36, seeks to involve voters in making a decision. The Citizen’s Legislative Reform Act of 2021 would place the question on “whether the Guam Legislature should indeed be a Part-Time Legislature” in the hands of the electorate in the 2022 general election.
Cruz, however, doubts a part-time legislature would appeal to Guam residents, who look to their senators for financial assistance and other community issues. In a community where political patronage is a way of life, the legislature guarantees decent paying jobs for campaign supporters.
“The requests are pretty much endless, and if the legislature goes part-time, who will the people go to for help, or even an ear to listen to about their problems?” Cruz said. “This will limit opportunities for their constituents to seek out their help for anything other than policy.”
But there are advantages to having a part-time legislature such as the potential for cost savings, Cruz said. “Though this is not a guarantee,” she added. “Another advantage is that legislative sessions could be more focused on the primary roles of legislators.”
Cruz said the biggest disadvantage is the uncertainty over the quality of bills. “Because there is less time spent on both crafting and passing bills, legislators may be forced to prioritize quantity over quality,” Cruz said. “There may also be less time for a true debate and for public input on bills before they are heard in session. This will have to be thought through very carefully in any legislation that changes the structure of the legislature.”
If the latest proposal is approved by voters, Cruz said the conversion of the body into a part-time gig would entail a legislative restructuring. “If senators meet for only part of the year, will they still maintain offices with staff? Will the central office operate year-round? Will they only be paid a stipend or daily rate for when they are in session?” she asked.
Cruz said if the people of Guam are truly dissatisfied with how the legislature functions, they do have the power to change that. “Making the legislature part-time is one option, but it is not likely to solve every problem, if any at all,” Cruz said.