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Current bills may see control returned to government

By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, March 27, 2012) – Both the Senate and House have agreed to hear from Gov. Togiola Tulafono in a yet to be confirmed joint Fono meeting regarding the administration’s proposals to help LBJ hospital. The proposals were given to the Fono for consideration during the special session.

The decision was reached by the Senate and House membership, which convened their own meetings yesterday after the regular session.

The Fono leaders informed lawmakers that they met with the governor during the mid session recess and the governor had requested a chance to address the Fono on the proposed bills for the special session, which is not to exceed 30 calendar days.

In a letter last Friday to Fono leaders, the governor said he looks forward to meeting with both chambers to review the proposed bills and to "answer any questions the Legislature has so that you can proceed with expediency to deliberate on these measures and hopefully arrive at an early agreement on a permanent solution for our health needs."

During the Senate meeting, Senate President Gaoteote Palaie Tofau told senators that he has relayed to the governor the Senate’s stand on the proposed measures such as the $10 million appropriation to fund the off-island medical referral program at LBJ Medical Center, which is to be funded with a hike in excise taxes for alcohol, beer, tobacco and cigarettes; a hike in business license fees; a $2,000 corporate tax; and a new 4 percent wage tax.

Gaoteote said he informed the governor that senators do not want to impose additional taxes on the public, adding that a similar measure submitted last year to fund ASG operations was tabled in committee due to the same concerns.

Regarding the other proposal, an $8 million loan from the ASG Employees Retirement Fund, Gaoteote said he informed the governor that the Senate had already rejected the House version of this bill during the 3rd regular session, and even the Retirement Fund officials who testified on the bill were against it.

The governor was further informed that the Senate has already approved a $2 million refinance loan from the Retirement Fund and this bill is now pending in the House, said Gaoteote, who added that if this measure is approved, that gives a total of $5 million to the hospital.

The other $3 million— which is a loan from the Workmen’s Compensation Account— is being repaid by the new 2 percent wage tax and once this loan is paid off proceeds thereafter are earmarked to fund hospital operations and can be used to also fund the referral program, said Gaoteote.

Regarding the bill to transfer LBJ to the Executive Branch under the Health Department (DOH), Gaoteote said the measure is pending in the Senate committee from the 3rd session and he believes this legislation should be reported to the floor today for a Senate decision.

Gaoteote said his concern with this bill is that it was also submitted at the same time as the governor’s nomination of two new members of the hospital board of directors, while the bill to transfer LBJ to DOH, includes a provision to dissolve the board.

He said the issue dealing with transfer of LBJ to the Executive Branch is a complex one and a decision should not be rushed during the special session.

Gaoteote also informed senators that the governor had requested a chance to address the Fono in a joint meeting or hearing. He believes the governor should be given the chance to address the Fono.

Sens. Lualemaga Faoa and Alo Dr. Paul Stevenson both agreed with the governor addressing the Fono, adding that maybe the governor will have additional information to be relayed to lawmakers.

Lualemaga also agreed to have the bill transferring LBJ to DOH presented to the full membership today for a final decision.

In the House, Speaker Savali Talavou Ale said the governor— along with his cabinet —is prepared to provide reports to support the proposed bills submitted for the special session.

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