Guam Legislature Approves New Rules; Money Can't Change Hands In Senate Offices

Borrowing to be restricted to Capital Improvement Projects

By Shawn Raymundo

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Jan. 3, 2017) – The new Legislature has new rules, including prohibiting money from changing hands in a senator's office, and rejecting any borrowing bills that aren't for capital improvement projects.

The 34th Guam Legislature has gotten off to a rocky start, as one senator has taken issue with some of the changes to the Legislature's standing rules.

The standing rules are a set of bylaws that govern the legislative body from term to term. It’s not uncommon for senators-elect of the incoming majority party to change the rules prior to inauguration.

The amended rules, adopted by a majority vote, prohibit constituents from walking into a senator’s office and soliciting monetary help, according to Sen. Mike San Nicolas, D-Dededo. He added that such activity can be problematic when it comes to campaign finance laws.

“Those things are a slippery slope to turn into a political campaign type of transaction,” said San Nicolas, the new chairman of the Legislature’s Committee on Rules.

“If (constituents) want to come in to talk to their senator about their community that’s fine,” he added. “This (amendment) is more for monetary exchange.”

When newly appointed Speaker Benjamin Cruz, D-Piti, moved for the Legislature to adopt the Standing Rules during the inauguration Monday morning, Sen. Frank Aguon Jr., D-Yona, asked that the body table the adoption until senators from both parties can sit down together to go over the changes.

Citing the monetary-exchange amendment, Aguon voiced his concern that the new rule would prohibit him from meeting with anyone who comes into his office.

“If this provision is going to restrict my office from listening to the people … I have a serious problem with that,” Aguon said.

San Nicolas said the provision only restricts an exchange of cash from happening inside their offices. It doesn’t prohibit a senator, he said, from giving constituents cash out in public.

“It was advised in the development of these rules that we develop this practice so that that kind of activity doesn’t occur on the senators’ premises,” San Nicolas said.

The change is based on a standing rule for the U.S. House of Representatives, according to San Nicolas.

The majority of Guam lawmakers voted to adopt the new standing rules, despite Aguon’s objections.

Last week, Aguon was nominated as the majority leader. However, leading up to Monday’s inauguration, Aguon publicly announced his decision to not accept the nomination, citing his disapproval of the party’s decision to reduce legislative salaries. Sen. Tom Ada, D-Tamuning, has since been named majority leader.

At the end of every term, each legislative and senatorial staffer is essentially laid off as their employment expires. Many of the employees are rehired at the beginning of the new term.

San Nicolas said the new Legislature plans to reclassify certain positions in the Legislature’s central office while creating new staffing needs and pay structures.

“We’re looking at trying to receive the same value of services at a more affordable rate,” San Nicolas said.

As of press time,  Aguon couldn’t be reached for comment.

In a pair of news releases Monday, both San Nicolas and Speaker Cruz highlighted an amendment in the standing rules that changes the way the Legislature handles appropriation and spending bills.

Cruz explained that any measure introduced that’s meant to appropriate funds would first have to go through his Committee on Appropriations and Adjudication for review. The Office of Finance Budget, which Cruz also chairs, would then determine if money in the bill’s funding source is actually available. If it is, it would receive a “Funding Availability Note.”

“If this Legislature wants to change our government’s financial circumstances, we have to change the rules we live by,” Cruz said in the release.

Another provision of the standing rules limits borrowing bills from moving forward unless the borrowed money is meant to pay for capital improvements projects.

Pacific Daily News
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