Thursday, 11 May 2017

Calvo Administration says there may still be hope for TRAN bill

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Acting Governor Ray Tenorio points to a section in the Organic Act that could indicate the TRAN bill actually passed during special session last week.

Guam - The Calvo Administration is hinting the fight may not be over on its now-failed borrowing initiative for tax refunds. But rather than introducing another measure for senators to consider, Acting Governor Ray Tenorio is pointing to an Organic Act clause which seems to hint the bill voted on in special session last week should have passed.

The conventional wisdom is that it takes eight votes to pass a bill in the Legislature. Both its standing rules and the Guam Code Annotated say this. But Tenorio, when asked about next steps in a push from Adelup to borrow money for tax refunds, is invoking a clause of the Organic Act which contradicts this threshold.

“No bill shall become a law unless it shall have been passed at a meeting, at which a quorum was present, by the affirmative vote of a majority of the members present and voting, which vote shall be by yeas and nays,” a section on the Legislature reads.

It’s the portion which ties legislative passage to the number of senators who aren’t just present, but “present and voting” which Tenorio is highlighting. When it was used in a 2008 Attorney General’s opinion on the legitimacy of bills passed by the Legislature, then-Senator Eddie Calvo reportedly told media he was concerned this meant a downgrade of the necessary votes for passage.

It works like this: if an eight-member quorum is all that is present, then a vote can happen, but the majority of those present and voting would be a maximum of five.  Since only 13 senators were present and voting for the Governor’s TRAN bill, Tenorio says they are exploring if the 7 affirmative votes the measure received fulfilled the requirements of the Organic Act to pass.

This potential and far-reaching contradiction has been on the books for decades.  In fact, former Governor Carl Gutierrez on K57 today said it’s something he brought up in his very first term as a lawmaker in the 1970s.

“I read [the Organic Act Provision] and all the legal beagles said ‘leave it alone.’ And so, they kind of nixed that, but no one has ever wanted to jump in as an attorney to take that challenge,” Gutierrez said.  “We have had a legal opinion from the Attorney General and others, which is really almost a prima facie way it should be.  But nobody wants to challenge that and make it stick.”

There’s been no confirmation from the Calvo Administration that it will mount an official legal challenge arguing the failed measure actually passed. And for Senator Tom Ada, the Majority Leader in the lawmaking body, that’s an important lack of commitment.

“Well, the ball’s in their court,” Ada told PNC. “First of all, this whole notion that now we’re going to change the rules of how many [votes are] required is absolutely silly.  Even When Governor Calvo and the Lt. Governor were in the Legislature the ‘magic number’ is — you need eight votes to pass a bill and you need ten votes to override a veto."

When the Govenror’s TRAN bill was voted on, thirteen senators were present and voted, seven of whom supported the measure. They were Senators Frank Aguon, Wil Castro, Fernando Esteves, Tommy Morrison, Louise Muna, Dennis Rodriguez, and Joe San Agustin. Six voted no, while Senator Telena Nelson was absent due to military training and Senator Jim Espaldon was excused from voting due to a potential conflict of interest.

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