Rules Committee hears several bills

by Ken Wetmore, KUAM News
Monday, January 26, 2004

Much of the real action at the Legislature this morning happened before Speaker Ben Pangelinan gaveled the 27th Legislature into session. After canceling the Friday Rules Committee meeting, this morning the Committee members met to set the session agenda.

All nine democrats and two republicans sit on the Rules Committee and this morning the republicans made it clear there is a growing feeling they are being left out of the Legislative process. After most of the Rules Committee business was finished this morning Republican Majority Leader Mark Forbes made a motion to place fellow Republican Senator Bob Klitzkie's Bill 162, also known as the “Every Child is Entitled to an Adequate Education Bill”, on the session agenda.

The measure has had a public hearing and Senator Forbes says a committee report has been issued but the report has not been circulated to Education Committee members for their vote to send it to the Rules Committee. Senator Forbes suggested it wouldn't be a problem to get the necessary signatures, so Bill 162 could be placed on the session agenda and asked the Committee to go ahead and vote to place the bill before senator during this session.

After Vice Speaker Frank Aguon, Jr. spoke against the move citing the standing rules of the Legislature, Republican Rules Committee member Senator Joanne Brown clearly felt there was a double standard. She said to her fellow policymakers, “We sit here repeatedly and go over majority bills without copies of the bills in front of us, without much discussion, with an expectation that we are going to concur on those bills and here they are we have a number of them once again on the agenda, and we are left essentially to fight to get one bill on the agenda that is of substantive matters.”

Senator Brown said as time goes on the inequity between republican and democrat bills is becoming clearer and it's something she's not pleased with. “We are already thirteen months into the term and we have only had four minority bills. Out of the six members of the minority only two have had bills that were passed. So I just want to point it out for the record in terms of the eleven months that are left in the term; we certainly have a degree of expectation that we are even though we recognize we will have less bills on the agenda that we would receive the assistance of the majority in facilitating that process,” she said.

Speaker Pangelinan replied to Senator Brown's comments by saying he saw things differently. “The fact that three or four republican bills have been passed into law has nothing to do from my perspective with their authorship it's based on the merits, and I'll continue to vote that way,” he said.

In the end only Democrat Senator Cunliffe joined Republican senators Forbes and Brown in voting to place the adequate education bill on the agenda. Democrats would also vote down Senator Forbes’ attempt to place his Bill 159 and Bill 225 on the agenda. The former would exempt food and medicine from the Gross Receipts Tax increase and 225 would appropriate $5.7 million to the Department of Education for FEMA-matching funds.

In fact, when all was said and done today, not one bill authored by a republican senator appeared on the printed session agenda. Rules Committee chair Senator Lou Leon Guerrero still maintains that republican-initiated bills aren't being kept off Legislative Floor. Senator Leon Guerrero says republicans have authored less than one-third of the bills during the 27th Legislature and it's a matter of only putting good legislation on the floor. “I feel that we've been going through the process with both republican and democratic bills...if there are merits and substance in bills they are all moved out to the process they get to the committees and the various members of the committees look at it and vote,” he said.

Still there is a growing feeling of frustration from republicans that with less than one year left in their terms and less than seven months before November’s general election, they have had little opportunity to debate publicly their policy ideas.

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