THE uproar over the passage of the controversial “hybrid” Bill 19 continues to be felt in the community as the measure’s provision – instituting an “across-the-board” ban on all forms of gambling once Guam Memorial Hospital’s debts are paid off – continues to generate reactions from island leaders, stakeholders and the general community.
The Legislature unanimously passed Bill 19 by a vote of 15-0 last Monday. The measure, introduced by Sen. Chris Duenas, seeks to regulate gaming activities allowed by law, collect fees and taxes from licensed operators, and make funds available for improvements to Guam’s sporting facilities.
Lawmakers passed an amended version of the Duenas measure which incorporates provisions from Bill 20, a bill introduced by Sen. Dennis Rodriguez, which proposes to use tax revenue from gaming machines to help pay off GMH's debts.
Sen. Michael San Nicolas, who introduced the amendment to Bill 19 that could effectively ban all forms of gambling – including bingo and cockfighting – once GMH’s obligations are met, said he “believes in the ingenuity of the people to develop new methods of fundraising, new business models for cockfighting, and new activities for our senior citizens, which do not rely on gambling.”
“This higher calling will preserve the integrity of our causes, the health of our activities, and the safety of our future generations – all a part of building a responsible Guam,” San Nicolas stressed.
The anti-gambling coalition Keep Guam Good, via a statement from Attorney Jay Arriola, expressed support for Sens. Ben Pangelinan, Benjamin Cruz, Michael San Nicolas, Judith Won Pat, Frank Aguon Jr., Tom Ada, Chris Duenas and Tommy Morrison, who “remained steadfast in banning all forms of gambling in Guam.”
In particular, the coalition noted, “Pangelinan led the charge in exposing the hypocrisy and ulterior motives of the senators who tried to pass some version of a legalized gaming bill.”
Arriola said the coalition watched the legislative sessions on Bills 19 and 20 with disbelief. The session, he said, “was filled with backroom deals, wheeling and dealing, political rhetoric, and the posturing of senators who tried to legalize gaming machines in Guam under the guise of helping GMH.”
Franklin Arriola, the governor’s chief of staff, also released a statement on behalf of the Calvo-Tenorio administration, expressing Adelup’s opposition to gambling and also their support in helping GMH with its finances.
Arriola said Bill 19 is a “creative” way for the hospital to receive funding to pay off its debt and enhance its services. But he said this is only a short-term solution to a bigger problem the hospital continuously faces.
“The Legislature needs to continue a dialogue with the hospital to discuss better ways to generate revenue for future obligations,” Arriola said.
But at the same time, Arriola also expressed concern over the San Nicolas amendment, which he said was never presented in a public forum to solicit public input on its effects.
The original bill, he said, received proper scrutiny in that it solely dealt with gaming machines.
Meanwhile, the conflict among senators which ensued during the weekend session for Bill 19 seems to be continuing.
Yesterday, Majority Leader Rory J. Respicio introduced a resolution amending the 32nd Guam Legislature’s standing rules to ensure that votes taken on critical matters are not restricted and instead are voted on by the entire body to recognize and support the wishes and desires of all elected senators.
The Legislature adopted the standing rules on Jan. 7.
Resolution 181 also includes a portion amending the rules and procedures relative to the removal of officers and attaches. The current procedural rules require eight votes of the members of the rules committee for the removal of the Speaker, the Vice Speaker, the Legislative Secretary, or any Standing Committee chairperson.
The resolution proposes the following amendment: "Eight (8) votes of I Mina'Trentai Dos Na Liheslaturan Guahan shall be required for the removal of the Speaker, the Vice Speaker, the Legislative Secretary, or any Standing Committee chairperson.”