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12 23Fri10242014

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Bill 19 conflict continues

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CONFLICT and differences over Bill 19, which seeks to ban all forms of gambling after Guam Memorial Hospital’s debts are paid off, continued yesterday as Sen. Ben Pangelinan urged acting Speaker Benjamin J.F. Cruz to convene session again for the bill.

In a letter to Cruz, Pangelinan said another session is necessary to attach “Exhibit A” to the already passed Bill 19 before the measure is transmitted to Gov. Eddie Calvo.

Exhibit A, which was originally appended to Bill 20, or the GMHA Healthcare Trust and Development Act of 2013, lists GMH's obligations owed to various vendors. The document shows that GMH has an outstanding debt of around $22 million as of Jan. 14.

Pangelinan said the “recent confusion regarding the attachment of Exhibit A to Bill 19 should not be used as an excuse to torpedo the bill.”

The measure, without the attachment of Exhibit A, renders the bill nonsensical, he added.

Pangelinan was the one who introduced an amendment to Bill 19, stating: "All taxes imposed by the act and the authority to license all gaming, limited gaming, and gambling referenced herein shall be repealed upon the payment of vendors of GMH listed in Exhibit A appended herein.”

Sen. Michael San Nicolas then introduced an amendment which would ban all gaming activities once GMH's vendor debts are fully satisfied. Both amendments were passed.

No Exhibit A?

After passing the bill, several lawmakers said that despite Pangelinan’s references to Exhibit A, he failed to provide any Exhibit A attachments to his floor amendment. They added that when the engrossed version of Bill 19 was presented to lawmakers for voting, no exhibit was attached.

The group of senators also raised concerns that the amendments passed by Pangelinan and San Nicolas lack sufficient stakeholder input.

Although originally introduced by Duenas, the amended version of Bill 19, which was unanimously passed last Monday, now incorporates provisions from Bill 20, a bill introduced by Sen. Dennis Rodriguez that proposes to use tax revenue from gaming machines to help pay off GMH's debts.

The original Duenas measure seeks to regulate limited gaming activities allowed by law, collect fees and taxes from licensed operators, and make funds available for improvements to Guam’s sporting facilities.

Now, the “hybrid” Bill 19 institutes an “across-the-board” ban on all forms of gambling once GMH’s debts are paid off.

In his column that appears in today’s Variety, Pangelinan said the original intent of Bill 19 was to assess an increased tax rate on limited gaming, but this was muddled with the inclusion of the controversial Bill 20 that would have legitimized almost 500 gaming machines that the Attorney General had already deemed illegal.

“This would have effectively legalized a monopoly for the owners of those specified gaming machines indefinitely,” he said.

Pangelinan also stated that pro-gambling senators have gone on the attack against himself and others, attempting to falsify the official legislative record that his amendment and the passed Bill 19 did not include an Exhibit A, “which would allow the current legal gaming, limited gaming, and gambling industry on Guam to exist in perpetuity.”

“This was not the case, as my amendment was clearly and specifically stated on the session floor to incorporate Exhibit A with the GMH debt clearly outlined,” Pangelinan said.

Assurance

Meanwhile, San Nicolas, in an interview with Tom Maddox of ABC Radio Australia’s Pacific Beat program, reiterated his stance on ending all forms of gaming on Guam in saying, “In the past, the people of Guam rejected gambling five times, and now the Legislature is making sure that never happens again.”

In the interview, San Nicolas gave assurance that continued support will be given to activities that depend on gaming money, such as sports and non-profit work, but “without the gambling element.”

“We are a community in transition now,” San Nicolas emphasized.

Part of the transition, he said, is to tax gaming to create trust funds which will allow those community activities to continue after gaming ends.

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