AG provides senators time to override governor’s veto of GMH lease and development bills

The clock is running on any effort senators may have to stop the governor from building a $1 billion medical complex at Eagle’s Field, Mangilao. Senators wanting to force the governor to build the new hospital elsewhere – such as at Oka or Hospital Point – have until April 3 to override her veto of Bill No. 12-37.

April 3 is the fourteenth day from her March 20 veto of the legislation by Speaker Therese Terlaje. Those 14 days encompass a grace period Guam’s attorney general has extended to senators as a courtesy regarding their consideration of Bill No. 12.

Bill No. 12-37 essentially will require the governor to receive legislative approval if she or any future governor wishes to enter into a long term lease with anyone, like the U.S. military. The governor is waiting to sign a lease proposal with the Navy to use 112 acres of Fadian property surrounding Eagle’s Field for the next several decades. That is where she wants to build a medical complex, which last was estimated to cost more than $1 billion before factoring the cost of financing the program.

And she is up against a clock, herself. Admiral Benjamin Nicholson, commander of Joint Region Marianas, has given the governor until April 14 to sign the lease. She thus far has bulldozed the political obstacles that confronted her, and managed to rush the multi-decade lease draft after all 15 senators in early March passed Bill No. 12. But before she can sign that lease, one more person needs to, according to law: the attorney general of Guam.

Attorney General Douglas Moylan confirmed to Kandit he informed Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero of the courtesy he is extending to senators to decide whether Bill No. 12 should become law without the signature of the governor. If senators override her veto of Bill No. 12 by April 3, then nothing can be done with the lease until senators grant their approval..

The legislation will force the governor to come clean with her development plans, and to convince senators the lease and the development at Fadian will be a good deal for Guam. Thus far, the planning process has been conducted behind closed doors, and there has been virtually no marketing of the plans to the public for what will be the single-largest expenditure in GovGuam history.

Senators, doctors, businessmen, and the everyday citizen have continuously questioned why the governor will not construct the new hospital at Oka Point, or Hospital Point, where Guam Memorial Hospital once stood. The site, unlike the Fadian property, is connected to utilities, is surrounded by the population center of the island, and is close to the majority of the island’s medical clinics and laboratories.

If senators override Bill No. 12 into law, the governor will have fewer than two weeks to convince the legislature the $1 billion medical campus development at Fadian is the best deal for patients, doctors, and taxpayers. If not, and if the admiral’s threat of deadline is real, then Fadian ceases as an option on April 15, and the governor will be forced to reconsider Oka.

According to email the governor’s office disclosed to Kandit more than a year ago between governor’s special assistant Vera Topasna and Naval Facilities Command, Oka was the only one of three proposed hospital development sites owned by the government of Guam. The other two sites – including Fadian – were thought to be inferior sites according to the early stage documents because they required extensive and expensive development.

At some point in the planning stages, and after the U.S. Secretary of the Navy wrote to Ms. Leon Guerrero informing her of his intention to declare the Fadian property as excess – the governor decided to build the campus at Fadian.

The decision sparked controversy on multiple fronts: first, from doctors questioning the move to the back road leading to Andersen Air Force Base; then, from the families who have made claims of ancestral lands rights to land either they, or their ancestors owned at Eagle’s Field prior to the Organic Act of Guam.

In her veto letter outlining her objections to Bill No. 12, Ms. Leon Guerrero scolded senators for being obstructionists to her desire to build the campus at Fadian. She focused on the ancestral lands controversy, explaining that if senators stop her from signing the lease and the lease signing terms expire, then the land will be used by the Navy, and never returned to the government.

Monday in session, senators began to talk about the hospital development in a discussion on the override of Bill No. 12’s companion legislation, Bill No. 13-37, which the governor vetoed together with Bill No. 12. Bill No. 13 will require the governor to include senators in the planning process, and subject the development committee’s meetings and planning to the Open Government Act’s mandate for transparency.

Transparency and the cost of the program – and not simply the ancestral lands issue – necessitate legislative and public scrutiny, according to senatorial proponents of the override of both bills into law.

The video in this story shows Sen. Chris Barnett’s speech in favor of the override of Bill No. 13, and his overall desire for senators to stop the governor from making unilateral decisions on the $1 billion project. All senators present for the debate voted to advance the override of Bill No. 13 to the voting file, though Sen. Will Parkinson declared his opposition to the override. Senators reconvene Wednesday morning to discuss the override of Bill No. 12. It is unclear when senators will vote, or whether Ms. Terlaje has whipped up the 10 votes needed to override the gubernatorial vetoes.

The following is from a news release from the Office of Speaker Therese Terlaje regarding  both bills:

Bill 13-37 (COR)

On the first day of legislative session, a motion was made by Speaker Therese Terlaje, notwithstanding the objections of the Governor, to move Bill 13-37 to the voting file for override which passed without objection on the floor.  The measure, which originally passed unanimously and was subsequently vetoed, ensures the applicability of the Open Government Law to Twenty-First Century Healthcare Center Committee, requiring public notices, allowing public attendance, and public access to committee records. The bill also adds medical professionals, mayors, and the legislative health chair to the planning committee for the medical campus, allowing them the opportunity to address concerns where they were not previously engaged.

Bill 12-37 (COR)

Speaker Terlaje plans to make a motion for an override of Bill 12-37 on Wednesday and stated, “Guam taxpayers are bearing the costs.  It is not free.  They are entitled to know what they are being committed to for decades and if they will be satisfied with the product.”  Bill 12-37 would simply require legislative approval of leases for land controlled by federal government in excess of 5 years.

Both bills were vetoed by the Governor with a 5-page letter attached which makes inaccurate assertions of consequences and the intent of the bills.  Speaker Terlaje stated, “what is in these plans that would cause anyone to reach the conclusion that if publicly vetted, there would be no hospital?  I have supported not only funding for capital improvements for the current hospital, but also to begin the process of funding and building a new hospital.  Right now, the 50-year lease we have seen says details will be provided only after the lease is signed, regarding the facility requirements of the military and the in-kind contributions that may be used to offset the almost $1 million lease payments for over 40 years.  This is concerning.”

Speaker Terlaje added, “I have been consistent that this level of public indebtedness that will affect generations must come before the legislature and be opened up to the public to ensure that all terms of the deal, including the lease, are in the best interest of the people.”

Bill 13-37 was placed in the voting file for an override vote without objection. The motion for the override of Bill 12-37 will be made when session reconvenes on Wednesday, March 29, 2023, at the Guam Congress Building.

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