Tuesday, July 09, 2013

MY RESPONSE TO "KILL BILL" - PACIFIC DAILY NEWS EDITORIAL 7/6/13

The editorial can be read here.

It is truly encouraging to see the PDN so vociferously demand the voice of “the people” in the making of legislation from beginning to end. This is going to come in handy the next time such legislative sausage-making occurs on an issue they don’t necessarily care about or support.

I would like to remind the PDN of their editorial silence over a legislative monstrosity that was so huge that the bill had to be jerked and given a different number - but only after desperate shouting by a very few members of the public on talk radio.

It was substitute Bill 138-30, which sought to legalize same-sex civil unions. The original Bill 138, as submitted by the Guam Youth Congress, contained glaring inequities (civil unions were denied to those who did not “have their own private residence”), and was so poorly drafted, that it never should have been introduced in its original form, but Senator B.J. Cruz introduced it anyway.

After a series of townhall meetings, the poor drafting and embarrassing inequality in a bill touting equality became glaringly obvious, so Senator Cruz decided to rewrite the bill. 

The trouble began when the public hearing for the original Bill 138, which was already scheduled and noticed, became a public hearing for - not the original bill - but the substitute bill which the public had not yet seen. In addition, Senator Cruz, as per the standing rules, had no standing to submit a substitute bill, as only the bill’s author, the Rules Chair, or the Oversight Chair, had the standing to do so and he was none of those. 

We cried “foul”. How could we testify on a bill we had never seen? This was not just some rezoning thing, this was a bill that would significantly alter a fundamental societal institution and we wanted the debate to occur in the full light of day. 

But the PDN had already taken a pro same-sex editorial position, and while - to their credit - they allowed opposing views to be printed, they took no issue with the underhanded morphing of a bill which sought to accomplish what they supported.

We (opponents) were lectured - mocked actually - in the media and made to look like we were making something out of nothing. The Oversight Chair, Senator Frank Aguon, allowed the substitution of the substitute for the hearing on the grounds that it was actually the same bill with a few changes.

We (opponents) clamored for a copy of the substitute bill which we were only able to procure after much shouting on K57 that a hearing was about to be held on a bill which the public did not have access to. 

Upon procuring a copy of the bill it was quickly evident that the new bill was substantially different from the original and not only could it not be admitted as a substitute because Senator Cruz had no authority to submit it, but - because it introduced a wholly new category of legal unions for opposite sex couples- it also failed the test of germaneness. 

After a testy exchange on K57 with Senator Aguon, who mocked the idea that the substitute bill was any different than the original, it became evident that the public’s right to know and offer informed input, was publicly being trampled on and the hearing was cancelled.

In the end, Senator Cruz had to withdraw his substitute bill, since it was not a substitute, and resubmit it at Bill 185-30, and a whole new battle began. Senator Cruz cleverly submitted Bill 185 at 4:21pm on July 20, the day before Liberation Day, and at 6:31pm sent out the first notice for the hearing, when - to be sure - no one would be paying attention - at least not for another 36 to 48 hours. 

The drama unfolds from there. But man! Could we have used the PDN’s help back then in exposing the trampling of the people’s right to know and all the other wonderful platitudes the PDN now calls for over the Bill 19 fiasco. However, the PDN wanted to see same-sex unions legalized, so....silence.

In fact, the lack of transparency in the legislative sausage making of Bill 19 pales in comparison to Bill 138-185 circus. While we may not like the way it turned out, what happened to Bill 19 was perfectly legit and it happens with many bills. Bill 19 had a hearing. It morphed on the floor. What’s new?

It didn’t even drastically morph. Bill 19 already proposed to redirect gaming revenues from the general fund to another destination. The modified bill only added another source of gaming revenues (albeit contested), and added an additional destination: the hospital. 

The version which passed is NOT “very different from the measure that was introduced and had a public hearing” as claims the PDN. Also, the PDN claims that Bill 20 “was radically altered from its original version well after its public hearing...” Yes, it was, but the “radically altered” Bill 20 had a public hearing. The PDN continues to ignore this fact. 

This is a discredit to your paper and your profession. Ignoring the calls for public transparency - as you did in the Bill 138-185 episode - is one thing. (Oh, and by the way, don’t get me going on what you did to Bill 323-31.) But distorting facts in such a critical community conversation as what Bill 19 has provoked, is another. All of us are welcome to our own opinions, but we are not welcome to our own facts. 


Please, for the sake of an honest community discussion, let’s have at least one adult in the room.

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