6 senators propose fines, prison for violators of COVID-19 safety rules

PRECAUTIONS: Emergency session for the Guam Legislature has been postponed indefinitely as the island continues to observe precautions against the COVID-19 pandemic. Norman M. Taruc/The Guam Daily Post

Six senators have introduced a bill that would impose up to a $5,000 fine, up to one year in prison or both for people who don’t follow the governor’s orders to stay at home.

The legislation was requested by Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero on Sunday after announcing that she needed the Legislature’s help to require people to stay home.

The bill doesn’t mention any of the specifics that the governor mentioned, including establishing a curfew for all Guamanians or allowing law enforcement to stop people to ensure they’re on the road for essential purposes.

It gives the governor blanket authority to enforce penalties for anyone “found to be in violation of an executive order promulgated by I Maga’hagan Guahan during a declared emergency to health or safety...”

The six senators who co-sponsored the bill are Speaker Tina Rose Muña Barnes, and Sens. Jose “Pedo” Terlaje, Amanda Shelton, Regine Biscoe Lee, Kelly Marsh and Joe S. San Agustin.

Last week the governor announced that stricter measures will begin on Tuesday in an effort to reduce the rise of COVID-19 positive cases.

On Sunday, she said she doesn’t have the authority to impose the escalated measures and sent a letter to senators asking for help.

She said the escalated measures are an effort to prevent a drastic increase in positive cases of COVID-19 on Guam.

From March 13 to April 4, Public Health Laboratories tested 559 samples and 93 came back positive. There have been four deaths.

The governor said without these drastic measures, up to 700 people could die of COVID-19 - some estimates from the governor’s medical advisory group projected thousands of deaths five months from now.

In her letter to the speaker, the governor states severe action is needed to “respond to those on our island that have been unwilling to follow public health guidance in the shadow of this deadly virus.”

She said “other nations, using extraordinary powers, have had some progress in curtailing the spread of COVID-19, those jurisdictions do not recognize the same strong fundamental rights afforded to Guam’s people by the Constitution.” 

“As governor, I must take strong measures to defeat COVID-19 while recognizing the rights of individuals grounded in the Organic Act,” she stated, adding that “additional enforcement powers … can only be granted by the Legislature.”

She notes that she is prepared to call a special session for the Legislature and urged senators to “act as quickly as your responsible judgement will allow.”

The tone in this letter is different from a previous letter to senators as they attempted to discuss legislation to provide local help for Guamanians whose lives have been crushed by COVID-19.

In that March 30 letter, she told senators: We will win our fight by doing all our parts, staying home, washing our hands and ensuring etiquette coughing; these actions will help us in our battle against this invisible enemy.”

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