Legislative session took a surprising turn Friday night when a frustrated Sen. Jose Terlaje abruptly withdrew Bill 255-35, following what had been four days of debate and long discussions on proposed amendments. The measure was intended to allow government of Guam workers to choose their health insurance provider, by allowing them to utilize other qualified plans but pay the difference in premiums between that plan and the one selected by the government.
Lawmakers had just entered the committee of the whole around 6:40 p.m. with the Judiciary of Guam and other agencies, as lawmakers debated an amendment from Sen. Joe San Agustin that would bar the Judiciary from opting out of the GovGuam contract. The same would apply to the Legislature. San Agustin said the purpose was to have the whole government participate under one group.
He had made the call to enter into the committee of the whole following an objection from Sen. Mary Torres and discussion on whether the amendment would actually lead to savings, and because the Judiciary had not been consulted.
San Agustin later wanted to set aside his amendment pending additional information from the Judiciary, and continue debate next week. Torres again objected, arguing lawmakers should not waste the opportunity to query the Judiciary. San Agustin's motion failed. But the committee of the whole would not have dispersed regardless, and lawmakers continued until Terlaje withdrew his bill.
Prior to that, an amendment was proposed to limit the governor's selection to the most economical and beneficial plan, redefined to be the lowest-cost option. And another amendment would have altered the implementation of the bill so it would not affect procurement for fiscal 2021. The procurement for the 2021 health insurance contract is already underway and the Department of Administration had concerns with legislative actions that could impede those efforts.
"I had mentioned earlier that I don't want to allow our judge and the panel here tonight to treat this discussion like a public hearing," Terlaje said Friday night. "I am tired of the so many amendments. This interaction is turning into a circus already. I have so many respect to the chief justice and Justice (Robert) Torres. So with that, I'm sorry to say, but I want to withdraw Bill 255-35. For the last four days, we've been talking and all I hear are so many amendments. ... I kept quiet all the way because maybe, what they're trying to do is invigorate the bill. ... There's something going on here that I don't understand and I don't want to keep the chief justice and our panel up here."
Terlaje said he would rewrite the bill if he had to, and possibly follow the amendments proposed. But in a follow-up statement, Terlaje said the bill had been sabotaged by fellow senators. He specifically cited calling in the Judiciary.
"After four days of deliberation, members called for Chief Justice Phil Carbullido to testify on the floor for unrelated amendments that were neither heard nor related to the bill’s original intent," Terlaje's release stated.
Speaker Tina Muña Barnes, a co-sponsor to Bill 255, agreed the bill deviated from its initial intent.
"Bill 255 was always about granting people the best health care they could afford – that was not the bill before us today and I remain committed to working with Sen. Pedo Terlaje to do right by our people," the speaker stated through her spokesman, Chirag Bhojwani.