Customs Chief Vincent Perez and others within the Guam Customs and Quarantine Agency expressed support for legislation that would grant 10% hazard pay to officers assigned to hazardous duty positions.
The bill would place Guam Customs on par with the Guam Police Department in terms of hazard pay differential.
Currently, under Public Law 33-195, Customs officers can only receive hazard pay differential if they are identified as direct exposure personnel, and only upon exposure.
The same is true for airport officers and those in other agencies identified in the law, except for GPD.
Moreover, the law already identifies hazardous duty positions within these agencies, including Customs officers.
When P.L. 33-195 was enacted more than four years ago, Guam Customs informed its officers that it intended to pay out hazardous pay differential but has not been able to do so due to the requirements, according to Perez.
"Although CQA maintains that our officers are always exposed to these risks ... there's disagreement by (the Department of Administration) on what can be validated as 'upon exposure,' and what constitutes hazards," Perez said.
Other agencies may have similar challenges with justifying "upon exposure," he added.
Bill 32-36, the measure that would amend the law, recognized the role that Customs officers played during the COVID-19 pandemic with their work at ports of entry.
Perez read a statement from the widow of Customs Officer Rene Tamanda, who died in September 2020 after being exposed to COVID-19 while on duty.
"It was while stationed at the Port Authority doing his duties as a Customs officer along with his fellow officers that he was exposed to the virus, which he inadvertently brought home causing exposures to his parents and myself," Perez read from the widow's statement.
"His elderly parents and I were fortunate enough to have fought the virus, but my husband wasn't. ... Rene wasn't the only officer who had been exposed to this virus while stationed at the Port. ... If the tragedy that our family experienced isn’t enough to say that these officers do indeed work in a hazardous environment, what is?" Perez concluded.
Speaker Therese Terlaje questioned why DOA was not present during the hearing to discuss issues with the hazard payout.
"What exactly is their problem, because we're going to rewrite the law and then it may be subject again to somebody's interpretation. So I want to know what their impediment really is," Terlaje said.
Sen. Joe San Agustin said it bothered him that "somebody that doesn't even do anything or has anything to do with you other than to process the pay" can argue whether a Customs officer or any other personnel should receive hazard pay.
Sen. Joanne Brown, who also expressed concern with DOA not being available during the hearing, said the issue appeared to be an administrative matter.
"We can write laws in a circle and if they're not implemented, or if there's disagreement, that's not for (the Legislature) to resolve," Brown said. "This is something really that should have been dealt with by the administration."
The senator requested feedback from DOA to learn why the issue has taken so long to resolve.
In addition to Guam Customs officers, an investigator from the Office of the Attorney General, which is in the same situation as Guam Customs under P.L. 33-195, requested that lawmakers also afford changes for all 16 criminal investigators at the attorney general's office in terms of hazard pay.