Special session immediately takes 2-week recess
Less than 30 minutes after the Special Session got underway yesterday, both the Senate and House approved a two-week mid-session recess with lawmakers scheduled to return on Mar. 26.
Despite the last minute communique by Gov. Togiola Tulafono calling the special session, a good number of lawmakers made it to their chambers for yesterday’s sessions. Both the Senate and House each had 12 members present.
The Senate may have more members for the special session, because the seven-member Senate Select Investigative Committee was already at the Fono for SSIC hearings that were to commence at 9 a.m.
During the session, Senate President Gaoteote Tofau Palaie introduced a verbal motion calling for a two-week mid session recess while the Fono leadership seeks a time this week to meet with the governor regarding the issues on the agenda for the special session. The motion was unanimously approved.
Three main bills on the special session agenda deal with the hospital: $10 million for the off island medical referral program; $8 million loan from the ASG Employees Retirement Fund and the proposal to dissolve LBJ and return it to the Department of Health.
(In last Saturday’s edition, Samoa News incorrectly reported that the Senate rejected the House version of the $8 million loan, which was introduced during the last session. Instead, the Senate rejected its own version of the bill while the House version is pending in committee)
After the governor’s letter calling the special session was read, House Speaker Savali Talavou Ale called a brief 10-minute recess, where Savali pointed out that when the House ended their 3rd regular session last Friday, there had been no word from the governor’s office regarding a special session.
Like everyone else, Savali said that he, too, was surprised with the call, as issues on the agenda are not new, and these bills are pending in committee. He explained that the Fono leaders had made contact with each other and the decision was made for a two-week recess, giving time for lawmakers to review all these matters proposed by the governor as well as tending to other matters.
Rep. Va’amua Henry Sesepasara said there is a provision of local regulations in which the Fono must give a 72-hour notice for any cabinet member to appear before a committee when the Fono is not in session.
He wanted to know if there is also a regulation requiring the governor to give the Fono enough notice, or time frame, before calling a special session.
According to the Pago Pago lawmaker, he was only contacted about the special session on Sunday, while he, along with other House members, had already made plans in advance.
Savali said there is no requirement dealing with any advance notice, but under the law, the governor has the authority to call a special session and to include issues to be discussed. He said the usual practice has been for Fono leaders and the governor to meet and discuss in advance a possible special session, before the call for a special session is issued.
The usual practice for the Fono when they go into a mid session break of more than three days, is for both sides to approve a resolution. But in this case, none was introduced in either the Senate or House.
Savali told House members that a longer mid-session recess can still be done with the endorsement of the majority, which was done when yesterday’s session resumed.
The Senate as noted, also did the same.
SSIC chairman Sen. Lualemaga Faoa said yesterday that the first committee investigative hearing on finances and operations of the LBJ Medical Center was canceled and the witnesses were excused.
He said the hearings will now commence at 9 a.m. today (Tuesday) with the same witnesses: LBJ chief executive officer Mike Gerstenberger, chief financial officer Viola Babcock and board chairman Moananu Va.