Separation of church & state raised by Magalei over Hope House gift
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee chairman, Sen. Magalei Logovi’i has requested a legal opinion from Attorney General Talauega Eleasalo Ale regarding the government allocating money in its fiscal year 2019 budget proposal for Hope House, which is affiliated with a religious denomination in the territory.
Magalei made the request during the Fono Joint Budget Committee hearing yesterday, where several ASG agencies went through the FY 2019 budget review process with the Secretary of Samoan Affairs suggesting — during his office’s budget hearing — “drug testing” for ASG workers.
Hope House, located at the Fatuoaiga compound, in Ottoville, has been allocated $100,000 from the Lolo Administration, under the proposed FY 2019 budget. The funding is listed under the Special Programs budget category which is overseen by the Governor's Office. (See Samoa News Aug. 17th edition for details)
When Talauega appeared yesterday for the Department of Legal Affairs’ proposed FY 2019 budget, Magalei — who is also co-chairman of the Joint Budget Committee — requested the AG’s opinion on what he called “something new” under Special Programs.
Magalei said he supports the “intention” of the allocation and acknowledged that Hope House serves everyone — but is affiliated with a church. In the many years he has worked in the ASG Budget Office, Magalei said, this is the first time he has seen “something new” — this type of public allocation to a church affiliated operation.
It was noted during the hearing the separation of church and government.
He pointed to reports from off island where, for example, prayers are prohibited in public schools, and noted that American Samoa is a religious territory. Magalei said he is concerned with future impacts of such an allocation from the government to a church operated facility.
“What can stop other churches from requesting government for funds?” asked the Tualauta senator, who noted that he is prepared to offer a recommendation to the ASG Budget Office if such an allocation can be included in the Governor’s Contingency Fund (which is listed under Special Programs.)
He asked for Talauega’s opinion on the impact of such allocation listed publicly in budget documents.
Talauega responded that this is the first time he has heard of this, saying when the government prepares its annual budget, the only portion that comes to him deals with his Department of Legal Affairs. He asked to be given time to review and think about the matter, to see if it’s a right move or not.
Magalei requested the opinion be submitted to the committee before the Fono completes hearings on the FY 2019 budget.
It was also during the hearing, that Sen. Fai’ivae Iuli Godinet revealed that there was a time recently that the Office of Vital Statistics wasn’t able to issue birth certificates due to the delay in receiving its supply of green-paper, used to print birth certificates.
With no birth certificates, the Attorney General’s Office wasn’t able to issue Certificates of Identity, especially for students off island, said Fai’ivae.
Talauega responded that Vital Statistics — that issues birth certificates — is a bureau of the local Department of Homeland Security, but he believes issuance of CIs is back to norm and his office worked closely with Vital Statistics on the matter.
He added that he doesn’t believe any traveler was affected due to the delay in the getting their birth certificates.
During his closing remarks at the conclusion of the Samoan Affairs’ budget review, Mauga Tasi Asuega shared his final thoughts with lawmakers, and it had to do with illegal drugs. He said the issue is a major one in the territory and is having a serious impact on all sectors of the community; and it’s no secret that it has spread to schools.
He said he is concerned with the future of the territory as illegal drugs - along with alcohol abuse - have impacted families and children.
He suggested “drug testing” for the ASG workforce, and if it starts with Samoan Affairs, he is the first to raise his hand to be tested.
Samoa News notes that a Senate bill authorizing the government to test all ASG employees for alcohol and drugs is pending in the Senate Public Safety Committee for further discussion.
Introduced in August 2017, the bill would allow ASG, including semi-autonomous agencies, to provide for appropriate and uniform alcohol and drug testing procedures for all government employees, applicants for ASG employment, elected officials, political appointees, contractors, and subcontractors. (See Samoa News Aug. 22, 2017 edition for details).
Previous legislations calling for drug testing for all ASG workers, have never made it out of committee for a floor vote. Two major concerns were funding source and cost of implementing drug testing.