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Senate agrees to meet with Governor — on their terms

Instead of the Governor H. Rex Lee Auditorium for a meeting with the governor, the Senate membership yesterday agreed that it would occur at the Fono compound, and the meeting is set for this morning in the Senate Chamber.

In a letter received last Friday by Fono leaders, Gov. Togiola Tulafono sought a meeting with members of the Senate and House to discuss various issues that may have not been clear to lawmakers following testimonies by cabinet directors.

The governor also stated that there are several pending administration bills which the Fono has not acted on, and requested a meeting yesterday at the Lee Auditorium, but Fono leaders opted for a delay until there was discussion among senators, who met yesterday.

Senate President Gaoteote Tofau Palaie informed senators that tomorrow (Wednesday) is the last day of the current legislative session and consideration of any pending bill cannot be done. He repeated the governor’s request for a meeting and the reasons, and said the final decision will be left up to senators.

Sen. Galeai Tu’ufuli was the first to address his colleagues saying that it has always been protocol and policy that anytime the governor wants to address lawmakers, this is done on the Fono grounds and nowhere else.

He also said that it has always been proper protocol that any issues by the governor are discussed first with the Fono leadership, who then relay that information to lawmakers. He wanted to know the actual agenda of the meeting, to which Gaoteote replied, that according to the letter, there are pending bills not acted on by the Fono, but there is no specific agenda from the governor.

However, Gaoteote said that if the governor is referring to revenue measures sent to the Fono for approval, the Senate has already made a decision on those bills. (Gaoteote was referring to the bills already rejected by the Senate which would hike excise taxes on tobacco, beer and alcohol, increase business license fees and add a new $2,000 corporate franchise tax).

Although he and the entire Fono have the utmost respect for the governor, Galeai said, he does not want the Fono to be led by the hand like kids, and reiterated that the proper venue for the governor to address lawmakers is the Fono compound.

He said if the governor is calling a meeting with the Fono to shake hands and bid farewell to the governor, that is a different issue.

Sen. Lualemaga Faoa agreed with Galeai that the Fono is the proper venue for the governor to address lawmakers and this has been the protocol for many years. He sees no reason to change this long standing policy, he said, adding that if the Fono ends on Wednesday, there is always Thursday or Friday this week for the Fono to meet with the governor.

Sens. Mauga T. Asuega and Fonoti T. Aufata also spoke in agreement that the Fono is the only place for the governor to address lawmakers.

With no other statements made, Gaoteote said it appears that senators agreed to the Fono as the meeting place and he will convey this information to the governor, who will meet with lawmakers today.

Gaoteote said it's also good for the Fono to hear directly from the governor on the views and opinions that the administration wants to share with lawmakers.