Citing the advice of the attorney general on a similar legislation last year, Gov. Ralph DLG Torres vetoed again a Senate local bill that proposes to establish a medical subsistence program for hemodialysis and terminally-ill patients on Rota.
Torres informed Senate President Jude U. Hofschneider and Rota Legislative Delegation co-chairpersons Sen. Teresita A. Santos (Ind-Rota) and Rep. Donald M. Manglona (Ind-Rota) last Monday about his disapproval of Senate Local Bill 22-1, Draft 1, which was passed by the Rota Legislative Delegation of the 22nd Legislature.
Offered by Santos, S.L.B. 22-1, D1 seeks to establish the medical subsistence allowance program for Rota hemodialysis and terminally-ill patients by addressing the issues Torres raised when he vetoed a similar bill, Senate Local Bill 21-2, S1, last year
The governor said he commends the delegation’s intent to provide additional assistance and support to Rota’s medical patients but, similar to the case in Senate Local Bill 21-2, S1, as advised by the AG, several legal issues arise from the enactment of this bill that warrants his disapproval again.
Torres said this bill provides that “patients who are residents of Rota for a period of at least one year immediately preceding the date of the Act may apply for medical subsistence allowance.”
The governor said the language runs afoul of the Equal Protection Clause, which prohibits states from enacting strict residency requirements.
If challenged, he said, the durational residency requirement in Section 102 of the bill must survive scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause. “It is unlikely that the residency requirement will be upheld as the local bill does not provide any rationale for the requirement,” Torres pointed out.
He said the bill is beyond the delegation’s constitutional authority.
Section 103 of the bill directs the Rota Health Center to designate five staff members to evaluate and certify whether a patient is terminally-ill to receive the medical subsistence allowance. The listing would be provided to the Rota mayor.
Torres said this section interferes with the jurisdiction of the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. to oversee the operations of the Rota Health Center and the interisland medical referral services. He said the delegation cannot override CHCC’s authority over the Rota Health Center.
The governor said a local measure is unenforceable if it contravenes a Commonwealth statute.
Also, Torres said the language of Section 104 (c ) in the bill mandates that a patient consent to the release of name to the mayor for the purpose of requesting “payment of the [Rota Medical Subsistence Allowance Program].” He said the right to privacy is protected by Article 1, Section 10 of the Commonwealth Constitution and the federal statute commonly referred to as Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.
At the same time, Torres said, the local bill fails to articulate a compelling reason for receiving the allowance.