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Majority Caucus Postpones Press Conference

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ST. THOMAS— The Majority Caucus Press Conference scheduled for this afternoon at 5:00 p.m. in the Earle B. Ottley Legislative Hall has been postponed until a later date. 

The Senate Body continues to meet this hour receiving testimony on Bill 33-0072 which seeks to appropriate $39,467,909 that was awarded to the Virgin Islands Medical Assistance Program as a result of a multi-year reconciliation and review of several of the Territory’s health care agencies.

 At an earliest convenience, a future date will be announced, and we do apologize for any inconvenience that this may have caused.

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Senate to Meet Wednesday in Regular Session

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ST. THOMAS–Senate President Novelle E. Francis, Jr. will convene the 33rdLegislature into regular session on Wednesday, June 5, 2019 to receive testimony relating to Bill No.33-0072. Representatives of the territory’s hospitals, federally qualified health centers, the Virgin Islands Waste Management Authority and the Water and Power Authorityhave been invited to attend. Bill No.33-0072,seeks to appropriate$39,467,909 that was awarded to the Virgin Islands Medical Assistance Program(MAP)as theresult of a multi-year account reconciliationof several of the territory’shealthcare agencies. It seeks to redistribute the funds to meetcritical operating needsof various governmental agencies.The agencies that are scheduled to testify at Wednesday’sSession are:the Department of Health; Schneider Regional Medical Center; Juan F. Luis Hospital & Medical Center; Frederiksted Health Care, Inc., and the St. Thomas East End Medical Center.The Legislative Session is scheduled to convene at 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday, June 5, 2019 in the Earle B. Ottley Legislative Hall and will be broadcast live on LEGIT Television Cable Channel 26, WVSE 91.9 FM, https://livestream.com/legittv/and also on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/USVILegislature/.

Majority Caucus to Host Press Conference

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ST. THOMAS—Senate Majority Leader Marvin A. Blyden announced today that the 33rd Legislature’s Majority Caucus will host a press conference on Wednesday, June 5, 2019 at 5 p.m., following the adjournment of Legislative Session.
The press conference will provide information to the public regarding the reorganization of the 33rd Legislature, to include the restructuring and composition of its standing committees.
Wednesday’s press conference will broadcast live on LEGIT Television Channel 26 and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/USVILegislature.

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FOUR OUTSTANDING CONTRIBUTORS HONORED

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St. Croix–The Committee on Culture, Historic Preservation, and Agriculture chaired by Senator Myron D. Jackson, met Friday, May 31, 2019, in the Cardiac Center Conference Room, St. Croix and considered several proposed resolutions.

The resolutions honored several outstanding musicians, a storyteller and culture bearer, and a contributor to a historic church in the Virgin Islands.

The first item on the day’s agenda was Bill No.33-0079, which is a resolution proposed by Senator Javan James.  The resolution seeks to honor and commend Alwyn “Big Al” Baptiste, Sr., posthumously for his outstanding contribution to the music industry in the Virgin Islands.

The committee heard from Deanroy Baptise who said that Big Al was the oldest of ten (10) siblings. He added that he knew his brother was destined for greatness in the musical industry. Born on the Island of Antigua, Dean said when he joined his brother in 1979, he realized that he was very respected by the people of St. Croix. He added that his brother was also well respected in the Caribbean community in New York.

Other testifiers joined in the honoring of Big Al were: Bernard Liburd, of St. Thomas who told of the collaboration efforts between him and Big Al which yielded the popular song, “Barna Jam” and Fitzroy Ogarro who became a Carnival Calyso King.

The next item on the agenda was Bill No. 33-0039 which is a resolution proposed by Senator James, commending Alwyn “Daddy Jones” Baptiste, Jr., for his outstanding contributions to the music industry in the Virgin Islands and the wider Caribbean.

Testifiers participating in the honoring of Baptiste Jr., were Alwyn Baptiste, III, Henry Willock, Jr. and Alvin Burke, Jr.  

Baptiste III said his father was always around his grandfather whenever he was playing music, and he soon realized that his father would become like his grandfather—a master musician.    Willock, Jr., said, “music is life and the universal language.” He pointed out that both him and Baptiste, Jr., met in elementary school at the age of 9-years old. Burke in his testimony said the modern calypso musical styles that are heard today, were revolutionized a long time ago by Daddy Jones.

Chairman, Sen. Jackson said many of our arts and culture bearers have made sacrifice for what they do. He congratulated the testifiers for their insights on behalf of the honorees.  He further stated that we need to establish an institution that foster the development and celebration of our arts and culture for future generations.

Bill No.33-0038 and Bill No.33-0039 were favorable approved and sent on to the Committee on Rules and Judiciary for further consideration.

Bill No. 33-0057 a resolution posthumously honoring and commending Janice Pemberton Tutein for her tireless years of educating our youth and work as a storyteller and cultural bearer.

Senator Jackson characterized Tutein as a traditional crucian and Virgin Islands cultural bearer, who was also known as “Auntie Janice.”  The Senator further indicated that Tutein was also an educator and a noted master storyteller.  

Testifiers who recalled the life and times of this noted cultural bearer were Zoraida Jacobs, friend and fellow educator; Roy Pemberton (brother); Larry Larsen, friend and fellow educator; and Violet Harrigan Connor, ret-educator.

Many of the testifiers spoke of “Auntie Janice” as a dedicated teacher who would go beyond the ordinary to make sure her students achieve their expectations. She was, they echoed, incorporated the cultural realities of the Virgin Islands within her teaching practices.

This Bill was amended by Senator Jackson, whereas the store on the Agricultural Fair Ground, Estate Lower Love, St. Croix be named the “Auntie Janice Li’l Shop and the Homestead House, the “Auntie Janice” Pemberton Tutein Homestead House.”

The Bill was voted out of the committee and sent to the Rule and Judiciary Committee for further consideration.

The last item on the day’s agenda was Bill No.33-0079, which is a resolution sponsored by Senator Jackson.  The resolution seeks to honor and commend Thelma Ruby Schade, Youngblood for her outstanding service and contributions to the Lutheran Church of the Virgin Islands.

Testifiers who spoke on behalf of Pastor Youngblood were: Pastor Gerald A. Williams, Lord God of Sabaoth Lutheran Church and Pastor Robert Wakefield, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church.

According to the testifiers Pastor Youngblood was a pioneer who made outstanding contributions to the church and the community throughout her ministry.  She became the first black American-born fully trained Lutheran Deaconess.

The Bill was amended by Senator Jackson and thereafter was favorably approved by the committee and sent on to the Rules and Judiciary Committee for further consideration.

Senators at Friday’s hearing were: Chairman, Senator Myron D. Jackson, Javan James, Sr., Alicia Barnes, Oakland Benta, Stedmann Hodge, Donna Frett-Gregory, and Novelle Francis, Jr.

Senate President Francis Acknowledges Receipt of FY 2020 Executive Budget

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

No. 33-19-004

May 30, 2019

For More Information Contact: Shawna K. Richards, Chief of Staff

Ph: (340) 712-2324 srichards@legvi.org

Senate President Novelle E. Francis, Jr. has acknowledged receipt of the Fiscal Year 2020 Executive Budget, which was submitted to the Virgin Islands Legislature earlier today, in compliance with the statutory filing deadline of May 30th.

“I appreciate that Governor Bryan and his financial team met the deadline to submit the Executive Budget to the Senate,” Francis said. “Timely receipt of the budget allows the Legislature to proceed with its work of vetting this document in a comprehensive manner and making fiscally responsible decisions.

I look forward to hearing directly from government agencies during the upcoming budget cycle to best determine how their needs can be supportedin ways that serve the interests of the people of the Virgin Islands.”

Committee on Gov’t Operations, Consumer and Veterans Affairs Forwards Approved Bills to Rules and the Judiciary

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The Committee on Government Operations, Consumer & Veterans Affairs, chaired by Sen. Athneil “Bobby” Thomas, met in the Earle B. Ottley Legislative Hall on Monday, to take testimony and consider bills relating to taxi medallions and trade name registration.
In its first block, the Committee considered two bills which spoke specifically about taxi medallions for Veterans. Bill No. 33-0006, sponsored by Sen. Dwayne M. DeGraff, which seeks to “…amend title 20 VIC, part II, chapter 37, subchapter II, section 407 relating to taxi medallions, to prohibit veterans who obtain taxi medallions at auction from selling the medallion to a person who is not a veteran”; and Bill No. 33-0009, sponsored by Sen. Marvin A. Blyden, which seeks to “…amend title 20 VIC, part II, chapter 37, subchapter II, section 407 relating to the sale of taxi medal-lions by adding a new subsection (d) providing a definition of Virgin Islands Veteran for the purpos-es of the section”.
In his testimony, Patrick D. Farrell, Director of the V.I. Office of Veterans Affairs, expressed his support for both measures. He said it would be unfair for non-veterans to benefit from a law that was initially created for veterans, and noted that “there are many Veterans awaiting the opportunity to own a taxi medallion via this process.” With his support of Bill No. 33-0009, Farrell suggested that the definition of Virgin Islands Veteran be considered for all sections of the V.I. Code pertain-ing to Veterans, similar to other state laws specific to veterans of their state.
Also testifying on both measures, from the V.I. Taxicab Commission, was Executive Director Levron Sarauw, Sr., who indicated that he is in support of both measures, noting that the Commis-sion currently has a policy that mirrors Bill No. 33-0006.
Both bills were approved and forwarded to the Rules and Judiciary Committee.
The Committee also considered Bill No. 33-0030, sponsored by Sen. Thomas, which would, “…amend title 11, chapter 21, section 1213 of the Virgin Islands Code, by requiring the annual renewal of trade name registration”. Sen. Thomas noted that it has been approximately 26 years since the fee schedule has been upgraded, and this measure seeks to bring the fees up-to-date, by suggesting an annual renewal fee of $50. While Denise Johannes, Director of the Division of Corporations and Trademarks for the Lt. Governor’s Office testified that the office in is favor of the change in fee, she said they would prefer that the biannual schedule remains, and that they be given the leeway to set “a reasonable fee by regulation”. Senators did not agree with leaving that decision solely to the division without legislative approval, and voted to forward the measure to the Rules and Judiciary Committee, pending and amendment to allow the fee to remain biannual, with a change to $100.
Committee members present at Monday’s meeting along with Committee Chair Sen. Thomas, were Senators DeGraff, Novelle E. Francis, Jr., Javan E. James, Sr., Steven D. Payne, Sr., and Janelle K. Sarauw. Sen. Alicia V. Barnes was excused. Non-committee member Sen. Blyden was also present.
Capitol Building, P.O. Box 1690
St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands 00804

Transportation/Infrastructure Chair: Safe and reliable transportation is a must

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ST. THOMAS, U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS – On Monday, April 15, the Committee on Housing, Transportation, Infrastructure and Telecommunications met to hear testimony from the Department of Public Works on the status of infrastructure and public transportation services in the territory.

Committee Chair, Senator Marvin A. Blyden, stressed the role the roads and public transportation system plays in our lives in order to highlight the importance of keeping them maintained.

“The study of human civilization shows us that roads are the physical links that bind communities together. From everyday transportation, to commerce, to healthcare and other emergency services, the functioning of a modern society depends on a solid road system and a solid public transportation system”

In his testimony, Commissioner Nominee Nelson Petty Jr. detailed multiple active infrastructure projects totaling $176 million. These projects include the Veteran’s Drive project, the Melvin D. Evans Highway project, Carlton Road repavement and drainage, rehabilitation of Sion Valley Hill, paving of Moravian Highway, replacement of Scott Free Bridge, emergency repairs of Fish Bay Road in St. John, the Mainstreet Enhancement Project, and more. Overall, the Department of Public Works expects to receive approximately $460 million in funding through a combination of local non-disaster funding and federal funding from FEMA, the Department of Interior, GARVEE bonds, the Federal Highway Administration and HUD CDBG-DR grants.

To increase the presence and reliability of the VITRAN bus system,the Commissioner Nominee and Transportation Planner Dennis Chance explained how 10 medium buses had been ordered and that there were plans to hire more drivers.

Noting the considerable interest in the topic, Commissioner Nominee Petty explained his opinion on the way the GVI accepts private roads in order to repair them. He noted there are provisions that allow the Government to make repairs without having them deeded, but the larger issue was a matter of funding. Unless funding sources are identified, he recommends against accepting private roads. Should a source be found, the Department of Public Works can evaluate the request appropriately.

Senators in attendance also pressed for a resolution of the traffic light issue on St. Thomas and learned that the delay is the result of supply issues with the manufacturers. All necessary materials are expected to arrive in May.

Senators Marvin A. Blyden, Novelle E. Francis, Kenneth L. Gittens, Alicia V. Barnes, Janelle K. Sarauw, and Javan E. James were present at Monday’s hearing. Non-committee members Donna Frett-Gregory and Oakland Benta were also in attendance.

More than 11,000 attend Seatrade

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MIAMI, FLORIDA – Senate President Kenneth L. Gittens said Monday that given the catastrophic hurricanes of 2017 and the rapid changes occurring within the cruise industry that it was critical for Virgin Islands officials to continue to work closely with cruise lines, travel agents, vendors and other tourism partners.

Senator Gittens, who is among the Virgin Islands delegation attending the 2019 Seatrade Cruise Global Conference, said the annual event remains the industry’s most important networking opportunity with the ultimate goal of luring more ships and attractions to the Territory, particularly St. Croix.

“As we continue to rebound from Hurricanes Irma and Maria, our tourism environment and specifically the cruise industry are regaining their stability, but we still have some catching up to do,” he said. “This conference is just one of the ways that we can continue to remain abreast of the changes taking place through innovative workshops and opportunities to network with the top executives in the industry. We must be proactive in driving our tourism product forward.”

There are more than three dozen workshops that focus on all aspects of the cruise industry, with many oriented toward the role that government must play in regulating and supporting tourism.

“This conference is expected to draw more than 11,000 registered attendees from around the world,” the Senate President said. “We want to ensure that the Territory remains at the table and is effectively represented. Having the opportunity to meet one on one with the executives gives us a leg up on our competition.”

The Executive Director of the 33rd Legislature and former Tourism Commissioner, Pamela C. Richards, said at the Seatrade Conference senators have a unique opportunity to meet with industry partners and learn how the Territory can be improved as a destination.

“With the information that they gather, and the relationships built with this face-to-face interaction, they can use this information to develop policies and adjust existing legislation or implement new legislation that can leverage our destination more prominently to these audiences,” Ms. Richards said.

Gittens said he is looking forward to the conference’s keynote address on the State of the Industry Panel which will be moderated by Lucy Hockings from BBC News and include Frank Del Rio of Norwegian Cruise Line, Arnold Donald of Carnival Corporation, Richard Fain from Royal Caribbean Cruises and Pierfrancesco Vago from MSC Cruises.

“We’ve seen the fruits of our attendance at Seatrade in the past and this is another opportunity to connect with the key industry players. There is a great global market out there waiting to come to our Territory and enjoy our rich heritage and natural beauty,” Senator Gittens said.

The conference’s tradeshow and expo floor will feature 800 exhibitors from 83 countries.

“I’m looking forward to having candid discussions with some of the vendors, operators and investors to bring new attractions and investment dollars to the Territory,” Senator Gittens said.

The Legislature’s delegation includes: Senate President Gittens, Senator Kurt Vialet, Senator Oakland Benta, Senator Stephen Payne, Senator Athniel “Bobby” Thomas and Senator Myron Jackson.

Committee on Rules and Judiciary Approves Five Nominees

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From the office of Senator Alicia V. Barnes

St. Thomas, V.I. – Five cabinet nominees selected by Governor Albert Bryan were confirmed before the 33rd Legislature’s Committee on Rules & Judiciary during confirmation hearings chaired by Senator Alicia V. Barnes on Thursday, March 28, and Friday, March 29 at the Earle B. Ottley Legislative Hall in St. Thomas.
The approved nominees are Justa Encarnacion, Department of Health, Positive T.A. Nelson Department of Agriculture, Nelson Petty, Jr., Department of Public Works, Jean-Pierre L. Oriol, Department of Planning and Natural Resources, and Racquel Berry-Benjamin, Department of Education.

Department of Health Commissioner Nominee Encarnacion earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing and served as the first Health Supervisor at the University of the Virgin Islands’ St. Croix Campus. Encarnacion’s short-term goals include the development of a U.S. Virgin Islands Health Plan by conducting a health needs assessment with the input of all stakeholders to improve the overall performance of public health. Long-term goals include the opening of a 40-bed residential behavioral health facility on St. Croix, to include the return of patients receiving care off-island.
Senator Barnes asked about emergency planning relative to patient evacuees and managing databases in the wake of another natural disaster. During a line of questioning, Senate President Kenneth L. Gittens asked the nominee if the department had looked into placing EMT’s at fire stations to reduce ambulatory response times. Commissioner Nominee Encarnacion stated that meetings and conversations have started. Senator Janelle K. Sarauw asked about the status of the dental clinic in the territory and if community health clinics were operational. Commissioner Nominee Encarnacion said that while the dental clinic was taken out of the budget, agencies have expressed interest in continued collaboration with the Frederiksted and East End Health Centers.

Commissioner Nominee Nelson of the Department of Agriculture earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Accounting and has eight years of crop farming, landscaping, and horticulture experience. His goals include revisiting and updating the Strategic Plan for Sustainable Agricultural Development and Advancement, improving infrastructure, pursuing additional funding sources, and establishing a deeper partnership with the University of the Virgin Islands.
Senator Novelle E. Francis, Jr. asked about fund capitalization, assistance with facility rehabilitation, and how much funding local farm industries received. Nelson said two million dollars have been utilized thus far.
Commissioner Nominee Oriol earned a degree in Biology and began his work at DPNR as an inspector at the Division of Coastal Zone Management. His short-term goals include resolving staffing issues, addressing repairs at DPNR’s St. John office through a bid process, and providing permitees with standardized permit placards. Long-term goals include the development of comprehensive Island-Specific land use plans, and the implementation of an electronic permitting system.
Senator Dwayne M. DeGraff asked about his plans for DPNR for the next six months. Oriol listed staffing, making inspections, and having vehicles for inspectors as top priorities. Senator Barnes asked about the recent issues with CZM permits for the racetrack, how it was resolved, and if there’s a strategy in place to ensure that it won’t happen again. Oriol said the matter was resolved and permits were signed, and that legal opinions are being taken into consideration.
Commissioner Nominee Nelson Petty, Jr. earned a degree in Civil Engineering and started his career as a registered professional engineer with the Department of Public Works. Petty also founded his own engineering and surveying company. One of Petty’s goals is to “manage the community’s expectations with regards to expending federal funds to address repairs to our infrastructure,” and to attract more community and business involvement.
Committee members asked about overall safety issues, the VITRAN system, traffic and parking concerns, leadership roles on each island and specifics on projects such as the La Reine Fish Market.
Commissioner Nominee Racquel Berry-Benjamin earned a bachelor’s degree, two Masters’ Degrees, and is a Doctoral Candidate. She appeared before the committee a second time and passed, along with the other members nominees during this two-day period, to the full body with favorable recommendations.

Committee on Youth, Sports, Parks and Recreation Receives Update on Various Items

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From the Office of Senator Javan E. James, Sr.

St. Croix, USVI–Members of the Committee on Youth, Sports, Parks and Recreation, chaired by Senator Javan E. James, Sr. met on Tuesday, March 26, 2019 in the Capitol Building on St. Thomas to receive an update status from several Government and non-government agencies.

The committee first heard from, Labor Commissioner nominee, Gary Molloy along with his team, who gave an overview of the Labor Youth Program, by focusing specifically on plans for the Youth and Summer Programs. The committee learned that there are approximately 598 summer jobs for the youth throughout the Territory.

Having a background in education, Commissioner Nominee Molloy hopes to collaborate with Department of Education by visiting schools and informing students of the programs that are offered. Commissioner Nominee Molloy further indicated that statically service positions like Administration, Accounting, and IT positions are the jobs that are much needed to be filled along with hospitality and carpentry areas.

The Department of Sports, Parks and Recreation Acting Commissioner Calvert White, focused on the recovery efforts due to the destruction sustained during the 2017 storms. White said that there is a need for reconstruction which may probably exceed $20,000,000.00. The Acting Commissioner also informed the committee that damages were extended to all islands and it is the department’s intent to do a thorough upgrade territory wide.

VIGL Operations Manager, Jason Williams discussed the Agreement between the VIGL and the Government of the Virgin Islands regarding their obligation to commit $27 million for the design and reconstruction of both race tracks; Williams further indicated in his testimony that he received a permit in December 2018 for the St. Thomas racetrack and a few others earlier this month.

St. Croix Horsemen Association told committee members about their challenges that they are faced with regarding their horses having no running surface that is suitable for the horses to exercise.

St. Thomas/St. John Horsemen Association updated the committee on the improvements to the running surface and it is their hope that they would have approval for the temporary racing schedule for 2019.

The Commission for Horse Racing were also invited but was unable to attend; however, another hearing will be set in April 2019 during which the committee will seek further clarity on certain issues surrounding the sport of horse racing.

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