Author: Africah Harrigan

TRIBUTE TO 1733 REVOLUTION, BILL POSTHUMOUSLY HONORING FALLEN SOLDIERS MOVED FORWARD, UPDATED ON SENIOR HOUSING ON ST. JOHN

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ST. JOHN – Members of the Committee on Culture, Historic Preservation, and Aging, chaired by Sen. Myron Jackson, convened in a meeting at the Cleone Henrietta Creque Legislative Conference Room on Friday, and voted favorably for a bill posthumously honoring fallen soldiers who lost their lives while serving in the U.S. Armed Forces. Lawmakers were also updated on the status of senior services on St. John, as well as the award-winning documentary on the 2017 hurricanes by filmmaker Peter Bailey, “Unbreakable Virgin Islands.” The contributions of the late newspaper founder, journalist, author, poet, and artist J. Antonio Jarvis were also remembered on the 118th anniversary of his birth. 

The meeting opened with a tribute in honor of the 1733 St. John Revolution. Virgin Islands Freedom Fighters Day is recognized annually on November 23rd. It is symbolic of the revolution or organized revolt by Akwamu slaves on St. John that started on November 23, 1733 and continued for several months. Participants of today’s presentation were conch shell blower Emmanuel Boyd, drummer Eddie Bruce, and community activist and scholar Dr. Gilbert Sprauve. 

Upon conclusion of the tribute, policymakers voted and approved Bill No. 33-0127 – An Act posthumously honoring and commending the men and women who lost their lives while serving in the United States Armed Forces, naming the roundabout road circle located in downtown Cruz Bay, St. John, “The Veterans Circle,” and appropriating $20,000 to the Virgin Islands Council on the Arts to commission a monument in memory of the veterans. Sponsor of the bill, Sen. Athneil Thomas stated that moving forward it is important to recognize veterans and their service throughout the territory. Patrick Farrell, Director of the Virgin Islands Office of Veterans Affairs said, “Far too long the veterans of St. John have been without this type of recognition. If this area is to be named in honor of service members that paid with the ultimate sacrifice, then it should be rightfully treated as sacred grounds.” Regarding the appropriation of funds, Tasida Kelch, Executive Director of the Virgin Islands Council of the Arts, suggested that allocating monies to the Department of Sports, Parks, and Recreation instead of the V.I. Council of the Arts is best due to the continuous maintenance and upkeep of the monument. 

Furthermore, on the agenda, Michal Rhymer-Brown, Assistant Commissioner of the V.I. Department of Human Services shared an overview of the Senior Centers, Home Care and Housing/Services offered to seniors on St. John. Some of the challenges facing the Homemaker Services Program on St. John are the need to recruit and hire additional staff, the influx of senior citizens’ requests for more services, and the rising demand for home care services. Furthermore, Rhymer-Brown noted that post-hurricanes Irma and Maria the Adrian Senior Center sustained severe damages. Presently, V.I. Housing Authority placed a bid to reconstruct and repair the center with an expectation to reopen by 2020. Despite challenges, Human Services provided services for twenty-eight seniors on St. John, to include providing meals prepared with the guidelines of the Nutrition Program. Additionally, monies from the Senior Citizens Center Revolving Fund will be re-directed to purchase a 2020 SUV to transport seniors from their homes to the Senior Center. Rhymer-Brown mentioned that some of the goals and initiatives are to fill vacant positions for the Homemaker program, launch media campaigns to create community awareness, and update policies and procedures. 

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LEASE AGREEMENTS, THE V.I. TIMESHARE ACT AND OTHERS MOVED FORWARD

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St. Thomas- Members of the Committee on Finance chaired by Sen. Kurt Vialet, convened in a meeting at the Capitol Building on Tuesday and voted favorably for bills relating to lease agreements, the St. Thomas Capital Improvement Fund, and the Virgin Islands Timeshare Act. However, senators voted to hold in committee at the call of the Chair bills regarding the Virgin Islands Government Prompt Payment Act and the appropriation of funds to the Department of Human Services. All approved items will be forwarded to the Committee on Rules and Judiciary for further consideration. 

The two lease agreements are Bill No. 33-0208- An Act approving the Lease Agreement between the Government of the Virgin Islands and Panyard People, Inc. for Parcel No. 92 Remainder Submarine Base, No. 6 Southside Quarter, St. Thomas, Virgin Islands; and Bill No. 33-0212- An Act approving the Lease Agreement between the Government of the Virgin Islands and Universal Concrete, LLC for Parcel No. 149B Submarine Base, No. 6 Southside Quarter, St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. “Currently, the concrete business is a monopoly on St. Thomas. The lease agreement establishes competition. Secondly, the Panyard People Inc. is a non-profit organization that strives toward preserving our culture and heritage through Steel Pan music,” said Sen. Vialet, Sponsor of Bill No-33-0208. 

The rent payable under both leases is slated for annual adjustments, including any renewal term in accordance with the increase of Consumer Price Index as established by the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics; according to Vincent Richards, Deputy Commissioner of Property & Printing Department of Property and Procurement (DPP) who testified on behalf of DPP Commissioner Anthony Thomas. Furthermore, Richards noted that the annual rent for Panyard People, Inc. totals $1200 with monthly installments of $100 per month for ten years. The purpose of the lease agreement is to repurpose the property to a facility used to educate and train the youths on Steep Pan. The annual rent for Universal Concrete, LLC totals $72,000 or $6,000 per month for twenty years. Operating a concrete company, a concrete plant, and storage units are some of the potential uses of the property. 

Additionally, senators also considered Bill No. 33-0218-An Act amending Title 28 of the Virgin Islands Code by adding a new chapter 36 creating the Virgin Islands Timeshare Act. Sponsor of the bill, Sen. Vialet said, “This bill addresses a long-standing problem in the Territory as it pertains to Timeshare. There are 27,000 owners of timeshare units in which property tax invoices should be disseminated. Presently, there is a large default of timeshare owners who have not been paying their taxes to the Government of the Virgin Islands (GVI).” George Dudley, Esq. Partner of Dudley Newman Feurzeig, LLP representing the American Resort Development Association added that the bill provides a mechanism by which defaulted timeshare developers, unit owners, and management are removed; while abandoned timeshare units are placed back on the market. Moreover, Ann Cecile O’Neill, Esq. District Counsel for the Department of Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs recommended that the bill requires amendments because it does not provide for the regulation of the Timeshare Industry by GVI.

Although the above measures were approved, policymakers voted to hold in committee: Bill No. 33-0096- An Act repealing Title 33, chapter 115, subchapter IV of the Virgin Islands Code and replacing it with a new subchapter IV creating the Virgin Islands Government Prompt Payment Act. The measure seeks to provide details for timely payment for non-construction services, outline details and guidelines for mandatory interest for late-payments and establishes a public bid disclosure procedure. Sponsor of the bill, Sen. Allison DeGazon indicated that the bill repeals the existing generic payment process and replaces it with a comprehensive method.” However, Jenifer O’Neal, Director of the Office of Management and Budget mentioned that she does not support the measure due to the lack of penalties for Departments in violation which should include deducting interest paid from the funds appropriated for the Department’s fiscal year operating expenses. 

Comparatively, senators voted to hold in committee: Bill No. 33-0209- An Act appropriating funds from the Senior Citizens Center Revolving Fund to the Department of Human Services for the general upkeep of senior centers throughout the Territory since the funds were not available to do so. On the contrary, policymakers voted and approved: Bill No. 33-0093- An Act amending Title 33, chapter 111 of the Virgin Islands Code by adding a new section 3057a establishing the St. Thomas Capital Improvement Fund.                                  ###                                                                                                                          

POLICYMAKERS APPROVED FIVE NOMINATIONS AND ONE BILL

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ST. THOMAS- Members of the Committee on Rules and Judiciary chaired by Sen. Janelle K. Sarauw, convened in a meeting at the Capitol Building on Friday, and voted favorably for the nominees on the agenda. The nominations were sent to the Legislature by Governor Albert Bryan; set forth from Section (16) of the Revised Organic Act of 1954, and Title 3, Section 65a of the Virgin Islands Code. Lawmakers also voted favorably for one bill. All items on the agenda will be forwarded to Legislative Session for further consideration.

The nominees for consideration are Emmanuel Delano, DDS, MS to serve on the Virgin Islands Board of Dental Examiners St. Croix District, Dr. Mavis Matthew, M.D. for the V.I. Board of Medical Examiners, John Abramson, Jr. for the Government Employees Service Commission St. Croix District, Andre’ Dorsey and Loraine Gumbs-Morton for the Government Employees Service Commission St. Thomas-St. John District.

Nominee Delano defended his re-nomination to the V.I. Board of Dental Examiners by sharing some of the significant changes made while serving for the past ten years. He indicated that previously the Board revised the 2014 Dental Act. As a result, the Board is up-to-par with the national standards of qualifications to practice dentistry in the Territory. Additionally, revising the rules and regulations continues to be a work in progress. In response to a line of questioning from Sen. Sarauw, Delano noted that the Board is presently advocating for better dental care by increasing the number of dentists practicing in the Territory. Moreover, Nominee Matthew stated that her re-nomination to serve on the V.I. Board of Medical Examiners allows her to continue the necessary tasks. She served on the Board for the past five years. Two of her major accomplishments include the removal of the Spex Exam and the implementation of the Uniform Application which is utilized to streamline the physician application process, according to Matthew.   

Although, Nominee Gumbs-Morton admitted that she is not an insurance expert, her mission to improve the operation of the V.I. Government Employees Service Commission is to ensure that the life and medical insurance coverage is suitable to meet the needs of policyholders, fulfilling necessary tasks in alignment with the Virgin Islands Code, and to assist with revising protocols as required. Nominee Dorsey indicated that his goals are to eliminate high healthcare costs in the Territory, lower co-payments, and to remove deductibles from member’s health insurance plan. Furthermore, Dorsey mentioned that he will strive towards establishing Urgent Care Centers, implementing additional preventative care services and increasing wellness initiatives. Lastly, Nominee Abramson stated that his primary aim for the Commission is to establish a Comprehensive Healthcare System that unifies both insured and uninsured people. “Look at the big picture of healthy government employees and retirees. Then there is an unhealthy dying community. That is not good for the overall state of health care in the Territory,” said Abramson.  

Separately, senators voted and approved:

  • Bill No. 33-0152- regarding construction liens by exempting the government-owned property of homeowners under government-administered home repair and construction programs from construction liens and providing protection to certain homesteaders and for other related purposes.                                                                                                                           ###

LAWMAKERS FORWARDED NINE NOMINATIONS TO THE FULL BODY

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ST. THOMAS-Members of the Committee on Rules and Judiciary chaired by Sen. Janelle K. Sarauw, convened in a meeting at the Capitol Building on Thursday, and voted favorably for the nominees recommended to serve on various boards. The nominations were sent to the Legislature by Governor Albert Bryan; set forth from Section (16) of the Revised Organic Act of 1954, and Title 3, Section 65a of the Virgin Islands Code. All items on the agenda will be forwarded to the full body for further consideration.

The nominees are Danson Nganga and Dr. Vernique Caswell, Pharm. D. to serve on the Virgin Islands Board of Pharmacy for the St. Thomas-St. John District, Laura Forbes for the Virgin Islands Board of Pharmacy St. Croix District, Dr. Ramona Moss, Ph.D., NCSP and Nicolette Cutright, Ph.D. for the V.I. Board of Psychology Examiners St. Thomas-St. John District, Curtis Callender, MS, LMHC, NCC as a Substance Abuse Counselor for the V.I. Board of Licensed Counselors and Examiners St. Thomas-St. John District, Dr. Lisa Adams-Mahepeth, O.D. for the V.I. Board of Optometrical Examiners St. Croix District, Dr. Laura Palminteri, VMD for the V.I. Board of Examiners for Practice of Veterinary Medicine St. Thomas-St. John District, and Jawanza Wallace-Hillare for the V.I. Coastal Zone Management Commission St. Thomas-St. John District.

Nominee Nganga noted that one of his top priorities for serving on the V.I. Board of Pharmacy is to ensure all rights, accesses, and privileges offered to retail pharmacies in the United States are also available to the U.S. Virgin Islands; comparatively, there is a disparity in services. Similarly, Nominee Caswell stated that her primary focus is to provide support for pharmacists in the Territory by gaining access to pertinent resources offered by the National Association of Board of Pharmacies. Moreover, Nominee Forbes defended her re-nomination to the Board citing achievements such as assisting with the development of the revised pharmacy inspection form/process, disseminating pharmacists administered vaccines, and establishing the non-resident pharmacy registration form/process. Forbes stated that providing support to the Board is her biggest priority. Challenges that Nominee Moss vows to tackle while serving on the V.I. Board of Psychology Examiners is to identify whether on-line schools affect the quality of education for students and to develop strategies to provide psychological services to people as needed. Additionally, Nominee Cutright indicated that updating the rules and regulations are some of her goals for improving the Board.

Nominee Callendar mentioned that as a Substance Abuse Counselor for the V.I. Board of Licensed Counselors and Examiners, his aims to shape the landscape of mental health in the Territory. “I pledge to uphold the duty of not only ensuring that clinicians meet the standards as laid out but also take action when harmful/unethical actions threaten the safety of the public and credibility of the field,” said Callendar. Nominee Adams-Mahepeth served on the V.I. Board of Optometrical Examiners for fifteen years. Progressively, Adams-Mahepath mentioned that she will continue to align the standards of Optometry practiced in the Virgin Islands with the National Board of Examiners in Optometry. Similarly, defending her reappointment to the V.I. Board of Examiners for Practice of Veterinary Medicine, Nominee Palminteri noted that she wants to continue to be an asset to the Board. She has practiced veterinary medicine for twenty-eight years and served on the Board for fifteen years. Lastly, Nominee Wallace-Hillare mentioned that he will work towards obtaining funds from grants and to develop a partnership with Federal Programs while serving on the V.I. Coastal Zone Management Commission.

Separately, lawmakers voted and approved: Bill No. 33-0207- An Act amending Title 17, chapter 11, section 121 of the Virgin Islands Code by requiring persons teaching children in Kindergarten-4 through third grade to have specific early childhood education requirements outlined by the Board of Education, thereby ensuring that primary grade students are receiving a quality education; requiring the Board of Education to promulgate rules and regulations to support the criteria for the minimum requirements; and providing funding for early childhood educators to obtain the minimum requirements. Clarifying the intent of the measure, Sponsor of the bill, Sen. Donna Frett-Gregory indicated that the bill does not require teachers to be certified. However, it requires educators who are teaching pre-kindergarteners to meet requisite skills. Lastly, policymakers removed from the agenda at the call of the Chair: Bill No. 33-0152- regarding construction liens by exempting the government-owned property of homeowners under government-administered home repair and construction programs from construction liens and providing protection to certain homesteaders and for other related purposes.                                                                        ###

Governor’s Nominations Moved Forward

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ST. THOMAS- The members of the Committee on Rules and Judiciary, chaired by Sen. Janelle K. Sarauw, convened in a meeting at the Capitol Building on Wednesday, Nov. 13th. On the agenda were the Governor’s board nominations, which all would receive a favorable vote to be heard in Legislative Session. The nominations were sent by the Governor by virtue of the Revised Organic Act of 1954, and Title 3, Section 65a of the Virgin Islands Code. Additionally, lawmakers voted and approved several bills which will be heard before the full body.

The nominees for consideration were Gary Jett, MD. to serve as a Health Practitioner Representative for the Virgin Islands Cannabis Advisory Board, Christopher Jones as a Disability Advocate Representative for the Virgin Islands Cannabis Advisory Board, Jason Williams for the V.I. Board of Chiropractic Examiner for the St. Croix District, Eavey-Monique James, CSW, CPM as Compact Administrator for the V.I. Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC), Charisse Hart, MSW, LSW as Deputy Compact Administrator for the V.I. Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children, and Keith O’Neal, Jr. to serve on the Virgin Islands Public Finance Authority Board of Directors for the St. Croix District.

According to Nominee Jett, he has an extensive work history practicing medicine for twenty years on St. Croix and eight years in Florida. Out of the eight years, he worked as a certified medical marijuana physician specializing on interventional and non-interventional pain management in the state of Florida for approximately four years. Jett also stated he treats patients diagnosed with chronic ailments such as cancer, HIV, AIDS, Crohn’s disease and others. Jones’ short-term goals to improve the Virgin Islands Cannabis Advisory Board are to develop the mission statement, ensuring the alignment of the rules and regulations with Act 8167, and to review the Cannabis Boards on the mainland. Identifying a secure location for a cannabis testing lab and designing a Non-Resident Medicinal Cannabis Tourism Program are two of Jones’ long-term goals. 

Similarly, Nominee Williams, who presently is the Chief Clinician at the Williams Family Practice on St. Croix, shared his goals for the V.I. Board of Chiropractic Examiners. Williams indicated that his top priorities to improve the Board are to ensure that chiropractors are licensed who are practicing in the Territory, collaborating with lawmakers to draft laws about the Chiropractic Industry, and streamlining the process for incoming chiropractors. Separately, Nominee Hart mentioned that her role to serve on the V.I. Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children commences with becoming acquainted with ICPC statutes, child placement laws on the mainland, and federal laws. Meanwhile, Nominee James stated that her objectives are to host the Association of Administration ICPC annual business meetings in the Territory, to propose legislation that will be ratified by the Senate and to establish the Virgin Islands as a leader in compacting affairs due to best practices. Separately, Nominee O’Neal noted that his recommendation for moving along capital projects is to continue to follow existing strategies of the Virgin Islands Public Finance Authority Board of Directors. This includes which reviewing accounts quarterly to determine whether there are unexpended funds and to ensure its use before expiration. 

Policymakers voted and approved the following bills: 

  • Bill No. 33-0095- An Act amending Title 34 of the Virgin Islands Code by adding a new chapter 18 enacting the “Virgin Islands Medicaid Program Integrity Act.” Sponsored by senators Novelle E. Francis, Jr. and Athneil “Bobby” Thomas; Co-Sponsored by senators Donna Frett-Gregory and Kurt A. Vialet. 
  • Bill No. 33-0201- An Act amending Title 20, part II, chapter 43, section 504 of the Virgin Islands Code by increasing the punishment for negligent homicide using a motor vehicle. Sponsored by senators Javan E. James, Sr. and Steven D. Payne, Sr. 
  • Bill No. 33-0134- An act amending title 17, chapter 15 of the Virgin Islands Code to establish a Psychiatric Medical Doctoral Program Scholarship. Sponsored by senators Kurt A. Vialet and Steven D. Payne, Sr.; Co-Sponsored by senators Stedmann Hodge, Jr. and Allison L. DeGazon. 
  • Bill No. 33-0199- An Act making an appropriation from the St. Croix Capital Improvement Fund to be used as matching funds to acquire federal funds under the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant award for the St. Croix Molasses Pier Enhancement Project. Sponsored by senators Alicia V. Barnes, Novelle E. Francis, Jr, Donna Frett Gregory, and Kurt A. Vialet; Co-Sponsored by Sen. Allison DeGazon.                                                                         

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SENATORS UPDATED ON THE STATUS OF THE V.I. WASTE MANAGEMENT AUTHORITY

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ST. THOMAS- Members of the Committee on Housing, Transportation, Infrastructure, and Telecommunications, chaired by Sen. Marvin A. Blyden, held a meeting at the Capitol Building on Thursday, to receive testimony from officials of the Virgin Islands Waste Management Authority (VIWMA) regarding the status of its operations, WMA hazardous duty retirement, and the employees. Lawmakers also voted favorably for Bill 33-0152 relating to construction liens and other matters. All items approved will be forwarded to the Committee on Rules and Judiciary for further consideration.

Sen. Blyden said, “This meeting is a continuation of the October 2nd hearing held at the Legislation regarding the status VIWMA. The meeting was interrupted due to safety hazard issues with neighboring offices. Since then there have been emerging challenges with VIWMA. I am disappointed with the failure of VIWMA leadership absence to this meeting.”

VIWMA Chief Operating Officer Ann Hanley noted that because hazardous work assignments can result in severe injuries or death, wastewater employees are qualified for the Safety Hazardous Retirement. However, in a meeting held in December 2006 with VIWMA and representatives from the Government Employee Retirement System (GERS), Hanley indicated that it was determined that VIWMA Tier I and Tier II Wastewater and Solid Waste employees are ineligible for the Safety Hazardous Retirement. GERS Tier II are members hired on or after October 1, 2005.

GERS General Counsel Cathy Smith mentioned that to qualify for benefits, VIWMA Chief Executive Officer must disseminate a list to GERS that comprises of certified eligible employees. However, no such documentation was submitted. “To date, no Chief Executive Officer of VIWMA has never certified an employee as having worked continuously for at least five years with chlorine, sewage or a carcinogen as defined by the Second Annual Report on Carcinogens and therefore eligible for early retirement,” said Smith. Based on the discussion, Hanley stated that the WMA will write immediately to the GERS to officially designate wastewater and other hazardous duty employees for appropriate retirement benefits. All parties acknowledged that additional contributions must be made to GERS to avoid increasing its unfunded liability. Ultimately, Blyden and the other senators present vowed to work collaboratively with the Waste Management Authority, the unions, and the GERS to craft a solution that fairly addresses all stakeholders.

Separately, senators voted and approved: Bill No. 33-0152 – An Act amending Title 28, chapter 12, sections 251 and 254 of the Virgin Islands Code relating to construction liens by exempting government-owned property and property of homeowners under government-administered home repair and construction programs from construction liens, and providing protection to certain homesteaders, and for other related purposes. Sponsor of the bill, Sen. Blyden said, “This bill protects homeowners from receiving a lien on their homes from unlicensed contractors. It will prevent Virgin Islanders from experiencing this type of unlawful abuse.” Daryl Griffith, Executive Director of the Virgin Islands Housing Finance Authority noted that Post Hurricanes Irma and Maria, subcontractors placed a total of ten liens on homes that received assistance from the STEP Program and the Emergency Home Repairs VI. Program for unpaid work. However, homeowners receiving emergency government services did not have a contract with subcontractors. The original contract was between prime contractors AECOM, Inc. and APTIM Environmental and Infrastructure, Inc. and subcontractors. Office of the Lieutenant Governor Legal Counsel Dolace McLean mentioned that ultimately the Office of the Lieutenant Governor removed all the liens from the homes.                  ###

LAWMAKERS VOTED TO HOLD IN COMMITTEE FOUR OUT OF FIVE BILLS

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St. Thomas- Members of the Committee on Finance chaired by Sen. Kurt Vialet, convened in a meeting at the Capitol Building on Wednesday and voted to hold in committee bills regarding the Virgin Islands National Guard, the Government Retirement System, and Government credit cards. However, senators approved the measure for the St. Croix Capital Improvement Fund. All approved items will be forwarded to the Committee on Rules and Judiciary for further consideration. 

Representatives from the Virgin Islands National Guard were absent despite being notified to testify on the measures a month in advance. Sen. Vialet said, “I am very surprised that the leaders of the National Guard are not here. We have several bills on the agenda that addresses some of the challenges they are facing. However, there are difficulties in getting the National Guard to attend the meetings.” As a result, senators voted to remove off the agenda until the call of the Chair: Bill No. 33-0034 -An Act amending Title 23, chapter 19, subchapters I and III of the Virgin Islands Code relating to benefits and insurance coverage for officers and members of the National Guard of the Virgin Islands to provide for pay comparable to those serving in the armed forces of the United States and to ensure that the territorial active-duty members have insurance to cover any illness or injury sustained while on active duty not covered by other health insurance coverage. 

Afterward, lawmakers voted to hold in committee at the call of the Chair, Bill No. 33-0007. The measure seeks to increase the retirement pension from $100 to $200 for members of the Virgin Islands National Guard. Sponsor of the bill, Sen. Dwayne DeGraff said, “The measure is specifically for part-time soldiers who served for 20 years in the reserves. It is a small supplemental income for soldiers ages 55-60 until they are eligible to collect a pension.” Due to the absence of the leadership of the V.I. National Guard and the inability to identify a funding source for the increase, the bill will remain in committee. Sen. Vialet mentioned that there aren’t enough funds in the FY 2020 Budget for the Virgin Islands National Guard to sustain the increase.

Moreover, senators voted to hold in committee: Bill No. 33-0042- An Act amending Title 20, chapter 39, section 433, subsection (c) of the Virgin Islands Code, providing that $10 of each operator’s license renewal fee must be remitted to the Government Employees’ Retirement System, and providing that the GERS must use that money towards the reduction of its unfunded liability. The Bureau of Motor Vehicles Director Barbara Jackson-McIntosh indicated that she does not support the measure because of the financial need to complete critical projects such as architectural drawings, engineering, and the construction of building new offices destroyed by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Sen. Vialet said, “The intent of the bill is good. However, the FY 2020 budget was passed and legislation that alters the budget can result in unfunded mandates.”

Senators voted to hold in committee at the call of the Chair: Bill No. 33-0069- An Act amending Title 3, chapter 1 of the Virgin Islands Code relating to the issuance of and usage of government credit cards. The Department of Property and Procurement (DPP) Commissioner Anthony Thomas noted that DPP does not support the measure because legislation is not required to monitor government credit cards and the Department of Finance should continue to be responsible for the issuance of credit cards; not the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). OMB Director Jenifer O’Neal concurred, and expressed the need to provide training for the Executive Branch focused on best practices for the use of credit cards. Separately, senators voted and approved: Bill No. 33-0199- An Act making an appropriation of appropriates $3,800,000.00 from the St. Croix Capital Improvement Fund to be used as matching funds to acquire federal funds under the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant award for the St. Croix Molasses Pier Enhancement Project.                                                                              ###

BILL TO END CHILD MARRIAGE MOVES FORWARD, LAWMAKERS LEARN STATUS OF YOUTH PROGRAMS

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St. Thomas- Members of the Committee on Youth, Sports, Parks, and Recreation chaired by Sen. Javan James, Sr., convened in a meeting at the Capitol Building on Tuesday, and voted favorably for Bill No. 33-0109- An Act amending Title 16, Chapter 1, Subsection II of the Virgin Islands Code by prohibiting the issuance of Marriage License to persons under the age of 18. Separately, lawmakers were updated on the Youth Programs and Competitions locally and nationally. All items approved will be forwarded to the Committee on Rules and Judiciary for further consideration.

The measure seeks to prohibit the issuance of marriage to children who are under 18 years old. Presently, the existing law allows for underaged teenagers to be forced into marriage with the consent of their father, single mother, or guardian; with no regard to the youth. Sexual intercourse with a child from ages thirteen to seventeen is considered aggravated rape in the second degree and is punishable to a life sentence in prison under the Virgin Islands Code. However, once the child is married this law is no longer applicable. Sponsor of the bill, Sen. Javan James said, “The current Virgin Islands Code allows females who are 14 years old and males who are 16 years old to be married in the U.S. Virgin Islands with the consent of the parents or guardian. Based on my research and collaboration with non-profit organizations, we found it fitting to stop underage-marriage in the Territory.”

Similarly, The Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Council Executive Director Khnuma Simmonds expressed support for the bill. Simmonds indicated that the bill enforces safety and human rights by fighting against forced marriages, parental coercion, sex trafficking, intimate partner violence, and immigration abuse. Sen. Janelle Sarauw said, “The legal age to vote and to sign-up for the army is age 18; yet it is legal for an underage child to marry an adult. There is no excuse to be senseless and lawless because legally a child is still not independent despite entering into a marriage.”

Fraidy Reiss, Founder and Executive Director of Unchained at Last, a non-profit agency devoted to ending child marriages mentioned that underaged children forced to remain in marriages scarcely has legal rights. “Children in the Virgin Islands do not have the right to leave home and seek refuge in shelters from parents who are planning unwanted marriages or trying to escape an abusive spouse. Children cannot initiate their legal proceedings to annul a marriage nor do they have the finances to retain an attorney.” Furthermore, the Department of Human Services Assistant Commissioner Carla Benjamin stated that DHS frequently encountered child marriages during investigations of cases of teen pregnancy. However, the statistics on the number of child marriages in the Territory is currently unknown because it was not prohibited by law. Sen. Athneil “Bobby” Thomas said, “Society should not subject children as young as twelve years old for a future of abusive.

Separately, Malcolm Gregor, Executive Director of the Virgin Islands Career and Technical Education Board shared the status of the youth programs. Since 2018, the Board funded the travel expenses for 50 students participating in Conferences and Competitive events as it pertains to academic studies, clubs, and organizations. Gregor stated that the Future Business Leaders of America, Future Farmers of America, Aviation Academy, and Skills USA are programs fiscally supported by the Board.                  ###                                                                                                 

LAWMAKERS VET MAJOR COASTAL ZONE MANAGEMENT PERMIT TO ALLOW FOR A CONSTRUCTION OF A SLIP MARINA, PUMP-OUT STATION, FUEL STATION &

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ST. JOHN- Members of the 33rd Legislature led by Senate President Novelle E. Francis, Jr., convened in Committee of the Whole at the Cleone H. Creque Legislative Conference Room on Monday, to receive testimony on the Major Coastal Zone Management Permit No. CZJ-04-14 (W) Summer’s End Group, LLC. The permit allows for the construction of a slip marina, designated field of up to 75 moorings, a pump-out station and a fuel station at and Seaward Plot Nos. 10-17, 10-18, 10- 19, 10-41 Rem., 13A, 13B and 13Rem. Estate Carolina, St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands.

In accordance with Virgin Islands law, the permit for Summer’s End Group was sent by Governor Albert Bryan, Jr. to the Legislature of the Virgin Islands for ratification. Since no votes are taken during the Committee of the Whole, the Legislature will vote on the permit during the next Legislative Session.  “The purpose of the meeting is for senators to have an in-depth review of the Coastal Zone Management Permit No. CZJ-04-14(W). This includes learning of the intent of the permit, its pros and cons,” said Sen. Francis. 

The permit is a 20 year lease for the use and occupancy of 27.5 acres of submerged land areas surrounding the structures with an annual rental fee totaling $194,026.46 with advanced payments to the Permittee and $64,027.08 for the annual rental fee paid to the occupancy of submerged lands; according to Marlon Hibbert, Director of the Department of Planning and Natural Resources. Furthermore, Hibbert noted that residents who attended a public hearing held by the St. John CZM Committee opposed the permit. However, the Board of Land Appeals approved the permit and although it was later appealed, the permit was sent to the Territorial Court for further review.

In response to Sen. Marvin Blyden’s inquiry regarding the number of challenges and litigations with the permit, Boyd Sprehn, Attorney at the Law Office of John H. Benham, P.C. representing Summer’s End, LLC. stated that there is one pending court case. Upon approval of the permit, Sprehn mentioned that “it is the position of Summer’s End to enforce the fulfillment of the contract to the landowner.” Sen. Donna Frett-Gregory said, “I am all for economic development in this territory. My concern is the resounding message from opposers in which the major issue is regarding the depth, width, and size of the St. John Marina Development Project. Additionally, several plots in the permit lack signatures from property owners. If the permittee does not own the property, then property owners must have their signatures on the permit and presently it is not there.”

Chaliese Summers, Managing Member of Summer’s End, LLC. indicated that there are several economic benefits for CZM Permit. “Tourism Economics conducted an economic analysis that was conclusive of a projected economic impact of $46.4 million during the first year of operations with 362 jobs created Territory-wide,” shared Summers. Additionally, initial economic benefits include $975K for tax revenues, $45.8 million for the economic impact, and $29.8 million for labor income. Furthermore, St. John Resident Lucia Francis stated that the St. John Marina Development Project also yields environmental benefits. The pump-out facility allows for DPNR to enforce regulations for proper waste disposal in the Harbor and the organization of the mooring field for Coral Harbor will reduce non-compliant boating. Lastly, the runoffs from surrounding hillsides will be mitigated, according to Ms. Francis. The use of EPA fuel, improving water quality, and no dredging will also improve the environment added Summers.

Despite the economic and environmental benefits, Sharon Coldren, President of The Coral Bay Community Council and a number of St. John Residents vehemently opposed the development. Coldren noted that the project is too close to the Virgin Islands National Park, the marina will occupy half of Coral Bay, and it will adversely impact the marine life to include corals, sharks, and coral reefs. Coral Bay Resident David Silverman mentioned that the CZM Permit is invalid, citing a change of language and clause and is presently being challenged in the V.I. Superior Court. St. John Resident Shena Esannason indicated that Summer’s End manipulated the agreement with her grandmother and did not make annual payments of $65K to use the waterfront parcels (Parcels 10-17 and Parcel 10-18 Carolina) owned by her grandmother to-date. Sen. Kurt Vialet said, “All local families protect your land. We must look at those amendments and the capacity to explore legal issues that exist.” Echoing his colleagues’ sentiments Sen. Athneil “Bobby” Thomas stated that “properties in the Virgin Islands are inherited from one generation to the next. It concerns me that property owners benefit from this development for years to come.”

Sen. Francis said, “There are obviously adjustments to be made to the permit. I truly believe there is economic prosperity when there are financial opportunities for each district. There needs to be a fresh start to this permit to involve stakeholders and residents so that we can decide how to move forward.”                                                                             ###

BILL TO ESTABLISH THE VIRGIN ISLANDS OFFICE OF GUN VIOLENCE PREVENTION MOVES FORWARD

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St. Thomas- Members of the Committee on Homeland Security, Justice, Public Safety, and Veterans Affairs chaired by Sen. Steven Payne, Sr. convened in a meeting at the Capitol Building on Wednesday and voted favorably for Bill No. 33-0126- An Act amending Title 3, chapter 1 of the Virgin Islands Code by adding a new section 27i establishing the Virgin Islands Office of Gun Violence Prevention under the Office of the Governor. Lawmakers also voted and approved additional measures. All items approved will be forwarded to the Committee on Rules and Judiciary for further consideration.

The measure seeks to determine duties, objectives, and employee responsibilities for the Virgin Islands Office of Gun Violence and Prevention. The Office will also compile data on gun-related deaths and injuries reported by the Virgin Islands Police Department and the Department of Health and to release quarterly and annual reports. Sponsor of the bill, Sen. Myron Jackson said, “The bill is offered for the countless lives lost to gun violence in the Territory. In 2017, the Virgin Islands ranked high for violent deaths in the Caribbean. Those numbers placed our tiny islands at fourth in the world given stiff competition to countries such as El Salvador, Honduras, and Venezuela. This is a comprehensive approach to address the root cause of gun violence.”

Trevor Velinor, Commissioner of the Virgin Islands Police Department (VIPD) expressed concerns with duplicating the Office of Gun Violence Prevention with existing crime prevention strategies and services offered by the VIPD, the VIPD Victim Witness Advocates, and the VIPD Crime Prevention Unit. Velinor recommended conducting a three-year assessment through the “sunset provision” to monitor the impact of the Office. Sen. Kenneth Gittens also indicated that the bill is redundant and that parental involvement with youths may curtail crime. “Gun prevention starts with proper parenting. It takes a village to raise a child and until we go back to the basics, the world will change before our eyes.” Similarly, Sen. Donna Frett-Gregory noted that law enforcement agencies should collaborate to tackle gun violence in the Territory.

Moreover, the initial funding to establish the Office of Gun Violence Prevention will cost $700,000. The monies will be appropriated from the General Fund of the Government Virgin Islands in the fiscal year ending on October 31, 2020, according to Section 2 of the bill. However, the Office of Management and Budget Director Jenifer O’Neal noted that $700K is insufficient for initial operations that are inclusive of employee salaries, reporting, equipment, and outreach. Sen. Payne requested that OMB identify monies to fund this initiative because preventing gun violence will drastically reduce crimes in the Virgin Islands. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation Uniform Crime Report, there were 43 homicides in the Virgin Islands in 2018 and 31 as of October 2019.

 Separately, senators voted and approved:

  • Bill No. 33-0201-An Act amending title 20, part II, chapter 43, of the Virgin Islands Code by increasing the punishment for negligent homicide by means of a motor vehicle. The sponsor of the bill is Sen. Javan James.
  • Bill No. 33-0106- An Act amending Title 6 of the Virgin Islands Code by adding a new chapter 11 prohibiting various uses of unmanned aircrafts. Proposed by Sen. Dwayne DeGraff.                                                                                                                      ###