Category: Press Releases

LAWMAKERS CONSIDER BILL TO REQUIRE CREDIT UNIONS IN THE TERRITORY TO BE FEDERALLY CHARTERED

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dsc_3831ST. THOMAS- Members of the Committee on Finance, chaired by Sen. Clifford Graham, held a meeting at the Capitol Building on Thursday, to receive testimony on several bills including Bill No. 31-0369; as it relates to the establishment of credit unions and for their oversight.
Gwendolyn Hall Brady, Division Director for the Division of Banking and Insurance said, “Our safest course of action is to require all credit unions be federally chartered and come within preview of the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA).”
Some of the responsibilities of the NCUA are the issuance of interpretative rulings, financial performance reports, legal opinion letters, strict rules and regulations, reviews every three years, and the ability to examine chartered credit unions and issue Administrative Orders when it finds that a credit union or persons affiliated with credit union is in violation of the law, according to Director Brady.
“In your testimony, you mentioned the annual oversight visits of the credit unions by external auditors,” said Sen. Graham, Sponsor of the Bill. “How often are the audits conducted?” he asked. In response, Director Brady said, “The audits are conducted once a year by external and federal auditors. Upon completion, the reports are sent to NCUA for further review.”
Sen. Tregenza Roach said, “NCUA regulation comes with a cost.” He asked, “What costs are affiliated with NCUA?” Brady stated that there are fees that must be paid to NCUA. The formula is based on the risk associated with a particular credit union. The financial portfolio and losses will determine the cost per credit union.
Chief Executive Officer Keisha Prince, NCRM, NCBSO added, “Although, NCUA can be difficult because it comes with a cost. However, their oversight ensures sounds management of credit unions. NCUA performs regulatory services and evaluate credit unions based on capital adequacy, management responsibilities, earnings, liquidity and market sensitivity.”
Sen. Marvin Blyden said, “I support this legislation because it is gives the Territory an upgrade by raising the standards of the credit unions. More importantly, it provides financial protection to the people of the Virgin Islands.
Similarly, Sen. Sammuel Sanes said, “This is one of those bills that makes plain sense.” He asked, “Were the victims of Her Majesty Credit Union reimbursed for their loss?” Director Brady said, “If Her Majesty Credit Union had been a legitimate operation and established under a federal charter through NCUA, then its accounts would have been insured by the National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund, therefore, consumer interests would have been protected.”

Sen. Positive Nelson said, “Updating our laws to keep us in alignment is a very good thing. However, my main issue is that credit unions should have never been authorized by the Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs because jurisdiction should be under the Division of Banking. If this was the case, regulation of Her Majesty Credit Union would not have slipped through the cracks.”
Ultimately, lawmakers voted favorably for Bill No. 31-0369.
The following measures were also considered and approved:
– Bill No. 31-0443 – An Act amending Title 22 Virgin Islands Code adding Chapter 20 to enact “The Virgin Islands Risk-Based Capital for Insurers Act”
– Bill No. 31-0444 – An Act repealing Title 22 Virgin Islands Code Section 1251(a) and adding Chapter 14 entitled “The Virgin Islands Insurance Holding Company System Regulatory Act” to meet the accreditation standards established by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners and update the insurance laws of the Territory placing them on par with other United States jurisdictions, and providing greater and more effective protection for the policyholders of the Territory

– Bill No. 31-0445 – An Act repealing and re-enacting Title 22 Virgin Islands Code chapter 31 to enact the “Virgin Islands Producer and Adjuster Licensing Act”
– Bill No. 31-0446 -An Act amending Title 22 Virgin Islands Code adding Chapter 60 to enact “The Virgin Islands Third Party Administrators Act”, updating the insurance laws of the Territory to reflect the licensing requirements contained in the model laws of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners
– Bill No. 31-0398- An Act repealing title 33, Virgin Islands Code, chapter 12, section 525 relating to the rate of duty on articles shipped from within the U.S. Customs Zone.
– Bill No. 31-0442 -An Act amending the Virgin Islands Code Title 3, 9, and 22 to update the Insurance Laws of the Territory and to adopt the Core Standards and Model Laws and Regulations as established by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (“NAIC”) for purposes of obtaining accreditation with the NAIC, placing the Territory on par with other United States jurisdictions and attaining greater and more effective protection for the policyholders of the Territory
All bills approved will be forwarded to the Committee on Rules and Judiciary for further
consideration.
Senators present are Clifford Graham, Novelle Francis, Marvin Blyden, Myron Jackson, Sammuel Sanes, Positive Nelson, Tregenza Roach, Nereida O’Reilly and Kurt Vialet.
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COMMITTEE HOLDS BILL FOR JUDICIARY RETIREMENT BENEFITS PROGRAM

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ST.THOMAS—The Committee on Finance, chaired by Sen. Clifford F. Graham, met Wednesday at the
Earle B. Ottley Legislative Hall, where they held a measure regarding the retirement benefit program for
members of the Judiciary and for other related purposes.
Bill No. 31-0244, sponsored by Sen. Kenneth L. Gittens, repeals a section of the code (770l) and
reintroduces an amended version that clarifies ambiguities relative to annuities, vesting periods, and
removes Government Employees Retirement System’s authority over deferred compensation. Legislators
moved to hold the measure. It was so ordered without objection.
“The law provides that their compensation, to include their pension benefits, are not to be changed midstream
of their term,”explained Sen. Gittens. “We have been seeing some changes and this bill seeks to
clarify what is happening. We need to realize that these individuals who serve as judicial officers are
people who we call upon to be fair and just in their decision making and it is only right for us to ensure
that the fair and just decision making occurs for all aspects,” he said.
Sen. Graham asked officials to explain the effect of increasing the cost of insurance.
“If the cost of insurance for members of the Government of the Virgin Islands increases, you are saying
that that’s in violation of the law with respect to judge’s salary, he asked.
Robert Molloy, who serves as a Judge of the Superior Court of the Virgin Islands, clarified that in other
jurisdictions with similar legislation, “you cannot reduce the take home compensation of a judicial
officer”.
Other lawmakers weighed in.
“What we’re discussing is an unfunded liability,” said Sen. Vialet. “I think we’re going to have to make
the determination today as to whether or not, once again, the Legislature is going to enter into [another]
unfunded liability and the system at a later point, will point out that the mandate was unfunded,” he said.
Members of the judiciary present spoke in favor of the measure and provided some recommendations for
areas in the proposed amendments to tighten the language, removing any residual ambiguity.
“Although one of the core purposes of Bill No. 31-0244 is to eliminate GERS’ ability to set contribution
rates for members of the Judiciary,” said Hon. Rhys S. Hodge, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the
Virgin Islands “reference to retirement contribution payments from the employer could be interpreted to
allow GERS to require such a payment.”
“This not only undercuts the purpose of Bill No.31-0244, but poses serious constitutional questions as to
its legality if applied retroactively to the current members of Tier I,” he said.
Changing the language to reflect a contribution rate change from 15% to 11% for contributions paid by
Tier I members would resolve that conflict, Justice Hodge added.

Austin L. Nibbs, Administrator at GERS also weighed in.
“We are extremely concerned that this piece of legislation, which we term as ‘Special Interest Legislation’
is being offered at time when there is an ongoing appeal hearing related to the same issues before the
Board with a sitting member of the Judiciary,” he said.
Others present disagreed with Nibbs however, pointing out that the legislation was presented before the
appeal hearing began. Senators also added that they expected to hear more than the generic response of
insolvency by 2023.
“We just cannot continue to set rates based on a particular argument and then knowing that it’s going to
come back to haunt the Government of the Virgin Islands. All of those previous [pieces of] legislation is
what destroyed the Government Employees Retirement System,” Vialet said.
The committee also held Bill No. 31-0459 relating to the distribution of the proceeds of taxes collected
and deposited into the Virgin Islands Sin Taxing Revolving Fund and Bill No. 31-0441, establishing the
office of the public surveyor.

Committee Chair, Sen. Clifford F. Graham and members, Senators Marvin A. Blyden, Positive T.A.
Nelson, Tregenza A. Roach and Kurt A. Vialet, were present. Non-committee members Senators Kenneth
L. Gittens and Novelle E. Francis Jr., were also present.

 

Contact: Saida Harrigan
sharrigan@legvi.org

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COMMITTEE ON HEALTH DISCUSSES PLAN FOR SEA VIEW TO MOVE FORWARD

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ST.THOMAS—The Committee on Health, Hospitals, and Human Services, chaired by Sen. Kurt A. Vialet, met Thursday at the Earle B. Ottley Legislative Hall, to receive testimony on the current standing of the Sea View Nursing Home and Rehabilitation Center.

“We’re here to hopefully be able to come up with some solutions,” said the Committee Chair. “The intent of me having this hearing is not to just allow everybody to vent and to say what took place. I am hoping that by the time we end this meeting, that we will be able to develop a plan moving forward,” he said. The meeting provided the space for a status update on the elderly residents that were relocated from the facility as well as the residents of the Adolescent Unit and sparked the discussion on solutions to prevent what transpired from reoccurring in the future.

Dr. Anita Roberts, Acting Commissioner of the V.I. Department of Human Services testified.

“It was and is my position that the seriousness of this letter of demand called for immediate action,” said Roberts. “That plan of action was approved and sanctioned by the staff of HUD that participated in the telephone call,” she said. “Admittedly there has been a perception that this move was characterized by abruptness,” Roberts added. “I am sorry for any distress that any family member experienced as a result of this.”

During the discussion lawmakers asked Roberts where the directive came from to remove patients from Sea View. Roberts repeatedly said that the decision was a collaborative effort. “I did not make that decision on my own,” she said.

Claude Earl Walker, Attorney General for the V.I. Department of Justice, said that the Commissioner acted within her authority, “based on the fact that CMS has cut off funding as of July 30 and has said that the facility is in disrepair and has failed to meet CMS standards but it wants to be a skilled nursing home facility for rehabilitative care,” he said.

Senators wholly disagreed.

“This was not good judgement,” said Sen. Almando “Rocky” Liburd.

Sen. Novelle E. Francis likened the removal of seniors to the handling of criminals who were issued a warrant for their arrest in the middle of the night, forcibly removed and remanded. “What crime did these seniors commit,” he asked.

Sen. Kenneth L. Gittens shared his sentiment. “What you did was wrong,” he said. “This was an eviction.”

Sen. Justin Harrigan Sr., the Committee Vice Chair expanded on officials’ claims that their actions were taken to “protect” residents and in turn asked them explain what residents needed protection from. Sen. Harrigan asked if residents family members had raised concerns relative to patient safety with the Department of Human Services prior to their removal. Officials said that no concerns had been raised by family members.

Sen. Myron D. Jackson, referred to what occurred as a “travesty”.

“It is evident that the Department of Human Services could have done better,” said Sen. Jackson.

“The bottom line is we have an institution and it’s the only institution of its kind,” he said. Sea View is worthy of being sustained.”

Attorney Walker maintained that while he understood the position of lawmakers, Sea View’s receipt of federal funding holds the institution to a higher set of standards.

Dr. Alfred O. Heath, CEO of the Sea View Nursing Home and Rehabilitation Center said that he resented the implication that the standard of care offered to patients was subpar. “We still provide A1 care,” he said.

Sen. Vialet asked Dr. Heath if he would be willing to sell the facility. Dr. Heath responded by saying he would sell Sea View in “half a minute” for a reasonable price.

Dr. Heath explained that he had received a “nebulous offer” from Governor Kenneth Mapp but would be willing to renegotiate.

Sen. Vialet offered a resolution.

“In the interim, the plan should really be to maintain the patients at SeaView, maintain the present staff that is there at SeaView. The Government of the Virgin Islands [will] try to get into a purchase agreement to purchase the facility from Dr. Heath, transfer those employees over to Human Services. We shut Queen Louise down and relocate all of those patients up there and then we seek to get back CNS certification. That is the path I see,” he said.

“We do need to find the monies to purchase Sea View if we’re going to be floating any type of money for anything, Sea View need[s] to be a priority because we need to make sure that the elderly population on St. Thomas, [has] a home where they can go,” Sen. Vialet added.

By the end of the discussion, lawmakers and officials expressed approval for the turn the discussion had taken.

“I can sleep  tonight,” said  Dr. Heath.

Committee Chair Sen. Kurt A. Vialet, Vice Chair, Sen. Justin Harrigan Sr. and members Senators Marvin A. Blyden, Jean A. Forde, Novelle E. Francis Jr., Almando “Rocky” Liburd and Nereida Rivera O’Reilly, were present. Non-committee members, Senators  Kenneth L. Gittens, Clifford F. Graham, Myron D. Jackson, Positive T.A. Nelson, Tregenza A. Roach and Janette Millin Young, were also present.

R.CITY RECEIVES TERRITORY’S FIRST ‘KEY TO THE CITY’

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ST.THOMAS—Senate President Neville A. James and Vice President Janette Millin Young gathered with other lawmakers on the grounds of the Capitol Building, Tuesday, to present the members of R. City, Timothy and Theron Thomas, with the territory’s first “Key to the City”.

The ceremony was in commemoration of “R.City Day”, to be celebrated on September 27, 2016 as a result of Act. No. 7824, a measure sponsored by Sen. Janette Millin Young and unanimously approved by the body on December 15, 2015.

“It is a distinct pleasure for me to be here today to honor two young men, who have not only become a global example of greatness for the Virgin Islands and that the Virgin Islands could have produced, but who also represent their home with pride and stand as great role models for our young people,” said Sen. Millin Young.

During the R.City Day celebration, students from the Ivanna Eudora Kean and Charlotte Amalie High Schools and the Addelita Cancryn and Bertha C. Boschulte Junior High Schools performed renditions of the artists songs including ‘Locked Away’ and ‘Make Up’ and then sang along as the artists performed for them.

Senate President Neville A. James and Sen. Janette Millin Young as well as Lieutenant Governor Osbert Potter, presented the Thomas brothers with the key to the city and commended them for their humility and commitment to bringing exposure to the Virgin Islands.

“You are deserving of this,” said Sen. James.

Timothy and Theron also spoke about their journey to success giving special commendation to their parents Miguel “Kiebo” Thomas and Jacqueline “Jackie” Thomas who relentlessly supported their dream.

“I just want to say thanks to everybody who come out. Thanks for giving us this gift and this blessing today,” said Theron.

Theron shared stories of their humble beginnings, “catching ride” to give performances in front of small audiences of 12 or 20  people for $50 or no money at all, to now producing music for other artists and performing in front of thousands and no longer having to explain where exactly in the Caribbean they come from.

“In the beginning it wasn’t even necessarily a dream. It was just something me and my brother found as something fun to do,” said Timothy. “We were disgusting kids,” he said. “Little did we know that something that we start just doing around the house could’ve blossomed into something so beautiful,” he said.

“We had so many obstacles, we had so many people telling my parents that they should quit lying to their kids, that this dream ain’t real, and I could understand why they would say that,” he said, “because what we had done, before us, it [was] never done before.”

The brothers encouraged parents to get involved in their children’s lives and to support their dreams.

“We always thought bigger than the Virgin Islands because our father raised us that way so we wanted the whole world, outside of the Virgin Islands to know about the Virgin Islands and to know about Oswald Harris Court Projects. That’s where we come from. That’s where we faced a lot of our hard times,” Timothy said.  “If you channel the right energy with them hard times, you could turn it into good times.”

Senators Marvin A. Blyden, Jean A. Forde, Clifford F. Graham, Myron D. Jackson, Neville A. James, Almando “Rocky” Liburd and Positive T. A. Nelson were present.

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SENATORS CONSIDERS A BILL THAT SECURES A BALANCED BUDGET FOR FY 2017

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ST. THOMAS- Members of the 31st Legislature, led by Sen. Neville James, convened in the third day of Legislative Session at the Capitol Building on Thursday, to vote on several measures including Bill No. 31-0447 to authorize the issuance of bonds to achieve a balanced budget for the Fiscal Year 2017 Budget.

“Today this institution has to determine the measure that will affect the budget for FY 2017. This includes passing a balanced budget that will affect all branches of the Government of the Virgin Islands,” said Sen. James. “If the budget is not passed, lawmakers will be dealing with an unbalanced budget and that is not good.”

The intent of Bill No. 31-0047 is to authorize the issuance of the bonds, notes or other evidences of indebtedness, the “Series 2016 Bonds,” of the Government of the Virgin Islands and/or V.I. Public Finance Authority to provide funds to finance all or a portion of certain capital projects and operating expenses of the Government in the amount not to exceed $292,000,000.

“The majority of the government operational expenses are from Personnel and Fringe Benefits; which makes up 80%-85% of the overall budget. If we have cutbacks of $112 million, then bodies will be sent home.” said Sen. Clifford Graham. He continued, “This means that 8% of the government employees will be unemployed and there will be less money circulating in our economy.  We are presented with the option of making cuts of $112 million that will hurt the economy or borrowing $292 million to save our economy.”

Sen. James said, “I am in support of borrowing the monies so that we can have a balanced budget for fiscal year 2017. I don’t believe that anyone likes to borrow. However, we will all like to have the capacity to borrow. It is fortunate that the government has the ability to access this capitol.”

“I am not a fan of borrowing $292,000,000 for working capital. However, this money is needed in order to pass a balanced budget,” said Sen. Almando “Rocky” Liburd. “My only concern is that this bill should be amended to include the Government Employees Retirement System (GERS). If that system fail, then the economy will fail too.”

Ultimately, senators voted favorably for Bill No. 31-0447 as amended. Separately, lawmakers voted to override Governor Kenneth Mapp’s veto of Bill No. 31-0005-An Act providing for a Virgin Islands comprehensive violence and public health study.

Sponsor of the Bill Sen. Janette Millin Young said, “One of the major concerns that the governor had was the lack of funding for this bill. However, after several meetings with the Commissioner of Health, it is determined that the monies can come from the Crisis Intervention Fund. I have placed a drafting request for the new funding source.”

Additionally, senators voted and approved the following bills:

    • Bill No. 31-0448- An Act appropriating the sum of $3,500,000 from the Internal Revenue Matching Fund to the Public Finance Authority for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2017.
    • Bill No. 31-0417- An Act appropriations from the Internal Revenue Matching Fund for the fiscal year October 1, 2016 through September 30, 2017.
    • Bill No. 31-0439- An Act providing appropriations for operating expenses of the Supreme Court of the Virgin Islands, the Superior Court of the Virgin Islands, the Judicial Council and the Office of the Territorial Public Defender.
    • Bill No. 31-0467- An Act authorizing the issuance of bonds, notes or other evidence of indebtedness of the Government of Virgin Islands and the Virgin Islands Public Finance Authority to provide funds to finance the costs required in connection with the operation, maintenance and reduction of solid waste at the Anguilla Landfill and Bovoni Landfill. Including, but not limited to, such costs mandated under the Anguilla Consent Decree and Bovoni Consent Decree for Fiscal Years 2014 and 2015 (“the 2016 Landfills Project”), in an aggregate principal amount of up to $30 million, and the cost of any necessary reserves relating to, and the costs of issuance of, the Series Matching Fund Revenue Bonds; and the Government and Authority to execute certain agreements and pledge the Matching Fund Reserves, and issue limited special obligation notes to secure payments of all or a portion of the Series 2016 Matching Fund Revenue Bonds, and other related purposes.
    • Bill No. 31-0469- An Act amending 27, V.I.C., 7(b) relating to licensure of physicians, expanding the conditions under which the V.I. Board Medical Examiners may issue a temporary license to physicians, striking 27, V.I.C. 38c (a), and making a technical amendment.
    • Bill No. 31-0471- An Act delaying the implementation of tipping fees for solid waste disposal until January 1, 2016.
    • Bill No. 31-0403- An Act making appropriations for the operation of the Government of the Virgin Islands during the fiscal year October 1, 2016 to September 30, 2017.

All bills approved will be forwarded to the governor for further consideration.

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SENATE APPROVES BUDGET BILLS AND DISCUSSES $430M BOND MEASURE

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ST.THOMAS—Members of the 31st Legislature rose out of recess Wednesday evening at the Earle B. Ottley Legislative Hall, and reconvened the Session where they approved 28 budget bills that were previously vetted; 25 were unanimously approved.

“It’s important that we all support these measures,” said Sen. Kurt A. Vialet. “It is going to provide the necessary funding for the government of the Virgin Islands.”

“We tried to make the point that we will be able to sustain the raises, that we’ll be able to keep people on the payroll and that we’ll be able to fill vacant positions, especially for those entities that provide monies to the government of the Virgin Islands,” he said.

“It would actually be more costly to us if we lose people from the government payroll, said Senate President James, in agreement. “In effect, what we’re doing is buying time.”

Sen. Jean A. Forde spoke to accountability and efficiency in government. “We cannot continue to do business as usual, “ he said. “We are in fact in a very critical situation. “We have got to make sure that the responsibility for government is of course to provide services for our people,” he said. “The agencies and departments which have that task before them, they have got to be equipped.”

Earlier that evening, during a Committee of the Whole meeting, lawmakers exhausted a discussion regarding Bill No. 31-0447 which, if approved, would authorize the issuance of bonds of approximately $430 million.

“Currently our situation is such that we have a $170 million deficit [that] we’re looking at for the next five years, if we do nothing,” said Sen. James.

Sen. Kenneth L. Gittens noted that the government’s downgraded rating by Moody’s Investors Service, to ‘BBB’ was done despite having an excellent payment history.

“We’ve never defaulted in our bond obligation,” he said. Valdamier Collens, Commissioner of the Department of Finance, also weighed in.

“The discussion today,” said Collens, “was the hope of signaling that we want to take a course of better fiscal stability and increasing economic growth throughout this territory. We are not Puerto Rico. We are completely different from Puerto Rico, but the truth is, if we don’t make the right decisions and if we don’t have a plan, we might not be too far off.” Nellon Bowry, Director of the Office of Management and Budget explained that it’s right and expected for lawmakers to question officials when they come to discuss borrowing, “it’s important to understand however, that borrowing is not necessarily bad,” he said. “It’s not necessarily something to avoid. It’s something you have to manage.”

Collens concurred.

“Debt is not bad,” he said. “Most state and local governments across the united States and other countries utilize debt. “We intend to manage the debt that we’re looking for much better than we have before because we do have  a plan.”

Bill No. 31-0447, will be considered when legislators resume the Legislative Session Thursday. Budget bills, including Bill Nos. 31-0404 through Bill No. 31-0416 and Bill No3. 31-0418 through 31-0423 were unanimously approved. Also unanimously approved were Bill Nos. 31-0425, 31-0427, 31-0428,31-0429, 31-0431 and 31-0438.

Also approved:

Bill No. 31-0424 (14 yes, 1 no: Nelson)

Bill No. 31-0426 (14 yes, 1 no: Nelson)

Bill No. 31-0430 (13 yes, 2 no: Nelson, Millin Young)

All members were present.

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FY2017 HEALTH INSURANCE PROPOSAL DISCUSSED DURING COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE; RATES WILL NOT RISE FOR ACTIVE EMPLOYEES IN 2017

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ST.THOMAS—The Committee of the Whole, chaired by Sen. Neville A. James, convened to receive testimony from officials regarding the Government Employees Renewal of Group Health, Life and Dental Insurance Wednesday, at the Earle B. Ottley Legislative Hall.

“We have, as per the norm, a health insurance package before us. Today is September 21st. I want to say on the record that originally I was against holding this hearing because we have, on a consistent basis, asked the players that be to not submit the health insurance package in the waning days of the existing contract. Unfortunately, it continues to happen on a consistent basis,” he said.

“We owe it to our constituents and to the people of the Virgin Islands to at least hear from these key players who play a part in determining our health insurance package, going forward,” he added.

Beverly Joseph, Chair of the Government Employees Services Commission (GESC) Health Insurance Board of Trustees testified.

“Essentially we are looking at a ‘rate pass’ for Active Employees and for pre-Medicare Retirees (who are insured by Cigna) for FY2017 in all benefit areas, which means no increase to members of the government. For Medicare Retirees (those over the age of 65), who are covered by United HealthCare, we are looking at small rate increase of 2 1/2 % for the Medicare supplement portion only, and not effective until April 1, 2017.”

Sen. Janette Millin Young reiterated the “good news” for government employees.

“The rate pass translates into no increase to members,” she said. Sen. Millin Young also sought further clarity regarding the dollar amount and what it would translate to for retirees over the age of 65, who would be affected by the 2 1/2% increase.

Maureen Venzen, Chief of Group Health Insurance at the Division for Personnel, explained that depending on the coverage level for the retiree, as several plans are available, the increase would amount to between $2 to $3 per pay period.

At press time, no action had been taken on any measure though the committee engaged in a discussion with members of the governor’s financial team relative to Bill No. 31-0447, a measure to authorize the issuance of bonds, notes or other evidences of indebtedness to provide funding for capital projects and operating expenses of the Government of the Virgin Islands, not to exceed $292,000,000.

Later, the full body will rise out of committee of the Whole and resume the Legislative Session to act on both measures.

All members were present.

COMMITTEE DISCUSSES BILL TO MARKET CRUZ BAY AS HISTORICAL DESTINATION

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dsc_8267ST. JOHN—The Committee on Culture, Historic Preservation, Youth and Recreation, chaired by Sen. Myron D. Jackson, held a meeting Monday evening at the Cleone Henrietta Creque Legislative Conference Room on St. John, to encourage entities of the executive branch to market Cruz Bay as a cultural heritage destination.

Bill No. 31-0449, sponsored by the Committee Chair, is an act commemorating the 250th anniversary of the establishment of the town of Cruz Bay and encouraging government entities to work with local artisans to develop cultural products.

The measure was “prompted out of many years of the desire to create a historic district in the town of Cruz bay and the discussions that have been had under the office of historic preservation,” said Sen. Jackson. “The language was encouraged through the nomination process of an application for the national register nomination for the town of Cruz Bay.”

Charlotte Amalie, Frederiksted and Christiansted are nationally registered towns, he said. But there is no such designation on St. John.

“The intent of the legislation is purely recognizing the founding of this town, the contributions that have been made by St. Johnians and others, and likewise that we may use it in our cultural tourism heritage product, especially in light of the approaching 2017 centennial and that it be woven through the fabric of various other cultural activities,” he said.

Officials from the executive branch spoke in favor of the measure’s intent, however they largely spoke in opposition to the responsibility falling under their respective jurisdictions because of insufficient staffing, funding, and clarity in the language of the measure.

Pamela Richards, Chair of the 2017 Virgin Islands Transfer Centennial Committee, spoke to that sentiment. “This milestone in Virgin Islands history is worthy of recognition,” she said. “However”, she added, “we are not in a position to—nor is it our mandate to—as is suggested in Section 5, to assist various government entities coordinate plans and activities to market Cruz Bay as a cultural heritage destination.”

Richards suggested that a group be formed, one that is separate from the Commission. “We will thereafter partner with this group in any of the activities that are developed,” she said.

Beverly Nicholson Doty, Commissioner for the Department of Tourism, concurred.

While the department “supports the integration of historic events and authentic experiences into the overall visitor offerings” and recognizes “integration as a key component of building pride in who we are as a people,” Doty said that “the Department of Tourism does not have culture and historic preservation under its direct scope of responsibility.”

“Although we believe it is integral of the industry,” she added. “It is impossible to effectively lead many mandates and to do so well without funding and human capacity.”

Sen. Jackson said that the language of the measure was “not intended to create any hardship” for government entities.

“But the fact is that [if] this milestone goes unrecognized” he said, “[it] would be a travesty.”

Sen. Tregenza A. Roach offered an alternate opinion.

“I think it is commendable that we should observe the 250th anniversary of the founding of Cruz Bay,” he said. “But I think when you look at the state of our historic towns, if you drive through backstreet Charlotte Amalie, if you are in Fredericksted, if you go through certain parts of Christiansted,” designating them as historical does ensure access to resources and constant maintenance, he said.

Sean Krigger, Acting Director of the Virgin Islands State Historic Preservation Office at the Department of Planning and Natural Resources, agreed. “If we don’t do so, these towns will not be around for the next generation,” he said.

Sen. Roach further explained his thoughts on why there may be opposition to celebrate the centennial within the community.

“There may be those persons in the community who feel that this is not a celebration,” he said. “But I think a greater number of people question the nature of the collaboration, the nature of the observation that we will be making. Because when you have such a complex and complicated history that includes the enslavement of people for hundreds of years, there are those people who don’t want to have anything to do with a celebration of either Denmark or of the United States, [a country which] has not examined the colonial history of this territory and revisited our citizenship in 100 years, that we as United States citizens cannot fully participate in the affairs of this country,” he said.

“And I think when we talk about people and their passion and their questioning and their frustration about what exactly this centennial is about, we should be mindful that some of them have very deep seated concerns and questions about where this territory is going, how we have interpreted and dealt with a very complex history and perhaps the struggles of the native people and the extermination of the native people who were found here and their past,” he added. “Particularly as we’re looking at this political unfolding of the United States of America and this insipid racism that we see, repeated, over and over and the diminishing of black lives in this country.”

Sen. Marvin A. Blyden who agreed also spoke to the importance of teaching the historical significance of the Virgin Islands and key influencers to students.

“When you do not know who you are, you are lost,” he said.

Ultimately, no action was taken on the measure.

Committee Chair Sen. Myron D. Jackson, as well as committee members Senators Marvin A. Blyden, Positive T. A. Nelson, and Tregenza A. Roach, were present.

BILL TO EQUALIZE WAPA INTEREST RATE TO BE THE SAME AS THE BANKS MOVES FORWARD

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ST. THOMAS- Members of the Committee on Rules and Judiciary, chaired by Sen. Kenneth Gittens, held a meeting at the Capitol Building on Friday, to vote on several bills including Bill No. 31-0256 as it relates to the interest rate paid by V.I. Water and Power Authority (WAPA) on customer deposits at a rate equal to the average prevailing interest rate paid by the banks.

“What is happening is that the interest rate is stationary for WAPA paid by deposits made by customers,” said Sen. Clifford Graham, one of the Sponsors of Bill. He continued, “We are putting hardship on WAPA because they are paying more on the interest rates for customer deposits. It should be tied to the banks.”  Similarly, Sen. Janette Millin Young said, “This is a win-win for everyone involved. I have listened to all of the testimonies on this measure and not only do WAPA win but so does the rate payers. This bill keeps more money in the pockets of both WAPA and the rate payers.”

Although, Sen. Novelle Francis stated that he supports this bill, he expressed some concerns. “Considering that WAPA is using smart meters that allows precise reading of the utilities bill, I like to revisit the issue of customers who are being charged up to 500% for up to three months in back pay. This certainly will create hardship on consumers.”

Ultimately, lawmakers voted and approved Bill No. 31-0256. Senators also considered and approved Bill No. 31-0334-An Act amending Title I Virgin Islands Code, Chapter 7 adding Section 103b relating to senior citizens to establish the Centennial Living Treasures Award Program. The sponsor of the bill is Sen. Janette Millin Young.

Sen. Jean Forde said, “I see this bill as an opportunity to recognize individuals for achieving a milestone of living to be 100 years old. We all love to feel appreciated and this measure is a small token to individuals who lived to see that age.”

Sen. Justin Harrigan said, “This is an excellent idea because living to be 100 years old is a gift and an achievement. My concern is the financial breakdown of the award. It should be that $1,000 be given to an individual who is 100 years old and the $4,000 should be awarded for their burial expenses; not the other way around.”

Committee Members also considered and approved the following:

Bill No. 31-0372- An Act temporarily raising the mandatory retirement age for police officers, firefighters and prison guards Bill No. 31-0379- An Act amending Title 29 Virgin Islands Code, Chapter 8 adding Subchapter II to provide for the regulation of plastic bags provided to customers

Bill No. 31-0329- An Act amending Title 3 Virgin Islands Code, chapter 18, section 302 to require that the Department of Sports, Parks and Recreation submit to the Legislature a listing of all vendor spaces

Bill No. 31-0366- An Act amending Title 19 Virgin Islands Code, part III, chapter 31, section 722 relating to “Emergency Commitment” of individuals with mental disorders, or are intoxicated or drug dependent

Bill No. 31-0367- An Act amending Title Virgin Islands Code, part III, chapter 31, section 723 as it relates “Involuntarily Commitment” of individuals who have mental disorders, or are intoxicated or drug dependent

Bill No. 31-0376- An Act appropriating $32,647 to the Department of Human Services for the Mechanic and Farming Programs at the St. Croix Youth Rehabilitation Center

Bill No. 31-0385- An Act amending repealing and reenacting Title 19 Virgin Islands Code, chapter 47 relating to the Virgin Islands Central Cancer Registry Program

Bill No. 31-0337- An Act amending Title 17 Virgin Islands Code, chapter 5, section 41, subsection (c) relating to the courses required to be taught in public schools by adding a structured civics course, and providing for technical amendments

Bill No. 31-0314- An Act amending Title 3 Virgin Islands Code, chapter 7, adding section 96a providing for an identification system for high performing, low income students, gifted programs and an accountability system for the achievements and growth of all students in the Virgin Islands public school system.

All bills approved will forwarded to the full body for further consideration.

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COMMITTEE APPROVES ZONING BILLS FOR MARRIOTT

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ST.THOMAS— The Committee on Economic Development, Agriculture and Planning, chaired by Senate Vice President Janette Millin Young, approved two zoning requests Tuesday, at the Earle B. Ottley Legislative Hall.

“Every permit request that we review in this committee, that we vet, that  we vote on, represents economic development,” said the Committee Chair. “A great majority of these requests allow for businesses to conduct business and therefore attributes to our commerce. And this I believe is important to mention because it is necessary for all of us to embrace the work that contributes to the economic development of our territory because it doesn’t happen in a vacuum,” she said. “It behooves all of us to ensure that something is actually built on the foundation that we lay here.”

Major Coastal Zone Management Permit No. CZT-05-12, which allows for the continued use and occupancy of an existing dock and authorizes the installation of a swim platform to be located in an uncolonized area of the bay, was approved with a vote of 5 yes, 4 absent.

During the discussion, lawmakers inquired about why the request took almost 2 years to reappear before the body, ensured that public access would not be compromised and verified that code, as well as the language of the permit request,was within established parameters.

Yvonne L. Tharpes, Deputy Chief Legal Counsel of the 31st Legislature offered a brief analysis of the  permit.

“Of concern are the intake and outfall lines of the desalination plant. The R-3 Zoning District’s Table of Permitted Uses in the outdated zoning code of the Virgin islands dos not allow desalination plants,” she wrote in the memorandum.

Sen. Clifford F. Graham, a committee member, asked officials to respond to the concern.

Jean-Pierre Oriol, Director of Coastal Zone Management at the Department of Planning and Natural Resources obliged.

“In review of the Legal Counsel’s analysis,” he said, “It is responding to the zoning code as if the desalination plant itself was looking to be erected in the R-3 zone. Then the zoning code does not allow a desalination plant in a medium density area,” he said.

Oriol explained that other concerns raised by Legal Counsel pertained to commercial use of  desalinized water, but the water is not being used commercially, he said.

The Committee also approved Major Coastal Zone Management Permit No. CZT-9-14, which allows for continued use and occupancy of land north and south of Muhlenfel’s Point and authorizes the use of the existing reconstructed fixed dock and its associated leased submerged lands and the installation of 11 buoys, 9 of which are swim buoys.

Later lawmakers removed Major Coastal Zone Management Permit No. CZJ-2-14  to allow the continued use and occupancy  of an existing dock and 6500 square feet of submerged lands surrounding the dock structure from the agenda so that it could be heard on the island of St. John giving residents the opportunity to attend and voice concerns.

Committee Chair Sen. Janette Millin Young and committee members,  Senators Clifford F. Graham, Myron D. Jackson, Almando “Rocky” Liburd, Tregenza A. Roach, were present.

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