Category: Press Releases

BILL NO. 32-0001

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BILL NO. 32-0001

32nd Legislature of the Virgin Islands

This bill organizes the 32nd Legislature, and establishes the Majority Caucus, elects the officers, establishes the standing committees, appoints the committee chairs, committee vice chairs and committee members, and adopts the Rules of the 32nd Legislature.

• Senator Myron D. Jackson-President

• Senator Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly-Vice-President

• Senator Jean Forde-Secretary

• Senator Neville James-Majority Leader

• Senator Jean Forde-Secretary for Intergovernmental & Territorial Affairs

• Senator Marvin Blyden-Liaison to the United States Congress

• Senator Brian A. Smith-Liaison to the United States Dept. of Interior, Office of Insular Affairs

• Senator Sammuel Sanes-Liaison to the White House

COMMITTEE RECEIVES UPDATE ON CAPITAL PROJECTS FROM WMA, DPNR & PUBLIC WORKS

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ST. THOMAS- The Committee on Housing, Public Works, Waste Management and Planning, chaired by Sen. Marvin Blyden met on Wednesday at the Earle B. Ottley Legislative Hall to receive testimony and current status reports from the Virgin Islands Waste Management Authority (WMA), the Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR), and the Department of Public Works.

Roger E. Merritt, Jr., Executive Director of the Virgin Islands Waste Management Authority, assured the body that under his direction, “The Authority will implement several strategies to overcome our current fiscal constraints.” Merritt Jr., accompanied by Chief Operating Officer Steve Aubin and Chief Engineer Jim Grum, indicated that a significant percentage of their General Fund appropriation is used to maintain critical operational costs for public health, safety and compliance regulations.

The Waste Management Authority noted their appreciation for the $1.7 million appropriation by the 31st Legislature, which delayed the implementation of tipping fees and was used to pay outstanding fees to contractors, provide public hearings and informational handouts for the public. The Public Services Commission (PSC) approved the petition for tipping fees on solid waste collection and disposal services on April 20, 2016. The Authority expects to generate $6.9 million from this plan, that cannot begin until the end of Fiscal Year 2017, due to additional scale-house modifications, weighing scale, compactor repairs and technological systems needed.

The PSC also approved a petition submitted by the WMA to collect special waste fees on electronic waste, freon, lubricating oil and fluorescent light bulbs. The Authority anticipates they will be ready to collect special waste fees by the end of Fiscal Year 2017 and expects to generate $1.2 million annually. The Wastewater User Fee (Sewer Fee), which is collected with property taxes, falls short of its expected collection of $3 million annually. To date, the WMA has not received any funds for Fiscal Year 2017, collected $576,000 total for FY 2015 and $856,000 total for FY 2016.

Last fiscal year, a petition was submitted to the PSC to for various miscellaneous wastewater operation fees, specifically overdue septage disposal fees. The fees are expected to cover costs of services in an effort to expand and improve services offered to all residents in our territory. In recent news, the District Court approved the motion to remove the remaining wastewater treatment plants from the 1984 Consent Decree, which brings the WMA closer to full termination of the decree.  “The Authority continues to search and apply for grants to upgrade the wastewater infrastructure, improve solid waste operations and eliminate public unmanned bin sites in the territory,” stated Executive Director Merritt, Jr.

On St. Croix, the Anguilla Landfill is in the process of stabilizing the final slopes of the site, utilizing approximately 160 tons of waste per day and awaiting approval by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for a redesign that will develop 2 years worth of airspace available for new waste placement. Upon completion of capital improvements required by the Consent Decrees, the Bovoni Landfill on St. Thomas will be approved by the EPA for 3 years of airspace available for new waste placement.

The Committee on Housing, Public Works, Waste Management and Planning received testimony from Commissioner Dawn Henry of the Department of Planning and Natural Resources on their ongoing initiatives. The Division of Environmental Protection (EP) recently implemented a new application process that requires all pest companies and applicators to obtain a permit before purchasing Restricted Use Pesticides and specifying where they will be applied in the territory.

The EP officially manages the territory’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund program and receives $4.8 million annually from the U.S. EPA to assist in improving the territory’s municipal wastewater facilities and storm water systems. To date, the improvements made thus far have resulted in a reimbursement of $7 million to the Department and recoupment of $1.5 million in indirect costs.

The Division of Fish and Wildlife received funding from the US Fish and Wildlife Services for repairs in St. Croix to the Gallows Bay, Altona Lagoon, and Frederiksted docks. All repairs are estimated to be completed by the end of FY 2017. The Division of Coastal Zone Management (CZM) joined efforts with the Virgin Islands Port Authority to expedite the application process by making forms available online.

Commissioner Gustav James of the Department of Public Works provided updates on the status of the major capital projects in progress within the territory. Over 25 major roadway projects are in progress or slated to begin in both districts, notably Veterans Drive and the Moravian Highway on St. Thomas, Bordeaux Mountain and Fish Bay on St. John, along with Mahogany Road and Hamm’s Bluff on St. Croix. Commissioner James concluded his testimony by briefly outlining the 5 major non-road projects in progress, such as the St. Croix Fish Market and Fort Christian on St. Thomas.

While commending the testifiers and their employees for their hard work and commitment within their respective agencies, Members of the 32nd Legislature raised serious concerns with the lack of reasonable compensation for employees of the Government of the Virgin Islands.

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LAWMAKERS CONSIDERS ZONING REQUESTS

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ST. THOMAS- Members of the 31st Legislature, led by Senate President Neville James, held a meeting at the Capitol Building on Tuesday, to receive testimony on several zoning request applications including Alford S. Richards Sr., – To amend the Official Zoning Map No. SJZ-1 from R-1 (Residential-Low Density) to B-2 (Business-Secondary/Neighborhood) for Parcel No. 29 Estate Susannaberg No. 17A Cruz Bay Quarter, St. John.

According to a memorandum submitted by Yvonne Tharpes, Legal Counsel of the Legislature of the Virgin Islands, it suggested to postpone the hearing in order to allow St. John Residents to express their concerns as it pertains to this zoning request.

 

However, lawmakers did not want to further delay the meeting.

“The zoning hearing that was scheduled for November 21st was cancelled due to inclement weather,” said Sen. James. He continued, “Considering that the 31st Legislature is coming to a close, instead of prolonging this zoning request, we should at least receive testimony on it. There will be no voting on any of the zoning requests today.”

Leia Laplace Matthew, Territorial Planner for the Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR) stated that the purpose of this request is to lease the site for a water delivery business to operate from and store water trucks. She also recommended approval of the petition.

Similarly, Kelly Davis, Planning Technician for DPNR also gave a favorable recommendation. She said, “The current use is that it is vacant land with an abandon tennis court. The property is surrounded by condominiums on the north and there is vacant land on the east and west.

Sen. Marvin Blyden asked, “Once approved, would the project move forward immediately?” In response, Stylish Willis, Law Offices of Willis said, “When this zoning request was originally submitted, we learned that the area was considered residential. Therefore, as soon as it is approved, the Water Companies that the property is leased to, will begin using the land for commercial use.”

“How many water trucks will be using the site?” asked Sen. Blyden. In response, Willis stated that there will be approximately three to four water trucks and four to five heavy equipment that will occupy the land.”

Sen. Clifford Graham asked, “Where is the property located on St. John?” Willis said, “It is located right off the main road.” Sen. Graham said, “I know that area very well. Although, the property is zoned as residential, it is surrounded by a lot of businesses.” Willis added that the land has been used for commercial use for many years.

“How would maneuvering large vehicles impact the traffic?” inquired Sen. Jean Forde. Willis said, “According to the lease agreement, the property is approximately three acres. Therefore, there will not be an issue for the trucks to access the land. There isn’t a lot of traffic on the main road, so I don’t foresee traffic congestion of any sort.”

Sen. Nereida Rivera O’Reilly asked, “Are all of the taxes current on the property?” Willis stated the property taxes are current.

Separately, lawmakers also received testimony on other zoning requests including:

  • Dale LeFebvre- Authorized Agent Stephanie Berry – To amend Official Zoning Map No. STZ-9 – Application No. ZAT-16-3- requesting that a use variance be granted to the R-2 (Residential-Low Density One and Two Family) zoned Parcel Nos. 19-2-101 and 19-2-102 Estate Smith Bay, Nos. 1, 2 & 3 East End Quarter, St. Thomas Purpose: To utilize a portion of his residence as his business’ office space
  • Sergio Laplante – To amend Official Zoning Map No. STZ-11, Application No. ZAT-16-6; requesting a use variance be granted to R-4 (Residential-Medium Density) zoned Plot Nos. 52 and 54, First Avenue (combined), First Subdivision of Estate Thomas, St. Thomas Purpose: To operate a restaurant out of a food van
  • Development Partners International, LLC – Authorized Agent David A. Bornn, Esq, – To amend the Official Zoning Map No. STZ-10 – Application No. ZAT 16-7 from R-1 (Residential-Low Density) to W-1 9(Waterfront-Pleasure) for Parcel Nos. 6L-remainder and 6L-25 Estate Nazareth, No. 1 Red Hook Quarter, St. Thomas Purpose: To consolidate the lots and subdivide into four residential lots, a utility lot and parking for residences on Parcels No. 6L-30 Estate Nazareth. It will be part of a larger residential and accessory development, to include Parcel Nos. 6L-30 and 6L-24 Estate Nazareth

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COMMITTEE RECEIVES UPDATE ON CHARLOTTE AMALIE DOWNTOWN REVITALIZATION

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ST. THOMAS- The Committee on Economic Development, Agriculture and Planning, chaired by Sen. Janette Millin Young received an update on Tuesday concerning the suspension of the Charlotte Amalie Downtown Revitalization Project.

Chairman Millin Young scheduled today’s Committee meeting because she requested and is still awaiting correspondence from the Departments of Public Works, Property & Procurement on the status of this project. “The delay of this project impacts the day-to-day business in the downtown area and directly affects the heart of the V.I. economy.”

On November 7, 2016, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) notified the Government of the Virgin Islands of its decision to suspend the contract awarded to Tip Top Construction. According to Federal regulation 23 CFR 635.125, all contracts exceeding the amount of $10,000 shall contain suitable provisions for termination by the State/Territory, including the manner by which the termination will be effected and the basis for settlement.

President of the St. Thomas-St. John Chamber of Commerce, Sabastiano Paiewonski-Castinelli stated, “If Tip Top Construction cannot fulfill their contractual obligations in full compliance with federal regulations that it is in our best interest to secure another contract in order to complete this project.”

The Teaming Agreement and intent to subcontract between Tip Top Construction and Prestige Building Company, LLC, was not disclosed throughout the bidding process or after the contract was awarded by the Government of the Virgin Islands. Private sector entities such as the Chamber of Commerce (COC) and Downtown Revitalization Inc., (DRI) gave testimony on their challenges with maintaining communication with the Departments of Public Works (DPW) and Property & Procurement.

“As a private sector entity, we have attempted to work in total collaboration with the DPW to make the flow of information as smooth and easy as possible for Main Street businesses, residents and visitors,” said Gautam Daswani, President of DRI. “The DRI is concerned and willing to assist in all efforts to restore and reauthorize funding for this project.”

Wystan Benjamin, Former Highway Program Manager of the Department of Public Works, submitted his testimony seeking closure for his unexplained termination. While employed by the DPW led his team by assessing and awarding contracts based on the lowest, responsible bidder. Attorney General Claude O. Walker also informed the Committee that he discussed the letter received from the FHWA with the Commissioners of Public Works and Property & Procurement, but has no knowledge of a plan of action in light of the contract suspension.

The Committee took no action, as the meeting served as a status update on the project.

The Committee of the Whole will convene today at 6:00 p.m. at the Earle B. Ottley Legislative Hall.

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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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