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.
ST. 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.
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.
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.
St. Croix—the Committee on Housing, Public Works and Waste Management, chaired by Senator Marin A. Blyden met Thursday evening to consider a three item agenda in the Frits E. Lawaetz Legislative Conference Room, Frederiksted.
The first item on the committee’s agenda was an update on the Consent Decree and Closure of the Virgin Islands Landfills. In 2016, the Government of the Virgin Islands and the Waste Management Authority entered into a Consent Decree with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency which outlines specific solutions to the environmental violations at the islands’ landfills.
The Department of Planning and Natural Resources’ Commissioner, Dawn Henry said in a prepared statement that the, “Management of the Territory’s landfills is at critical point.” The commissioner further indicated that Bovoni Landfill is projected to reach capacity in January of 2017 and the Anguilla site in September 2017. “We need to immediately seek alternative means of disposing of more than 350 tons per day of solid waste territory wide,” said Henry.
On August 23, 2016, the District of the court of the Virgin Islands held a status conference to receive an update from the Government of the Virgin Islands regarding progress made in complying with the Consent Decree. According to Commissioner Henry, the only progress that was made was with the 10-million-dollar bond authorization; however, the DPNR Commissioner said that she will be in court on Friday, September 9, 2016 to provide an additional update on the compliance efforts.
Also testifying from the Virgin Islands Waste Management Authority were Ann Hanley, Acting Chief Operating Officer (COO) and Vincent A. Ebberson, Solid Waste Director both of whom came under questioning and confirmed to Senators that there was a job action on Wednesday, September 7, 2016 which affected the Transfer Station and as a result hampered trash handling on St. Croix. The acting COO reassured the committee that a partial payment will be made on Thursday, September 8, 2016.
On the matter of the proposed legislations, Chairman Blyden said the two Bills 31-0316 and 31-0380 have both been before the committee before but a need to revisit the proposed legislations along with any necessary amendments would ensure the best measures that would be beneficial to the territory.
Bill No. 31-0316 which is an Act proposing to amend the VI Code and to establish a comprehensive waste reduction, recycling and composting program in the Virgin Islands, and Bill No. 31-0380 seeks to establish a Source Separation Law in the Virgin Islands to promote the general health, welfare and safety of the residents and protect the environment all the while managing the solid waste steam in the Virgin Islands.
After several rounds of questions, the committee unanimously voted and approved the two measures which were then forwarded to the Committee on Rules and Judiciary for further consideration.
Senators in attendance for Thursday evening’s meeting were: Marvin A. Blyden (Chair); Clifford F. Graham (Vice Chair); Jean A. Forde; Neville A. James; Almando “Rocky” Liburd; Kenneth L. Gittens, Novelle E. Francis, Jr.; Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly; Non-committee members in attendance included Senators Myron D. Jackson; Kurt A. Vialet and Positive T.A. Nelson.
ST. JOHN—The Committee on Government Services, Consumer and Veterans Affairs, chaired by Sen. Justin Harrigan Sr., met at the Cleone Henrietta Creque Legislative Conference Room on St. John Monday evening, to receive a status update on the limited barge services between St. Thomas and St. John.
Sen. Justin Harrigan Sr., said that the meeting was necessary to discuss the limited services and the subsequent “impact on Virgin Islands residents, its businesses and overall economy. It’s important that these issues be aired,” he said.
Representatives from various government entities as well as the private sector shared some of their challenges.
Arlene Chalwell, Deputy Police Chief for the St. John District Leander Jurgen Zone-D Command, said in her testimony that the limited services delayed the department’s ability to transport supplies, equipment and vehicles that allowed the department to provide sufficient safety to communities as well as basic services like providing police reports and records.
“Moving forward, it is imperative that proactive measures are implemented to prevent such dire situations from reoccurring in the near future,” she said.
Sen. Janette Millin Young said that she understood the impact to be “a bread and butter issue” as the tourism product in St. John is the main source of economic support. Although the service was not halted,” she said, “it slowed down.” When we’re talking about an island that is separated by a body of water, then you’re sort of paralyzed.”
Though Lieutenant Commander Elizabeth Newton, Supervisor of Marine Safety Detachment in St. Thomas U.S. Coast Guard was unable to attend, she provided a statement that was read into the record.
“The Coast Guard’s priorities are to safeguard the lives of the people who utilize these vessels, ensure the safety of the maritime transportation system and help facilitate safe maritime commerce in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Coast Guard Marine Inspectors remain committed to performing any required inspections in a timely manner to ensure the vessels are structurally sound and meet the regulatory standards for a certificated vessel to safely transport passengers and vehicles,” she said in her testimony.
Carlton Dowe, Executive Director of the Virgin Islands Port Authority also testified. During the discussion, Dowe noted that while he understood the frustration, providing a solution like expansion would take time.
“Maintaining these facilities is not easy,” he said. “Unlike some islands in the Caribbean where you can wake up tomorrow and tear out a mangrove or fill in a pond, in the United States Virgin Islands,
it [doesn’t] happen that way. We must go through a process,” he said, naming some of the many facets including the Army Core of Engineers, fisheries and the Coast Guard. “By the time that process takes place I will guarantee you years have gone by.”
“The Port Authority’s board is concerned about the lack of sufficient barge service and the impact it has caused on our community, our tourism product and our port operations,” he said. “We have done our best to respond to the public outcry by appearing on local radio talk shows to explain the reasons for lack of service.”
“We hope to have some resolution to this issue in the very near future, and we will keep the public abreast of any new developments,” Dowe said.
Committee members, Senators Myron D. Jackson, Positive T. A. Nelson. Tregenza A. Roach, and Janette Millin Young were present. Non-committee members, Jean A. Forde and Almando “Rocky” Liburd were also present.
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Press Release for August 22, 2016 150822-STJ
St. Croix–the Committee on Homeland Security, Justice & Public Safety met Friday in the Frits E. Lawaetz Legislative Conference Room to consider Bill 31-0364 which would implement hazardous duty pay for Firefighters in the Suppression Unit for the performance of hazardous duty and Bill 31-0381, which seeks to amend the existing noise control statues.
Senate President Neville James in speaking on Bill 31-0364 said the bill seeks to “correct a long standing omission” which was also echoed by several testifiers throughout the committee meeting on Friday.
Firefighters and their union representatives from the St. Croix and St. Thomas/St. John districts were on hand to advocate for the passage of the legislation, which some senators felt should be part of a greater discussion on hazardous duty pay for first responders.
Possible amendments to the bill were discussed, which include the designation of a funding source to cover the hazardous pay costs as well as the extension of hazardous duty pay to all eligible law enforcement personnel. The bill was held in committee to allow for a more comprehensive financial analysis by the Senate’s Post Audit Division.
The second item on the agenda was the Noise Pollution Control Bill (31-0381), sponsored by Senator Novelle E. Francis, Jr. The Senator refuted claims that the proposed legislation serves a special interest. “This is not an anti-business, anti-music, anti-entertainment or anti-culture bill. It is a quality of life bill.” Francis said he has heard from diverse groups, all of whom have their own concerns about the impact of noise in residential and business areas.
Representatives from the Frederiksted Economic Development Association, the Christiansted Community Alliance, the St. Croix Chamber of Commerce and the Departments of Licensing and Consumer Affairs, Health and Police were in favor of the legislation. All testifiers suggested amendments that would address inconsistencies and improve the enforceability of the legislation.
Chairman Francis said he will continue to work with key stakeholders to fine tune the Noise Pollution legislation. “Today’s discussion reflects that this bill is a work in progress,” he stated. “Common courtesy cannot be legislated, but legislation that allows the greater community to enjoy a better quality of life certainly can.”
The bill was favorably voted on by all six committee members present and will proceed to the Rules and Judiciary Committee for further vetting.
Members in attendance on Friday were: Novelle E. Francis, Jr. (Chairman), Kenneth L. Gittens (Vice Chair), Justin Harrigan, Sr.; Jean Forde; Sammuel Sanes, Almando “Rocky” Liburd; Nereida “Nellie” O’Reilly and non-committee member Neville A. James.