Category: Press Releases

2ND ANNUAL STENOGRAPHER’S DAY

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ST. THOMAS- The Office of Sen. Janelle Sarauw and the Legislature of the Virgin Islands Division of Reporters collaborated to host the 2nd Annual Stenographer’s Day held at the Capitol Building on Friday. The event showcases the tasks, duties and career opportunities of stenographers to a group of high school students.

“The purpose of today is to expose the youths to the profession of stenography as they begin to explore career possibilities,” said Sen. Janelle Sarauw. “Young people will have an opportunity to learn from professionals in the field who are passionate about stenography and look forward to sharing their profession and experiences.”

Sen. Donna Frett-Gregory stated that this is one of the most awesome professions. Lawmakers are researching scholarships to support students who want to pursue a career as a stenographer or a court reporter.

Guest panelists are the Legislative Reporters Tricia Sealey, Casmus Caines, Vashti Berry, and Nataya Munoz; Retired Legislative Reporter Desiree Francis; Official Reporters for the Superior Court are Kai M. Mulley, Suzette Descartes, and Jasmine Wadie-Francis; Freelance Reporters Noreen Surge and Verdell Porter; Student Reporter Joyann Morris.

The 2nd Annual Stenographer’s Day is in conjunction with the 2019 NCRA National Court Reporting and Captioning Week which is recognized annually on February 9th-16th. The event creates awareness of court reporting and captioning. Throughout the week, participants learn about the various aspects of the profession to include salaries.  The National Court Reporting and Captioning Week is an effort to recruit career seekers to meet the high demand for employment opportunities in the trade.

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LAWMAKERS UPDATED ON THE STATUS OF THE AGRICULTURE INDUSTRY

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ST. THOMAS- Members of the Committee on Economic Development & Agriculture, chaired by Sen. Alison DeGazon, convened in a meeting at the Capitol Building on Wednesday, to receive testimony from the Virgin Islands Department of Agriculture (VIDOA) on the status of agricultural development in the Territory.

“Agriculture is a major economic sector in the Caribbean. It continues to generate income for other islands, facilitate food security, supply nutrition, and sovereignty, contribute to physical and infrastructural development and reduce poverty and hunger,” said Sen. DeGazon.

Currently, the status of agriculture in the Virgin Islands is “underutilized” noted Commissioner Nominee Positive Nelson. “Though, agriculture is proven potential has precedence it remains untapped and stagnant.” Some of the goals of VIDOA are to increase food production and security inclusive of crops, Next generation of farmers, livestock and marine life, boosting employee morale, market distribution, restore water preservation and dissemination, and the restoration of indigenous plants and forestry.

Nevertheless, the challenges plaguing the Department are unpredictable weather conditions such as a drought or natural disasters, low compensation for current farmers, the steady decline of the economy and the lack of people who are interested in pursuing a career in agriculture. Presently, the average age of a farmer is sixty-two years old. Sen. Athneil “Bobby” Thomas inquired of VIDOA’s strategy to attract younger farmers. Commissioner Nominee Nelson stated that educating youngsters and exposing them to new opportunities is a step in the right direction.

In 2017, there were 253 active licensed farmers in the St. Croix District. However, by 2018, there was a reduction of registered farmers on St. Croix totaling 171 of which approximately 40 farmers with a community garden had access to free water; the remaining must purchase water.

There are 27 registered farmers on St. Thomas and five on St. John. We Grow Food Inc. (WGF) President Eldridge Thomas noted that since December of 2018, water distribution has been a significant issue on St. Thomas. Despite hosting an Agricultural Fair, water trucks owned by the government were inoperable forcing WGF to buy water. Sen. DeGazon stated that infrastructure needs to be in place to give all farmers access to clean water.

VIDOA has an estimated 1,776.09 acres of the land asset on St. Croix of which 1,228 acres were leased. On St. Thomas, there is 133 acres of the land asset, but only 118 acres was distributed. On St. John, VIDOA has two acres of the land asset, and none of it was leased. Annually, the collective profit from leased lands totals $22,000. The percentage of farmers on Government property who has minimum farming activities equates to 34% of the farmers on St. Croix and 30% on St. Thomas. As it relates to outstanding land rental fee payments, there is 65% delinquent accounts on St. Thomas and 28% delinquent accounts on St. Croix. VIDOA is funded through Federal Grant Programs estimated at $1.8 million, the General Fund estimated at $4.5 and the Agriculture Revolving Fund of which $37K generated in revenues for the first quarter of FY 2019.                                 ###

LAWMAKERS UPDATED ON THE FINANCIAL STATUS OF THE TERRITORY

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ST. THOMAS- Members of the Committee on Finance, chaired by Sen. Donna Frett-Gregory, convened in a meeting at the Capitol Building on Tuesday, to receive testimony on an update of the financial status of the Government of the Virgin Islands (GVI) and the Disaster Recovery Funds.

Sen. Frett-Gregory noted that this is an opportunity for the Governor’s Financial Team to provide a clear understanding of local and federal dollars and the use of funds moving forward. “Transparency is critical and necessary for lawmakers to make informed decisions.”

Currently, GVI is operating with an ongoing structural deficit estimated at $415 million. The aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Maria created a downward ripple effect on the financial condition of the Territory by hindering revenue collections which led to liquidity issues. As a result, GVI borrowed additional Working Capital Funds from the Federal Government inclusive of the Community Disaster Loans (CDL) totaling $215 million; of which $144 million is for the Central Government, $42 million for the Juan F. Luis Hospital and $28 million is for Schneider Regional Medical Hospital. Sen. Stedman Hodge inquired about how will CDL be repaid. Department of Finance Acting Commissioner Kirk Callwood stated that Gross Receipt Taxes secure CDL. The start date for loan repayment begins in April 2019.

The Fiscal Year 2018 revenues collected as of September 20, 2018, are $710 million to include tax collections. Additional revenues collected was $27 million. Overall, this totals $737 million for General Fund revenues. GVI distributed $40 million for Income Tax Revenues in FY 2018 and is expecting refund payments estimated at $38 million for FY 2019. The increase in personnel cost for the salary of government employees totals $25,550,789. Out of that, the Department of Education will receive an estimated $15 million. Equally important, the balance on insurance proceeds is $53 million out of $120 million. The amount expended was $67 million, and that was distributed to government agencies to assist with necessary repairs.

To date, GVI has $36 million for cash-at-hand. “That is concerning to me because $36 million equates to 16 days. This is not a true representation because there are vendors that are still unpaid,” said Sen. Frett Gregory. Sen. Novelle Francis added that there needs to be a Cash Management Team to ensure vendor payments because vendors pay Gross Receipt Tax. As of January 31, 2019, GVI’s General Obligation Debt totals $861.6 million; to include CDL. The Matching Fund Revenue Obligation Debt is $802.9 million.

Separately, the Federal Government has awarded $1.6 billion for approximately 1,000 projects inclusive of the 500 projects that are going through the lengthy process of inspection and approval. The Federal monies cover post-hurricanes damages throughout the Virgin Islands. Out of those monies, government agencies were issued $722 million for the Disaster Recovery Funds. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has obligated $894 million for approved projects.

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LAWMAKERS UPDATED ON THE STATUS OF THE HEALTH CARE INDUSTRY

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ST. THOMAS- Members of the Committee on Health and Hospitals and Human Services, chaired by Sen. Oakland Benta, convened in a meeting at the Capitol Building on Monday, to receive testimony on an update of the status of the Virgin Islands Health Care Industry.

Currently, structural and internal damages sustained because of Hurricane Irma and Maria were repaired, and essential services resumed at the Roy L. Schneider Medical Center (SRMC). Some of them are the re-opening of the Operating Room, Emergency Medicine, Heart & Lung Services, and Hemodialysis. However, due to the lack of a financial investment, the Charlotte Kimmelman Cancer Institute remains closed for patient care services. The Myrah Keating Smith Community Health Center (MKS) remains inoperable. MKS General outpatient medical services were relocated to the DeCastro Clinic in St. John.

Some of the significant financial challenges of SRMC include the lack of ability to comply with the Collective Bargaining Unions negotiated salary increases estimated at $2.8 million; the Government Employee Retirement System (GERS) in which $2.7 million is required to complete the conversion of employer rates, and an additional $8 million in allotments from the Government of the Virgin Islands is needed to offset the $30 million in uncompensated care to Virgin Islands residents. As it relates to the Community Disaster Loan (CDL), Sen. Benta inquired if SRMC will be able to draw down on the CDL by the March 31, 2019 deadline. Chief Medical Officer of SRMC Luis Amaro noted that SRMC is operating due to access to CDL and all funds are expected to be expended by the period.

Similarly, Juan F. Luis Hospital (JFL) Acting Chief Executive Officer Dyma Williams shared an update. Post-Hurricane Maria, there was extensive water and structural damages to JFL. As a result, services at the Operating Room has declined, Interventional Cardiology Services was adversely affected, and the inpatient-bed capacity has reduced from 80 to 46 beds.  Furthermore, to resolve those issues, FEMA indicated that replacing JFL by building a new hospital is necessary. However, the timeline for that project is unconfirmed. Despite paying down ongoing bills to WAPA, suppliers, contractors, and GERS, JFL remains in financial debt. The operating expenditures and payroll obligations are met through the $42 million approved by CDL of which the amount expended is $37 million.

In addition to SRMC, JFL, the V.I. Department of Health (DOH), the Department of Human Services (DHS), the Frederiksted Health Care Center (FHC), Inc., St. Thomas East End Medical Center (STEEMCC) and the V.I. Developmental Disabilities Council, Inc. also shared an overview. Thus far, DOH has resolved three outstanding arbitration cases, processed over a 1,000 Medical Malpractice Liability Insurance Certificates, reorganized the Immunization Division, and hired twenty-seven new employees, promoted twenty-two employees and currently have eight-four vacancies. DOH actively participated in Contract Bargaining Agreements Negotiations, implemented two minimum wage increases and settled thirty grievance cases including those that were outstanding.

Post-Hurricane Maria, there were structural damages to DHS Golden Rock Office in St. Croix. As a result, the department relocated to five different buildings. DHS received a total of $3,989,177 from the Food and Nutrition Services (FNS) issued for benefits distributed in February 2019. Considering a potential government shut down, it is unclear of the availability of FNS funds for March 2019. The lack of staff is one of the significant challenges of the department. There are eighty-seven vacancies; this significantly affects the Division of Senior Citizens Affairs. There is a reduction of juvenile delinquent cases in the St. Thomas-St. John District. However, there is an increase in the St. Croix District.

Separately, some of the initiatives of the Frederiksted Healthcare Center are providing behavioral, medical and dental services to the homeless population, obtaining a Center of Disease Control grant to educate the community about AIDS and HIV, and receiving an Elton John Foundation Grant for the FHC needle exchange program. FHC’s challenges include the need to recruit additional Licensed Practical Nurses and dental assistants, limited inpatient care for psychiatric patients and a prolonged process for licensing for Medical and Dental Providers.

Despite the destruction caused by the hurricanes, STEEMCC facility remained undamaged. The assets were untouched, and provider and staff continued working which enables continued patient care. One of STEEMCC challenges is uncompensated care costs. According to STEEMCC Executive Director, Moleto Smith, Jr. private pay group also known as self-pay is 40% of the payer mix; this resulted in unpaid debt.

The major challenge for the Virgin Islands Developmental Disabilities Council, Inc. is obtaining the required resources to conduct program services effectively. Some of the initiatives include the expansion of the Family to Family Health Care Centers Programs to the Virgin Islands, collaborating with Vocational Rehabilitation that provides wrap-around services, and increasing grant writing training opportunities.

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SENATORS WEIGH IN ON GOVERNOR’S ADDRESS

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St. Croix—Senate President Kenneth L. Gittens on Monday, January 28, 2019, reconvened the Body into Legislative session, after recessing on January 14, 2019 during the organization of the 33rd Legislature.  Governor Albert Bryan, Jr. requested of the Body, that additional time be granted, and the Legislature acquiesced and reconvened at 7:00 p.m. that evening.

Governor Bryan, in his first Territorial address, was praised by senators for the message of hopefulness.  Senate President Gittens, a former police officer, said he was pleased that issues of crime were mentioned, but stated that more details on the rebuilding of the territory would have been greatly appreciated.

The governor declared that the state of the territory was “in distress.”  He further indicated that he and his team have been analyzing the critical areas in the government which needed improvement, as well as those areas that are working well and need to be expanded upon.

Senate Vice President Donna Frett-Gregory and Chairwoman of the Finance Committee said that she was elated with the speech. She added, “We are at the juncture where we must talk about one Virgin Islands and how we make these things happen as a people and not as individuals.”

Senate Secretary and Chairwoman of the Committee on Rules and Judiciary, Senator Alicia Barnes said the speech was transparent, realistic and gave a true fiscal picture of the state of the territory.

Senate Majority Leader Marvin A. Blyden, who also serves as Chairman of the Committee on Housing, Transportation, Infrastructure and Telecommunications, said he was pleased that the Governor addressed the untapped marine sector industry and the bevy of jobs that can be realized.

Senator Allison DeGazon, Chairwoman on the Committee of Economic Development & Agriculture said, one of the important areas of the address in her opinion, was the STEAM Program and the fact that agriculture was included. The Senator further indicated that she was pleased that the Governor recognized agriculture and its economic potential to the territory.

In referring to the STEAM Program, the Governor indicated, “Our focus will be on STEAM for our Economy, Service, Technology, Energy, Agriculture, and Manufacturing.”

Senator-At-Large and Chairman on the Committee of Homeland Security, Justice & Public Safety, Steven Payne, Sr. said he was delighted that the governor said he will focus on young people and ensuring opportunities are available to avert them from crime.

Senator Myron Jackson, Chairman of the Committee on Culture and Planning indicated that he would like to see the approach that will be used in moving the Virgin Islands forward and the identification of the administration’s economic, social, health, education, and cultural priorities.

Senator Novelle Francis, Jr. stated he was happy with the Governor’s goal to create a team work environment among the different branches of government.

Senator Kurt Vialet said although the speech covered several infrastructure and economic issues, it didn’t offer much in the way of solutions. Nevertheless, he liked what the governor said about ensuring that individuals in key positions work to execute laws and carry out the mandates that are in place.

Senator Athneil “Bobby” Thomas said he was delighted with the speech. Thomas who serve as the Chairman of the Committee on Government Operations, Consumers, & Veterans Affair, said what impressed him most was that the Governor gave a balanced vision as to where he wants us to be.

Senator Javan James, Chairman of the Committee on Youth, Sports, Parks and recreation said he hopes the administration will take a long view on C-Tech programs because this is the time of the new generation.

Senator Oakland Benta, Chairman of the Committee on Health, Hospitals and Human Services said he was encouraged when the governor spoke of pursuing a health strategy that not only captures the needs of our people but allows for the expansion of our capabilities as the economy grows. He added that what really captured his attention was when the governor said, “We will be sending legislation to unify our hospital system finally.”

The Chairman of the Committee on Education and Workforce Development, Senator Stedmann Hodge, Jr. said he was impressed when the Governor indicated, “the prevalence of crime was not the root of our problems but rather it was the bitter fruit of entrenched social and economic woes that have plagued our community for generations.”

Senator Dwayne DeGraff said while he remains optimistic, the speech should have focused on how he intends to accomplish these issues.

Absent was Senator Janelle K. Sarauw who was off island due to a death in her family.

 

 

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Finance Committee to hold meeting with Governor’s financial team to get update on the Territory’s financial position

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St. Thomas- Committee on Finance to meet with the Governor’s Financial team in late January to gain early insight into the financial affairs of the Government of the Virgin Islands.
“As the territory continues to be impacted by a myriad of the residual effects of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, inability to pay vendors, halt of excise tax collections, changes in the corporate tax requirements, to name a few; the members of the 33rd Legislature and Virgin Islands community require a clear picture of the territory’s financial position and we need to do so now”, said Senator Donna Frett-Gregory, Chairperson of the Finance Committee.
While we understand the Governor is still working to finalize his cabinet, it is expected that the members of the Governor’s financial team will be available to provide the required status update. It is mission critical that full, accurate financial information is provided as transparency and accountability will be the focus of the Finance Committee of the 33rd Legislature.
“We have much work to do! It is imperative that we hit the ground running to get early wins for our people” said Frett-Gregory.

Senators Approves Bills and Resolutions

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St. Thomas–The 32nd Legislature Chaired by Senate President Myron D. Jackson held its last Legislative Session on Friday, December 28, 2018, in the Earle B. Ottley Legislative Hall, St. Thomas. The Session included the consideration of several lease agreements; consideration of a Quitclaim Deed, many committees approved legislation, Special Orders, and a Bill establishing “The Virgin Islands Medical Cannabis Patient Care Act.”

In light of the magnitude of the day’s agenda, the Body established four voting blocks and in the first block senators gave favorable consideration to the following:

Bill No. 32-0336 – An Act approving the Lease Agreement between the Government of the Virgin Islands Department of Property and Procurement and Marco St. Croix, Inc.

Bill No. 32-0338 – An Act approving the Lease Agreement between the Government of the Virgin Islands Department of Property and THAW, LLC d/b/a # 1 Gopher.

Bill No. 32-0340 – An Act approving the Lease Agreement between the Government of the Virgin Islands, Department of Property and Procurement, on behalf of the Department of Agriculture and Grantley Samuel.

Bill No. 32-0342 – An Act approving the Lease Agreement between the Government of the Virgin Islands, Department of Property and Procurement, on behalf of the Department of Agriculture and Louis Orta.

Bill No. 32-0343 – An Act approving the Lease Agreement between the Government of the Virgin Islands, Department of Property and Procurement, on behalf of the Department of Agriculture and Philippe Philbert.

Bill No. 32-0346 – An Act approving the Lease Agreement between the Government of the Virgin Islands, Department of Property and Procurement on behalf of the Department of Agriculture, and Andrea Montoute and Claritta Montoute.

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In the second block, the following Bills were also approved and forwarded to the Governor for his review and approval:

Bill No.32- 0347-An Act approving the Lease Agreement between the Government of the Virgin Islands, Department of Property and Procurement on behalf of the Department of Agriculture and Jerome Bryan’s consideration of a QUITCLAIM DEED.

Bill No. 32-0341 – An Act approving the proposed sale of unit No. 3012, Building L in a group of buildings known as Cowpet Beach Resort, located on Parcels No. 8-1-11 Estate Nazareth, No. 1 Red Hook, St. Thomas, Virgin Islands.

Bill No. 32-0327 – An Act benefiting especially Senior Citizens of the Virgin Islands by enacting the Uniform Non-Probate Transfer Act; the Uniform Transfer on Death Act; the Uniform Disclaimer of Property Interest Act; the Uniform Custodial Trust Act; and the Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act. This Bill was amended in several parts by Sen. Jackson.

Bill No. 32-0241 – An Act amending the Virgin Islands Code relating to the Virgin Islands Emergency Management Plan and the Virgin Islands Territorial Management and Homeland Security Council.” This Bill was amended by Sen. Dwayne DeGraff.

Bill No. 32-0247 – “An Act amending Titles 3,5,14,15,16,19,23 27, and 34 to change all references to mental health to behavioral health; amending Title 19, Chapter 31, Section 7 I 6(A) relating to the Citizens Council on Mental Illness Alcoholism and Drug Dependency; repealing Section 14 of Act No. 7897 and Section 2, paragraph (I) of Act No. 7697; appropriating $3,000,000 for the establishment of a behavioral health care facility on the island of St. Croix; and establishing requirements for the operation of in-patient and out-patient treatment programs at the behavioral health care facility.”

 

Bill No. 32-0256 –An Act seeking to amend the Virgin Islands Code by enacting the Finance Lenders Law. This Bill was amended by Sen. Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly.

 

Bill No. 32-0308 – An Act amending the Virgin Islands Code and adding several sections to establish the Division of Festivals within the Department of Tourism whose function is organizing and executing festivals and to re-establish the Virgin Islands Cultural Heritage Institute, within the Department of Tourism and to re-name the “Carnival and Festival Committee Revolving Fund” as the “Division of Festivals Revolving Fund.”

 

The third block of Bills that were considered and approved were:

 

Bill No. 32-0204 – “An act amending Title 12 of the Virgin Islands Code, Chapter 16A, Section 691a by re-defining the term “government agency” and by defining the term “communications provider”, and section 698a regarding the construction of conduits by government agencies in the public rights-of-way and for other related purposes.” This Bill was amended by Sen. Rivera-O’Reilly.

 

Bill No. 32-0229An Act amending the Virgin Islands Code, requiring the Government of the Virgin Islands to enter into contracts before June 1st of each year in preparedness for hurricane season or any emergency or major disaster.”

 

Bill No. 32-0062An Act amending the Virgin Islands Code, by adding a Chapter establishing the Community and Heritage Tree Law of the Virgin Islands.

 

Bill No. 32-0345 – An Act amending the Virgin Islands Code relating to physician licensure and applicant qualifications. This Bill was amended by Sen. Rivera-O’Reilly.

 

Bill No. 32-0328An Act amending the Virgin Islands Code, Chapter 15 relating to scholarship programs to provide financial aid for tuition to residents of the Virgin Islands for post-secondary education at the University of the Virgin Islands. The legislation was amended by the primary-sponsor, Sen. Tregenza Roach.

 

Bill No. 32-0349 – A Resolution honoring and commending the Voices of Love Choir for its forty years of performance for various segments of the community. This

 

Bill No. 32-0298 – A Resolution posthumously honoring and commending Guilderoy Ashley Sprauve, Sr. for his extensive work as a diesel mechanic for the major ferryboats on St. John, St. Thomas, and Tortola, B.V.I., and for his service and contributions to the marine industry.

 

Bill No. 32-0315 – An Act honoring and commending Noel “Breeze” Boynes, Sr. for his service to his community of St. John and renaming Route 104 South (a/k/a) the South side Road in St. John in his honor.

 

Bill No. 32-0350 – An Act ratifying and approving the Agreement for Medical Health Insurance made and entered into by and between the Government of the Virgin Islands through the GESC Health Insurance Board of Trustees, the University of the Virgin Islands, and the Virgin Islands Housing Authority and United Healthcare Insurance Company and its affiliates. All of the outlined Bills were approved and forwarded to the Governor for final consideration.

 

The Body also special ordered and overrode the Governor’s veto of Bill 32-0325, which is an Act authorizing the Judicial Branch to reprogram prior year encumbered funds for use during FY 2019 and to utilize any accumulated residual funds for more critical priorities.

 

A motion was then made to override certain sections of Act 8063, specifically sections 8 and 13.  The motion was unanimously approved by all senators present during Friday’s Senate Session.

 

Bill 32-0236 which seeks to limit the practice of dental therapy to public health facilities was also passed by lawmakers.

 

The much talked about Bill 32-0135- which was generated from a referendum,  seeks to establish, “The Virgin Islands Medical Cannabis Patient Care Act” as relates to the Medical Use and Regulation of Cannabis. The Legislation was considered by the Body and after much deliberation, the Bill received a favorable  vote by a majority of senators in attendance and was forwarded to the Governor for final review.

 

Bill 32-0344-An Act appropriating $380,000 to the Virgin Islands Elections System for the cost associated with the November 20, 2018 run-off election was approved by the Body.

 

Bill 32-0351- An Act amending the Virgin Islands Code, title 12A, by adding chapter 9 to enact the Timeshare Resale Act, was also approved.

 

Pages for Friday’s Legislative Session were: Vernisha Hodge and Mauricio Francis from the Seventh-day Adventist School.

 

Senators in attendance at Friday’s Legislative Session were; Chairman, President Myron D. Jackson, Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly, Jean A. Forde, Novelle E. Francis, Jr., Positive T. Nelson, Neville A. James, Dwayne M. DeGraff, Tregenza A. Roach, Sammuel Sanes, Kurt A. Vialet, Brian A. Smith, Marvin Blyden and Janelle Sarauw.

Senate Session Rescheduled to Friday

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St. Croix- Senate President Myron D. Jackson advises the community the Legislative Session scheduled for Wednesday, October 24, 2018 has been rescheduled to Friday, October 26, 2018 at 2:00 p.m. in the Earle B. Ottley Legislative Chamber on St. Thomas.

Senator Jackson said the Governor has called the Body into a Special Session at 10 a.m. on Oct. 26, 2018 to consider legislation that will provide tuition free post-secondary assistance to residents of the Virgin Islands at the University of the Virgin Islands. “It would be prudent consolidate resources by rescheduling our original date and to conduct the business of the people at the end of the Special Session,” indicated Senate President Jackson.

At 2 p.m., the Legislature intends to consider the St. Croix Government Retirees, Inc. Petition Initiative on reapportionment of the Legislature.

The Senate President apologizes for any inconvenience that this may have caused and reminds residents to follow all of the proceedings on Viya Cable Channel 26, on the internet:  https://livestream.com/legittv, https://www.facebook.com/USVILegislature/ and on radio at WSVE 91.9 FM.

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BILL TO RENAME THE V.I. CASINO CONTROL COMMISSION BUILDING “THE EILEEN R. PETERSON CASINO CONTROL COMMISSION BUILDING” MOVES FORWARD

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ST. THOMAS- Members of the Committee on Workforce Development, Consumer Affairs an Culture chaired by Sen. Janelle Sarauw, held a meeting at the Capitol Building on Wednesday, to vote and approve Bill No. 32-0193-An Act to honor and commend the Honorable Eileen R. Peterson for her service to the community, to name the Virgin Islands Casino Control Commission Building in her honor and to make an appropriation. The measure will be forwarded to the Committee on Rules and Judiciary for further consideration.

“We should honor our own,” said Sen. Sarauw. “As a female politician, we are often judged by society. It is my impression that Judge Peterson broke the glass with water pouring down from the ceiling. She paved the way for many of us.”

Judge Peterson was the first female Judge in the Territorial Court of the Virgin Islands.  She was also the first appointed chairwoman of the Virgin Islands Casino Control Commission. She was responsible for establishing the foundation, educating board members on the regulatory rules and guidelines, and was an advocate for the community by disseminating positive information to uplift young people through “The Village” a group dedicated to raising the youths.

In a written testimony submitted by Henry Smock, Esq. He commended Judge Peterson for her compassionate demeanor towards everyone. “Even in the most trying of criminal and civil cases, she never lost her composure and treated all litigants that came before her with decency and respect.”

Gizette Thomas, Esq. The successor of Judge Peterson as chairwoman of the Commission stated that the judge touched the lives of many people. “Judge Peterson’s name is theoretically eternal, as is evident from her legacy of first and documented history of positive impact in this community. Her name provides stability and trustworthiness representative of sound decisions.”

“I was brought on board with the Commission as an Inspector,” said Henry Schjang. “Judge Peterson ensured that the entire staff at the Casino Control Commission were properly educated and trained in the gaming industry. Judge Peterson sent the staff to be trained by the experts in the field and would often test us by asking a question as it relates to the rules.”

The sponsor of the bill, Sen. Novelle Francis shared his remarks. She was a trailblazer and laid the groundwork for members of the Commission. The Territory will reap the benefits of her tenacity for many years to come.

Sen. Brian Smith stated that it takes one with the right amount of courage to keep pushing. Fortitude and courage are what’s required, and Judge Peterson embodies both.

In accordance to Section 4 of the bill, in recognition and appreciation of her contributions to the people of the Virgin Islands, the President of the Legislature of the President’s designee shall present to Judge Eileen R. Peterson, or her representative, a perma copy of this act at the appropriate ceremony.                                                                                                                                ###

PLASTIC BAG BAN EXTENDS TO INCLUDE PLASTIC STRAWS

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ST. THOMAS– The Committee on Government Affairs, Veterans, Energy & Environmental Protection, chaired by Sen. Sammuel Sanes, convened on Wednesday to receive testimony amending the plastic bag ban to include disposable plastic straws and other measures.

Amendment No. 32-740 for Bill No. 32-0220, an Act amending Title 29 Virgin Islands Code, chapter 8 sought to extend the ban on plastic bags to include disposable, plastic drinking straws and to allow the sale of reusable drinking straws. Bill sponsor, Sen. Janelle Sarauw, introduced Amendment No. 32-740 to insert a definition for plastic tubular stirrer, prohibit businesses from purchasing and importing plastic disposable straws and stirrers. The measure proposed excluded hospitals, nursing homes and medical supply retailers. “As small as straws may be, they leave a lasting impact on our marine environment. We have already lost 80 percent of our coral reef cover in the Caribbean region,” stated Sen. Sarauw. The measure proposed does not apply to hospitals, nursing homes and medical supply retailers.

“I understand the concerns expressed about imported products with straws attached but excluding those items in this amendment does not address the problem at hand,” said Sen. Tregenza Roach. He commended the sponsors and the amendments brought forth in today’s hearing and recommended that the language of the measure and any amendment should be consistent with its purpose. Sen. Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly stated, “This amendment is a step in the right direction and an opportunity for us to change our footprint and reduce the amount of plastic waste generated in our territory.”

Sen. Alicia “Chucky” Hansen previously voted against the bill, citing lack of community input and unclear language for her decision. “The issue regarding our environment is always viable, but it must be done with caution,” she stated. Sen. Marvin Blyden added, “I agree that the Bill needs more work in regard to enforcement within our communities, as plastic bags are still being offered to residents.”

Amendment 32-740 was forwarded to the Committee on Rules and Judiciary for further consideration.

Bill No. 32-0204, an Act amending Title 12 Virgin Islands Code, chapter 16A by redefining “government agency” and by defining “communications provider”, and requiring that a government agency that installs, relocates, or improves conduits within the public rights-of-way, including a government agency that receives federal funding for such work, ensure that the conduit is of sufficient size to accommodate use by multiple communication providers for their use in providing service, or to permit a communications provider to install its own conduit at its option and cost. “This policy is not new, it has been implemented across the nation in an attempt to reduce the costs of deploying utilities and underground construction,” added Sen. O’Reilly. “It also expands broadband access to rural areas in our community.”

The government agency must also place handholes and manholes for fiber access and pulling with respect to such conduit, must provide reasonable notice to communication providers, and must ensure that any requesting communication provider has access to the conduit for a charge not to exceed a cost-based rate. “I don’t understand the need for this bill based on the research conducted, there is some degree of suggestion that this would impact VInGn and I must err on the side of caution,” expressed Sen. Forde. Members present favorably approved and forwarded Bill No. 32-0204 to the Committee on Rules and Judiciary.

Committee members present at Wednesday’s hearing were Chairman Sammuel Sanes, Senators Jean Forde, Marvin Blyden, Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly, Tregenza Roach, Alicia “Chucky” Hansen and Janette Millin Young.

 

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