Category: Senator Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly

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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LEGISLATIVE HOME NOW ON THE HORIZON FOR THE BIG ISLAND

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ST. CROIX– Senate President Myron D. Jackson and Vice-President Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly announced early today that a new site for the Legislature on St. Croix has been procured.

“We are excited to have a place to call home, our central and senatorial staff have worked in two separate locations far longer than we anticipated,” said Vice-President O’Reilly.

Shortly after Hurricane Maria’s passage, an active search began for a temporary legislative home to meet the needs of the general public.

The Legislature of the Virgin Islands currently operates out of two offices in Christiansted; 1108 King Street and #36-C Strand Street. “Immediately following the hurricanes, we began to explore our options for relocation. We attempted to reach out to the Office of the Governor for assistance. Upon being turned down, our efforts led us to the two properties we have been operating out of since January.”

“When I took office at the beginning of this term, I made a statement regarding the welfare of the employees of this Institution. It did not sit well with the local media and members of our community. I made a commitment to improving the standard of health, and quality of life for our employees on St. Croix, St. John and St. Thomas.”

“I am reminded of the many locations of the Legislature we leased on Contentment Road and most recently at the Lagoon Street Complex. “It pained us greatly to have to move out of Frederiksted after Hurricane Maria,” he added.

Senate President Jackson noted the ongoing discussions pertaining to the impact of mold, and severe flooding conditions, and sewage issues in Frederiksted. The Members of the 32nd Legislature agreed that it was time to deal with it rather than deferring it to the next Body.

“We are looking forward to new beginnings at our new location, where people can come to the institution and be proud of not just the Senate, but what the building signifies for the community of St. Croix,” O’Reilly concluded.

This has been a long, frustrating road, said Jackson. “We are pleased to announce today that we have secured a safe, habitable working environment for our Staff and look forward to our continued productivity as the First Branch of Government,” concluded Senate President Jackson.

 

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BILL TO EXPAND OPTOMETRISTS TO TREAT GLAUCOMA IN THE VIRGIN ISLANDS MOVES FORWARD

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St. Thomas – The Committee on Health Hospitals and Human Services, chaired by Sen. Nereida Rivera O’Reilly, held a meeting at the Capitol Building on Wednesday, and approved several measures including Bill No. 32-0244- An Act amending title 27, Virgin Islands Code, chapter 1 subchapter VII, section 161 relating to the practice of optometry.

The measure seeks to expand optometrists to treat glaucoma in the Virgin Islands as compared to their counterparts on the U.S. mainland.

Glaucoma is a disease of the eye associated with an elevated ocular pressure that can damage the optic nerve which can lead to loss of vision and irreversible blindness. This disease is highly prevalent among the African American population.

“Previously, the bill excluded optometrist from treating glaucoma. It is important to note that 49 states have expanded the scope of Optometrist except for Massachusetts,” said Sponsor of the Bill Sen. O’Reilly.  “The intent of this legislation does not allow optometrists to do surgery, laser treatment or incisions.”

Lisa Adams, an Optometrist/Member of the Board of Optometrically Examiners, stated that patients would benefit from expanding the availability of providers to treat a high incidence of glaucoma. “By granting this prescriptive authority of therapeutics in the Virgin Islands, it would bring the practice of optometry on par with the nation.”

However, a written testimony submitted by Michelle Davis, Commissioner, for the Virgin Islands Department of Health opposes the legislation and urges lawmakers to “table” the amendment. “The key concern is that any plans to further expand the scope of practice for CTOs must include a fully appointed and active Optometry Board prepared to regulate the scope of any expansion.”

In addition to Bill. No. 32-0244, senators also voted favorably for Bill No. 32-0235-an Act amending title 3 Virgin Islands Code, chapter 23, section 415, subsection (b), paragraph (2) subparagraph (B) relating to the composition of the Board of Dental Examiners to authorize of a dental therapist to the board. Sen. O’Reilly is the sponsor of this measure.

“The fact remains that there are 94 licensed dentists and over 100,000 residents who need dental services. The public should have access to their dentists and not be discouraged by long waiting lists,” said Sen. Dwayne DeGraff. “Adding dental therapist is a win-win situation that will benefit the people of the Virgin Islands.”

Sen. Janette Millin Young inquired about the lack of access to dentists. Olutayo Delano, BDS, MS, Chair of the Virgin Islands Board of Dental Examiners stated that there are more than 94 dentists because there are ten offices housing more dentists. The problem is not the lack of dental care access but that patients are not coming in because they pick a provider based on the referral process.

Commissioner Davis stated that she does not support this measure. “It is premature to adopt dental therapy legislation considering that the field is still in development. The Territory has successfully improved access to quality dental care in a variety of ways through licensure and adopting sound proven standards.”

“I don’t understand the pushback,” said Sen. Sammuel Sanes. “Oral hygiene is critical. Poor oral hygiene can lead to a medical diagnosis that is detrimental to the health of a patient. Dental therapists can help streamline the process.”

Separately, the following measures were approved:

  • Bill No. 32-0236-An Act amending Title 27, Virgin Islands Code, chapter 1, subchapter III relating to the practice of dental therapy in the Territory
  • BR No. 32-0247-an Act to provide funding for the establishment of an inpatient mental health facility with supporting resources in the Virgin Islands.
  • Bill No. 32-0245-An Act amending Title 19, Virgin Islands Code part II, chapter 15, section 222 to exempt Urgent Care Facilities from the requirement of getting a certificate of need and mandating that these entities must accept MAP, Medicare, and uninsured patients
  • Bill No. 32-0173-a Resolution honoring and commending the Family Resource Center for its services to victims and families in the U.S. Virgin Islands throughout the years

All bills approved will be forwarded to the Committee on Rules and Judiciary for further consideration.

Senators present are Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly, Janette Millin Young, Sammuel Sanes, Marvin Blyden, Novelle Francis, and Dwayne M. DeGraff. Photos: http://www.legvi.org/committeemeetings/Media/

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SENATOR RIVERA-O’REILLY’S BILLS RECEIVE FAVORABLE RECOMMENDATIONS

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ST. CROIX- The Committee on Health, Hospitals, and Human Services, chaired by Senator Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly, held a committee meeting Wednesday at the Virgin Islands Cardiac Center where three essential proposed measures were considered.

The three measures sponsored by Senator Rivera-O’Reilly were: Bill No. 32-0197- to ensure the physical, mental, and behavioral needs of companion animals in shelters and other facilities; Bill No. 32-0177- an Act amending the Virgin Islands relating to renewal of nursing licenses; and Bill No.32-0212- an Act amending the Virgin Islands Code to allow for the pronouncement of death by registered nurses, physician assistants and nurse practitioners.

Testifying on Bill No.32-0197 were Carlos Robles, Commissioner of the Department of Agriculture; Randolph Knight, President, Lucky Paws Foundation; Dr. Bethany Bradford, Director of Veterinary Services, Daniel Rodriguez, Police Detective, V.I. Police Department; and Donna Nemeth, Director of Operations, Humane Society of St. Croix.

Sen. Rivera-O’Reilly said her Bill seeks to establish a minimum standard under which animal centers and other facilities operate. She added that the main objective is to make sure these animals are provided with the proper care in a humane manner.

Comm. Robles said the Bill provides a careful balance of establishing a solid regulatory framework for operations and management without onerous and counterproductive restrictions. Knight of Lucky Paws Foundation said for the Bill to be effective, there must be inspections and enforcement guidelines.

According to Dr. Braford, the bill addresses another level of animal welfare and protection of public health that has been lacking in the Virgin Islands. She added that there are two main issues in the bill that require additional comments: inspection and registration of facilities and animals and enforcement of the provisions in the Bill.

All other testifiers said they supported the intent of Bill No. 32-0197. The committee voted in favor and sent it to the Rules and Judiciary Committee for further consideration.

On Bill No. 32-0177, Sen. Rivera-O’Reilly said upon the request of the members of the VI Board of Nurse Licensure to alleviate what can become an overwhelming license-renewal process. She added that the Bill amends the current statute so that now license renewals would take place during the birth month of the license holder.

The Bill was given a favorable recommendation and sent to the Rules and Judiciary Committee for further consideration following an amendment to change the deadline to seventy-five days before the expiration date from October 15 and strike the sentence that indicates the validity of the license as being from January 1 to December 31.

Chairwoman Rivera-O’Reilly said, Bill, No. 32-0212 allow for the attending physician as well as registered nurses, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners to pronounce the death of a hospice patient.

Claude Walker, Attorney General of the Virgin Islands said it is understandable that the traditional role of nurses and physician assistants should be expanded to include specific situations in which they may be able to pronounce death. For this reason, he added, his department has concluded that the overall intent of the Bill has merit.

Tracy Sanders, President of Continuum Healthcare Inc., said hospice services do not pronounce death, however, it will if the Bill becomes law.  The bill was amended and voted on with a favorable recommendation to the Rules and Judiciary Committee for further consideration.

Committee members at Wednesday’s hearing were: Chairwoman, Senator Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly, Marvin A. Blyden, Dwayne M. DeGraff, Sammuel Sanes, Kurt A. Vialet, and Novelle E. Francis Jr.

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LIMETREE BAY TERMINALS, LLC ARGUES FOR MAJOR CZM PERMIT

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ST. CROIX--The Committee of the Whole, chaired by Senate President Myron D. Jackson, met on Wednesday in the Virgin Islands Cardiac Center of the Governor Juan F. Luis Hospital and Medical Center where testimony was given on a Major Coastal Zone Management Permit.

Senators heard from several Limetree Bay Terminals L.L.C. management Executives regarding Major CZM Permit CZX-29-17 for a Single Point Mooring (SPM) to be constructed on the south of St. Croix. The project’s activities will be specifically located seaward of Limetree Bay Terminals, LLC Terminal Plot No. 9 Reclaimed Land, Christiansted.

In his testimony, Jason Gleason, Maine Terminal Pilot and Captain for Limetree Bay Terminals, said as Lead Superintendent in the Marine Department and Project Lead on the SPM Project, Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCCs) are some of the largest vessels in the world often over 1100ft long and 200ft, wide and may have a draft of over 700ft.

He added that historically to call on St. Croix, a VLCC would need to be roughly half loaded, and so, this project will enable their customers to transport crude to and from the facility in full loaded VLCC, offering a much more efficient operation.

According to Gleason, the Limetree Bay SPM will transfer crude oil to and from the facility and with the upgraded crude pumps completed last year, they can load out at approximately 45,000 barrels per hour. He pointed out that, the SPM project has been designed to Oil Companies International Marine Forum (OCIMF); United States Coast Guard (USCG) and American Bureau #56 King Street, Hamilton House, Christiansted, St. Croix 00820 340-773-2424, Fax: 340-712-2397, E-mail: publicaffairs@legvi.org of Shipping (ABS) standard. Furthermore, the entire system is designed to withstand the extreme conditions often found in in the Caribbean region.

Senators, who expressed their concerns as they relate to the project’s impact on the ecosystem, was given assurance by Gleason that after an extensive environmental assessment and re-routing of the project to minimize environmental impact, it was determined that a few corals were still in the pathway of the project.

According to him, these corals will be transplanted well clear of the project by their environmental contractor, Bio Impact. They will also be constructing a man-made reef to provide additional habitat where some of the coral will be transplanted on both the south and north shores of St. Croix in areas already approved by the Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR).

Gleason added that during construction, Bio Impact will be monitoring for turbidity, the effect on wildlife, and any other issues. Moreover, Bioimpact will stop the work immediately if any issues arise, and that they will work with DPNR and the federal government to remedy prior to resumption of construction.

In respect to local employment, Gleason told Senators that many of the materials to construct have been procured and delivered to St. Croix, and with the ratification by the legislature, they will commence construction as soon as possible. The construction phase, he added, will result in employment for laborers, concrete workers, welders, inspectors and painters on St. Croix.

Other testifiers for Limetree Bay Terminals were: Joyce Wakefield, Environmental Specialist; Amy Dempsey, President of Bio Impact; and Jeff Gorman, Engineer, Lloyds Engineers. Senators at Wednesday’s Committee of Whole Hearing were: Senate President, Myron D. Jackson, Vice-President, Rivera-O’Reilly, Jean A. Forde, Neville A. James, Marvin A. Blyden, Dwayne DeGraff, Novelle E. Francis, Jr., Alicia “Chucky” Hansen, Positive T.A. Nelson, Tregenza A. Roach, Sammuel Sanes, Janelle K. Sarauw, Brian A. Smith, and Kurt A. Vialet.

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BILL TO PROVIDE A REGISTRY FOR THE ELDERLY MOVES FORWARD AND SENATORS RECIEVE UPDATE ON MEDICAL EVACUATIONS

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St. Thomas – The Committee on Health Hospitals and Human Services, chaired by Sen. Nereida Rivera O’Reilly, held a meeting at the Capitol Building on Tuesday, and approved Bill No. 32-0064 to provide for a registry of the elderly and people with disabilities living alone and to receive an update on medical evacuations post-Hurricane Irma and Maria.

“After hurricanes occurred many of the seniors were displaced. This legislation is significant in assisting persons to receive the necessary assistance as a result of a natural disaster,” said Sen. Dwayne DeGraff, Sponsor of the bill.

The Amendment in the Nature of a Substitute for Bill No. 32-0064 includes keeping the data collected for registry confidential and not be disclosed other than to assist the individual in time of a natural disaster or if there is a medical emergency. If unlawfully disclosed, perpetrators can be fined up to $500 and/or imprisoned for one year. The Department of Human Services shall maintain a registry of persons 60 years and older who live alone and persons with disabilities who live alone.

Ana Valez-Martinez, Director of Herbert Grigg Home for the Elderly stated that there are many registries throughout the government but there isn’t a single registry that can be accessed territory-wide. Therefore, emergency agencies should partake in this bill.  “Implementation of a more comprehensive registry, would provide an opportunity for emergency response agencies to obtain information through the Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management to facilitate better planning of critical services that these individuals need during natural disasters or other emergencies,” said Director Martinez.

“What is the estimated cost to get the registry started and how many staffers are needed to oversee it?” asked Sen. Janet Millin Young. Director Martinez stated that approximately $15,000 is needed to implement and monitor the system. Additional funds are required to hire two staff members. “Will the staff work full-time or part-time?” inquired Sen. O’Reilly. In response, Director Martinez stated that initially, staff will work full-time to manage and market the registry territory-wide. Employment status can be revisited the following year.

Ultimately, committee members voted favorably for the bill and its amendment. It will be forwarded to the Committee on Rules and Judiciary for further consideration. Separately, lawmakers were updated on the status of medical evacuations and an evacuation plan in wake of a natural disaster.

As of April 6, 2018, there is a total of 796 patients that were medically evacuated from the Territory to Georgia, Puerto Rico, Florida, Mississippi, South Carolina and Louisiana. 190 dialysis, classic and non-medical attendant’s patients off-island. Out of the 175 patients relocated to Georgia, 106 patients receive hemodialysis treatment, 21 patients are classic medical conditions, 48 are non-medical attendants and there were 49 patients who died; according to the Virgin Islands Department of Health Commissioner Michelle Davis.

“Did the department properly document the 49 patients who expired and the cause of their deaths?” asked Sen. Novelle Francis. Kathleen Arnold-Louis, Liaison for Medical Evacuees, Department of Health said, “I would have to say no we do not have proper documentation at this time. However, the Department requested Death Certificates for the deceased but that does not include the events leading up to the person’s death.”

Although the Government of the Virgin Islands did not have an evacuation plan in wake of two hurricanes, officials relied heavily on an evacuation plan from the Federal Government.

Commissioner Davis stated that the Federal Government standard operating procedures were followed for the evacuation of the residents. “The Federal Government coordinated and paid for the evacuation and the medical care of clients which included meals, lodging, transportation and the medical needs identified through December 30, 2017. The Federal Government is also paying for the return trip of all discharged patients.”

Sen. Sammuel Sanes said, “A plan is necessary before the next hurricane season. There needs to be a solid plan in place by the end of the week or the end of the month to ensure that the loss of lives after a patient is transferred to medical hospitals and facilities off-island does not occur again.” Chief Executive Officer of Juan Louis F. Hospital and Medical Center Ruben Malloy said, “There are many evacuation plans in place. VITEMA has a plan and the Department of Health has a plan. We are in a learning process and lessons learned are based on the events that took place after the storms.” Sen. O’Reilly said, “Without a written plan. Then a plan does not exist.”

Senators present are Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly, Janette Millin Young, Marvin Blyden, Sammuel Sanes. Novell Francis, and Dwayne M. DeGraff. Photo: http://www.legvi.org/committeemeetings/Media/

 

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LAWMAKERS APPROVE NOMINEES, CZM AND ZONING REQUESTS DURING LEGISLATIVE SESSION

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ST. THOMAS– On Wednesday, Members of the 32nd Legislature, convened in Legislative Session at the Capitol Building. Led by Senate President Myron Jackson, the Body considered zoning requests, CZM permits and several measures.

The meeting began with the consideration of the following Nominees:

  • Nelson Petty, Jr.– Commissioner, Dept. of Public Works
  • Elizabeth Armstrong (Reappointment)– Member, WAPA Authority Board (STX)
  • Stacy Bourne– Member, VI Casino Control Commission (STT/STJ)
  • Hubert Turnbull– Member, WAPA Authority Board (STT/STJ)
  • Julio Rhymer, Sr.– Director, Office of Management & Budget (OMB)
  • John A. Quelch– Member, University of the Virgin Islands Board of Trustees (STX)
  • Dina Perry-Malone– Member, VI Housing Authority Board of Commissioners (STT/STJ)

All Nominees were approved, however, Senators shared their concerns regarding their nominations and current issues in their respective agencies. “Our margin for error is minute,” Sen. DeGraff expressed. After thanking the Body, Nelson Petty, Jr., updated the Body on the status of Capital projects in the territory. “My focus has been on our capital projects and I am pleased to report three projects on St. Croix currently in the procurement phase and on St. Thomas, preconstruction began yesterday with the Veterans Drive project”.

The second block of the meeting considered the following Coastal Zone Management Permits and Zoning requests:

  • Bill No. 32-0153 – An Act ratifying the Governor’s approval of Minor Coastal Zone Permit No. CZJ-20-11W issued to David McDaniel and Cheryl McDaniel. The permit was approved by the Full Body and forwarded to the Governor.

 

  • Bill No. 32-0154 – An Act ratifying Major Coastal Zone Permit No. CZT-2-16 (L&W) issued to DUN RUN GOLF, LLC, for the continued use and occupancy of the existing reverse osmosis plant with 12” diameter, 140 feet intake line and 12-inch, 650 feet long outfall line located at Plot No. C-2-Q Estate Lovenlund, St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. The permit was approved by the Full Body and forwarded to the Governor.

 

  • Bill No. 32-0142 – An Act to rezone Parcel No. 13AA Estate Contant, No. 2 Cruz Bay Quarter St. John from R-2 (Residential-Low Density-One and Two Family) to R-4 (Residential-Medium Density). The zoning request was approved and forwarded to the Governor.

 

  • Bill No. 32-0181 – An Act granting a zoning use variance for Parcel No. 171 Estate Contant-Enighed, Cruz Bay, St. John Virgin Islands, to allow for the operation of a car rental business. The zoning request was passed and forwarded to the Governor.

 

  • Bill No. 32-0182 – An Act to rezone Parcel No. 4-A Estate Cruz Bay Town, Cruz Bay Quarter, St. John, from B-3 (Business-Scattered) to B2 (Business-Secondary/Neighborhood). The zoning request was approved as adapted and forwarded to the Governor.

 

  • Bill No. 32-0187 – An Act rezoning Parcel No. 6D Estate Thomas, New Quarter, St. Thomas from R-3 (Residential-Medium Density) to B-2 (Business-Secondary Neighborhood) and from the B-2 zoning designation granting a use variance. The zoning request passed in its original format and forwarded to the Governor.

“We make a way for the big businesses, but not for the small players. We need to show them that we are sensitive to the small businesses, families,  and individuals trying to establish wealth,” stated Non-Majority Leader, Sen. Positive T.A. Nelson. Similar comments were expressed by the members of the Body after two zoning requests were removed from the agenda during the 2nd block.

 

The following bills were considered after press time:

 

  • Bill No. 32-0168–An Act amending Title 22 VI Code, Chapter 39, designating current sections 951 through 983 subchapterI, Section 984 as Subchapter II, and by adding a subchapter III entitled, “The Standard Forfeiture Law of 2018 for Life Insurance,” which meets the accreditation in its model laws and updates the insurance laws of the Virgin Islands of the United States placing them on par with other United States jurisdictions thereby affording greater and more effective protection to the policyholders in the Virgin Islands. Sponsored by Sen. Kurt Vialet, the measure was approved and forwarded to the Governor.

 

  • Bill No. 32-0065–An Act to appropriate the sum of $500,000 to the Economic Development Authority for “energy efficient” retrofitting of the Industrial Park on the island of St. Croix. Sponsored by Sen. Neville James, the measure was approved and forwarded to the Governor.

 

  • Bill No. 32-0178–A Resolution to honor to commend the ALL HANDS and HEART-SMART RESPONSE. Proposed by Sen. Jean Forde, the measure was approved and forwarded to the Governor.

 

  • Bill No. 32-0188–An Act appropriating $3,500,000 from the St. Croix Capital Improvement Fund for maintenance dredging of the Schooner Bay Channel. The measure, sponsored by Senators Kurt Vialetand Alicia “Chucky” Hansen, was approved and forwarded to the Governor.

 

  • Bill No. 32-0147–An Act amending Title 27 VI Code, Chapter 1, Subchapter I relating to the special restricted licensing of physicians and subchapter II (a) relating to the practice of telemedicine; amending Title 19, Chapter 15, relating to the licensing, inspection and regulation of healthcare facilities and health services; and amending Title 33, Chapter 3, relating to exemptions from the payment of gross receipts on all Medicaid and Medicare payments. The measure, sponsored by Sen. Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly, was approved as amended and forwarded to the Governor.

 

  • Bill No. 32-0175–An Act amending Title 29 VI Code, Chapter 12 to strengthen the Economic Development Commission. Sponsored by Sen. Kurt Vialet, the measure was approved as amended and forwarded to the Governor.

 

  • Bill No. 32-0189–An Act amending Title 18 VI Code to reprogram the appropriation of Act No. 7904 to conduct the 2018 primaries and makes the appropriation available until expended. The measure, sponsored by Sen. Jean Forde, was approved as amended and forwarded to the Governor.

 

  • Bill No. 32-0059–An Act to amend Title 29 Virgin Islands Code, chapter 9 relating to regulation of billboards. This bill enlarges the definition of “advertising device and bans the use of changeable 6 electronic variable message signs, digital billboards or smartboards that have animation, movement, or the appearance or optical illusion of movement. Sponsored by Sen. Myron Jackson, the measure was approved by the Full Body and forwarded to the Governor.

 

  • Bill No. 32-0024–An Act amending title 3 Virgin Islands Code, chapter 1, section 1 to provide for the position of Curator and amending title 31 Virgin Islands Code to add a chapter 42 establishing the Preservation of Historic Government Collections Act and for other purposes. Sponsored by Senate President Myron Jackson, the measure was approved as amended by the Full Body and forwarded to the Governor.

 

The Bills can be accessed in their entirety on our website via Bill Tracker module: http://legvi.org:82/

 

 

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V.I. DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES SHARES POST-HURRICANE UPDATES 

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St. Thomas- The Committee on Health, Hospitals and Human Services chaired by Sen. Nereida Rivera O’Reilly, held a meeting on Friday, at the Capitol Building to receive testimony from officials from the Virgin Islands Department of Human Services (DHS) on the Youth Rehabilitation Center (YRC), V.I. Medical Assistance Program (MAP), Contractual Obligations and other topics.

The Youth Rehabilitation Center and the Division of Juvenile Justice has suffered structural damages to the building after the occurrence of Hurricane Irma and Maria. There are on-going efforts to secure contractors to fix the kitchen, air conditioning units, and the YRC Annex also needs to be repaired. The buildings are located in a flood zone. Therefore, flooding is a major challenge when there are heavy rains stated Commissioner of VIDHS Felecia Blyden. “The government needs to do a better job at thoroughly inspecting buildings prior to making a purchase,” said Sen. Sammuel Sanes.

In a line of questioning, Sen. O’Reilly inquired of the accuracy of limited food/water, cleaning supplies, working generator, money owed to generator contractor and if there is an emergency plan for residents at YRC. DHS Deputy Commissioner Rashida Daniels stated that there are adequate meals provided for residents, the generator is not functional, monies are owed to the contractor and YRC has an emergency plan that needs to be updated.

“Are there rehabilitating programs for residents at YRC?” asked Sen. Janelle Sarauw. In response, Daniels stated that massive personnel are needed to work in the Treatment Division to implement holistic treatments offered to residents. However, YRC is currently understaffed. Sen. Sarauw stated that rehabilitation is necessary for young people and DHS should outsource vendors to assist with the program.

In addition to YRC, Commissioner Blyden also shared the post-hurricanes MAP update. The Bipartisan Budget Act was signed into law on February 9, 2018, by President Donald Trump. This removed the local matching funds of 45% for MAP that is now covered 100% by the Federal Government. Temporarily, it became the Federal Medical Assistance Percentages (FMAP) and will remain in effect until September 2109. This law enables the MAP to process weekly payment cycles. To Streamline the Provider Enrollment Unit, there will be a reduction in the enrollment process for provider applications.

“Can you expound on the plans to assist Virgin Islanders to enroll in MAP?” inquired Sen. Marvin Blyden. Director of MAP Gary Smith said, “The Department is working towards placing outstation workers at all hospitals and Federally Qualified Centers Territory-wide. The workers will assist new enrollees and existing members with various services.” The projected start date is April 2018 added Commissioner Blyden.

Separately, lawmakers were updated on the contractual obligations, presumptive eligibility, and V.I. Benefits Enrollment System.

Currently, there are 42 contracts administered to programs at DHS. The breakdown of the contracts are as follows: Office of Residential Services, the Division of Family Assistance, Medical Assistance Program and Division of Senior Citizens Affairs. The Presumptive Eligibility process at Federally Qualified Health Centers is scheduled to begin in April 2018. Staff training is necessary to ensure a smooth enrollment process. Staff training will occur mid-April 2018. The major challenge for the V.I. Benefits Enrollment System is connectivity between the Local Area Network and the Cloud. The Commissioner stated that the Bureau of Information Technology advised VIDHS to operate only from the Cloud because data is secured there.

Senators present are Nereida Rivera O’Reilly, Janelle Sarauw, Dwayne DeGraff, Kurt Vialet, Sammuel Sanes, Novelle Francis, and Sen. Marvin Blyden. Click to access photos: http://www.legvi.org/committeemeetings/Media/

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MENTAL HEALTH FORUM

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St. Thomas – The Committee on Health, Hospitals and Human Services, chaired by Sen. Nereida, hosted a Mental Health Forum at that Capitol Building on Wednesday, to discuss the impact of mental illness and other disabilities have on residents in the Territory.

 

“The Mental Health Forum is a culmination of two nights in which panellists have an opportunity to share their professional and personal experiences. Initially, it was a part of the agenda of this Committee in a very broad sense and narrowed down by drafting legislation. Unfortunately, progress was delayed due to Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria,” said Sen. O’Reilly.

 

Similarly, Sen. Janette Millin Young shared her sentiments. “Generally, people are moved by Mental Health because it touches the hearts of many. We are here tonight to contribute to this process.”

 

Some of the items addressed by panellists include how to identify warning signs and symptoms, exploring mental illness, trauma and substance abuse and practical ways to manage mental illness.

 

Derek Spencer, Doctor at Island Therapy Solutions stated that in the mainland, education, health and social services work closely together to address the issue of Mental Health. However, this is not the case in the Territory. “People in power do not contribute sufficiently to this matter. Mentally ill people should receive basic care and there is absolutely nothing here. There is no cohesiveness of services and medications to treat patients are very expensive.”

 

The Department of Health has spent a great deal of time educating the community on the differences between chronic mental health such as depression and mental health disorders stated Felicia Blyden, Commissioner of the Department of Health (DOH). Some mental health disorders can be caused by trauma in an individual’s life such as the loss of a parent, caring for an ageing parent, isolation and being suicidal.

 

“Often, there are people who gravitate towards substance abuse as a means of eradicating trauma,” said Berlina Wallace-Berube from the Department of Health. “DOH provides a variety counseling services that are confidential. However, there are people who shun away from receiving care because of the negative stigma attached to Mental Illness. There is nothing shameful about asking for help.”

 

Panellists included the Health Service Advisory Group, Department of Health, Disability Rights Center of the Virgin Islands, National Alliance on Mental Illness, Dr. Spencer, Kia Griffith, and Dawn O’Bryan.
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COMMITTEE UPDATED ON HEALTH INDUSTRY POST-HURRICANES

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St. Thomas – The Committee on Health Hospitals and Human Services, chaired by SenRivera O’Reilly, met with officials from the Health Industry at the Capitol Building on Friday, to receive testimony on an update, post-Hurricane Irma and Maria.

“Before the storms, our average daily inpatient census was 60-80 patients. Following the hurricanes, our inpatient census has dropped by 50%. Patients with critical and long-term care were relocated to medical facilities on the mainland,” said Bernard Wheatley, Chief Executive Officer of Schneider Regional Medical Center (SRMC). This is a result of severe structural damages to the roofing system of the Roy L. Schneider Hospital and the Charlotte Kimelman Cancer Center. The Myrah Keating Smith Community Health Center is inoperable because of mold infestation.

Wanda Ruben Chief Executive Officer of the Governor Juan F. Luis Hospital (JFL) shared similar sentiments. “The hospital’s patient census post-Hurricane Maria ranges between 30-40 patients compared to the average of 55-70 patients before the storm. JFL has suffered extensive damage on the roof, supporting structures and environmental challenges.”

“Where is JFL housing patients now?” asked Sen. Dwayne DeGraff. CEO Ruben, “Patients were relocated to the Virgin Islands Cardiac Center which reduced the inpatient capacity by 50%. the Western Shelters is used as a temporary medical facility as well.”

Lawmakers inquired about setting up a modular hospital that can treat patients in the Territory.

“When can we expect to have, a temporary medical center established through tents, modular units and structural repairs to both hospitals?” asked Sen. O’Reilly. Reuben Malloy, Deputy Commissioner of VIDOH, stated that the existing plans for the tents were problematic because the initial designs did not include all components of the hospitals. A timeline cannot be established for the modules and rebuilding both hospitals until federal agencies complete a full assessment.

Sen. Kurt Vialet said, “What is the status of the tents?” Daryl Smalls, Vice President of Facilities Management at SRMC said, “Phase I which is the construction of the eights tents are completed. Phase II also have eight tents. However, Phase III is still under production and is not completed. The Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Emergency Management Agency are still conducting assessments and a final decision will be made.

In addition to SRMC and JFL, the V.I. Department of Health (VIDOH) experienced structural damages to the facilities and employees had to relocate to provide health services. However, VIDOH continued to remain active after the storms.

“VIDOH collaborated with local agencies such as VITEMA, St. Croix Medical and Schneider Regional Medical Center to evacuate a total of 441 medical evacuees, facilitated medical supplies and distribution, performed medical services assessment and requested the activation of the Emergency Prescription Assistance Program (EPAP),” said Malloy. EPAP is available from November 1, 2017, to February 3, 2018, and has served 558 people with a total cost of $119,911.18 since activation.

In a line of questioning Sen. O’Reilly inquired about the number evacuees who died, the location of the medical facilities that had expired patients and the number of patient site visits by the commissioner to hospitals in the mainland. In response, Malloy said, “To date there were twelve patients who have perished. There is a nationwide tracking system that documents a patient’s death and the hospital which it occurred. VIDOH does not have access to that. The commissioner is scheduled to visit evacuees at the hospital in Atlanta.”

“Has the process been fluid in returning the remains of expired patients who are off-island to be brought back to the Territory?” asked Sen. Novelle Francis. Malloy said, “The process of returning patients takes a lot longer than expected. The return of the remains is a prolonged process.”

Sen. Novelle Francis asked, “How has the V.I. Department of Human Services (VIDHS) assisted the people who are mentally ill and homeless post-hurricane?” Felecia Blyden, Commissioner of VIDHS said, “We are working with the Catholic Charities in both districts and non-profit agencies to offer temporary housing. VIDHS is also collaborating with federal agencies to provide permanent housing.”

Before the hurricanes, there were nine shelters available to residents in the Territory. However, on St. Croix the Herbert Grigg Home for the Aged, the Strive Center Knud Hansen on St. Thomas and the Bethany Moravian Church on St. John remains open. Additionally, VIDHS operated the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (D-SNAP) Territory-wide. In which $25,606,616 of D-SNAP benefits provided to eligible households; according to Commissioner Blyden.

Committee Members present are senators: Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly, Kurt A. Vialet, Novelle E. Francis, Jr., Janette Millin Young and Dwayne M. DeGraff. Non-committee senators attended: Jean Forde and Janelle Sarauw.

 

 

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