St. THOMAS - Members of the 32nd Legislature, led by Senate President Myron Jackson, voted to table Bill No. 32-0150 and approved Bill No. 32-0160 for the Community Disaster Loan, on Friday during the third day of Legislative Session at the Capitol Building.
At the beginning of Legislative Session, with a vote of 10 yays, 1 nay and 4 not voting senators voted to remove Bill No. 32-0150 as it relates to the Community Disaster Loan off of the agenda. Afterwards, lawmakers replaced it with a revised version that is now known as Bill No. 32-0160.
“Several days ago, the governor sent down Bill No. 32-0150. It was requested that the language of the bill is revised into what it is today in regards to the Community Disaster Loan,” said Sen. Jackson. “There are challenges and disappointments of the decision of the Federal Government in the Community Disaster Loan. The ability of the Virgin Islands to sustain itself will set the framework and the mark for the future. Although there were not a lot of lives lost because of the hurricanes, the daily life of Virgin Islanders has been adversely affected.”
Bill No. 32-0160 seeks to authorize the Government of the Virgin Islands entered into one or more Federal Emergency Management Agency Community Disaster Loans for the purpose of financing existing essential functions of the Government Operations. It also limits the interest on Community Disaster Loan Promissory Notes to not exceed the interest rates required pursuant to the Stafford Act or eight percent not to exceed 25 years from the date of issuance.
“There are significant conditions attached to borrowing $300 million from the Federal Government. The sad part is we can not turn our backs to the money. We must take it,” said Sen. Brian Smith. “However, if we keep borrowing money, it can create human slaves with a noose around the neck. This can negatively affect generations to come.”
However, Sen. Novelle Francis stated that he is satisfied with this bill. “The Territory has experienced two Category 5 hurricanes. Thus far, there has not been one payless payday for government employees.”
Lawmakers also expressed concerns and offered suggestions for the Community Disaster Loan.
“It is unfair for the Federal Government to take advantage of the Virgin Islands and treat us like that. It is disrespectful for the governor to enter into contracts and loans with the Federal Government on the premise of repaying loans with monies that are not in our government coffers,” said Sen. Tregenza Roach.
Sen. Alicia “Chucky” Hansen stated that although borrowing from the Federal Government is necessary it should be minimized. “If we have to borrow monies then do it with leverage. Don’t maximize on loans just because we can. We need to reduce the number of loans borrowed,” she said.
Senators also offered amendments to the bill. The following amendments were voted and approved: Amendment No. 32-544 as it pertained to Virgin Islands Transparency Act, Amendment No. 32-550-is amended in section 2, page 4 striking “eight percent” and inserting “five percent” and Amendment No. 32-534- proceeds of the Community Disaster Loans will go towards the Government Retirement System and shall be deposited into the Health Insurance Fund.
Ultimately, lawmakers voted favorably for Bill No. 32-0160 as amended.
Separately, senators also voted and approved the following:
- Bill No. 32-0161- An Act that appropriates the balance of funds from section 1of Act No. 7972 and section 2 Act No. 7973 for temporary office space and the purchase and building out of a permanent building to house the St. Croix Legislature Annex
- Bill No. 32-0092- An Act amending Title 32, Virgin Islands Code, Chapter 11, relating to the establishment of a single Horse Racing Commission
- Bill No. 32-0093- An Act amending Title 32, Virgin Islands Code, Chapter 11 relating to horse racing adding Sections 215 through 230 to provide for anti-doping in the Horse Racing Industry in the Virgin Islands, and to amend certain Sections of the Title 32, Virgin Islands Code, Chapter 21, Article XVI regarding the allocation of funds received from the Racino Tax
- Bill No. 32-0157- An Act banning the burning of all fallen tees and other vegetative debris generated as a result of Hurricanes Irma and Maria
All items approved will be forwarded to the governor for further consideration.
Senators present are Myron Jackson, Marvin Blyden, Dwayne DeGraff, Tregenza Roach, Alicia “Chucky” Hansen, Janette Millin Young, Positive Nelson, Janelle Sarauw, Nereida Rivera O’Reilly, Jean Forde, Neville James, Brian Smith, Sammuel Sanes, Novelle Francis and Kurt Vialet.