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Legislature Takes Precautions Against COVID-19 – FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

No. 33-20-002
March 14, 2020

Senate President Novelle E. Francis, Jr., has implemented precautionary measures for the Virgin Islands Legislature to help minimize exposure to COVID-19, or coronavirus. Francis finds these measures are necessary after learning that several persons either affiliated with the Legislature or who have recently visited the Legislature have been identified as persons of interest.

Francis has postponed all committee meetings, including a scheduled legislative session, planned for the week of March 16-20. The Legislature will also be closed to all visitors, as an added precaution to minimize exposure. In addition, the Legislature will be closed on Monday, March 16, 2020, to allow for a protocol for COVID-19 to be finalized and implemented.

Francis said it is in the best interests of the Legislature to take all necessary precautions. “The developing circumstances of COVID-19 demand that the Legislature take all appropriate actions to prevent the spread of the virus. We remain hopeful that these measures, in collaboration with ongoing public health efforts, will minimize the risks to our community.”

Francis encourages anyone who is concerned that they may have been exposed to coronavirus to contact the Department of Health’s hotline at (340) 712-6299 or 776-1519.

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For More Information Contact:
Shawna K. Richards, Chief of Staff
Ph: (340) 712.2324
srichards@legvi.org

 

SENATE UPDATED ON THE ONE-STOP PROGRAM AND RELATED MATTERS

ST. THOMAS- Members of the Committee on Education and Workforce Development chaired by Sen. Donna Frett-Gregory, met Thursday at the Capitol Building, to receive testimony on the status of the OneStop Operator Program, Federal Employment Services Program and the impact on the employees at the Department of Labor. Lawmakers also voted on a bill regarding the Youth Transitional Employment Program. The item will be forwarded to the Committee on Rules and Judiciary for further consideration.

Upon the completion of the United States Department of Labor (USDOL) Comprehensive Compliance Review, it was determined that the V.I. State Workforce Development Board (SWDB) is in an “Inadequate Procurement of One-Stop Operator Program,” and was issued a negative Finding, according to Gary Molloy, Commissioner of the Virgin Islands Department of Labor. The One-Stop Operator oversees and manages the American Job Center for Adult Dislocated Workers. A One-Stop Center is a central hub for those seeking employment to access services and apply to job vacancies. Federal guidelines mandate that the One-Stop Operator is selected through a competitive bidding process that is up for consideration every four years and the performance of the One-Stop Operator must be evaluated periodically. However, Commissioner Molloy stated that V.I. State Workforce Development Board did not follow Federal guidelines. “We need to be better. As respective leaders for various agencies, accountability is a must,” said Sen. Frett Gregory.

Ultimately, to be up to par with federal compliance, SWDB solicited another One-Stop Operator and the Local Workforce Development Boards issued RFP’s in which an evaluation team will select a qualified bidder; according to Commissioner Molloy. Michael Carty, Chairman of SWDB added that the RFP was published locally and nationwide resulting in several bidders. SWDB and the Property and Procurement began the process to select the highest bidder. “This discussion has been ongoing for a while and now is the time to finally get things right. Growing the workforce in the Virgin Islands will set the course for young people to have an opportunity to work in the Territory for years to come,” Senate President Novelle E. Francis, Jr said.

Moreover, lawmakers received testimony on the Federal Employment Services and Program and the impact on employees at VIDOL. Commissioner Molloy stated that the Employment and Training Administration adopted the Wagner-Peyser Act Staffing Flexibility final rule which allows for traditional labor exchange and employment services to support the Foreign Labor Certification Program. Separately, the Division of Personnel (DOP) Director Dayna Clendinen mentioned that she is collaborating with VIDOL and the Office of Collective Bargaining (OCB) to address forthcoming layoffs. Thus far, resumes were submitted to DOP for job placements within GVI and DOP will conduct onsite job interviews with assistance from VIDOL. Sen. Frett Gregory inquired whether VIDOL discussed the pending layoffs with employees. In response, Commissioner Malloy stated that OCB, unions, and employees were informed as of early January. Approximately, nineteen VIDOL employees are slated to be laid off.

Lastly, lawmakers voted favorably for Bill No. 33-0223- An Act amending Title 24, chapter 19, section 616(a)(2) of the Virgin Islands Code by requiring the Commissioner of the Virgin Islands Department of Labor to approve any proposed Youth Transitional Employment Program within three months after receipt of the application. “This measure is a viable option for young people to gain valuable skills that prepares them for the workforce,” said Sen. Steven Payne, Bill Sponsor. OMB Director Jenifer O’Neal stated that the Youth Transitional Employment Fund is funded by the “initial and renewal license fees for firearms.” Currently, there is $1,321,628.75 in the account. ###

SENATORS UPDATED ON “CALL BEFORE YOU DIG” AND OTHER MATTERS

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ST. THOMAS- Members of the Committee on Housing, Transportation, Infrastructure, and Telecommunications chaired by Sen. Marvin Blyden, convened in a meeting at the Capitol Building on Wednesday, to receive testimony on the telecommunications providers on the implementation of the “Call Before You Dig” laws in the Territory. Additionally, the Department of Public Works shared an update on capital projects. Senators were also informed of the status of affordable housing and disaster relief issues in the Virgin Islands.

“I am pleased that representatives from AT&T Mobility USVI, Inc., Viya, and vINGN are present because it is obvious that based on the testimonies provided that we must communicate, meet, and find solutions to longstanding challenges regarding the “Call Before You Dig” laws. Legislation has come forth as a result of this meeting pursuant of the Virgin Islands Code,” said Sen. Blyden.

Previously, AT&T was in the process of deploying additional fiber on specific routes in support of its FirstNet Network, according to the Virgin Islands Telephone Corporation Chief Technology Officer Morris Reid. As a result, Reid noted that AT&T violated the “Call Before You Dig” laws which established that all stakeholders and operators who control an underground facility, public or private facility that is buried underground must be notified before digging underground to install fiber optic cables. Furthermore, Federal laws mandate that AT&T utilize existing infrastructure to execute the FirstNet contract. On the contrary, Reid stated that representatives of AT&T did not notify utility providers in the Virgin Islands before digging the streets resulting in service interruption of thousands of Viya customers on St. Croix.

Similarly, vINGN President and CEO Stephan Adams indicated that AT&T disrupted internet service to customers on St. John because AT&T unintentionally cut vINGN’s main fiber optics cables located on St. Thomas. Adams mentioned that AT&T should not overlap the infrastructure of vINGN’s existing routes but utilize them. AT&T Mobility USVI, Inc., Legal Counsel Tom Bolt stated that the “Call Before You Dig” laws in the Territory are flawed. Stakeholders and Operators lack communication and collaboration, a third-party Notification Center should be contracted instead of the Government of the Virgin Islands (GVI), and a unified map of existing underground facilities are non-existent; according to Bolt. Ultimately, GVI issued a temporary Work Stop Order to AT&T to cease digging the ground.

Separately, the V.I. Department of Public Works Commissioner Nelson Petty, Jr. noted that to date DPW was issued $68 million out of $80 million from the Federal Highway Emergency Relief program for capital projects. Overall, DPW was granted a total of $664,667,875.70 for 195 federal projects or hurricane damaged roadways and facilities Territory-wide. Petty noted that Federal monies are project-specific and cannot be used to maintain roadways, install guardrails or fix potholes. That continues to be the fiscal responsibility of GVI. Regarding transportation, the construction for the Operations and Maintenance Facility (OMF) on St. Thomas VITRAN is completed, upgrades will occur to OMF for St. John VITRAN and a new OMF will be built for the St. Croix VITRAN. Lastly, V.I. Housing and Finance Authority (VIHFA) Executive Director Daryl Griffith shared an update. VIHFA has tax credits totaling $4,846,341 in tax credits. Out of that $3,424,248 is for Donoe Re-development project and $532,900 in tax credits for Concordia Manor. The Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery for the Territory is available in five tranches. The first allocation totals $242,684,000 and the second totals $779,217,000 for unmet activities. To date, the Emergency Housing repaired and replaced roofs, conducted interior home repairs, and there is the construction of housing communities inclusive of Whispering Hills, Queen Louise Townhomes, Estate Solitude, Ross Taarneberg, and Mount Pleasant.

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WILLIAMS AND GONZALEZ RESOLUTIONS SENT TO RULES AND JUDICIARY

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ST. CROIX –The Committee on Culture, Historic Preservation, and Aging, chaired by Senator Javan E. James, Sr.,met on Tuesday in the Bennie and Martha Benjamin Conference Center at the Virgin Islands Cardiac Center on St. Croix.
The Committee considered two Resolutions honoring and commending Wallace D. Williams and Pastor Hector Gonzalez for their services and contributions to the community of St. Croix.
Bill No.33-0247, a Resolution honoring and commending Wallace D. Williams for his years of extensive work and service as a Librarian and an Olympic athlete representing the U.S. Virgin Islands in multiple competitions. The measure was sponsored by Senator Javan E. James, Sr.
In her testimony, Mary Mingus said that many people have made significant contributions of their time,expertise and resources to improve the quality of life for all Virgin Islanders. She added that Wallace Williams is, indeed, a standout and so deserving of this recognition and honor.
She further indicated that in 1984,Wallace co-founded one of the Women’s Coalitions’ largest fundraisers,the annual“Women’s Race.”It was the largest running event for many years in the Virgin Islands. She concluded by saying, “Wallace has positively impacted the lives of so many people through his kindness, compassion, expertise, and his spirit of giving.”
Willard John of Jumbie Productions Inc. said he has known Williams for more than 40 years. He added that Wallace resigned as branch librarian at the Frederick Douglass Branch of Chicago Public Library for an Outreach Librarian position at Florence Williams Public Library on St. Croix in 1977,and in doing so took a significant pay cut.
According to John, some of Williams’ accomplishments working with the Libraries are: (1) Reestablishing outreach service to Senior Citizens, Blind and Physically Handicapped, correctional facilities, Spanish-speaking communities and remote locations; (2) Established the St. Croix Literacy Center at the Williams Public Library Center which provided reading resources to new adult readers; and (3) Served as Chapter Council Member of the American Library Association and Delegate to the White House Conference on Library Information Services.
Four-time Virgin Islands Olympian and Team Physician, Dr. Marlon S. Williams said Wallace founded VI Pace Runners, a running group that has championed the causes for distance runners of all ages. He added that for several decades he has guided hundreds of athletes during preparation for national and international competition, often using his personal resources.
Dr. Williams further stated, “I cannot think of anyone more deserving of recognition by the people of the Virgin Islands.Ronald Russell, President of the Virgin Islands Track and Field Federation (VITFF),said Wallace has served is his capacity as general secretary for the Federation since 1981. He transitioned from being a national athlete and competing in the Olympics to an executive position that has been invaluable to the territories’ track and field existence.

The Bill was favorably approved to the Committee on Rules and Judiciary, as amended for further consideration.

Bill No.33-0245, an Act honoring and commending Pastor Héctor González for over 56years of ministry, outstanding service and dedication to the people of St. Croix and the renaming of Route 681 (Hess Road) to “Route 681 Héctor González Road.” The Department of Public Works shall erect appropriate signage bearing the “Route 681 Héctor González Road,” in his honor. This Bill was sponsored by Senator Alicia V. Barnes.

In reading the resolution, Senator Barnes said, “it is fitting for the Legislature to honor Pastor González, whose many years of devoted service and outstanding leadership as pastor and citizen of his community has contributed greatly to the island of St. Croix.

During her testimony, Maricela Santo sstated that Pastor Héctor Luis González opened the doors of Zion Christian Academy in 1989 to provide faith-based curriculum to the children of St. Croix. She added that his devotion and contributions have left a positive impacton many families and the youths of St. Croix

.Carmen Corcino, a member of the church said Pastor González is a legend in his ministry, “the man everyone goes to, the Pastor for everyone”. She added that everyone knows what he has done for St. Croix by providing a permanent place for worship, praise and education.Dina Scott, minister and secretary of the Council of Iglesias Hermanos Unidos en Cristoin the Virgin Islands,said his integrity, honesty, confidence and compassion have always been in the front line of his service. She added that, there are many more lives that have been touched, whose lives have been given meaning and purpose by this man through his ministry.

The Bill was voted out of the Committee with a favorable recommendation and forwarded to the Rules and Judiciary Committee for further consideration.Senators present at Tuesday’s meeting were Vice-Chairman Javan James, Sr., Senators Dwayne DeGraff, Athneil “Bobby” Thomas, Thomas, Steven Payne, Alicia Barnes, and Oakland Benta.

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Nominations and Bills Forwarded to Full Body

ST. THOMAS – Members of the Committee on Rules and Judiciary, chaired by Sen. Janelle K. Sarauw, convened in a meeting at the Capitol Building on Thursday and voted favorably for nominations of Enrique Rodriquez and Pamela Montegut to serve on the Virgin Islands Historic Preservation Commission in the St. Thomas-St. John District; and Dr. Noreen Michael, Ph.D. for the Virgin Islands Housing Authority Board of Commissioners (VIHA). The nominations were sent by the Governor by virtue of the Revised Organic Act of 1954, and Title 3, Section 65a of the Virgin Islands Code. Senators also voted and approved several bills. All items will be forwarded to the Full Body for further vetting.

Nominee Rodriquez expressed a vested interest in the preservation of Charlotte Amalie and to create additional parking in town. Some of Rodriquez’s accomplishments as President of the St. Thomas Historical Trust include obtaining non-profit status and identifying funding through Trust License plates. Nominee Montegut stated that her goal is to market Charlotte Amalie as a renowned historical tourism destination. Montegut mentioned that attracting new tourists with a love for history will bring the Virgin Islands into the same economic realm as historical cities such as Boston and Georgetown. Sen. Sarauw recommended that the nominees add to their agenda, streamlining the process for public access to use historical sites such as Fort Christian. Collectively, policymakers requested the nominees to address the challenges of derelict or abandoned buildings and to ensure the inclusion of the entire history of the Virgin Islands. Subsequently, Nominee Michael defended her re-nomination to VIHA Board of Commissioners vowing to continue to fulfill the mission of VIHA and to advocate for housing residents and persons on the Housing Choice Voucher Program. Previously, she served on the Board for six years.

Separately, lawmakers voted to hold in committee, two measures proposed by Sen. Alicia Barnes and Sen. Kenneth Gittens: Bill No. 33-0210- to establish a minimum criterion for the V.I. Water and Power Authority Governing Board (WAPA) and changing the number of its members; and Bill No. 33-0211- to develop a minimum criterion for the Public Services Commission (PSC) members and changing the number of its members. Sen. Barnes stated that selecting qualified individuals to serve on the Boards is the first step to addressing challenges plaguing WAPA and the PSC. Similarly, Sen. Gittens noted that the measures are one piece to the puzzle especially since WAPA seems to have a management problem. Conversely, Anthony Thomas, Chairman of the Governing Board of WAPA noted that the legislation is “attempting to fix a problem that does not exist.”

Accordingly, senators voted and approved the following measures:

  • Bill No. 33-0137- An Act authorizing the V.I. Bureau of Economic Research, the V.I. Department of Planning and Natural Resources, and the V.I. Economic Development Authority to create a plan to assist the U.S.V.I. in developing a sustainable blue economy within the Territory.
  • Bill No. 33-0102- An Act amending Title 17, chapter 15, section 190u and 476 of the Virgin Islands Code by including graduates of the Adult Education Center among those eligible to receive scholarships as valedictorian and salutatorian.
  •  Bill No. 33-0132- An Act amending Title 3, chapter 27, section 715 of the Virgin Islands Code to strengthen the Board of the Government Employees Retirement System (GERS) by requiring greater expertise among Board members.
  •  Bill No. 33-0273- An Act amending Title 9, chapter 25 and Title 29 chapter 12 of the Virgin Islands Code relating to personnel hiring requirements for International Financial Service Entities to operate international financial services and to receive tax incentive benefits under the International Banking Center Regulatory Act and the Economic Development Program to amend the hiring requirements for receipt of tax incentive benefit.

A Madras Vision for The U.S. Virgin Islands Townhall Meeting

ST. THOMAS – Members of the Committee on Culture, Historic Preservation and Aging chaired by Sen. Myron Jackson held a Town Hall meeting at the Capitol Building on Tuesday in which the public was invited to discuss Bill No. 33-0226: An Act amending Title 1, chapter 7 of the Virgin Islands Code to establish the official madras of the Virgin Islands of the United States.

“Madras is a cultural cloth that has been used in the Virgin Islands for over 300 years. There are various uses for madras because it is an important component to our culture,” said Sen. Jackson. “It is worn as a headwrap, dress or a costume during cultural events. Madras is also used for décor such as tablecloths and is often the attire of cultural dolls.”

The measure seeks to establish the official madras of the U.S. Virgin Islands. The madras is a lightweight woven patterned plaid that is designed with colors such as yellow, white, red, navy blue, pink, green, and turquoise. The colors represent the natural beauty of the Territory.

The reoccurring theme during the Town Hall meeting was that “Madras is a cloth that binds us together.” Debbie Sun, Owner of Debbie Sun Design Studio was the artist who designed the madras in collaboration with the St. Croix Heritage Dancers along with Mary Dema of the Christiansted Community Alliance. Sun indicated that this is the moment to contribute to the culture and celebration of the identity of the Virgin Islands. “This project reflects our past, present, and future. If this legislation is approved, the official madras of the Virgin Islands will be a part of our culture and history for generations to come,” Sun said.

Similarly, Joseph Bess, Doctoral Student at the University of the Virgin Islands said, “Fashion is a direct indication of your culture. The research that I am doing is because I wanted to dig deeper into our culture and have symbolism that represents us. Culture is not just the food, it’s also fashion. Madras is a way that says although our ancestors suffered, we are their descendants and that is beautiful.”

Other panelists included artist Stephanie Chalana Brown and historian Larry Larsen. At a similar Town Hall meeting on St. Croix the day before, Alvin Milligan, St. Croix Heritage Dancers board member and Shamari Haynes, Division of Festivals assistant director and former troupe leader, also shared their support for the bill.

Sen. Marvin Blyden shared his remarks. “Cultural identity is critical to any society. We need to ensure that when we leave this earth, our culture stays intact. The culture of the Virgin Islands is very rich. The madras representing the Territory is beautiful and impressive.”

He was joined in attendance by Senators Javan James, Stedmann Hodge, Athneil “Bobby” Thomas, Oakland Benta, Steven Payne. Senator Alicia Barnes participated in the meeting on St. Croix. A Town Hall meeting is scheduled for St. John for Monday, March 2, 2020 at 5:30 p.m. at the St. John Legislature.

Senators Vet Agriculture Bills and Updated on The Department of Agriculture Operations

ST. THOMAS- Members of the Committee on Economic Development, Regulations and Agriculture chaired by Sen. Allison DeGazon convened in a meeting at the Capitol Building on Tuesday and voted on two bills regarding water catchments and the V.I. Agricultural Caribbean Symposium. Lawmakers were also updated on the status of operations for the Department of Agriculture (DOA). All approved items will be forwarded to the Committee on Rules and Judiciary for further consideration.

Senators voted to hold in committee: Bill No. 33-0229- An act amending title 3, chapter 17, section 291 of the Virgin Islands Code by replacing supervision and control of existing water catchment areas under the Department of Agriculture to be used for agricultural purposes; and amending Title 30, chapter 3, subchapter II, section 66 of the Virgin Islands Code, by relieving the Commissioner of Health from the responsibility for protection of water catchment areas and placing the responsibility upon the Commissioner of Agriculture. Sponsor of the bill, Sen. Dwayne DeGraff said, “There are great water facilities holding stagnant water and garnering mosquitos that can be repurposed for agriculture. The bill is simple, to turn over the water catchments to the Department of Agriculture.”

On the contrary, the DOA Commissioner Positive Nelson noted that because of the necessary requirements to maintain water catchments it is best to give oversight to the V.I. Water and Power Authority and the V.I. Fire Department; not DOA. Furthermore, Commissioner Nelson stated that transferring the responsibility to DOA without addressing the physical condition of the facilities is not conducive. Presently, each water catchment requires maintenance, cleaning, the protection, testing, portability, and onsite storage. Moreover, the Department of Health (DOH) Assistant Commissioner Nicole Syms recommended that DOH maintains authority with rights of usage to DOA especially if water receptacles are placed by nearby farms. “It would take a tremendous effort to restore water catchments in its present state. Financially, this is not feasible. It is more cost-effective to use portable water,” Sen. Kurt Vialet said. However, Sen. DeGazon indicated that portable water should be tested prior to use. “I do not support using portable water because when I watered my seeds with it, they died. It is important to conduct a study as to why plants watered with cistern water survive vs. the adverse effect of portable water.”

Separately, Commissioner Nelson shared an update on the operations of DOA. To date, DOA expended 24% or $43,442 out of $4,596,880 appropriated for the FY 2020 budget. DOA is recruiting to fill vacancies to include a Heavy Equipment Mechanic and a Forest Stewardship Coordinator. As of February 14th, Abattoirs are on a 120-day voluntary suspension. In response to Sen. Alicia Barnes’s inquiry regarding the reason for the suspension, Commissioner Nelson noted that the Abattoirs received seventeen Non-Regulatory Citations from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and DOA is currently addressing challenges.

Lastly, senators voted favorably for Bill No. 33-0249- An Act amending Title 7, Chapter I, Subchapter II, section 9 of the Virgin Islands Code by adding a new subsection (i) mandating the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Tourism to host an Agricultural symposium known as the V.I Agricultural Caribbean Symposium, alternately and annually on the islands of St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. John. The bill was proposed by Sen. Javan James, Sr. and Sen. DeGazon. “We are now going to take agriculture to another level which is to host a conference where people from all over the world can learn about agriculture in the Territory. The goal is to turn this into an agri-business conference and showcase local cuisine and produce,” Sen. DeGazon said.

SICKLE CELL REGISTRY LACKING IN TERRITORY

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ST. CROIX–The Committee on Health, Hospitals, and Human Services, chaired by Senator Oakland Benta, Sr., met Monday in the Virgin Islands Cardiac Center, St. Croix where testimonies were given on the status and an overview of operations and initiatives from the Virgin Islands Sickle Cell Parent Support Group and also considered Bill No. 33-0077.

Nicole Craigwell-Syms, Assistant Commissioner of the Department of Health, explained how Sickle Cell Disease is passed on and some of its commonly noted symptoms. She said Sickle Cell Disease (SCD) is an inherited blood disorder of the human red blood cells, which detected by a positive laboratory blood test called hemoglobin electrophoresis.

The Virgin Islands Department of Health, stated the Assistant Commissioner, does not have a local sickle cell disease registry. She added that, a Sickle Cell Disease Registry will allow for a more accurate count of the individuals affected by the disease in the territory. The Department, she said, currently relies on data from their key healthcare partners that serve individuals with Sickle Cell Disease.

Regarding Sickle Cell Disease occurrence in the Virgin Islands, Craigwell-Syms stated that a total of 568 live births were recorded for the year 2018 in the St. Thomas/St. John district while a total of 408 infants were born in the district of St. Croix. She pointed out that 103 babies tested positive for various abnormalities on St. Thomas/St. John with 61-percent of them tested positive for the sickle cell trait.

In addition, according to her, 87 infants tested positive for abnormalities on St. Croix with 46-percent tested positive for the trait. She added that there were two confirmed cases of the disease in St. Thomas/St. John District and one confirmed case of the disease in the St. Croix district.

Funding in the amount of $240,000, said the Assistant Commissioner, was allocated in FY 2019 for sickle cell and $132,000 in FY 2020. She added that FY 2019 funds were utilized to support awareness, education, and community outreach activities. FY 2020 funds will support initiatives to increase awareness and identify individual sickle cell cases. Additionally, funding will support their efforts to develop the Sickle Cell Disease registry in the territory as they enter a memorandum of understanding with John Hopkins University.

Dr. Erole Mclean-Hobdy, VI Oncology & Hematology, PC, stated that some of the gaps that she has seen in terms of providing optimal sickle cell include: (1) Lack of a sickle cell registry which is vital in obtaining a better understanding of who is affected, how many are affected, the type of sickle cell diseases that are prevalent, and also outcomes and life expectancy. (2) Lack of coordinated care for patients especially children. There is universal testing for sickle cell disease for every newborn child in the territory. However, if the test does show that the baby has sickle cell disease, there is no uniform or consistent system in place.

(3) Lack of necessary resources for sickle patients who are currently ill. The many complications of sickle cell disease, acute chest syndrome and acute stroke are some of the most critical and life-threatening emergencies.

(4) Lack of a “home” for sickle cell patients. Sickle cell patients require a lot of supportive care and as such would benefit from having a place that can provide centralized care dedicated to sticklers. An outpatient day center staffed with a physician would be ideal. Patient would be able to get pain management, blood transfusions, exchange transfusion, and counseling.

Other testifiers were Charmaine Mayers, Director, Maternal and Child Health and Children with Special Health Care Needs Program; and Germaine Powell, President, VI Sickle Parent Support Group who stated that the mission of the Corporation is to impower the people of the Virgin Islands to become active participants in the organization to create awareness of the impact of the sickle cell conditions on the individual and family.

Bill No. 33-0077-An Act amending the Virgin Islands Code and adding a new chapter relating to the financial exploitation of the elderly persons of dependent adults, proposed by Senators Allison DeGazon and Javon James, Sr.

Speaking on the Bill, Sen. DeGazon, stated that elderly financial exploitation affects all of us. She added that this abuse is now a significant problem and is expected to be increased, this abuse is also recognized as financial, psychological and other forms of exploitation.

Kimberly Causey-Gomez, Commissioner of the Department of Human Services (DHS) stated that there is a need to heighten the awareness and effective response to financial exploitation of the elderly and dependent adult. According to her, DHS came before the Committee to recommend that the Bill include language that would strengthen their ability to effectively investigate suspected and known cases of financial exploitation of elders and dependent adults.

Denise George, Attorney General of the Virgin Islands, said the financial exploitation of the elder and dependent adults has become a growing problem over the years and has been labeled by some as the “Crime of the 21st Century”. She added that given just the small sampling of the numerous and complex issues that relate to elder and dependent financial exploitation, she stands in support of the measure with recommendations for amendments.

Trevor Velinor, Commissioner, VI Police Department (VIPD) said in his testimony that his agency stands in support of the Bill and understands the importance of having measures in place to deter those who prey on our elderly and dependent citizens. He pointed out that financial crimes and exploitation can involve the illegal or improper use of a senior citizen’s funds, property or assets, as well as fraud or identity theft perpetrated against older adults.

Gwendolyn Hall Brady, Director, Division of Banking, Insurance and Financial Regulations stated that the Division finds there is an unquestionable a need for laws to protect elderly persons and dependent adults in the Virgin Islands from the crippling effects of financial exploitation, but the laws must be unambiguous, defined plainly, and enforceable.

Another testifier in support of the Bill was Corinne Plaskett, representing Troy de Chabert Schuster, State Director, AARP Virgin Islands.

The Bill was voted out of the Committee with a favorable recommendation and forwarded to the Committee on Rules and Judiciary for further consideration and further amendments.

Committee members at Monday’s hearing were Chairman Senator Oakland Benta, Sr., Athneil “Bobby” Thomas, Kurt Vialet, Donna Frett-Gregory, Marvin Blyden, and Kenneth Gittens, Stedmann Hodge, Jr. Non-Committee member present: Senator Allison DeGazon.

TRIBUTE TO 1733 REVOLUTION, BILL POSTHUMOUSLY HONORING FALLEN SOLDIERS MOVED FORWARD, UPDATED ON SENIOR HOUSING ON ST. JOHN

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ST. JOHN – Members of the Committee on Culture, Historic Preservation, and Aging, chaired by Sen. Myron Jackson, convened in a meeting at the Cleone Henrietta Creque Legislative Conference Room on Friday, and voted favorably for a bill posthumously honoring fallen soldiers who lost their lives while serving in the U.S. Armed Forces. Lawmakers were also updated on the status of senior services on St. John, as well as the award-winning documentary on the 2017 hurricanes by filmmaker Peter Bailey, “Unbreakable Virgin Islands.” The contributions of the late newspaper founder, journalist, author, poet, and artist J. Antonio Jarvis were also remembered on the 118th anniversary of his birth.

The meeting opened with a tribute in honor of the 1733 St. John Revolution. Virgin Islands Freedom Fighters Day is recognized annually on November 23rd. It is symbolic of the revolution or organized revolt by Akwamu slaves on St. John that started on November 23, 1733 and continued for several months. Participants of today’s presentation were conch shell blower Emmanuel Boyd, drummer Eddie Bruce, and community activist and scholar Dr. Gilbert Sprauve.

Upon conclusion of the tribute, policymakers voted and approved Bill No. 33-0127 – An Act posthumously honoring and commending the men and women who lost their lives while serving in the United States Armed Forces, naming the roundabout road circle located in downtown Cruz Bay, St. John, “The Veterans Circle,” and appropriating $20,000 to the Virgin Islands Council on the Arts to commission a monument in memory of the veterans. Sponsor of the bill, Sen. Athneil Thomas stated that moving forward it is important to recognize veterans and their service throughout the territory. Patrick Farrell, Director of the Virgin Islands Office of Veterans Affairs said, “Far too long the veterans of St. John have been without this type of recognition. If this area is to be named in honor of service members that paid with the ultimate sacrifice, then it should be rightfully treated as sacred grounds.” Regarding the appropriation of funds, Tasida Kelch, Executive Director of the Virgin Islands Council of the Arts, suggested that allocating monies to the Department of Sports, Parks, and Recreation instead of the V.I. Council of the Arts is best due to the continuous maintenance and upkeep of the monument.

Furthermore, on the agenda, Michal Rhymer-Brown, Assistant Commissioner of the V.I. Department of Human Services shared an overview of the Senior Centers, Home Care and Housing/Services offered to seniors on St. John. Some of the challenges facing the Homemaker Services Program on St. John are the need to recruit and hire additional staff, the influx of senior citizens’ requests for more services, and the rising demand for home care services. Furthermore, Rhymer-Brown noted that post-hurricanes Irma and Maria the Adrian Senior Center sustained severe damages. Presently, V.I. Housing Authority placed a bid to reconstruct and repair the center with an expectation to reopen by 2020. Despite challenges, Human Services provided services for twenty-eight seniors on St. John, to include providing meals prepared with the guidelines of the Nutrition Program. Additionally, monies from the Senior Citizens Center Revolving Fund will be re-directed to purchase a 2020 SUV to transport seniors from their homes to the Senior Center. Rhymer-Brown mentioned that some of the goals and initiatives are to fill vacant positions for the Homemaker program, launch media campaigns to create community awareness, and update policies and procedures.

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POLICYMAKERS APPROVED FIVE NOMINATIONS AND ONE BILL

ST. THOMAS- Members of the Committee on Rules and Judiciary chaired by Sen. Janelle K. Sarauw, convened in a meeting at the Capitol Building on Friday, and voted favorably for the nominees on the agenda. The nominations were sent to the Legislature by Governor Albert Bryan; set forth from Section (16) of the Revised Organic Act of 1954, and Title 3, Section 65a of the Virgin Islands Code. Lawmakers also voted favorably for one bill. All items on the agenda will be forwarded to Legislative Session for further consideration.

The nominees for consideration are Emmanuel Delano, DDS, MS to serve on the Virgin Islands Board of Dental Examiners St. Croix District, Dr. Mavis Matthew, M.D. for the V.I. Board of Medical Examiners, John Abramson, Jr. for the Government Employees Service Commission St. Croix District, Andre’ Dorsey and Loraine Gumbs-Morton for the Government Employees Service Commission St. Thomas-St. John District.

Nominee Delano defended his re-nomination to the V.I. Board of Dental Examiners by sharing some of the significant changes made while serving for the past ten years. He indicated that previously the Board revised the 2014 Dental Act. As a result, the Board is up-to-par with the national standards of qualifications to practice dentistry in the Territory. Additionally, revising the rules and regulations continues to be a work in progress. In response to a line of questioning from Sen. Sarauw, Delano noted that the Board is presently advocating for better dental care by increasing the number of dentists practicing in the Territory. Moreover, Nominee Matthew stated that her re-nomination to serve on the V.I. Board of Medical Examiners allows her to continue the necessary tasks. She served on the Board for the past five years. Two of her major accomplishments include the removal of the Spex Exam and the implementation of the Uniform Application which is utilized to streamline the physician application process, according to Matthew.

Although, Nominee Gumbs-Morton admitted that she is not an insurance expert, her mission to improve the operation of the V.I. Government Employees Service Commission is to ensure that the life and medical insurance coverage is suitable to meet the needs of policyholders, fulfilling necessary tasks in alignment with the Virgin Islands Code, and to assist with revising protocols as required. Nominee Dorsey indicated that his goals are to eliminate high healthcare costs in the Territory, lower co-payments, and to remove deductibles from member’s health insurance plan. Furthermore, Dorsey mentioned that he will strive towards establishing Urgent Care Centers, implementing additional preventative care services and increasing wellness initiatives. Lastly, Nominee Abramson stated that his primary aim for the Commission is to establish a Comprehensive Healthcare System that unifies both insured and uninsured people. “Look at the big picture of healthy government employees and retirees. Then there is an unhealthy dying community. That is not good for the overall state of health care in the Territory,” said Abramson.

Separately, senators voted and approved:

  • Bill No. 33-0152- regarding construction liens by exempting the government-owned property of homeowners under government-administered home repair and construction programs from construction liens and providing protection to certain homesteaders and for other related purposes.                                                                                                                           ###