ST. THOMAS- Members of the Committee on Government Operations and Consumer Protection, chaired by Carla J. Joseph, convened in a meeting at the Capitol Building. Officials from the Virgin Islands Department of Public Works provided testimony on two measures regarding Bill No. 34-0232, a long-range program for construction and road improvement, and Bill No. 34-0237, to regulate digital advertising boards and smart message boards. Ultimately, lawmakers voted in the affirmative for Bill No. 34-0232. However, Bill No. 34-0237 was held in committee at the call of the chair. The approved item will be forwarded to the Committee on Rules and Judiciary for further consideration.
Bill No. 34-0232- An Act amending Title 20 of the Virgin Islands Code, chapter 3, section 42 relating to the Governor’s initial report to the Legislature on a long-range program for the construction and improvement of roads and highways throughout the Virgin Islands; to change the time and frequency for the Governor to submit the report to the Legislature; and to establish procedures and minimum standards for paving and constructing roads in the Virgin Islands and for other related purposes. Senator Javan E. James is the sponsor of the bill. Derek Gabriel, Commissioner of the Department of Public Works, noted that the bill is a duplicate of the provisions currently in place at DPW. Gabriel stated that DPW has reports and tools that resemble various aspects of the proposed legislation.
One example of the duplication is the Territorial Highway Program Implementation and Stewardship Agreement between the Federal Highway Department of Public Works. According to Gabriel, the agreement requires highway roadway construction projects, inclusive of repairs and maintenance, to be constructed in compliance with the Standard Specifications of the United States Department of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration. Similarly, Jeffrey Fleming Jr., Project Manager for Island Roads Corporation, stated that the bill is unnecessary. Fleming said that the construction of roadways should be left to the experts, such as engineers, not codified in a bill, or else flexibility is limited. Senator Joseph indicated that it is important to have the flexibility of road construction to include advancements and changes in technology. We are working in collaboration to build a bigger and better Virgin Islands.
Bill No. 34-0237 – An Act amending Title 29 Virgin Islands Code chapter 9, section 502 relating to the regulation of billboards to allow for advertising devices within 10 feet from the edge of a highway and changeable electronic variable message signs, digital billboards, and smartboards along the highways subject to the requirements in 29 V.I.C. § 505 and 23 U.S.C. § 131. This bill is sponsored by Senator Genevieve R. Whitaker. However, officials from DPW did not support the bill. Gabriel expressed concerns with safety ramifications and the signage posing as a visual distraction to motorists and pedestrians. Senator Joseph inquired about DPW enforcement and management of inappropriate ads. In response, Gabriel noted that DPW is swift to mitigate offensive advertisements. Thus far, businesses are in compliance with replacing offensive advertisements with digital ads that are appropriate when contacted by DPW.
Lastly, officials from the Department of Tourism Division of Festivals updated lawmakers on the operations, laws, and challenges. Alani Henneman Todman, Assistant Commissioner on behalf of Joseph B. Boschulte, Commissioner of Tourism, stated that the Division of Festivals 70th Carnival in St. Thomas and the 68th St. John Celebration were successful, post-COVID-19. Furthermore, marketing and promotion of the Virgin Islands were achieved with direct airlift and supporting feeder markets in the United States. Some of the targeted states are Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, Virginia, and South Carolina. Todman mentioned that upcoming events such as Made in America—an event that reaches an online digital audience estimated at 3 million people—are scheduled for September 2022. The 70th anniversary of the St. Croix Festival is slated for December 2022. Todman added that tourism secured a three-year contract to host Ubersoca, a soca cruise for April 2023.
Senators present at the meeting: Chairman Carla J. Joseph, Milton E. Potter, Javan E. James, Sr., Franklin D. Johnson, Alma Francis-Heyliger, Marvin A. Blyden, and Novelle E. Francis, Sr. ###