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 and voted and approved two bills including Bill No. 34-0212-An Act amending Title 28, chapter 29, section 660 of the Virgin Islands Code to include additional requirements for the notice and publication of lists of abandoned property. All approved items will be forwarded to the Committee on Rules and Judiciary for further consideration.
The measure seeks to codify the establishment of an online database from which the public can search for property presumed abandoned. In accordance with the bill, some of the expanded requirements included in the database are the following: The name of each person claiming to be the property’s owner; the last known address of each person claiming to be the property’s owner; A description of the property that is deemed abandoned or unclaimed; The value of the property; and the date on which the property was transferred to the administrator. The sponsor of the bill, Senator Alma Francis Heyliger, noted that the purpose of the legislation is to ensure that people can gain access to their information. The Senator further indicated that due to certain challenges, the listings have not been published to the public for over 10 years.
Glendina Mathew, Interim Director of the Division of Banking, Insurance, and Financial Regulation within the Office of the Lieutenant Governor Office, mentioned that challenges regarding publishing unclaimed property listings are the lack of funding to hire personnel and the lack of staff to maintain the database, in which presently existing staff are responsible for manually entering data. In a line of questioning, Senator Joseph inquired about who is inputting the data and if the data input is up to date. In response, Matthews stated that presently, there are no designated staff for that task. To ensure progress, the office utilizes other staff within the Division in addition to summer students and interns. Mathews noted that the office has been updated beyond 2012, but challenges occur when applicants submit documents in an inaccessible form.
Separately, lawmakers voted in favor of Bill No. 34-0230- An Act amending Title 18 Virgin Islands Code, chapter 5, section 110, relating to the registration of electors to require the Supervisor of Elections to compile an active vs. inactive voters’ list within 90 days (about 3 months) after each general election, starting with the General Election in 2022. In support of the measure, Caroline Fawkes, Supervisor of Elections for the Elections System of the Virgin Islands, stated the goal is to obtain true, accurate statistical information to inspire, encourage, and energize all our citizens to participate in the electoral process, as is done in many countries. Collectively, senators expressed concern about sufficient staff to accommodate early voting and to reinstate inactive voters to active status once voting at the polling sites. In response, Fawkes noted that there is sufficient staff to assist voters. Presently, in the St. Thomas-St. John District, there are 4,803 inactive voters and 4,512 in the St. Croix District. The data is based on 2014–2016 registrants who did not vote in the elections.
Senator Joseph said, “I am concerned about any type of change affecting voters adversely. It is important that the publications are available to the public prior to the election.” “My concern is the time frame of the bill. I hope that it does not disenfranchise voters who show up to the polls and can’t vote due to an inactive status that they became aware of at the polls.”
Senators attending the meeting: Chair Carla J. Joseph, Franklin D. Johnson, Novelle E. Francis, Jr., Kenneth L. Gittens, Alma Francis-Heyliger, and Marvin A. Blyden. ###