BILLS CLARIFIES LAW TO PROTECT ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERALS, NOMINATION FOR DIRECTOR OF PERSONNEL FORWARDED

Published: Dec 10, 2021

ST. THOMAS- Members of the Committee on Rules and Judiciary chaired by Sen. Milton E. Potter, convened a meeting at the Capitol Building. Senators voted favorably for a number of bills including a bill to detach the tenure of Assistant Attorney Generals from the tenure of the Governor that appointed them, and to allow the collective bargaining agreement to take full force and effect. Additionally, policymakers advanced the nomination of Cindy Richardson to serve as the Director for the Division of Personnel. The Committee also advanced a bill aimed at bringing into the coffers of the VI Government, hotel room tax revenues currently not being collected on lodging secured through non-traditional avenues such as AirBnB, Vacation Rentals By Owner, etc.. Another legislation approved by the committee seeks put the necessary checks and balances in place, by ending the omission of the first branch of government in determining how federal relief monies allocated to the territory are being spent. All items approved will be forwarded to the Full Body for further consideration.

Lawmakers voted in the affirmative for Bill No. 34-0107- An Act amending Title 3 Virgin Islands Code, chapter 8, section 113, subsection (a) relating to the tenure of Assistant Attorney Generals within the Virgin Islands Department of Justice. The measure seeks to remove the requirement that Assistant Attorney Generals serve only under the Governor who appointed them. The Assistant Attorney Generals have been a part of a collective bargaining unit since 1980 when a collective bargaining agreement was executed and adopted by the Legislature. The agreement governs the employment relations between assistant attorney generals and the Virgin Islands Department of Justice, as stated on the bill. The sponsor of the bill, Senator Novelle E. Francis, Jr. stated that moving forward there is no way to continue to allow the change of administration to deem the termination of assistant attorney generals. Similarly, Senator Potter mentioned that this measure clarifies the law that the assistant attorney generals should not be treated as cabinet members. Therefore, they should not be replaced at the start of a new governor’s term.

Separately, senators voted favorably for the Nomination of Cindy Richardson to become the Director of the Division of Personnel. The nomination was sent to the Legislature of the Virgin Islands by Governor Albert Bryan; in accordance with law set forth in Section (16) of the Revised Organic Act of 1954, and Title 3, Section 65a of the Virgin Islands Code. Richardson stated that her leadership style is to have an open-door policy to employees, not a micromanager, and always engage with staff. Her short-term goals are inclusive of concluding the 8% Payroll Restoration Project, filling vacancies, streamlining the NOPA process, and the rollout of a New Employee Evaluation System.

Senators voted and approved: Bill No. 34-0073- An Act relating to the allocations of federal funds designated for the Territory and other related purposes. The measure seeks to mandate the Governor to submit, not later than 30 days after the bill is passed, to the Legislature, a plan for the allocation of federal funds designated for the Territory under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, P.L. 117-2, any other federal funds and any unreleased federal funds designated for the Territory as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, as stated on the bill. However, the Office of Management and Budget Director Jenifer O’Neal did not support the measure. O’Neal noted that the Revised Organic Act (ROA) explicitly prohibits the local legislature from passing legislation that would contradict the Congressionally mandated acts or appropriations. O’Neal also stated that the local legislature is not authorized under the ROA to appropriate federal funds nor dictate how they are to be spent unless specifically authorized by a particular Act of Congress. Defending the measure, Senator Donna Frett Gregory pointed out that the Internal Revenue matching Fund (rum cover-over revenues) are also Congressionally mandated funds and those funds are allocated through the actions of the VI Legislature. Senator Potter later pointed out that the Community Development Block Grant funds are also Congressionally mandated funds, and they too are allocated through actions of the VI Legislature. Senator Frett-Gregory indicated that the bill is simple but could be a bit controversial because there is a thin line between separation of powers between the Executive Branch and the Legislative Branch. The bill brings greater accountability to the expenditure of Federal Funds. Additional sponsors of the bill are senators Novelle E. Francis, Jr., Milton E. Potter, Kurt A. Vialet, Genevieve R. Whitaker, Janelle K. Sarauw, Marvin A. Blyden, Samuel Carrión, Alma Francis Heyliger.

Lastly, senators voted and approved the following:

Bill No. 34-0035- An Act amending Title 16 Virgin Islands Code, chapter 1, subchapter III, section 61 relating to a wife’s name to give either party to a marriage the right to use the other’s surname. (Sponsored by Senator Alma Francis-Heyliger)

Bill No. 34-0070. An Act amending Title 33 Virgin Islands Code, subtitle 1, part I, chapter 3, section 54(b) relating to the remittance of the hotel room tax to the Government of the Virgin Islands from travel organizations; and requiring the Director of the Virgin Islands Bureau of Internal Revenue, with the assistance of the Commissioner of Tourism, to enter into an agreement with all travel organizations that offer sleeping accommodations in the Virgin Islands to collect the hotel room tax required under 33V.I.C. §54. (Sponsored by: Senator Samuel Carrión)

However the following was held in committee: Bill No. 34-0149- An Act amending Virgin Islands Code title 18, chapter 3, section 53 updating the record-keeping practices of the Board of Elections to ensure all official records relating to elections are accessible to the public through the use of technology and cloud-based services. (Sponsored by Senator Alma Francis Heyliger)

Senators in attendance: Chairman Milton E. Potter, Novelle E. Francis, Jr., Donna A. Frett Gregory, Steven D. Payne, Janelle K. Sarauw, Carla J. Joseph, and Kurt A. Vialet

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