COMMITTEE CONSIDERS BILL TO RESTRUCTURE DIVISION OF FESTIVALS, RECEIVES UPDATE FROM CANNABIS REGULATION

Published: Mar 13, 2024

ST. THOMAS – The Committee on Economic Development and Agriculture, chaired by Senator Javan E. James, Sr. met at the Earle B. Ottley Legislative Hall.  Lawmakers considered a measure to restructure the Division of Festivals leadership.

The Committee considered Bill No. 35-0232, an act amending Title 3, Virgin Islands Code, Chapter 19, Section 339a relating to the Division of Festivals by eliminating the assistant directors, increasing the number of directors from one to three, and requiring each director to submit a financial report to the Chairperson of the Committee on Budget, Appropriations, and Finance of the Legislature of the Virgin Islands. Sen. Franklin D. Johnson proposed the measure.

Alani Henneman, Assistant Commissioner of Tourism delivered testimony. Henneman did not support the proposed bill, stating that the new bill infringes on the executive branch’s ability to manage operations, staffing and departmental practices. She stated that the Commissioner of Tourism, who is the lead of the agency, should be the only representative reporting on all legislative matters, or the Commissioner’s appointed designee. Additionally, Henneman stated that changing the title of each Assistant Director did not negate the Tourism Department’s internal procedures and checks and balances. Henneman stated that each Assistant Director composes an outline for his/her upcoming festival event and submits each request to the executive team, which includes the Division of Festivals, the Assistant Commissioner, and the Commissioner, or a Commissioner Appointee. Executive and Festival teams then vet the proposed outline to then compose the upcoming festival. According to Henneman’s testimony, USVI Festival events have increased visitation around the events to the territory by over 200% in hotel bookings from 2022 to 2023. Additionally, she touted a 65% grown in Carnival troupe participation, 40% in vendors, 43% increase territory wide in airlift, and an increase of over 10,000 passengers leading to increased overnight stays in attendance when comparing the 2018-2019 Carnival Season to the 2022-2023 combined carnival season.  

Rena Francis, a St. Croix Resident and Festival booth owner voiced support for the proposed measure.  Francis stated that she has seen challenges with how Festival has been managed.  Francis voiced concerns with certain things such as the Department of Tourism’s sponsorship of activities, away from the Festival Village, which are taking away from its own product, ending of village activities earlier than usual, a lack of proper communication, and a dramatic price increase for booth rentals. Francis inquired about how funds are being allocated to all of the celebrations in the territory, how they are spent, and voiced concern over village entertainment not being on par. Samuel Ferdinand, known as “Mighty Pat,” voiced frustration with the Division of Festivals, stating that the Division had not properly accounted for funds, and stated that each individual island should be responsible for their own celebrations. Ferdinand voiced additional concern about a decrease in prize money awarded to winners of the Calypso Monarch.

Janelle K. Sarauw, former senator delivered testimony. Sarauw, who was an original sponsor of the bill that created the Division of Festivals stated that despite the intentions of the original bill, it has fallen short of expectations. She mentioned that while Carnival and Festival remain a cornerstone of the cultural calendar, other cultural initiatives have languished, and mentioned that the full potential of cultural diversity has not been realized. Sarauw mentioned the defunct state of the Virgin Islands Cultural and Heritage Institute, calling for an urgent need to fulfill its mandate. Sarauw stated that the intent of having a territorial director, supported by assistant directors, was to ensure oversight and equitable division of resources. Additionally, Sarauw stated the Department of Tourism was top heavy and had two assistant commissioner and two deputy commissioners.  She asked the body to scrutinize the degree of autonomy given to assistant directors in executing their plans, asking if the assistant directors voices were resonating within the department, and asking if there is an equal distribution of resources and opportunities.  

The proposed measure however failed due to a lack of support.

Additionally, lawmakers were scheduled to receive an update on the overall status of the USVI Office of Cannabis Regulations, including the implementation of Act 8680, and licensing procedures for the cannabis industry. Horace Graham, the Assistant Commissioner of the Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs delivered brief testimony. Graham reminded the body that Act 8680 amended Title 19 of Virgin Islands Code, adding Chapter 34a, expanding the legalization of cannabis from medicinal use to include adult use, and provides for the promulgation of rules and regulations related to its cultivation, manufacture, sale, dispensary, licensing, and the sacramental use of cannabis. Graham stated that DLCA is ready to provide the office assistance to ensure the success of the Department. The DLCA business office currently provides OCR with administrative support, office space, fiscal management, human resources supervision, as well as other matters. The Office of Cannabis Regulation is currently without a director, as the previous director, Hannah Carty, recently resigned. Adult use of cannabis remains illegal in the territory until rules are properly declared.

Senators present at today’s committee hearing included Javan E. James, Sr., Angel L. Bolques, Jr., Marvin A. Blyden, Samuel Carrión, Diane T. Capehart, Dwane M. DeGraff, Novelle E. Francis, Jr., Alma Francis Heyliger, Donna A. Frett-Gregory, Ray Fonseca, Marise C. James, Kenneth L. Gittens, Franklin D. Johnson, and Milton E. Potter.

The Division of Public Affairs is committed to providing the community with accurate information on proceedings at the Legislature of the Virgin Islands. Visit legvi.org.

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