ST. CROIX – Members of the Committee on Finance, led by Senator Kurt A. Vialet convened in a meeting at the Frits E. Lawaetz Legislative Conference Room.
In Block I, the Committee heard testimony regarding the following bills:
Bill No. 34-0176, an act appropriating $325,000 from the Community Facility Trust Fund to the General Fund for the purpose of supporting the refurbishment of #33 Company Street, Christiansted and the program objectives of the Collective Collaboration, Inc., and requiring that the Collective Collaboration, Inc. comply with the financial disclosure requirements under 2 V.I.C. §29. The measure was proposed by Senators Novelle E. Francis, Jr. and Kurt A. Vialet, and Franklin D. Johnson.
Vincent Richards, the Deputy Commissioner of the Property & Printing Divisions of the Virgin Islands Property and Procurement, provided testimony in support of the measure. Richards stated that the Department proposes that the Government acquire the property itself and subsequently lease the property to the Collective Collaboration, Inc. to further its services. If any funds from this appropriation would be earmarked for the acquisition of property, the government would need to acquire the property itself using the provisions of 31 VIC Section 231a and hold title to the property. This process would require three appraisals, the Governor’s and the Legislature’s proposal.
The property would be leased to the Collective Collaboration, Inc., with the non-profit organization bearing responsibility for all refurbishment and ongoing maintenance and repairs subject to the terms of a long-term lease. The leasing of the property to Collective Collaboration Inc., would be in line with other plans of the Government to lease property to the organization. A long-term lease is currently being processed with the Collective Collaboration Inc. for 20-A Hospital Street, St. Croix, and 25-B Hill Street in St. Croix. It is providing much needed community services, and the Department of Property and Procurement is supportive of its needs and is of the opinion that the Department should acquire the property and subsequently lease it to the Collective Collaboration.
Kimberly Causey-Gomez, the Commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services provided additional testimony in support of the measure. According to Causey-Gomez, in 2019, 314 unsheltered persons were counted in a Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) mandated Point in Time Count data, which was organized by the USVI Continuum of Care Council on Homelessness. One-hundred seven of these individuals were identified as being chronically homeless. Chronic homelessness is defined as a long term unsheltered homeless experience and someone who may suffer from a mental health disorder and/or mental health and substance abuse disorder.
In 2021, 174 unsheltered persons were counted. The demand for overnight shelter, transitional housing and permanent housing far exceeds the available resources. The Department of Human Services voiced support for Bill No. 34-0176. The refurbishment effort for 40-B Company Street in Christiansted would support the revitalization of a section of Christiansted town, currently known for drug, vagrant and violent activity. Karen Dickenson, the founder and president of the Collective Collaboration Inc. added additional testimony in support of the measure. This organization was established in 2020 as an adult mental health and homeless program. It has provided more than 60,000 meals, housed over 150 individuals, placed more than 30 people in apartments, and reunited more than 35 individuals back to the mainland to families or institutions. Dickenson stated that the homeless population was in a crisis, citing a lack of necessary resources and urged senators to support the measure. The Committee voted to hold the measure at the request of the Chair.
Bill No. 34-0167, an act amending Act No. 8473, Section 1, subsection (q)(3) relating to a $2,175,000 appropriation to the Department of Sports, Parks and Recreation to provide for a grant of that sum, to the Twin City Cricket Association for the development of the Department of Sports, Parks and Recreation St. Croix Cricket Field; and providing for other related purposes.” The measure was proposed by Senators Kurt A. Vialet and Javan E. James, Sr.
Vincent Richards, Deputy Commissioner of the Property & Printing Divisions of the Virgin Islands Department of Property and Procurement provided testimony. The proposed appropriation would be utilized to develop a cricket field at Plot #23, Upper Bethlehem, St. Croix. The Twin City Cricket Association must comply with the financial disclosure requirements in title 2, section 29 of Virgin Islands Code and provides that title to all structures and other improvements attached to the realty will vest in the Department of Sports, Parks and Recreation at the termination of the Lease between the Government of the Virgin Islands and Twin City Cricket Association, Inc. The Department strongly supports the proposed measure. The Department of Property and Procurement will ask for annual maintained plans from the Twin City Cricket Association to ensure that the property will be properly maintained.
Calvert White, the Commissioner of the Department of Sports, Parks and Recreation voiced additional support for the proposed measure. White spoke to the potential of sports tourism in the Territory. Sport tourism refers to travel that involves someone observing or participating in a sporting activity or event. It is one of the fastest growing sectors of the global tourism economy. White spoke of the many impacts that sport tourism would have on the territory, ranging from direct visitor spending such as hotel and car rentals and dining, as well as the effects that it would have on the local economy. For example, White spoke of when the St. Thomas Cricket Association hosted their last match on the island of St. Thomas, which had a direct impact of $250,000 on the local economy. At this time, the Virgin Islands Cricket Board has entered into a license agreement to begin developing a cricket ground in Estate Nazareth, St. Thomas. White had no opposition to the proposed measure but suggested that the funds should be appropriated through the Public Finance Authority.
Marcellin Lockhart, the president of the Twin City Cricket Association, gave additional testimony. Mr. Lockhart stated that there was no public cricket field to accommodate domestic, regional, or international games. Cricket has long been played in St. Croix, however, there has never been a central home for it on the island. The upper portion of Canegata Ball Park in Christiansted, as well as Paul E. Joseph Stadium in Frederiksted has hosted many touring teams. Local tournaments have been held on numerous properties on St. Croix, However, these grounds do not meet regional standards and has limited the development of cricket on the island. Lockhart mentioned that an attempt to develop a regional facility for cricket was proposed in 2009 but did not materialize. The Committee voted in favor of the measure.
Bill No. 34-0255, an act amending title 22 Virgin Islands Code, chapter 55A, by repealing and re-enacting sections 1443 and 1446 to implement revisions that were made to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners’ Credit for Reinsurance Model Law” The measure was proposed by Senator Donna A. Frett-Gregory by request of the Governor. Suzette Richards, Esq., Legal Counsel at the Division of Banking, Insurance and Financial Regulation within the Office of the Lieutenant Governor provided testimony for the proposed measure. The Department supported the initiative, which is to amend provisions of title 22 of the Virgin Islands Code, commonly known as the Virgin Islands Insurance Code to implement revisions that the National Association of Insurance Commissioners made to the Credit for Reinsurance Model Law in 2019. The Virgin Islands must update its laws periodically to ensure it remains in compliance with NAIC accreditation standards.
The Virgin Islands Credit for Reinsurance Act, which is codified in Chapter 55A of Title 22 of the Virgin Islands Code, was enacted in the Territory in 2018, and is based on the NAIC’s Credit for Reinsurance Model Law. Both the Virgin Islands Credit for Reinsurance Act and its accompanying regulations have been in effect in the Territory since 2019 and are further based on an NAIC model regulation. The Virgin Islands Credit for Reinsurance Act and its accompanying regulations are meant to strengthen the regulation of insurance companies, protect policyholders and reduce the uncertainty that an insurer may face in planning collateral liability. These regulations also prevent regulatory arbitrage, where a company tries to utilize more favorable laws in one jurisdiction to circumvent favorable laws elsewhere.
Both the Credit for Reinsurance Act and its accompanying regulations are accreditation requirements, and as such, jurisdictions must have both the statutory provisions and the regulations in place to be accredited by the NAIC. The revisions are a NAIC accreditation requirement, which becomes effective on September 1, 2022. As of today, all 50 states and Puerto Rico have passed the revisions in NAIC’s Credit Reinsurance Model Law. These revisions are also under consideration in 4 other jurisdictions, including the Virgin Islands. As a result of the 2019 revisions to the NAIC’s Credit for Reinsurance Model Law, both Sections 1443 and 1446 of Title 22 of the Virgin Islands Code, which are based on this Model Law, will need to be revised to implement the reinsurance collateral provisions in the covered agreements that the US entered into with the EU and the UK. However, it should be noted that while the purpose of the bill is to implement requirements under the Covered Agreements, Section 1446, as it appears in the bill, has been rewritten and reformatted in a way that no longer complies with the NAIC Credit for Reinsurance Model Law. The Office of the Lieutenant Governor objected to the way that section 1446 was rewritten and reformatted but stated that the changes were too numerous to mention and requested that the bill be amended. The Committee voted in favor of the measure.
In Block II, the Committee heard testimony on the following:
Bill No. 34-0262, an Act approving the lease agreement between the Government of the Virgin Islands, acting through the Commissioner of the Department of Property and Procurement and Vitelcom Cellular, Inc. d/b/a Viya Wireless VI E-Cell for the leasing of the Northwest portion of Parcel 3B Estate Susannaberg, No. 17A, Cruz Bay Quarter, St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands. The measure was proposed by Senator Donna A. Frett-Gregory. Paul Kouroupas, the Senior Director of Corporate Affairs for VIYA provided testimony. VIYA seeks to replace an existing cell tower with an 80-foot monopole. The structure is more storm resistant and can withstand winds of up to 150 miles per hour. It is part of VIYA’s effort to fortify existing structures and to improve network resilience to continue operations during natural disasters. The Committee voted in favor of the proposed measure.
Bill No. 34-0193, an Act approving the Lease Agreement between the Government of the Virgin Islands Department of Property and E & C Development, LLC 8168 Crown Bay Marina. The measure was proposed by Senator Donna A. Frett-Gregory. Julio King, project manager of E&C Development LLC delivered testimony in support of the measure. E&C Development seeks to enter a lease agreement to develop a plot of land, located at No. 2. Remainder Estate Bovoni, No. 1 Frenchman’s Bay Quarter, St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, which consists of 4.6 U.S. acres of land. The property is currently undeveloped, but is occasionally littered with stripped down vehicles, and is a dump site for tires, household appliances, and furniture. The property would be used to develop and manage a four-building complex consisting of a general warehouse and storage buildings. It would be managed as the Bovoni Number Two Business & Commercial Complex. It would bring over 72,000 square feet of needed storage warehouse and commercial space to St. Thomas. It would support over 250 jobs during the construction phase and would support over 100 permanent jobs on the property. Electric vehicle charging ports, solar LED security lights would be featured at the property. The Committee voted in favor of the proposed measure.
Senators present at today’s committee meeting included Kurt A. Vialet, Donna A. Frett-Gregory, Marvin A. Blyden, Samuel Carrión, Dwayne M. DeGraff, Novelle E. Francis Jr., Javan E. James, Sr., Carla J. Joseph and Janelle K. Sarauw.