Day: October 13, 2021

BILL TO STRENGHTEN GUN LAWS IN THE TERRITORY ADVANCES

ST. CROIX- Members of the Committee on Homeland Security, Justice, and Public Safety chaired by Senator Steven D. Payne, Sr., held a meeting in the Fritz E. Lawaetz Legislative Conference Room and received testimony on measures that strengthen gun laws, penalties, and violations. Furthermore, the Virgin Islands Police Department (VIPD) and the Virgin Islands Bureau of Corrections (BOC) shared an update.

Lawmakers voted in the affirmative for Bill No. 34-0072- An Act amending Title 23 Virgin Islands Code, chapter 5, providing for the declaration of firearm components upon entry into the Virgin Islands and other related purposes. The measure seeks to ensure that any person entering the Virgin Islands with firearm components must immediately declare the firearm components to the Commissioner or the Commissioner’s designee at the port of entry. The declaration must include a complete description of the firearm components, along with the person’s name, address, date of birth, and occupation. “Ghost guns are legally purchased online and sold as kits. They operate and function as registered guns. The only difference is there aren’t any background checks, serial numbers, and registered owners,” said Sen. Payne. “We must get them off the streets.” In support of the measure, the Virgin Islands Chief Deputy Attorney General Eric Chancellor noted that the bill eliminates loopholes exploited by defense attorneys to remove criminals off the streets for an extended time when in violation of the law. In response to Senator Payne’s inquiry regarding how the guns enter the Territory, VIPD Police Commissioner Nominee Ray Martinez indicated that there are a lot of weapons transported via mail postal service and cargo transshipment ports.

However, the following measure was held in committee: Bill No. 34-0098- An Act amending Title 14 Virgin Islands Code, chapter 113, section 2253, relating to the unauthorized carrying of a firearm and evidence of intent to commit a crime of violence and to require that those convicted of the commission or attempted commission of a violent crime must serve the mandatory minimum sentence without suspension of sentence or adjudication and without eligibility for probation or parole before serving the mandatory minimum sentence. Senator Payne, bill sponsor shared remarks. “There is no deterrent, none for carrying an illegal firearm. The Virgin Islands ranks No. 3 per capita for murders in the world. It is not okay to carry an illegal firearm and commit an illegal act in the Virgin Islands,” said Sen. Payne. To date, VIPD continues to arrest and prosecute criminals for illegal possession of guns and related violations. Thus far in 2021, there are approximately 73 firearm arrests. This is a decline compared to 112 firearm arrests in 2020 and 130 firearm arrests in 2019. The amendment closes the loophole and ensures conviction to serve the 10-year mandatory minimum, according to Martinez.

Police Commissioner Nominee Ray Martinez shared an update on his 90 days month in office. Accomplishments are inclusive of the implementation of initiatives such as the DUI/Cellphone/Seatbelt Traffic Initiative. Regarding the Tourism Initiative, VIPD added patrol officers to the Tourist District. Due to the Intel-Driven Firearm Initiative, a total of twenty-four firearms and seventeen arrests were made for the possession of illegal firearms. Moreover, Martinez indicated that the COVID-19 Task Force, a compilation of law enforcement personnel, continues to enforce mandates for the Executive Order issued by the Governor. Furthermore, Martinez approved the installation of additional sensors on St. John and other locations to expand the Shotspotter System. Separately,

In updating the committee, BOC Director Wynnie Testamark mentioned that strict protocols and directives were established to lessen the spread of COVID-19 at the facilities. As of July 30th, BOC employees were mandated to show proof of vaccination or submit a weekly COVID-19 test. Furthermore, BOC protocols are inclusive of COVID-19 screenings, cleanings, and wearing a mask.
Although there were outbreaks at the jails, infected inmates neither died nor were hospitalized. To date, 64% of the employees of BOC are vaccinated, according to Testamark.

Senators in attendance for today’s meeting were Steven D. Payne Sr., Dwayne M. DeGraff, Novelle E. Francis Jr., Kenneth L. Gittens, Alma Francis Heyliger, Javan E. James Sr., Franklin D. Johnson, and Genevieve R. Whitaker.

THE COMMITTEE ON GOVERNMENT OPERATIONS AND CONSUMER PROTECTION APPROVED TWO BILLS AND HELD ONE IN COMMITTEE

ST. CROIX- Members of the Committee on Government Operations and Consumer Protection chaired by Carla J. Joseph, met Tuesday in the Fritz E. Lawaetz Legislative Conference Room. The Committee voted for and approved bills honoring and commending Virgin Islanders for their outstanding contributions to the Territory.

Additionally, lawmakers received testimony from officials from the Virgin Islands Public Service Commission (PSC) and the Virgin Islands Bureau of Motor Vehicle on enabling jurisdiction and related matters. All approved items will be forwarded to the Committee on Rules and Judiciary for further consideration.

Policymakers voted favorably for Bill No. 34-0074- A Resolution honoring and commending Holland L. Redfield, II for his expansive and continued contributions to the island of St. Croix and the entire Virgin Islands community, through his roles in various areas of service in the Territory and awards him the Virgin Islands Medal of Honor for Public Service. Sponsor of the bill Senator Sammuel Carrion stated that the measure was drafted prior to his passing on September 11th, 2021. “It was our hope that Redfield was present today. He served as a senator, a pilot, disaster responder, and a Stateman. The Virgin Islands was his home since 1969. Similarly, Senator Joseph shared remarks. “Redfield lived amongst two low-income communities in the Virgin Islands. This man was fearless. Redfield didn’t move although he advanced professionally as a senator and an entrepreneur. He invested a lot of time and energy into the Virgin Islands. He really grew to be a great person.”

Similarly, lawmakers voted in the affirmative for Bill No. 34-0081- An Act amending Title 27 Virgin Islands Code, chapter 17 relating to barbering and cosmetology service to reflect the barbering and cosmetology services that are being currently offered and to rename the chapter and the Board to reflect the changes. The bill is sponsored by Senator Novelle Francis, Jr. The Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs Assistant Commissioner and Administrator to the Office of Boards and Commissions Nathalie Hodge noted that the proposed changes seek to modernize the existing law. These changes set higher standards for these licensees that will better reflect current times and is consistent with best practices on a national level. Concurringly, in a written document submitted to the Legislature of the Virgin Islands from Ada Brooks Chairperson of the Board of Barbers, Beauticians, and Manicurists that was read into the record by Vice Chair Nora Williams indicated that the amendments are reflective of modern practices in the Beauty Industry. They expand the range of services and define applicable terms and conditions.

However, senators voted to hold in committee: Bill No. 34-0090- An Act amending Title 3 Virgin Islands Code, chapter 25, subchapter V, section 570 relating to the Career Incentive Program (CIP) for peace officers to extend the Program to all peace officers identified in Title 5 Virgin Islands Code, section 3561(a). The bill is sponsored by Senator Milton Potter.

Although the Division of Personnel Director-Nominee Cindy Richardson supports the measure, she shared a few concerns. She recommended that lawmakers evaluate the impact of adding peace officers to the Career Incentive Program. Richardson noted that the inclusion of peace officers requires additional funding for the program, hiring more administrative staff, and expanding eligible degrees. Currently, some of the accepted degrees are inclusive of Fire Prevention, Forensic Science, Criminal Justice, and Business Administration. Lastly, Richardson indicated that including peace officers could enable exempt employees to apply to CIP. Presently, the program is only available to classified employees. Senator Joseph mentioned that the purpose of the legislation is to retain the talent and training provided by the government for eligible individuals, so that there can be a return on the investment.

Separately, The Public Service Commission Executive Director Donald Cole shared an update. Currently, PSC does not receive Federal Funds nor are there federal entities that mandate the operation policies and procedures of PSC. Regarding the 2.3 cents rate increase per kilowatt-hour of the Levelized Energy Adjustment Clause, Cole mentioned that the Virgin Islands has the highest rates compared to the United States and its Territories. Furthermore, Cole noted that the 2.3 cent/kwh increase is valued at an estimated $5.75 million in additional costs to ratepayers per six-month period. Some of the challenges facing the PSC are inclusive of the poor financial condition of the Water and Power Authority and addressing and resolving customer service for wireless phone companies. Similarly, The Virgin Islands Bureau of Motor Vehicles Director Barbara Jackson-McIntosh shared that status of operations. Presently, BMV is in the process of concluding the FY 2021 goals and Key Performance Indicators. There are sixty authorized positions, out of those fifty-nine are filled and there is one vacancy, according to Jackson-McIntosh. Thus far, a total of $270,000 was awarded in federal monies to be used to secure the Information Technology Network from cyberattacks. Jackson-McIntosh noted that accomplishments are inclusive of rebuilding the St. Thomas office, expanding online services such as registration, drivers’ license renewals, license plates, and stickers.