Month: November 2021

St. Croix Direct Dial Phonelines Temporarily Down

St. Croix—Direct dial extension calls to the Legislature on St. Croix are currently experiencing a technical issue which has interrupted direct dial calls. The Legislature’s phone provider is working aggressively to rectify the issue.

However, all Legislative offices are available by phone through the main legislative number on St. Thomas which is 340-774-0880. The telephone operator will transfer all calls to the proper destinations. We do apologize for any inconvenience that this may have caused.

THE COMMITTEE ON GOVERNMENT OPERATIONS AND CONSUMER PROTECTION CONSIDERED TWO BILLS, THE BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH SHARES UPDATE

ST. THOMAS- Members of the Committee on Government Operations and Consumer Protection Chaired by Sen. Carla J. Joseph, held a meeting at the Capitol Building. The Committee considered two measures and was scheduled to receive testimony on the status of the operations for the Virgin Islands Bureau of Economic Research (BER) and the West Indian Company Limited (WICO), not limited to the enabling law and jurisdiction. However, officials representing WICO were absent.

Bill No.34-0146- An Act acknowledging and commemorating the memory of Mary Thomas, Axeline Salomon, Mathilde Mcbean, Susanna Abramson, and other estate laborers before, during, and after the Labor Uprising of 1878 or “Firebun” and their courageous pursuit of human rights, freedom from serfdom variant, and improvement of labor conditions in the former Danish West Indies, and condemning the excessive, cruel, and unjust punishment meted out to the laborers by the Danish Government. Furthermore, the measure requires that within 90 days after the enactment of this Act, the Governor shall appoint a five-member Advisory Committee. The Virgin Islands Council of the Arts shall work in conjunction with the Advisory Committee for the erection of a monument. The Advisory Committee shall take the lead in determining the location, design, materials for the monument, and the ceremony for the 145th-anniversary celebration, as stated on the bill. Sponsors of the bill are senators Javan E. James, Sr., Marvin A. Blyden, and Genevieve R. Whitaker. In support of the measure, Sen. Joseph shared remarks. “Mary Thomas, Axeline Salomon, Mathilde Mcbean, Susanna Abramson, and other estate laborers stood up and stood strong and fought vigorously for their beliefs. We have overcome so much as a people that we should never be ashamed of our past because it’s a significant part of our future,” Sen. Joseph said.

Separately, the Virgin Islands Bureau of Economic Research Director Allison DeGazon, Ph.D. shared an update on the operations of BER. DeGazon stated that the Bureau is an active and productive agency seeking to solidify Caribbean partnerships, catapult data usage, and economic development in the Territory to the 21st century. Some of the data collection-driven projects are inclusive of accessing the impact of the loss of the Limetree Bay Refinery which upon completion, was disseminated to the Legislature of the Virgin Islands. Furthermore, publishing monthly economic indicators for the Department of Tourism and establishing interagency data sharing with government agencies are also projects. Additionally, DeGazon mentioned that the primary focus of BER is to modernize the data storage systems with the guidance of a hired consultant. Previously, the data was outdated and inaccurate and the new system ensures accuracy while streamlining data access.

Lastly, policymakers received testimony on Bill No. 34-0150- An Act honoring and commending former Governor John Percy deJongh, Jr. for his significant service and contributions to the people of the Virgin Islands, and for his tireless efforts to help expand and grow the economy of the Virgin Islands and naming the walkway and improvements adjacent to the Veterans Drive Highway on the island of St. Thomas the “John deJongh, Jr. Promenade.” This bill is sponsored by senators Novelle E. Francis, Jr, and Donna A. Frett-Gregory. Members of the Cabinet that served during the deJongh Administration praised him for his outstanding contributions to the Territory. The Virgin Islands Port Authority Executive Director Carlton Dowe noted that the improvements along the Waterfront of Charlotte Amalie St. Thomas were a part of the deJongh Administration’s mission to enhance the aesthetics of downtown Charlotte Amalie. Former Chief of Staff to Governor deJongh, Louis Penn cited that additional accomplishments were inclusive of bringing high-speed internet services throughout the Territory by VINGN, reorganizing the Virgin Islands Emergency Management Agency, and completing the Christiansted by-pass highway on St. Croix.

Senators present at the meeting were Carla J. Joseph, Genevieve R. Whitaker, Donna A. Frett-Gregory, Javan E. James, Sr. Alma Francis Heyliger, and Novelle E. Francis, Jr.

###

BILL 34-0147-THE VIRGIN ISLANDS CROWN ACT FORWARDED

ST. THOMAS- Members of the Committee on Education and Workforce Development chaired by Senator Genevieve R. Whitaker, convened in a meeting at the Capitol Building. Lawmakers received testimony on a bill regarding The Virgin Islands Crown Act of 2021 to redefine discrimination against natural hairstyles and hair textures. Separately, the Virgin Islands Department of Education (DOE) and the Virgin Islands Board of Education (BOE) were scheduled to share an update on the plans for the 2022 School Re-opening. However, they were absent due to a previous engagement. Invited testifiers are ABA Consulting, Leader of the CROWN Coalition, Miss Naturalista, DOE, and BOE.

Lawmakers voted in the affirmative: Bill 34-0147- An Act amending the Virgin Islands Code Title 10, chapter 1, sections 2 and 3 relating to discrimination on account of the race to include discrimination based on hair texture and Title 17, chapter 3 relating to education to enact “The Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair Act” or “The Virgin Islands Crown Act of 2021.” The measure seeks to redefine discrimination in employment, housing, accommodations, and education on account of the race to include discrimination based on hair texture and protected hairstyles, such as braids, locks, twists, cornrows, Bantu knots, Afros, and other styles in which the hair is tightly coiled, or tightly curled, as stated on the bill. Sen. Whitaker stated that it’s unfortunate that this legislation must be considered today. Presently, this measure is being championed on both the national and global levels to end discrimination against hair textures.

ABA Consulting, Leader of the CROWN Coalition Founder and CEO Adjoa B. AsaMoah mentioned that there are countless cases against African American people who wear natural hairstyles. This form of racial discrimination includes individuals being fired and overlooked for a promotion due to their hairstyle. AsaMoah added that far too many children have missed school and had negative educational experiences due to this type of discrimination. One of the sponsors of the bill, Senator Alma Francis Heyliger noted that there are instances in which hair discrimination is used as a tool to be a barrier that can hinder African American people. Thus far, fourteen states enacted the Crown Act, and out of that five states codified the law. The Virgin Islands need to join this movement. In a written testimony submitted to the Legislature of the Virgin Islands, Tennessee Global Assembly State Senator Raumesh Akbari indicated that to this day many Black people are discriminated against by their natural hair and any protective hairstyles that they may wear, and this bill seeks to normalize Black hair in the workplace and end discrimination.

Senators attending the meeting were Genevieve R. Whitaker, Kurt A. Vialet, Donna A. Frett Gregory, Carla J. Joseph, Alma Francis Heyliger, Janelle K. Sarauw, and Milton E. Potter.

###

SENATORS APPROVED NOMINATIONS, RESOLUTIONS, ZONING MAP AMENDMENTS AND SEVERAL BILLS

ST. THOMAS- Members of the 34th Legislature, led by Senate President Donna A. Frett-Gregory, convened in Legislative Session at the Capitol Building and voted favorably for nominations to the Virgin Islands Board of Psychology Examiners, the Virgin Islands Board of Medical Examiners, the Virgin Islands Historic Preservation Commission, the Virgin Islands Board of General Construction Contractors, the University of the Virgin Islands Board of Trustees, and the Virgin Islands Police Department. Furthermore, lawmakers voted in the affirmative for several bills, resolutions, and zonings map amendments. All approved items will be forwarded to the Governor for further consideration.

Referring to the nominations and resolutions, Senator Frett-Gregory applauded the nominees for their willingness to serve on their appointed Boards. She cautioned Nominee Martinez, of the importance to remember that leaders stand on the back of those who came before them. A lot of policing strategies initiated by Former Police Commissioner Trevor Velinor are budding into fruition. “It is important to remember, but those who came before us, we are nothing,” Senator Frett-Gregory concluded. Overall, policymakers noted that the nominees are academically and professionally qualified to impact the Virgin Islands positively.

Governor Albert Bryan, Jr. sent the nominations to the Legislature of the Virgin Islands, set forth from Section (16) of the Revised Organic Act of 1954 and Title 3, Section 65a of the Virgin Islands Code. Ultimately, lawmakers voted affirmatively for the following nominations:
• Dr. Denese Marshall, Psy.D. for the V.I. Board of Psychology Examiners
• Semaj J. Johnson, Esq. for the V.I. Board of Medical Examiners
• William Newbold for the V.I. Historic Preservation Commission
• Laurence J. Richards, P.E., MBA for the V.I. Board of General Construction Contractors
• Oran Roebuck for the University of the Virgin Islands Board of Trustees
• Ray Martinez Commissioner for the V.I. Police Department

Similarly, senators voted in the affirmative for the following Resolutions:
• Bill No. 34-0061- A Resolution honoring and commending Mr. Hillary “Baga” Rezende for his many contributions to steelpan music and his dedicated service to the people of the Virgin Islands.
• Bill No. 34-0063- A Resolution honoring and commending St. Clair Alphonso “Whadablee” DeSilvia for his invaluable contribution to the continued development of Calypso music in the Virgin Islands.
• Bill No. 34-0064- A Resolution commending Athniel C. “Addie” Ottley for his tireless years of informing and educating the public on current and past community issues and by keeping the radio waves open in times of imminent danger to the community and for naming a roadway in his honor.
• Bill No. 34-0065- A Resolution honoring and commending Elridge Blake for his outstanding accomplishments in sports and contributions to the people of the Virgin Islands; naming the University of the Virgin Islands Sports and Fitness Center in his honor and appropriates $10,000 to cover the cost and upkeep of the signage.
• Bill No. 34-0074- A Resolution honoring and commending Holland L. Redfield II posthumously 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 awarding him the Virgin Islands Medal of Honor for Public Service posthumously.

Senators voted in the affirmative for the following Zoning Map Amendments:
• Bill No. 34-0158- An Act to rezone Plot No. 11-H Estate Montpellier, Queen Quarter, St. Croix, Virgin Islands, from R-1 (Residential-Low Density) to R-3 (Residential-Medium Density).
• Bill No. 34-0159- An Act to rezone Plot No. 59-A Estate Glynn, Queen Quarter, St. Croix, Virgin Islands, from C (Commercial) to B-3 (Business-Scattered).
• Bill No. 34-0160- An Act to rezone Plots Nos. 1-A Estate Little Princess, 1-H Estate Golden Rock, and Rem. Plot No. HA Estate Golden Rock, Company Quarter, St. Croix, Virgin Islands from R-1 (Residential-Low Density) to R-3 (Residential-Medium Density).
• Bill No. 34-0161- An Act to rezone Plot No. 48-A Estate La Vallee, Northside Quarter “B”, St. Croix, Virgin Islands from R-2 (Residential-Low Density-One and Two Family) to R-3 (Residential Medium Density).
• Bill No. 34-0162- An Act to rezone Plot No. 136 Estate St. George, Prince Quarter, St. Croix, Virgin Islands from R-2 (Residential-Low Density-One and Two Family) to B-3 (Business-Scattered).
• Bill No. 34-0163- An Act to rezone Parcel No. 10D Estate Mariendahl, No. 4 Red Hook Quarter, St. Thomas, Virgin Islands from R-2 (Residential-Low Density-One and Two Family) to B-3 (Business-Scattered).
• Bill No. 34-0164- An Act amending Official Zoning Map No. STZ-4 for the island of St. Thomas to change the zoning designation of Parcel Nos. 5-F-Rem. and 5-A-1 Estate Agnes Fancy, No. 8- H Great Northside Quarter, St. Thomas from R-1 (Residential-Low Density) to R-2 (Residential-Low Density-One and Two-Family).
• Bill No. 34-0165- An Act amending Official Zoning Map No. STZ-9 for the island of St. Thomas to change the zoning designation of Parcel No. 32 Remainder Estate Frydendahl, No. 4 East End Quarter, St. Thomas, Virgin Islands from B-4 (Business-Residential Areas) to B-3 (Business-Scattered).

Policymakers voted favorably for the following measures:
• Bill No. 34-0040- An Act amending Title 27, chapter 1 of the Virgin Islands Code by adding a new subchapter V(a) establishing the Nurse Licensure Compact to create a multistate nursing license.
• Bill No. 34-0047- An Act requiring the Department of Agriculture and the University of the Virgin Islands to create a plan to develop a community seed banking program to store and preserve seeds for preservation against climate change, natural disasters, and other situations that could lead to the total annihilation of crops, plants, and other fauna and flora
• Bill No. 34-0051- An Act amending Title 19 Virgin Islands Code, chapter 75, section 4201 relating to fluoridation of water to lower the required minimum amount of fluoride in freshwater distributed for public consumption or consumption in any schools in the Virgin Islands; amending title 17, chapter 10, section 111 relating to the school health program to include a dental program; including dental preventive services and a school-based fluoride rinse program; amending Title 27, chapter 1, subchapter II, section 67 relating to exemption from licensure by the Board of Dental Examiners to exempt dentists licensed in other states and students or residents in schools or colleges of dentistry engaged in dental assessment and preventive treatments under the auspices of the school dental program; amending Title 33, chapter 111 relating to government funds to add section 3100cc to establish the School-Based Dental Prevention and Treatment Fund.
• Bill No. 34-0053- An Act amending Virgin Islands Code, Title 17 chapter 5 by adding section 41i to establish the Emergency Medical Services Program; amending title 33, chapter 111 by adding section 3099a to establish the Emergency Medical Services High School Program Fund; and making a $160,000 appropriation from the Centennial Special Fund to the Department of Education to fund the Emergency Medical Services basic EMS education program.
• Bill No. 34-0062- An Act amending Title 3 Virgin Islands Code, chapter 5, section 65a relating to filling vacancies on boards and commissions by adding subsection (g) to require memberships on boards and commissions to be gender-balanced.
• Bill No. 34-0069- An Act amending the Virgin Islands Code, Title 3, chapter 9, section 134a relating to the Department of Public Works, Division of Capital Improvements by adding subsection (c) to define capital improvement project”; and amending Title 31, chapter 1, relating to the functions of the Commissioner of Public Works by adding a new subsection (b) and (c) to direct the Commissioner of Public Works to maintain a master contract for providing governmental entities with architectural and engineering services for construction, expansion, renovation, major maintenance, rehabilitation, or replacement projects that cost less than $500,000 over the life of the project and repealing Title 31, chapter 1, section 3.
• Bill No. 34-0078- An Act to transfer certain real property from the Government of the Virgin Islands to the Virgin Islands Port Authority; to require the Virgin Islands Port Authority to pay certain sums to the Education Maintenance Fund.
• Bill No. 34-0081- An Act amending Title 27 Virgin Islands Code, chapter 17 relating to barbering and cosmetology services to reflect the barbering and cosmetology services that are being currently offered and to rename the chapter and the Board to reflect the changes.
• Bill No. 34-0085- An Act amending the Virgin Islands Code, Title 14, section 192, relating to the importation of snakes and invasive species, to increase the fine for the unauthorized importation of snakes and to make technical amendments; amending title 12, section §81d, relating to the Fish and Wildlife Restoration Trust Fund, to extend the use of the fund to the regulation of the importation and control of non-indigenous evasive species; and amending Title 19 section 2709, relating to the prevention of the introduction of contagious or infectious animals, to provide that the quarantine of animals is at the owner’s expense.
• Bill No. 34-0097- An Act repealing and reenacting Title 17 Virgin Islands Code, chapter 11, section 130, relating to authority to discipline pupils in schools; and repealing Title 17 Virgin Islands Code, chapter 9, subchapter I, section 87, relating to the punishment of pupils by school officials.
• Bill No. 34-0099- An Act amending Title 3 Virgin Islands Code, chapter 25, sections 530 (g) and chapter 27, section 705(c), changing the mandatory retirement age of police officers, firefighters, and correction officers from 55 to 65.
• Bill No. 34-0089- An Act appropriating $920,000 to the Virgin Islands Port Authority for the construction of an aesthetically pleasing Cruz Bay fish market and to modify the existing concrete boat ramp and bulkhead at the Little Cruz Bay Dock, Cruz Bay Quarter; and appropriating $580,000 to the Department of Public Works for the construction of a boat dock and slipway at Enighed Pond on the island of St. John.

The Body also special order and approved:
• Bill No. 34-0145- An Act approving the conveyance of Parcels 5-E and 5-F all of VICORP Land, Prince Quarter, St. Croix, the Virgin Islands to the University of the Virgin Islands Research and Technology Park Corporation and for other related purposes; rezoning Remainder Parcel 5-E from A-1 (Agricultural Zone) to A-29 (Agricultural Zone); rezoning Parcel 5-F from A-1 to B-3 (Business-Scattered); and providing for other related purposes.
• Bill No. 34-0168- An Act amending Title 32 Virgin Islands Code, chapter 21, article VI, section 435, relating to the licensing of approved hotels under the Virgin Islands Casino and Resort Control Act by removing the licensing requirement that a Casino IV establishment has banquet facilities to accommodate a minimum of 400 persons.

Senators attending today’s Senate Session were: Donna A. Frett-Gregory, Novelle E. Francis, Jr., Genevieve R. Whitaker, Kurt A. Vialet, Franklin D. Johnson, Janette K. Sarauw, Samuel Carrión, Carla J. Joseph, Javan E. James, Sr., Marvin A. Blyden, Alma Francis Heyliger, and Steven D. Payne, Sr.

LAWMAKERS VET CONVEYANCE OF THE VICORP LAND TO UVI’S RESEARCH AND TECHNOLOGY PARK

ST. THOMAS – Members of the 34th Legislature, led by Senate President Donna A. Frett-Gregory convened in Committee of the Whole at the Frits E. Lawaetz Legislative Conference Room. Policymakers received testimony on Bill No. 34-0145- An Act approving the conveyance of Parcels 5-E and 5-F of VICORP Land, Prince Quarter, St. Croix, the Virgin Islands to the University of the Virgin Islands Research and Technology Park Corporation and for other related purposes; rezoning Remainder Parcel 5-E from A-1 (Agricultural Zone) to A-29 (Agricultural Zone); rezoning Parcel 5-F from A-1 to B-3 (Business-Scattered); and providing for other related purposes.

Invited testifiers included officials from the University of Virgin Islands Research and Technology Park, the Virgin Islands Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR), the Virgin Islands Department of Agriculture, Sejah Farm of the Virgin Islands, and the Virgin Islands Department of Property and Procurement. Lawmakers did not vote on the measure. However, action will be taken during the next scheduled Legislative Session.

The bill intends to authorize the rezoning to the subject property to develop a 26-acre mixed-use economic development Qualified Opportunity Zone project dedicated to agricultural research and technology, as stated on the bill. DPNR Assistant Commissioner Keith Richards noted that currently the A-1 zoning district has limited use for the UVI and Tech Park representatives. However, once amended the zoning districts will be aligned with the proposed use for the Technology Village, Agricultural Research, and the Processing Site. The sponsor of the bill, Novelle Francis, Jr. mentioned that it’s important to seize the opportunity with the RT Park Development project, an innovative approach to economic growth and jobs for the youths.

The UVI RT Park Tech Village, a $50 million project, features residential housing with 60 units, 18 acres of farming, a solar microgrid, a conference room with a 300-person capacity, a teaching hotel with 120 rooms, and 12,000 square feet of commercial space, according to Sydney Paul, RT Park Senior Manager of Business Intelligence and Marketing, and a principal member of the Tech Village project team. The project will be funded through private partnerships, the Farmer’s Grant Program, and the V.I. Disaster Recovery Project. Sharing the economic benefits, UVI RT Park Executive Director & CEO Peter Chapman added that the project will create 425 jobs; of which 300 are permanent agricultural jobs and 125 construction jobs. Furthermore, Chapman noted that revenues generated from the Tech Village will be reinvested into entrepreneurial and technical assistance programs for existing farmers and persons interested in a career in the Agricultural Industry. The Department of Agriculture Commissioner Positive Nelson recommended that instead of researching cassava, crops that are presently studied by UVI/CES should be the primary focus.

Despite the ongoing support of the measure by officials from UVI and various government departments, Sejah Farm of the Virgin Islands Owner Dale Brown expressed opposition to the bill. Brown stated that the farmland deemed for agricultural production that is used for a construction project is irreversible. Additionally, similar agreements in the future, can place farmers at a disadvantage especially if the farmer does not have a lease agreement.

Senator Frett-Gregory mentioned that economic development is crucial to rebuilding the Territory. “We must grasp this opportunity that has revenue-generating capabilities on St. Croix. However, we need to know that this is going to happen, and that the project will come to fruition in the next few years.”

Senators attending the meeting: Donna A. Frett-Gregory, Novelle E. Francis, Jr., Genevieve R. Whitaker, Kurt A. Vialet, Franklin D. Johnson, Samuel Carrión, Carla J. Joseph, Javan E. James, Marvin A. Blyden, and Alma Francis Heyliger.

 

###

 

Rules Committee Approves Several Bills

ST. CROIX- Members of the Committee on Rules and Judiciary chaired by Senator Milton E. Potter convened in a meeting at the Frits E. Lawaetz Legislative Conference Room. Lawmakers received testimony on two bills regarding the authority to discipline pupils in school and to require Boards and Commissions to be gender-balanced. Additionally, senators voted on several measures.
Senators voted favorably for Bill No. 34-0097- An Act repealing and reenacting Title 17 Virgin Islands Code, chapter 11, section 130, relating to authority to discipline pupils in schools, and repealing Title 17 Virgin Islands Code, chapter 9, subchapter I, section 87, relating to the punishment of pupils by school officials. The bill is sponsored by Senators Janelle K. Sarauw and Genevieve R. Whitaker. The Virgin Islands Board of Education (VIBE) Chairman Kyza Callwood noted that VIBE currently advocates the use of restorative practices versus emphasis on suspensions, expulsions, and severe punitive actions which deny access to educational opportunities. Furthermore, Callwood mentioned that VIBE is in the process of revising the discipline policy to restorative justice principles with greater protection for students with disabilities.
Similarly, policymakers voted favorably for Bill No. 34-0062- An Act amending Title 3 Virgin Islands Code, chapter 5, section 65a relating to filling vacancies on boards and commissions by adding subsection (g) to require memberships on boards and commissions to be gender-balanced. The measure is sponsored by Senator Genevieve R. Whitaker. The New Horizon Women’s Democratic Club, Inc. President Abelle Bakr stated that the Virgin Islands has over 100 Boards and Commissions. Having a balance on boards on Boards and Commissions as well as major leadership roles is more important than ever. Senator Potter voiced his concern with the bill. “I understand and recognize to find qualified and competent persons to serve and work. What this bill does is make a bad situation a bit more challenging by finding a gender-balanced person to complete the board versus selecting a qualified individual. I don’t think we have issues with recognizing strong leadership irrespective of gender.
Separately, senators voted in the affirmative for the following:
• Bill No. 34-0047- An Act requiring the Department of Agriculture and the University of the Virgin Islands to create a plan to develop a community seed banking program to store and preserve seeds for preservation against climate change, natural disasters and other situations that could lead to total annihilation of crops, plants and other fauna and flora. (Sponsored by: Senators Samuel Carrión and Marvin A. Blyden. Co-Sponsored by: Senator Milton E. Potter)
• Bill No. 34-0099- An Act amending title 3 Virgin Islands Code, chapter 25, sections 530 (g) and chapter 27, section 705(c), changing the mandatory retirement age of police officers, firefighters and correction officers from 55 to 65. (Sponsored by Senators: Dwayne M. DeGraff and Novelle E. Francis, Jr.
• Bill No. 34-0089- An Act appropriating $920,000 to the Virgin Islands Port Authority for the construction of an aesthetically pleasing Cruz Bay fish market and to modify the existing concrete boat ramp and bulkhead at the Little Cruz Bay Dock, Cruz Bay Quarter; and appropriating $580,000 to the Department of Public Works for the construction of a boat dock and slipway at Enighed Pond on the island of St. John. (Sponsored by: Senators Steven D. Payne, Sr., Janelle K. Sarauw, Dwayne M. DeGraff, Alma Francis Heyliger and Kenneth L. Gittens Co-sponsor: Javan E. James, Sr.)
• Bill No. 34-0081- An Act amending title 27 Virgin Islands Code, chapter 17 relating to barbering and cosmetology services to reflect the barbering and cosmetology services that are being currently offered and to rename the chapter and the Board to reflect the changes. (Sponsored by: Senator Novelle E. Francis, Jr.)

However, lawmakers voted to hold in committee until the call of the chair:
• Bill No. 34-0072- An Act amending title 23 Virgin Islands Code, chapter 5. providing for the declaration of firearm components upon their entry into the Virgin Islands, and other related purposes. (Sponsored by: Senator Dwayne M. DeGraff)

Senators attending the meeting: Milton E. Potter, Novelle E. Francis, Jr., Carla J. Joseph, Sammuel Carrión, Kurt A. Vialet, Franklin D. Johnson, Javan E. James, Genevieve R. Whitaker, Janelle K. Sarauw, Steven D. Payne, Alma Francis Heyliger, and Donna A. Frett-Gregory.

BILL TO STRENGTHEN CAPITAL IMPROVEMENT PROJECTS FORWARDED, VIHFA SHARES STATUS OF THE EMERGENCY RENTAL ASSISTANCE PROGRAM

ST. CROIX- Members of the Committee on Housing, Transportation, Telecommunications chaired by Senator Marvin Blyden, held a meeting at the Fritz E. Lawaetz Legislative Conference Room. Lawmakers received testimony on measures including a bill relating to the Virgin Islands Department of Public Works Division of Capital Improvements. Separately, officials from the Virgin Islands Department of Housing Finance Authority (VIHFA) shared an update on the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP). 

“We have an ambitious agenda today. We will be hearing three bills that seek to have a positive impact on our roads and sidewalks, to facilitate the procurement of architectural & engineering for certain capital improvement projects for the Government of the Virgin Islands, and to create certain set-asides for first responders in the affordable housing program in the Territory,” Senator Blyden said.   

Committee members voted favorably for Bill No. 34-0069- An Act amending the Virgin Islands Code, Title 3, chapter 9, section 134a relating to the Department of Public Works, Division of Capital Improvements by adding subsection (c) to define capital improvement project;” and amending Title 31, chapter 1, relating to the functions of the Commissioner of Public Works by adding a new subsections (b) and (c) to direct the Commissioner of Public Works to maintain a master contract for providing governmental entities with architectural and engineering services for construction, expansion, renovation, major maintenance, rehabilitation, or replacement projects that cost less than $500,000 over the life of the project. Sen. Donna Frett-Gregory is the sponsor of the bill. In support of the measure, the Department of Property and Procurement Commissioner Anthony Thomas stated that the proposed changes will eliminate the need to solicit services on a department-by-department basis every time there is a need for architectural/engineering services. Concurringly, the Department of Public Works Commissioner Derek Gabriel stated that a master services task order contract allows the provision of engineering, design, construction management, and inspection services for the projects under the newly implemented half-million-dollar threshold set for capital improvement projects. Gabriel recommended that approximately 17% of the estimated project cost be allocated for frontend engineering, design services, construction management, and inspections. 

Separately, policymakers voted in the affirmative for Bill No. 34-0087- An Act providing for a Complete Streets Policy and creating a Complete Streets Task Force within the Department of Public Works to aid in the development and implementation of strategies to increase the usability of all streets for all modes of travel for citizens of all ages and abilities in the Virgin Islands. However, the following measure was held in committee at the call of the chair: Bill No. 34-0029- An Act amending Title 29 Virgin Islands Code, chapter 16, subchapter II, section 945(a)(1) relating to the Virgin Islands Affordable Housing Program to provide for a set-aside of affordable housing for first responders. 

Lastly, the Virgin Islands Department of Housing Finance Authority Executive Director Daryl Griffith shared the status of the Emergency Rental Assistance Program. A total of $39 million was awarded to the Virgin Islands for ERAP in two rounds. The first deadline for the expenditure of the funds is September 30, 2022, and the second is September 3, 2025. Griffith mentioned that presently, VIHFA processed payments for 100 ERAP clients. A total of $789,702.69 of rental assistance payments were processed with $7,897.03 issued per client. However, Griffith stated some challenges with ERAP consist of staff shortages, incomplete applications, and ongoing updates to federal guidelines and procedures. 

Senators present at the hearing: Marvin Blyden, Steven D. Payne Sr., Dwayne M. DeGraff, Novelle E. Francis Jr., Kurt A. Vialet, Samuel Carrion, Genevieve R. Whitaker, and Donna A. Frett-Gregory.

###

34th Legislature Salutes Our Veterans for Their Valor and Dedication to our Great Country

St. Thomas—On this Veterans Day, the members and staff of the 34th Legislature join the nation in honoring and celebrating the men and women who have answered the call to duty to serve as a member of the United States Armed Forces.

We are reminded every Veterans Day, that there is a price to the freedom we sometimes take for granted and that price is paid by the brave men and women in our armed forces. The courage and bravery of our veterans must be applauded. In observance of Veterans Day, Senate President Donna A. Frett-Gregory said, “There are veterans in every neighborhood of our territory, let us thank them, not just today but for tomorrows to come. For it is because of them, that we can live the life we live.”

Veterans Day activities will take place tomorrow on St. Croix and St. Thomas. “This Veterans Day, we pause and say thank you, thank you for your selflessness, thank you for your service,” concluded Senate President Frett-Gregory.

Senator Donna Frett-Gregory to serve on the Executive Committee of the National Conference of State Legislatures

St. Thomas, USVI – Senate President Donna Frett-Gregory announced today her appointment to serve on the Executive Committee of the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). NCSL is a national organization that represents legislatures in the states, territories, and commonwealths of the United States. Its mission is to advance the effectiveness, independence, and integrity of legislatures in support of state sovereignty and protection from unfunded federal mandates.

The Executive Committee is NCSL’s elected, governing body. The Executive Committee and conference officers have supervision, control and direction of the affairs of the conference, its committees and publications. It also implements the policies and supervises the disbursement of its funds for the organization. Through NCSL, state, territorial and commonwealth legislators have the opportunity to network, share information and obtain experience-based ideas from other jurisdictions to enact legislation.

“NCSL is a great organization that offers many beneficial resources to lawmakers and their staff,” said Frett-Gregory. “Just recently NCSL assisted with hosting the V.I. Legislative Cannabis Summit, where 12 of my colleagues along with the Governor and members of his team got greater insight into the cannabis industry.”

Senator Frett-Gregory was elected during the 2021 National Conference of State Legislatures Summit in Tampa, Florida. Members of the NCSL Executive Committee serve for one year and are eligible to serve a maximum of three years. “It is a tremendous honor to serve on the executive committee. I’m looking forward to working with leaders from across the country to help steer NCSL’s work this coming year specifically focusing on the needs of our territories and commonwealths,” concluded Frett-Gregory