Category: News

Legislature to Convene on Monday, January 24, 2022 and Host the Governor’s 4th State of the Territory Address

ST. THOMAS – The 34th Legislature will convene into regular session on Monday, January 24, 2022, at 11:00 a.m. to consider Bill No. 34-0187 which is an Act changing the date for commencing the 2022 Regular Session of the Legislature of the Virgin Islands to January 24, 2022. Senate President Donna Frett-Gregory will reconvene the Session at 7:00 p.m. to receive the Governor for the Virgin Islands as he delivers his fourth State of the Territory Address.
Senate President Donna Frett-Gregory is hopeful that the Governor will discuss strategy to address critical issues facing the territory. “I am looking forward to hearing plans surrounding education, the economy, infrastructure, ongoing recovery efforts and improvements to our healthcare system.” stated Frett-Gregory.
Due to COVID-19 protocols, access to the Legislature is restricted to invited guests. All persons in attendance will be required to present a negative COVID-19 test prior to entry into the Earle B. Ottley Legislative Hall and masks must be worn for the duration of the session.
The public can access the proceedings on Viya’s Channel 26 and 27 on Viya, WTJX Channel 12 on Viya and Dish; on radio at 91.9FM, 93.1FM, 107.9FM and 970AM, 1620AM, 103.5FM, 90.7FM (St. Kitts); over the internet livestream at www.legvi.org, and via social media platforms such as USVI Legislature on Facebook and YouTube.

BILLS HONORING IVANNA EUDORA KEAN HIGH SCHOOL 50TH ANNIVERSARY AND GLORIA H. CANEGATA WATERMAN, AND OTHER MEASURES FORWARDED

ST. THOMAS- Members of the Committee on Government Operations and Consumer Protection chaired by Senator Carla J. Joseph, convened in a meeting at the Capitol Building. Policymakers voted on six (6) measures including resolutions honoring and commending the 50th Year Anniversary of the Ivanna Eudora Kean High School (IEKHS) and Gloria H. Canegata Waterman for her outstanding contributions to the Virgin Islands.

Lawmakers voted in the affirmative for Bill No. 34-0174- A Resolution commending the Ivanna Eudora Kean High School on St. Thomas, the Virgin Islands on the occasion of the commemoration of its 50th Anniversary (1971-2021) and acknowledging the many accomplishments of the administrators, teachers, and students. The school was previously named Nazareth Bay High School and was renamed the Ivanna Eudora Kean High for the past 50 years. The bill is sponsored by Senators Steven D. Payne, Sr., and Carla J. Joseph. Senator Joseph, IEKHS alumni of the Class of 1988 indicated that “we inherited the struggle, but we did not sit back and endure it silently. We had superior instructors who were a part of our extended family.” Former Teacher and Principal Sinclair Wilkinson stated that although IEKHS evolved from a mode of survival to one that is now the premier high school in the U.S. Virgin Islands, it is important to continue to expand the school. Wilkinson recommended that to ensure the building space is fully utilized, structural repairs are needed in areas damaged by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Furthermore, IEKHS needs an auditorium, a museum to hold Archives/Hall of Fame, and a State-of-the-Art Vocational Education Program for students.

Similarly, senators voted favorably for Bill No. 34-0157- A Resolution honoring and commending Gloria H. Canegata Waterman for her outstanding years of service to the Virgin Islands Community as an educator and public servant through various organizations. The bill is sponsored by Senators Kenneth L. Gittens and Genevieve R. Whitaker. Gizette Canegata Thomas, Waterman’s daughter, mentioned that because of Gloria H. Canegata Waterman’s noteworthy public record and community-service involvement she is worthy of permanent documentation in the history of the Virgin Islands. In a written testimony submitted to the Legislature by Former Governor Charles Wesley Turnbull it was noted that during his tenure as Governor, Waterman served in the positions such as the Assistant to the Governor and eventually served with distinction as the Administrator for St. Croix.

Separately, policymakers voted and approved for Bill No. 34-0153- An Act establishing the Sixth Constitutional Convention of the Virgin Islands, and providing for an appropriation to cover convention-related expenses. The measure is sponsored by Senators Janelle K. Sarauw and Genevieve R. Whitaker. Previously, the five constitutional conventions purposed to establish a Constitution for the Virgin Islands were unsuccessful. None of the drafts were successful in being adopted as the Constitution for the Virgin Islands. In support of the measure, former Senator Myron Jackson noted that this is a small step towards political maturity and self-government. The quest for self-determination should and must continue and efforts for an educational campaign for our people at home and abroad is also critical in achieving that goal. However, St. Croix Resident Russell Christopher expressed opposition to the bill. Christopher mentioned that to convene a Sixth Constitutional Convention of the Virgin Islands and not address previous concerns of the United States Department of Justice (USDOJ) can be time and cost-effective and would be in violation of the laws of the Constitution of the United States.

Lastly, senators voted and approved the following:

  • Bill No. 34-0182- An Act amending Title 31 Virgin Islands Code, chapter 1, section 4, relating to the naming of real and personal property of the Government of the Virgin Islands after persons, to exempt the University of the Virgin Islands from the requirement of obtaining legislative approval before naming any property of the University of the Virgin Islands. The bill is sponsored by Senator Marvin A. Blyden.
  • 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. The bill is sponsored by Senators Javan E. James, Sr., Marvin A. Blyden, and Genevieve R. Whitaker.
  • Bill No. 34-0090- An Act amending Title 3 Virgin Islands Code, chapter 25, subchapter V, section 570 relating to the Career Incentive Program 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 Senators Milton E. Potter and Javan E. James, Sr.

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

 

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BILL TO ESTABLISH RESPONSIBLE FATHERHOOD ACT ADVANCES, HOSPITALS SHARE OVERVIEW

ST. CROIX- Members of the Committee on Health, Hospitals, and Human Services chaired by Senator Novelle E. Francis convened in a meeting at the Frits E. Lawaetz Legislative Conference Room. Senators voted in the affirmative for Bill 34-0055- An Act amending Title Virgin Islands Code by adding a new chapter 4 to be known as the “Responsible Fatherhood Act.” Separately, lawmakers received testimony on an overview of the Governor Juan F. Luis Hospital and Medical Center and the Schneider Regional Medical Center (SRMC). The approved item will be forwarded to the Committee on Rules and Judiciary for further consideration.

The measure seeks to create the Council on Responsible Fatherhood within the Virgin Islands Department of Human Services (DHS). The Council is charged with various responsibilities designed to increase the involvement of fathers in the lives of their children and their families. The Responsible Fathers’ Fund is also created to fund the operation and initiatives of the Council, as stated on the bill. The Mission Project Chief Executive Officer and Founder Carlton Stevens indicated that the Fatherhood Council will be ideal for enabling the Territory to create an independent forum to test ideas, strategize, and receive counsel from experts regarding fatherhood initiatives. Senator Milton E. Potter, the bill sponsor, noted that there are many public assistance programs but oftentimes the need to foster and support the positive roles of fathers is overlooked. This Act is an attempt to shine a bright light on fatherhood in the Territory. DHS Assistant Commissioner Michal Rhymer-Browne mentioned that DHS is funded by the Federal Government with federal grants with guidelines that mandate the promotion of responsible fatherhood and positive family engagement in local programs. Rhymer-Browne added that financial contributions locally can also assist in growing the programs.

Governor Juan F. Luis Hospital and Medical Center Chief Executive Officer Douglas E. Koch shared an update. To mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic, Koch stated that renovations to the Intensive Care Unit were completed, the second floor was reopened to expand the number of available beds, and the emergency room and patient rooms continue to be deep-cleaned. Additional projects are inclusive of repairing the visitor’s elevators, generators, and air handler roof, installing the medical vacuum pump and motor, and repairing laboratory equipment. From January 1st-10th, Koch noted that a total of 347 patients were seen in the emergency room, and out of that 137 were patients infected with COVID-19. To date, JFL continues to remain in accreditation from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Virgin Islands Department of Health.

Similarly sharing an update, the Schneider Regional Medical Center Interim Chief Executive Officer Attorney Tina M. Comissiong mentioned that approximately 15,040 patients were seen from 2020 to present in the Emergency Room, an estimated 10,000 patients received outpatient hemodialysis treatments, and there were 23,000 outpatient services at SRMC. Despite ongoing patient care, Comissiong noted that some of the biggest challenges are severe staff shortages and the inability to retain staff due to the lack of competitive salaries compared to lucrative travel contracts nationwide.  Presently, SRMC has 83 nurses out of the 149 hired as permanent staff. Similarly, there are only 7 out of 21 permanent registered nurses required to work in the emergency room. Sen. Francis inquired about how the vaccine mandate affected the number of staff at the hospitals. In response, the Virgin Islands Government Hospital and Health Facilities Corporation Chairman Christopher Finch noted that at SRMC 90% of the staff are vaccinated while JFL only has 87% who are vaccinated.

Senator Francis stated that the purpose of the hearing is to get a level of understanding in order for lawmakers to move forward in lending assistance to improving the healthcare system. Regardless of the situation, Virgin Islanders rely heavily on hospitals and medical facilities in the Virgin Islands. “We are appreciative of the work medical professionals are doing in our communities.” Ultimately, the committee recessed and is expected to reconvene in the coming weeks to receive an update from the Department of Human Services.

Senators attending the meeting: Novelle E. Francis, Jr., Donna A. Frett-Gregory, Genevieve R. Whitaker, Kurt A. Vialet, Samuel Carrión, Carla J. Joseph, Kenneth L. Gittens, Alma Francis Heyliger, Janelle K. Sarauw, and Milton E. Potter.

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LAWMAKERS UPDATED ON THE AMERICAN RESCUE PLAN ACT

ST. THOMAS- Members of the Committee on Disaster Recovery and Infrastructure, chaired by Senator Janelle K. Sarauw, convened in a meeting at the Capitol Building, to receive testimony on the status of the proposed infrastructure plans and implementation regarding the funding obligated to the Government of the Virgin Islands under the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). The invited testifiers were officials from the Virgin Islands Office of Management and Budget (OMB).
“It was important for us to have a discussion on the use of the American Rescue Plan Act because the people in the Territory should be aware of what is happening with those funds as it impacts affordable housing, healthcare, and education. This hearing brings a level of accountability,” said Sen. Sarauw.
In October 2021, OMB submitted to the United States Treasury the 2021 Recovery Plan Performance Report per the requirement of the Interim Final Rule, according to OMB Director Jenifer O’Neal. The report detailed the action plan for the Government of the Virgin Islands to utilize funding allocated from the American Rescue Plan Act. Some of the goals consist of improving the quality of life for residents, mitigating COVID-19 in the community, crime reduction, and providing educational, emotional, and economic support to vulnerable populations. Furthermore, O’Neal mentioned that the ARPA funds are to be utilized to establish affordable housing developments, increase workforce development, subsidized housing programs, and assist economic support programs.
Thus far, a total of $531,260,477 out of $547,176,884 of the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (SLFRF) established by ARPA were received, according to O’Neal, who shared the general breakdown of the funds. The monies are inclusive of the Coronavirus State Fiscal Recovery Fund totaling $515,344,070, the Non-Entitlement Unit allocation of $5,582,445, and the Coronavirus Local Fiscal Recovery Funds totaling $10,333,962. Additionally, O’Neal indicated that $615,639,271 out of $746,395,614 for funding from the territorial and direct recipient grants were received. GVI is slated to receive the remaining balance of $15,916,407 from the Non-Entitlement Unit allocation. O’Neal noted that as of December 31, 2021, GVI expended $17,186,521.16. Senator Kurt Vialet stated that full transparency of how GVI expends the $547,176,884 over the upcoming fiscal years is significant. As legislators, it is important to ensure that several infrastructure repairs are completed and be able to supplement the budget of GVI as necessary.
Regarding the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, O’Neal indicated that the major expenditure categories are budgeted as follows: $81,750,000 for Public Health, $33,667,070 for Negative Impacts, Services to Disproportionately Impacted Communities, $46,000,000 for Premium Pay, $163,227,000 for Infrastructure, $180,700,000 for Revenue Replacement, and $1,832,814 for administrative costs of GVI.
However, O’Neal cautioned that ARPA monies cannot be used to fund debt service, reductions in net tax revenue resulting from tax cuts, or to provide a significant contribution to a pension fund.
Senators attending the meeting: Janelle K. Sarauw, Donna A. Frett-Gregory, Novelle E. Francis, Jr., Genevieve R. Whitaker, Kenneth L. Gittens, Kurt A. Vialet, Samuel Carrión, Carla J. Joseph, and Alma Francis Heyliger, Franklin D. Johnson and Javan E. James, Sr.

Senate President Donna Frett-Gregory and Senator Alma Francis Heyliger meet with Congressman Rodney Davis – Ranking Member, Committee on House Administration

St. Thomas, USVI (United States Virgin Islands) – Today Senate President Donna A. Frett-Gregory along with
Senator Alma Francis Heyliger met with Congressman Rodney Davis, Ranking Member, Committee on House
Administration at the Capitol Building in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. The Committee on House Administration
is responsible for overseeing the day-to-day operations of the House and federal elections. Ranking Member Davis
is currently serving his fourth term in Congress representing the 13th District of Illinois.
It is always important as legislators that we connect with elected leaders on the national level to garner support of
our territory’s needs. “It was a pleasure meeting with Ranking Member Davis and engaging in robust discussion
surrounding election reform,” stated Senate President Frett-Gregory. Also discussed during the meeting was the
coronavirus and its impact on the territory, and the federal stimulus bills enacted by Congress.
Senator Francis Heyliger shared several pieces of proposed legislation on election reform to include expanded early
voting, no excuse absentee voting, and election records laws which is intended to make elections more transparent
to the electorate. “Giving our residents greater access to the polls and providing greater transparency in the election
process is of paramount importance,” stated Senator Francis Heyliger.
Ranking Member Davis also discussed legislation he sponsored and is included in the CARES Act passed in 2020,
the Employer Participation in Repayment Act. Under the act, employers can make tax-free student loan payments
on behalf of their employees, up to $5,250 per year.
President Frett-Gregory and Senator Francis Heyliger are urging local business owners, economic development
beneficiaries, and corporations within the territory to take advantage of this valuable program. Not only does this
program benefit employees by assisting with their long-term student loan debt, but it also provides tax incentives
to the participating businesses.
This is a perfect opportunity for businesses in the territory to support their employees. “Both Senator Francis
Heyliger and I recognize the Employer Participation in Repayment Act is an incentive for businesses in the territory
to attract and retain talent. Businesses are strongly encouraged to consider incorporating this program in their
business model,” concluded Frett-Gregory. This opportunity sunsets in 2025.
To learn more about the program visit irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p15b.pdf (Pages 10-11)

NOMINATION FOR THE DIVISION OF PERSONNEL, ZONING MAP AMENDMENTS, AND BILLS APPROVED

THOMAS- Members of the 34th Legislature, led by Senate President Donna A. Frett-Gregory, convened in Legislative Session at the Capitol Building. Senators voted in the affirmative for a nominee, zonings map amendments, and several bills. All approved items will be forwarded to the Governor for further consideration.

Referring to the nomination of Cindy Richardson to become the Director of the Virgin Islands Division of Personnel, Senator Frett-Gregory stated that “Initially, my concerns and inquiries pertained to what were Richardson’s vision, goals, and the legacy she would leave behind. In response, Richardson outlined very effectively, strategies for each one.” Overall, policymakers concurred that Richardson has many years of experience and is professionally qualified to make a significant impact on the Virgin Islands. Governor Albert Bryan, Jr. sent the nomination 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 favorably for the nomination. 

Lawmakers voted and approved the Zoning Map Amendments between the Government of the Virgin Islands (GVI) and the Antilles Gas Corporation, the Hearts in Service Association, freight forwarding services, a convenient store and deli, restaurants, and apartments. Additionally, policymakers considered bills regarding the option of a marital surname, applying the Hotel Room Tax to travel organizations that offer overnight accommodations, and protecting the tenure of the Assistant Attorney Generals. Lastly, senators voted on measures about school truancy, the Fiscal Year 2022 budget for the University of the Virgin Islands, and ratifying the agreement between GVI and the Medical Health Insurance. 

Ultimately, the following measures received a favorable recommendation: 

  • Bill No. 34-0169- 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 Antilles Gas Corporation for the leasing of Parcels Nos. 3 and 19 Submarine Base, No. 6 Southside Quarter, St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. 
  • Bill No. 34-0172- 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 the Hearts in Service Association, Inc. for the leasing of Parcel No. 175C Estate Anna’s Retreat, No. 1 New Quarter, St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. 
  • Bill No. 34-0177- An Act granting a use variance for Plot Nos. 167 and 168 Estate Clifton Hill, King Quarter, St. Croix from R-2 (Residential-Low Density-One and Two-Family) zoning designation requirements to allow for a for freight forwarding services business with restrictions.  All other requirements of the R-2 (Residential-Low Density-One and Two-Family) zoning designation will continue to apply to the property. 
  • Bill No. 34-0178- An Act granting a use variance for Plot No. 96 Estate Profit, King Quarter, St. Croix from R-4 (Residential-Medium Density) zoning designation requirements to allow for a convenience store and deli. All other requirements of the R-4 (Residential-Medium Density) zoning designation will continue to apply to the property. 
  • Bill No. 34-0179- An Act rezoning Parcel No. 22-H-1 Estate Enighed, No. 1 Cruz Bay Quarter, St. John be rezoned from R-2 (Residential-Low Density-One and Two Family) to B-3 (Business-Scattered). 
  • Bill No. 34-0180- An Act granting a use variance for Parcel No. 3-4 Estate Beverhoudtsberg, No. 7 Cruz Bay Quarter, St. John from R-1 (Residential-Low Density) zoning designation requirements to allow a restaurant and apartments. All other requirements of the R-1 (Residential-Low Density) zoning designation will continue to apply to the property. 
  • Bill No. 34-0181- An Act rezoning Parcel No. 11-16 Estate Contant, 7BA Southside Quarter, St. Thomas be rezoned from R-2 (Residential-Low Density-One and Two Family) to R-3 (Residential-Medium Density). 
  • Bill No. 34-0035- An Act repealing Title 16 Virgin Islands Code, chapter 1, subchapter III, section 61 requiring a wife to bear the surname of her husband.Bill No. 34-0070- An Act amending Title 33 Virgin Islands Code, subtitle 1, part I, chapter 3, section 54 relating to the remittance of the hotel room tax to the Government of the Virgin Islands to expand the definition of hotelkeeper or innkeeper for purposes of persons required to remit the hotel room taxes to the Government; adding a definition or “person”; to establish additional penalties for failure to remit room taxes timely; requiring the Director of the Virgin Islands Bureau of Internal Revenue, with the assistance of the Commissioner of Tourism, to commence making efforts to enter into an agreement for collection and remittance of the Hotel Room Tax by business entities deemed to be doing business in the Territory. 
  • Bill No. 34-0107- An Act amending Title 3 Virgin Islands Code, chapter 8, section 113, subsection (a) relating to the tenure of Assistant Attorneys General within the Virgin Islands Department of Justice to require that termination maybe only for cause and after notice and opportunity to be heard. 
  • Bill No. 34-0144- An Act amending Title 17 Virgin Islands Code, chapter 9, section 86 relating to school truancy to provide procedures for addressing unexcused absences from school and providing for related purposes. 
  • Bill No. 34-0173- An Act amending Act No. 8479 to adjust the Fiscal Year 2022 budget for the University of the Virgin Islands; and making an appropriation of $280,660 for employment tax on the restoration of 8% of salaries owed to the employees of the University of the Virgin Islands. 
  • Bill No. 34-0183- An Act ratifying and approving the Third Amendment to the Agreement for Medical Health Insurance between the Government of the Virgin Islands, through the GESC Health Insurance Board of Trustees, the University of the Virgin Islands, and the Virgin Islands Housing Authority, and UnitedHealthcare Insurance Company and its affiliates, dated January 1, 2022. 
  • Bill No. 34-0035- An Act repealing Title 16 Virgin Islands Code, chapter 1, subchapter III, section 61 requiring a wife to bear the surname of her husband. 
  • Bill No. 34-0070- An Act amending Title 33 Virgin Islands Code, subtitle 1, part I, chapter 3, section 54 relating to the remittance of the hotel room tax to the Government of the Virgin Islands to expand the definition of hotelkeeper or innkeeper for purposes of persons required to remit the hotel room taxes to the Government; adding a definition or “person”; to establish additional penalties for failure to remit room taxes timely; requiring the Director of the Virgin Islands Bureau of Internal Revenue, with the assistance of the Commissioner of Tourism, to commence making efforts to enter into an agreement for collection and remittance of the Hotel Room Tax by business entities deemed to be doing business in the Territory.  
  • Bill No. 34-0107-An Act amending Title 3 Virgin Islands Code, chapter 8, section 113, subsection (a) relating to the tenure of Assistant Attorneys General within the Virgin Islands Department of Justice to require that termination maybe only for cause and after notice and opportunity to be heard. 
  • Bill No. 34-0144- An Act amending Title 17 Virgin Islands Code, chapter 9, section 86 relating to school truancy to provide procedures for addressing unexcused absences from school and providing for related purposes.  
  • Bill No. 34-0173- An Act amending Act No. 8479 to adjust the Fiscal Year 2022 budget for the University of the Virgin Islands and making an appropriation of $280,660 for employment tax on the restoration of 8% of salaries owed to the employees of the University of the Virgin Islands. 
  • Bill No. 34-0183- An Act ratifying and approving the Third Amendment to the Agreement for Medical Health Insurance between the Government of the Virgin Islands, through the GESC Health Insurance Board of Trustees, the University of the Virgin Islands, and the Virgin Islands Housing Authority, and UnitedHealthcare Insurance Company and its affiliates, dated January 1, 2022. 
  • Bill No. 34-0185- A Resolution to impose sanctions against Senator Marvin A. Blyden for violating the Standards of Ethical Conduct of the Thirty-fourth Legislature of the Virgin Islands.  

However, senators removed from the agenda: Bill No. 34-0184- An Act amending Official Zoning Map No. SCZ-12 for the island of St. Croix to change the zoning designation of Plot Nos. 174 and 175 Estate Peter’s Rest, Queen Quarter, St. Croix, Virgin Islands from R-2 (Residential-Low Density-One and Two Family) to B-1 (Business-Central Business District). 

Senators attending today’s session: Donna A. Frett-Gregory, Novelle E. Francis, Jr., Genevieve R. Whitaker, Kurt A. Vialet, Franklin D. Johnson, Samuel Carrión, Carla J. Joseph, Marvin A. Blyden, Dwayne M. DeGraff, Kenneth L. Gittens, Alma Francis Heyliger, Milton E. Potter, Janelle K. Sarauw.   

 

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BILL FOR THE BOARD OF ELECTIONS TO STORE DOCUMENTS IN AN ELECTRONIC FORMAT HELD IN COMMITTEE, OTHER BILLS FORWARDED

ST. THOMAS- Members of the Committee on Rules and Judiciary chaired by Sen. Milton E. Potter, convened a meeting at the Capitol Building. Lawmakers voted on several measures including 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. All items approved will be forwarded to the Full Body for further consideration.

The measure seeks to update 18 V.I.C. § 53 which was originally enacted in 1963, to incorporate advances in technology as of 2021.  The bill requires that in addition to paper records, the Board of Elections must store documents in an electronic format, and the electronic records must be accessible for public inspection and copying, as stated on the bill. The Sponsor of the bill Senator Alma Francis Heyliger noted that the primary factors of the measure are inclusive of public trust and public access to the information online that is provided by the Board of Elections. However, the Election System of the Virgin Islands Supervisor of Elections Caroline Fawkes stated that the Office of the Supervisor opposes the bill for several reasons. Fawkes indicated that the Legislature of the Virgin Islands cannot legislate operations of the Executive Branch. Furthermore, there are risks with public access to the Voter’s Registration List to include exposing voters’ information to a foreign government and a person’s ability to compare voter’s information to data obtained in the Federal database. Sharing remarks, Senator Potter mentioned that based on the testimony, public access to the Voter’s Registration List can expose the Territory to security issues because it poses challenges if a perpetrator is outside the pool of elected voters. Ultimately, policymakers voted to hold the bill in committee.

Similarly, the following was also held in committee: 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. Co-Sponsored by Samuel Carriόn)

However, senators voted in the affirmative for the following:

  • Bill No. 34-0173- An Act amending Act No. 8479 to adjust the fiscal year 2022 budget for the University of the Virgin Islands; and making an appropriation of $280,660 for employment tax on the restoration of 8% of salaries owed to the employees of the University of the Virgin Islands. (Sponsored by Senators Kurt A. Vialet, Marvin A. Blyden, Milton E. Potter, and Alma Francis Heyliger)
  • Bill No. 34-0144- An Act amending Title 17 Virgin Islands Code, chapter 9, section 86 relating to school truancy to provide procedures for addressing unexcused absences from school and providing for related purposes as amended. (Sponsored by: Senators Novelle E. Francis, Jr. and Genevieve R. Whitaker)

Senators in attendance: Chairman Milton E. Potter, Franklin D. Johnson, Novelle E. Francis, Jr., Steven D. Payne, Sr. Alma Francis Heyliger, Carla J. Joseph, Genevieve R. Whitaker.            ###    

LEGISLATURE ANNOUNCES HOLIDAY CLOSURES

The Honorable Donna Frett-Gregory, President of the 34th Legislature, announces closures to the Virgin Islands Legislature to observe the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. Territory wide, the Legislature will be closed on the following dates.

Friday, December 24, 2021

Monday, December 27, 2021

Friday, December 31, 2021

The Legislature thanks the public for their cooperation and wish all a safe and enjoyable holiday season.

LAWMAKERS VET ZONING MAP AMENDMENT APPLICATIONS

ST. JOHN- Members of the Committee of the Whole led by Senate President Donna A. Frett-Gregory, met Thursday in the Cleone H. Creque Legislative Room, St. John. The Body met to receive testimony on several Zoning Map Amendment Applications. The first block consisted of several zoning map amendment applications geared towards economic growth, job creation, expanding housing opportunities, and restaurants in the St. Thomas-St. John District. The second block featured zoning map amendment applications seeking to establish businesses to include a convenience store and deli, Freight Forwarding Services, and a coffee shop/restaurant in the St. Croix District. Policymakers did not vote on the zoning map amendments.

ZAJ-21-1: Jennifer Blake and Jason Callwood (authorized agent Brian Turnbull). Parcel No. 22-H-1 Estate Enighed, No. 1 Cruz Bay Quarter, St. John be rezoned from R-2 (Residential-Low Density-One and Two Family to B-2 (Business-Secondary/Neighborhood). The purpose of the request is to allow business uses. Turnbull indicated that presently Parcel No. 22-H-1 Estate Enighed is undeveloped and is accessible from Centerline Road. Furthermore, all protocols and procedures required by the Virgin Islands Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR) have been met which included addressing concerned residents during a public hearing, indicated Turnbull.

ZAJ-21-2: Gwenda Dagou. Requesting Parcel No. 3-4 Estate Beverhoudtsberg, No. 7 Cruz Bay Quarter, St. John to be rezoned from R-1 (Residential-Low Density) to B-2 (Business-Secondary/Neighborhood). The purpose of the request is to allow a restaurant and apartment units. Dagou shared the most recent action taken to achieve the zoning request occurred in August. In August 2021, the intent to operate a restaurant and have apartments was shared during a public hearing. In October 2021, DPNR recommended a variance to use the property as a restaurant.

ZAT-21-6: Simra Y. James-Sydney (authorized agent Roosevelt David). Parcel No. 11-16 Estate Contant, 7BA Southside Quarter, St. Thomas be rezoned from R-2 (Residential-Low Density-One and Two Family) to R-3 (Residential-Medium Density). The purpose of the request is to allow ten dwelling units upon completion of a single five-story building. Authorized agent David further indicated that this venture will boost the economy, create jobs, and establish revenues through investors. The rent will range from $1,000 to $1,800 per unit.

AC-21-11: Genoveva M. Tirado (authorized agent, Lilliana Belardo de O’Neal). Plot No. 96 Estate Profit, King Quarter, St. Croix be rezoned from R-4 (Residential-Medium Density) to B-3 (Business-Scattered). The purpose of the request is to allow a convenience store and deli. de O’Neal stated that the intent of the zoning request is to renovate the existing edifice which is currently abandoned and vandalized and convert the edifice to a community store.

ZAC-21-4: Timothy and Marie Granderson. Plot Nos. 167 and 168 Estate Clifton Hill, King Quarter, St. Croix be rezoned from R-2 (Residential-Low Density-One and Two Family) to B-2 (Business-Secondary/Neighborhood) or B-3 (Business-Scattered). The purpose of the request is to allow Freight Forwarding Services. Furthermore, Granderson stated that the intent is to relocate the company to a two-story building with fifteen parking spaces, operate for six hours, and have four employees.

ZAC-21-10: Ali and Hamad Yusuf of New Foundation Company, LLC. Plot Nos. 174 and 175 Estate Peter’s Rest, Queen Quarter, St. Croix be rezoned from R-2 (Residential-Low Density-One and Two Family) to B-1 (Business Central District). The purpose of the request is to allow business uses. Yusef stated that the biggest concern from neighbors was the possibility of a diversion from the purpose of the zoning request and placing a gas station instead. However, he mentioned that his request for a B1 zone was intentional to persuade his neighbors that a gas station is not in the plans.

Senators attending today’s 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, Alma Francis Heyliger, Dwayne M. DeGraff, Steven D. Payne, Sr., Janelle K. Sarauw, and Milton E. Potter.

THE DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION SHARE STATUS OF PUBLIC SCHOOL RE-OPENING

ST. CROIX- Members of the Committee on Education and Workforce Development chaired by Senator Genevieve R. Whitaker, convened in a meeting at the Frits E. Lawaetz Legislative Conference Room. Officials from the Virgin Islands Department of Education (VIDOE) shared an update on the plans for the 2022 school reopening. Lawmakers also received testimony on a bill relating to school truancy and were updated on the status of the ICF contracts and workforce. All approved items will be forwarded to the Committee on Rules and Judiciary for further consideration.

To ensure a safe re-opening of public schools scheduled for January 10, 2022, administrators, teachers, and the district staff established “Learn from School,” a plan to assist with a seamless transition from Virtual Learning to In-Person Learning, according to the Virgin Islands Department of Education Commissioner Raquel Berry-Benjamin. VIDOE Superintendent Stefan Jurgen mentioned that students in the 4th to 6th grades will attend school five days a week. However, students attending Addelita Cancryn Intermediate and Junior High School from 4th to 8th grades will attend school two days a week and three days for virtual learning. Meanwhile, 9th-grade students are expected to do in-person learning for four days and one-day virtual learning. However, 10th through 12th-grade students will learn in person for two days a week and three days at home. Similarly, VIDOE St. Croix District Superintendent Carlos McGregor indicated that a schedule for in-person and virtual learning was created per grade. Elementary school students are expected to attend school five days a week, while junior high school and high school students will learn in-person for two days with three days of virtual learning. There are a total of 153 students attending public school in the St. Croix District.

Furthermore, Berry-Benjamin noted that all schools will host re-opening orientation sessions in-person and virtually to inform parents of school-related information. Digital learning platforms such as iReady and Think Central will continue to be utilized in the classrooms. Teachers and students will continue to use the laptops provided by VIDOE. Additionally, Social and Emotional Wellness Programs are available for students as needed. To ensure student and staff safety, Berry-Benjamin mentioned that all campuses will be equipped with CDC-approved items to include plexiglass barriers on the desks, handwashing stations, hand sanitizer dispensers, air purifiers, and electrostatic sprayers. Sen. Whitaker stated that VIDOE must work harder to meet the deadline for the re-opening. “This is a major re-opening, and we need to see a lot more energy. VIDOE should be working overtime, hiring additional staff as necessary to have a successful school re-opening for 2022.”

Separately, senators voted in the affirmative for Bill No. 34-1044, sponsored by Senator Novelle Francis, Jr. and Senator Genevieve Whitaker which is an Act seeking to amend title 17 Virgin Islands Code, chapter 9, section 86 relating to school truancy to provide procedures for addressing unexcused absences from school and providing for related purposes. The measure seeks to establish procedures for involving parents in the school’s measures to eliminate truancy, including parent conference to identify potential remedies for improving students’ attends, written agreements between the school and the parent and referral to family court for judicial intervention, as stated on the bill. In support of the measure, in a written testimony submitted to the Legislature of the Virgin Islands and read into the record by VIDOE Legal Counsel Alvincent Hutson, Esq., Berry-Benjamin recommended that a funding source is required to increase in school attendance counselors, home visits, and monitoring.

Lastly, the Department of Labor Commissioner Gary Molloy shared the status of the workforce Development Programs and the ICF contracts. The programs are broken down into two categories under the Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act, WIOA Title 1 Program and WIOA Title III Program. Both programs are funded by federal funding, grants, and/or the General Fund. Molloy explained that employment and training services are provided for the youths, dislocated workers and eligible adults are offered under the WIOA Title 1 Program. WIOA Title III Program offers numerous employment labor exchange services such as recruitment, placement assistance for job seekers, and re-employment services. The Summer Youth Work Experience Program, State Apprenticeship Agency Programs, the Community Development Block Grant for Disaster Recovery funded for skills are also overseen by VIDOL. Regarding the ICF contracts, the main responsibilities are to provide program management of CDBG-DR Grant and to have training services for the Workforce Development Program.

Senators attending the meeting were Genevieve R. Whitaker, Novelle E. Francis Jr., Sammuel Carrion, Franklin D. Johnson, Kurt A. Vialet, Donna A. Frett Gregory, Carla J. Joseph, Janelle K. Sarauw, Milton E. Potter and Steven D. Payne Sr.