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

ST. THOMAS- The Committee on Government Operations and Consumer Protection Chaired by Sen. Carla J. Joseph, met on Tuesday, November 30, 2021 in the Earle B. Legislative Hall in St. Thomas. The Committee met to consider two measures and received 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 unable to attend the meeting due to prior appointments off-island. Members of the Committee present at the start of the meeting were Senators Novelle E. Francis, Jr., Alma Francis Heyliger, Javan E. James, Sr. and Carla J. Joseph. Committee Members recorded as excused from attending the meeting were Senators Marvin A. Blyden, Franklin D. Johnson, and Milton E. Potter. Non-Committee members present were Senators Donna Frett-Gregory and Genevieve R. Whitaker.

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. Sponsors of the measure are Senators Javan E. James, Sr., Marvin A. Blyden, and Genevieve R. Whitaker. Testifying in support of the measures included Dr. Edward L. Browne, Ms. Stephanie Chalana Brown, Director of the Virgin Islands Department of Education’s Division of Virgin Islands Cultural Education, and Ms. Chenzira Davis-Kahina, Ph.D., Director of the University of the Virgin Islands V.I. Caribbean Cultural Center. Also, Former Senator Myron D. Jackson’s letter in support of the measure was read into the record. Voicing support of the measure, Senator Joseph stated, “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,” Senator Joseph concluded.

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 on-going projects. Furthermore, 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.

Additionally, 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 de Jongh, Jr. Promenade.” This bill is sponsored by Senators Novelle E. Francis, Jr, and Donna A. Frett-Gregory. Testifying in support of the measure were a diverse group of individuals which included members of the deJongh Administration Cabinet and community organizations. Testifiers systematically praised Former Governor deJongh for his leadership and outstanding contributions to the Territory, especially during the fiscal recession. Virgin Islands Port Authority Executive Director, Mr. 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. In looking back at the development of the Veterans Drive Expansion Project, the St. Thomas/St. John Chamber of Commerce President, Shaine Gaspard and Vice President-President Elect John Wood in a written statement indicated that “Governor deJongh provided the necessary leadership through the development of the Town’s Blueprint in 2010 that changed the course of the project.”

The Committee later lost its quorum and was unable to vote on the bills during Tuesday’s meeting.