LAWMAKERS VOTE ON BILLS, V.I. LOTTERY SHARES STATUS OF OPERATIONS

ST. CROIX- Members of the Committee on Government Operations and Consumer Protection, chaired by Sen. Carla J. Joseph, assembled at the Frits E. Lawaetz Legislative Conference Room. Senators voted on several measures including a bill to establish the Virgin Islands Virtual Information System (VIVIS). Lawmakers also received testimony from the Virgin Islands Lottery (VIL) on operations and enabling law and jurisdiction.

Policymakers voted in the affirmative for Bill No. 34-0096. This Act will amend Title 3 Virgin Islands Code, chapter 7, by designating the existing section as subchapter I and adding a Chapter II establishing the VIVIS within the Office of the Governor. VIVIS collects demographic data such as age, race, ethnicity, gender, marital status, income, education, and employment, on persons receiving service from selected departments and agencies within the Government of the Virgin Islands. The measure seeks to develop the protocol for VIVIS in de-identifying personal information and sets forth the approved uses for the data and the protocol for maintaining the confidentiality and distribution of data. Senator Janelle K. Sarauw, one of the Bill’s sponsors stated that the purpose of VIVIS is to collect and utilize data to measure progress through a data warehouse centralized for consumption, which would consist of a data drive policy.

Alvincent Hutson, Esq., Legal Counsel to the Virgin Islands Department of Education on behalf of Commissioner Raquel Berry-Benjamin stated that some potential advantages of VIVIS include improving student performance, availability of accurate data to stakeholders, and data use to measure program performance.

Although the Bill is supported, there have been several challenges noted. In a written testimony submitted to the Legislature from Attorney General Denise George, it was noted that presently VIVIS lacks a funding source. Furthermore, George indicated that the “cradle-to-grave” collection of personal and confidential data could be detrimental to an individual if the system is breached by cyberattacks. Similarly, Rupert Ross, Director/Chief Information Officer for the Bureau of Information Technology recommended that a greater emphasis on security is required to protect data while maintaining compliance with local and federal laws such as HIPPA and FERPA. Senator Joseph stated that although data can measure performance progress and outcomes, three major challenges of the bill expressed today are enhanced data security, financial stability, and governance.

Separately, the following bills sponsored by Senator Alma Francis-Heyliger were held in committee: Bill No. 34-0103- An Act amending Title 23 Virgin Islands Code, chapter 10, section 1004 by adding a definition for essential business and essential employees or workers. Bill No. 34-0108- An Act amending Title 3 Virgin Islands Code, chapter 27, section 7 relating to membership of senators in the Government Employees Retirement System, to increase the age of retirement

Lastly, the Virgin Islands Lottery (VIL) Executive Director Raymond Williams shared the accomplishments of VIL. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Williams noted that gaming equipment is electronic and dealer free, VIL is in the process of establishing subscription sales and developing games to replace popular illegal games. Furthermore, VIL is updating existing policies and procedures, nearing the completion of the awning for the St. Thomas Office, participating in VAX-TO-WIN weekly drawings, and are planning an Employee Appreciation & Service Awards Celebration, according to Williams.

Senators present at the meeting: Carla J. Joseph, Novelle E. Francis Jr., Franklin D. Johnson, Alma Francis Heyliger, Javan E. James Sr., Milton E. Potter, and Marvin A. Blyden.