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WILLIAMS AND GONZALEZ RESOLUTIONS SENT TO RULES AND JUDICIARY

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ST. CROIX –The Committee on Culture, Historic Preservation, and Aging, chaired by Senator Javan E. James, Sr.,met on Tuesday in the Bennie and Martha Benjamin Conference Center at the Virgin Islands Cardiac Center on St. Croix.
The Committee considered two Resolutions honoring and commending Wallace D. Williams and Pastor Hector Gonzalez for their services and contributions to the community of St. Croix.
Bill No.33-0247, a Resolution honoring and commending Wallace D. Williams for his years of extensive work and service as a Librarian and an Olympic athlete representing the U.S. Virgin Islands in multiple competitions. The measure was sponsored by Senator Javan E. James, Sr.
In her testimony, Mary Mingus said that many people have made significant contributions of their time,expertise and resources to improve the quality of life for all Virgin Islanders. She added that Wallace Williams is, indeed, a standout and so deserving of this recognition and honor.
She further indicated that in 1984,Wallace co-founded one of the Women’s Coalitions’ largest fundraisers,the annual“Women’s Race.”It was the largest running event for many years in the Virgin Islands. She concluded by saying, “Wallace has positively impacted the lives of so many people through his kindness, compassion, expertise, and his spirit of giving.”
Willard John of Jumbie Productions Inc. said he has known Williams for more than 40 years. He added that Wallace resigned as branch librarian at the Frederick Douglass Branch of Chicago Public Library for an Outreach Librarian position at Florence Williams Public Library on St. Croix in 1977,and in doing so took a significant pay cut.
According to John, some of Williams’ accomplishments working with the Libraries are: (1) Reestablishing outreach service to Senior Citizens, Blind and Physically Handicapped, correctional facilities, Spanish-speaking communities and remote locations; (2) Established the St. Croix Literacy Center at the Williams Public Library Center which provided reading resources to new adult readers; and (3) Served as Chapter Council Member of the American Library Association and Delegate to the White House Conference on Library Information Services.
Four-time Virgin Islands Olympian and Team Physician, Dr. Marlon S. Williams said Wallace founded VI Pace Runners, a running group that has championed the causes for distance runners of all ages. He added that for several decades he has guided hundreds of athletes during preparation for national and international competition, often using his personal resources.
Dr. Williams further stated, “I cannot think of anyone more deserving of recognition by the people of the Virgin Islands.Ronald Russell, President of the Virgin Islands Track and Field Federation (VITFF),said Wallace has served is his capacity as general secretary for the Federation since 1981. He transitioned from being a national athlete and competing in the Olympics to an executive position that has been invaluable to the territories’ track and field existence.

The Bill was favorably approved to the Committee on Rules and Judiciary, as amended for further consideration.

Bill No.33-0245, an Act honoring and commending Pastor Héctor González for over 56years of ministry, outstanding service and dedication to the people of St. Croix and the renaming of Route 681 (Hess Road) to “Route 681 Héctor González Road.” The Department of Public Works shall erect appropriate signage bearing the “Route 681 Héctor González Road,” in his honor. This Bill was sponsored by Senator Alicia V. Barnes.

In reading the resolution, Senator Barnes said, “it is fitting for the Legislature to honor Pastor González, whose many years of devoted service and outstanding leadership as pastor and citizen of his community has contributed greatly to the island of St. Croix.

During her testimony, Maricela Santo sstated that Pastor Héctor Luis González opened the doors of Zion Christian Academy in 1989 to provide faith-based curriculum to the children of St. Croix. She added that his devotion and contributions have left a positive impacton many families and the youths of St. Croix

.Carmen Corcino, a member of the church said Pastor González is a legend in his ministry, “the man everyone goes to, the Pastor for everyone”. She added that everyone knows what he has done for St. Croix by providing a permanent place for worship, praise and education.Dina Scott, minister and secretary of the Council of Iglesias Hermanos Unidos en Cristoin the Virgin Islands,said his integrity, honesty, confidence and compassion have always been in the front line of his service. She added that, there are many more lives that have been touched, whose lives have been given meaning and purpose by this man through his ministry.

The Bill was voted out of the Committee with a favorable recommendation and forwarded to the Rules and Judiciary Committee for further consideration.Senators present at Tuesday’s meeting were Vice-Chairman Javan James, Sr., Senators Dwayne DeGraff, Athneil “Bobby” Thomas, Thomas, Steven Payne, Alicia Barnes, and Oakland Benta.

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Nominations and Bills Forwarded to Full Body

ST. THOMAS – Members of the Committee on Rules and Judiciary, chaired by Sen. Janelle K. Sarauw, convened in a meeting at the Capitol Building on Thursday and voted favorably for nominations of Enrique Rodriquez and Pamela Montegut to serve on the Virgin Islands Historic Preservation Commission in the St. Thomas-St. John District; and Dr. Noreen Michael, Ph.D. for the Virgin Islands Housing Authority Board of Commissioners (VIHA). The nominations were sent by the Governor by virtue of the Revised Organic Act of 1954, and Title 3, Section 65a of the Virgin Islands Code. Senators also voted and approved several bills. All items will be forwarded to the Full Body for further vetting.

Nominee Rodriquez expressed a vested interest in the preservation of Charlotte Amalie and to create additional parking in town. Some of Rodriquez’s accomplishments as President of the St. Thomas Historical Trust include obtaining non-profit status and identifying funding through Trust License plates. Nominee Montegut stated that her goal is to market Charlotte Amalie as a renowned historical tourism destination. Montegut mentioned that attracting new tourists with a love for history will bring the Virgin Islands into the same economic realm as historical cities such as Boston and Georgetown. Sen. Sarauw recommended that the nominees add to their agenda, streamlining the process for public access to use historical sites such as Fort Christian. Collectively, policymakers requested the nominees to address the challenges of derelict or abandoned buildings and to ensure the inclusion of the entire history of the Virgin Islands. Subsequently, Nominee Michael defended her re-nomination to VIHA Board of Commissioners vowing to continue to fulfill the mission of VIHA and to advocate for housing residents and persons on the Housing Choice Voucher Program. Previously, she served on the Board for six years.

Separately, lawmakers voted to hold in committee, two measures proposed by Sen. Alicia Barnes and Sen. Kenneth Gittens: Bill No. 33-0210- to establish a minimum criterion for the V.I. Water and Power Authority Governing Board (WAPA) and changing the number of its members; and Bill No. 33-0211- to develop a minimum criterion for the Public Services Commission (PSC) members and changing the number of its members. Sen. Barnes stated that selecting qualified individuals to serve on the Boards is the first step to addressing challenges plaguing WAPA and the PSC. Similarly, Sen. Gittens noted that the measures are one piece to the puzzle especially since WAPA seems to have a management problem. Conversely, Anthony Thomas, Chairman of the Governing Board of WAPA noted that the legislation is “attempting to fix a problem that does not exist.”

Accordingly, senators voted and approved the following measures:

  • Bill No. 33-0137- An Act authorizing the V.I. Bureau of Economic Research, the V.I. Department of Planning and Natural Resources, and the V.I. Economic Development Authority to create a plan to assist the U.S.V.I. in developing a sustainable blue economy within the Territory.
  • Bill No. 33-0102- An Act amending Title 17, chapter 15, section 190u and 476 of the Virgin Islands Code by including graduates of the Adult Education Center among those eligible to receive scholarships as valedictorian and salutatorian.
  •  Bill No. 33-0132- An Act amending Title 3, chapter 27, section 715 of the Virgin Islands Code to strengthen the Board of the Government Employees Retirement System (GERS) by requiring greater expertise among Board members.
  •  Bill No. 33-0273- An Act amending Title 9, chapter 25 and Title 29 chapter 12 of the Virgin Islands Code relating to personnel hiring requirements for International Financial Service Entities to operate international financial services and to receive tax incentive benefits under the International Banking Center Regulatory Act and the Economic Development Program to amend the hiring requirements for receipt of tax incentive benefit.

A Madras Vision for The U.S. Virgin Islands Townhall Meeting

ST. THOMAS – Members of the Committee on Culture, Historic Preservation and Aging chaired by Sen. Myron Jackson held a Town Hall meeting at the Capitol Building on Tuesday in which the public was invited to discuss Bill No. 33-0226: An Act amending Title 1, chapter 7 of the Virgin Islands Code to establish the official madras of the Virgin Islands of the United States.

“Madras is a cultural cloth that has been used in the Virgin Islands for over 300 years. There are various uses for madras because it is an important component to our culture,” said Sen. Jackson. “It is worn as a headwrap, dress or a costume during cultural events. Madras is also used for décor such as tablecloths and is often the attire of cultural dolls.”

The measure seeks to establish the official madras of the U.S. Virgin Islands. The madras is a lightweight woven patterned plaid that is designed with colors such as yellow, white, red, navy blue, pink, green, and turquoise. The colors represent the natural beauty of the Territory.

The reoccurring theme during the Town Hall meeting was that “Madras is a cloth that binds us together.” Debbie Sun, Owner of Debbie Sun Design Studio was the artist who designed the madras in collaboration with the St. Croix Heritage Dancers along with Mary Dema of the Christiansted Community Alliance. Sun indicated that this is the moment to contribute to the culture and celebration of the identity of the Virgin Islands. “This project reflects our past, present, and future. If this legislation is approved, the official madras of the Virgin Islands will be a part of our culture and history for generations to come,” Sun said.

Similarly, Joseph Bess, Doctoral Student at the University of the Virgin Islands said, “Fashion is a direct indication of your culture. The research that I am doing is because I wanted to dig deeper into our culture and have symbolism that represents us. Culture is not just the food, it’s also fashion. Madras is a way that says although our ancestors suffered, we are their descendants and that is beautiful.”

Other panelists included artist Stephanie Chalana Brown and historian Larry Larsen. At a similar Town Hall meeting on St. Croix the day before, Alvin Milligan, St. Croix Heritage Dancers board member and Shamari Haynes, Division of Festivals assistant director and former troupe leader, also shared their support for the bill.

Sen. Marvin Blyden shared his remarks. “Cultural identity is critical to any society. We need to ensure that when we leave this earth, our culture stays intact. The culture of the Virgin Islands is very rich. The madras representing the Territory is beautiful and impressive.”

He was joined in attendance by Senators Javan James, Stedmann Hodge, Athneil “Bobby” Thomas, Oakland Benta, Steven Payne. Senator Alicia Barnes participated in the meeting on St. Croix. A Town Hall meeting is scheduled for St. John for Monday, March 2, 2020 at 5:30 p.m. at the St. John Legislature.

Senators Vet Agriculture Bills and Updated on The Department of Agriculture Operations

ST. THOMAS- Members of the Committee on Economic Development, Regulations and Agriculture chaired by Sen. Allison DeGazon convened in a meeting at the Capitol Building on Tuesday and voted on two bills regarding water catchments and the V.I. Agricultural Caribbean Symposium. Lawmakers were also updated on the status of operations for the Department of Agriculture (DOA). All approved items will be forwarded to the Committee on Rules and Judiciary for further consideration.

Senators voted to hold in committee: Bill No. 33-0229- An act amending title 3, chapter 17, section 291 of the Virgin Islands Code by replacing supervision and control of existing water catchment areas under the Department of Agriculture to be used for agricultural purposes; and amending Title 30, chapter 3, subchapter II, section 66 of the Virgin Islands Code, by relieving the Commissioner of Health from the responsibility for protection of water catchment areas and placing the responsibility upon the Commissioner of Agriculture. Sponsor of the bill, Sen. Dwayne DeGraff said, “There are great water facilities holding stagnant water and garnering mosquitos that can be repurposed for agriculture. The bill is simple, to turn over the water catchments to the Department of Agriculture.”

On the contrary, the DOA Commissioner Positive Nelson noted that because of the necessary requirements to maintain water catchments it is best to give oversight to the V.I. Water and Power Authority and the V.I. Fire Department; not DOA. Furthermore, Commissioner Nelson stated that transferring the responsibility to DOA without addressing the physical condition of the facilities is not conducive. Presently, each water catchment requires maintenance, cleaning, the protection, testing, portability, and onsite storage. Moreover, the Department of Health (DOH) Assistant Commissioner Nicole Syms recommended that DOH maintains authority with rights of usage to DOA especially if water receptacles are placed by nearby farms. “It would take a tremendous effort to restore water catchments in its present state. Financially, this is not feasible. It is more cost-effective to use portable water,” Sen. Kurt Vialet said. However, Sen. DeGazon indicated that portable water should be tested prior to use. “I do not support using portable water because when I watered my seeds with it, they died. It is important to conduct a study as to why plants watered with cistern water survive vs. the adverse effect of portable water.”

Separately, Commissioner Nelson shared an update on the operations of DOA. To date, DOA expended 24% or $43,442 out of $4,596,880 appropriated for the FY 2020 budget. DOA is recruiting to fill vacancies to include a Heavy Equipment Mechanic and a Forest Stewardship Coordinator. As of February 14th, Abattoirs are on a 120-day voluntary suspension. In response to Sen. Alicia Barnes’s inquiry regarding the reason for the suspension, Commissioner Nelson noted that the Abattoirs received seventeen Non-Regulatory Citations from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and DOA is currently addressing challenges.

Lastly, senators voted favorably for Bill No. 33-0249- An Act amending Title 7, Chapter I, Subchapter II, section 9 of the Virgin Islands Code by adding a new subsection (i) mandating the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Tourism to host an Agricultural symposium known as the V.I Agricultural Caribbean Symposium, alternately and annually on the islands of St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. John. The bill was proposed by Sen. Javan James, Sr. and Sen. DeGazon. “We are now going to take agriculture to another level which is to host a conference where people from all over the world can learn about agriculture in the Territory. The goal is to turn this into an agri-business conference and showcase local cuisine and produce,” Sen. DeGazon said.

SICKLE CELL REGISTRY LACKING IN TERRITORY

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ST. CROIX–The Committee on Health, Hospitals, and Human Services, chaired by Senator Oakland Benta, Sr., met Monday in the Virgin Islands Cardiac Center, St. Croix where testimonies were given on the status and an overview of operations and initiatives from the Virgin Islands Sickle Cell Parent Support Group and also considered Bill No. 33-0077.

Nicole Craigwell-Syms, Assistant Commissioner of the Department of Health, explained how Sickle Cell Disease is passed on and some of its commonly noted symptoms. She said Sickle Cell Disease (SCD) is an inherited blood disorder of the human red blood cells, which detected by a positive laboratory blood test called hemoglobin electrophoresis.

The Virgin Islands Department of Health, stated the Assistant Commissioner, does not have a local sickle cell disease registry. She added that, a Sickle Cell Disease Registry will allow for a more accurate count of the individuals affected by the disease in the territory. The Department, she said, currently relies on data from their key healthcare partners that serve individuals with Sickle Cell Disease.

Regarding Sickle Cell Disease occurrence in the Virgin Islands, Craigwell-Syms stated that a total of 568 live births were recorded for the year 2018 in the St. Thomas/St. John district while a total of 408 infants were born in the district of St. Croix. She pointed out that 103 babies tested positive for various abnormalities on St. Thomas/St. John with 61-percent of them tested positive for the sickle cell trait.

In addition, according to her, 87 infants tested positive for abnormalities on St. Croix with 46-percent tested positive for the trait. She added that there were two confirmed cases of the disease in St. Thomas/St. John District and one confirmed case of the disease in the St. Croix district.

Funding in the amount of $240,000, said the Assistant Commissioner, was allocated in FY 2019 for sickle cell and $132,000 in FY 2020. She added that FY 2019 funds were utilized to support awareness, education, and community outreach activities. FY 2020 funds will support initiatives to increase awareness and identify individual sickle cell cases. Additionally, funding will support their efforts to develop the Sickle Cell Disease registry in the territory as they enter a memorandum of understanding with John Hopkins University.

Dr. Erole Mclean-Hobdy, VI Oncology & Hematology, PC, stated that some of the gaps that she has seen in terms of providing optimal sickle cell include: (1) Lack of a sickle cell registry which is vital in obtaining a better understanding of who is affected, how many are affected, the type of sickle cell diseases that are prevalent, and also outcomes and life expectancy. (2) Lack of coordinated care for patients especially children. There is universal testing for sickle cell disease for every newborn child in the territory. However, if the test does show that the baby has sickle cell disease, there is no uniform or consistent system in place.

(3) Lack of necessary resources for sickle patients who are currently ill. The many complications of sickle cell disease, acute chest syndrome and acute stroke are some of the most critical and life-threatening emergencies.

(4) Lack of a “home” for sickle cell patients. Sickle cell patients require a lot of supportive care and as such would benefit from having a place that can provide centralized care dedicated to sticklers. An outpatient day center staffed with a physician would be ideal. Patient would be able to get pain management, blood transfusions, exchange transfusion, and counseling.

Other testifiers were Charmaine Mayers, Director, Maternal and Child Health and Children with Special Health Care Needs Program; and Germaine Powell, President, VI Sickle Parent Support Group who stated that the mission of the Corporation is to impower the people of the Virgin Islands to become active participants in the organization to create awareness of the impact of the sickle cell conditions on the individual and family.

Bill No. 33-0077-An Act amending the Virgin Islands Code and adding a new chapter relating to the financial exploitation of the elderly persons of dependent adults, proposed by Senators Allison DeGazon and Javon James, Sr.

Speaking on the Bill, Sen. DeGazon, stated that elderly financial exploitation affects all of us. She added that this abuse is now a significant problem and is expected to be increased, this abuse is also recognized as financial, psychological and other forms of exploitation.

Kimberly Causey-Gomez, Commissioner of the Department of Human Services (DHS) stated that there is a need to heighten the awareness and effective response to financial exploitation of the elderly and dependent adult. According to her, DHS came before the Committee to recommend that the Bill include language that would strengthen their ability to effectively investigate suspected and known cases of financial exploitation of elders and dependent adults.

Denise George, Attorney General of the Virgin Islands, said the financial exploitation of the elder and dependent adults has become a growing problem over the years and has been labeled by some as the “Crime of the 21st Century”. She added that given just the small sampling of the numerous and complex issues that relate to elder and dependent financial exploitation, she stands in support of the measure with recommendations for amendments.

Trevor Velinor, Commissioner, VI Police Department (VIPD) said in his testimony that his agency stands in support of the Bill and understands the importance of having measures in place to deter those who prey on our elderly and dependent citizens. He pointed out that financial crimes and exploitation can involve the illegal or improper use of a senior citizen’s funds, property or assets, as well as fraud or identity theft perpetrated against older adults.

Gwendolyn Hall Brady, Director, Division of Banking, Insurance and Financial Regulations stated that the Division finds there is an unquestionable a need for laws to protect elderly persons and dependent adults in the Virgin Islands from the crippling effects of financial exploitation, but the laws must be unambiguous, defined plainly, and enforceable.

Another testifier in support of the Bill was Corinne Plaskett, representing Troy de Chabert Schuster, State Director, AARP Virgin Islands.

The Bill was voted out of the Committee with a favorable recommendation and forwarded to the Committee on Rules and Judiciary for further consideration and further amendments.

Committee members at Monday’s hearing were Chairman Senator Oakland Benta, Sr., Athneil “Bobby” Thomas, Kurt Vialet, Donna Frett-Gregory, Marvin Blyden, and Kenneth Gittens, Stedmann Hodge, Jr. Non-Committee member present: Senator Allison DeGazon.

TRIBUTE TO 1733 REVOLUTION, BILL POSTHUMOUSLY HONORING FALLEN SOLDIERS MOVED FORWARD, UPDATED ON SENIOR HOUSING ON ST. JOHN

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ST. JOHN – Members of the Committee on Culture, Historic Preservation, and Aging, chaired by Sen. Myron Jackson, convened in a meeting at the Cleone Henrietta Creque Legislative Conference Room on Friday, and voted favorably for a bill posthumously honoring fallen soldiers who lost their lives while serving in the U.S. Armed Forces. Lawmakers were also updated on the status of senior services on St. John, as well as the award-winning documentary on the 2017 hurricanes by filmmaker Peter Bailey, “Unbreakable Virgin Islands.” The contributions of the late newspaper founder, journalist, author, poet, and artist J. Antonio Jarvis were also remembered on the 118th anniversary of his birth.

The meeting opened with a tribute in honor of the 1733 St. John Revolution. Virgin Islands Freedom Fighters Day is recognized annually on November 23rd. It is symbolic of the revolution or organized revolt by Akwamu slaves on St. John that started on November 23, 1733 and continued for several months. Participants of today’s presentation were conch shell blower Emmanuel Boyd, drummer Eddie Bruce, and community activist and scholar Dr. Gilbert Sprauve.

Upon conclusion of the tribute, policymakers voted and approved Bill No. 33-0127 – An Act posthumously honoring and commending the men and women who lost their lives while serving in the United States Armed Forces, naming the roundabout road circle located in downtown Cruz Bay, St. John, “The Veterans Circle,” and appropriating $20,000 to the Virgin Islands Council on the Arts to commission a monument in memory of the veterans. Sponsor of the bill, Sen. Athneil Thomas stated that moving forward it is important to recognize veterans and their service throughout the territory. Patrick Farrell, Director of the Virgin Islands Office of Veterans Affairs said, “Far too long the veterans of St. John have been without this type of recognition. If this area is to be named in honor of service members that paid with the ultimate sacrifice, then it should be rightfully treated as sacred grounds.” Regarding the appropriation of funds, Tasida Kelch, Executive Director of the Virgin Islands Council of the Arts, suggested that allocating monies to the Department of Sports, Parks, and Recreation instead of the V.I. Council of the Arts is best due to the continuous maintenance and upkeep of the monument.

Furthermore, on the agenda, Michal Rhymer-Brown, Assistant Commissioner of the V.I. Department of Human Services shared an overview of the Senior Centers, Home Care and Housing/Services offered to seniors on St. John. Some of the challenges facing the Homemaker Services Program on St. John are the need to recruit and hire additional staff, the influx of senior citizens’ requests for more services, and the rising demand for home care services. Furthermore, Rhymer-Brown noted that post-hurricanes Irma and Maria the Adrian Senior Center sustained severe damages. Presently, V.I. Housing Authority placed a bid to reconstruct and repair the center with an expectation to reopen by 2020. Despite challenges, Human Services provided services for twenty-eight seniors on St. John, to include providing meals prepared with the guidelines of the Nutrition Program. Additionally, monies from the Senior Citizens Center Revolving Fund will be re-directed to purchase a 2020 SUV to transport seniors from their homes to the Senior Center. Rhymer-Brown mentioned that some of the goals and initiatives are to fill vacant positions for the Homemaker program, launch media campaigns to create community awareness, and update policies and procedures.

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POLICYMAKERS APPROVED FIVE NOMINATIONS AND ONE BILL

ST. THOMAS- Members of the Committee on Rules and Judiciary chaired by Sen. Janelle K. Sarauw, convened in a meeting at the Capitol Building on Friday, and voted favorably for the nominees on the agenda. The nominations were sent to the Legislature by Governor Albert Bryan; set forth from Section (16) of the Revised Organic Act of 1954, and Title 3, Section 65a of the Virgin Islands Code. Lawmakers also voted favorably for one bill. All items on the agenda will be forwarded to Legislative Session for further consideration.

The nominees for consideration are Emmanuel Delano, DDS, MS to serve on the Virgin Islands Board of Dental Examiners St. Croix District, Dr. Mavis Matthew, M.D. for the V.I. Board of Medical Examiners, John Abramson, Jr. for the Government Employees Service Commission St. Croix District, Andre’ Dorsey and Loraine Gumbs-Morton for the Government Employees Service Commission St. Thomas-St. John District.

Nominee Delano defended his re-nomination to the V.I. Board of Dental Examiners by sharing some of the significant changes made while serving for the past ten years. He indicated that previously the Board revised the 2014 Dental Act. As a result, the Board is up-to-par with the national standards of qualifications to practice dentistry in the Territory. Additionally, revising the rules and regulations continues to be a work in progress. In response to a line of questioning from Sen. Sarauw, Delano noted that the Board is presently advocating for better dental care by increasing the number of dentists practicing in the Territory. Moreover, Nominee Matthew stated that her re-nomination to serve on the V.I. Board of Medical Examiners allows her to continue the necessary tasks. She served on the Board for the past five years. Two of her major accomplishments include the removal of the Spex Exam and the implementation of the Uniform Application which is utilized to streamline the physician application process, according to Matthew.

Although, Nominee Gumbs-Morton admitted that she is not an insurance expert, her mission to improve the operation of the V.I. Government Employees Service Commission is to ensure that the life and medical insurance coverage is suitable to meet the needs of policyholders, fulfilling necessary tasks in alignment with the Virgin Islands Code, and to assist with revising protocols as required. Nominee Dorsey indicated that his goals are to eliminate high healthcare costs in the Territory, lower co-payments, and to remove deductibles from member’s health insurance plan. Furthermore, Dorsey mentioned that he will strive towards establishing Urgent Care Centers, implementing additional preventative care services and increasing wellness initiatives. Lastly, Nominee Abramson stated that his primary aim for the Commission is to establish a Comprehensive Healthcare System that unifies both insured and uninsured people. “Look at the big picture of healthy government employees and retirees. Then there is an unhealthy dying community. That is not good for the overall state of health care in the Territory,” said Abramson.

Separately, senators voted and approved:

  • Bill No. 33-0152- regarding construction liens by exempting the government-owned property of homeowners under government-administered home repair and construction programs from construction liens and providing protection to certain homesteaders and for other related purposes.                                                                                                                           ###

LAWMAKERS FORWARDED NINE NOMINATIONS TO THE FULL BODY

ST. THOMAS-Members of the Committee on Rules and Judiciary chaired by Sen. Janelle K. Sarauw, convened in a meeting at the Capitol Building on Thursday, and voted favorably for the nominees recommended to serve on various boards. The nominations were sent to the Legislature by Governor Albert Bryan; set forth from Section (16) of the Revised Organic Act of 1954, and Title 3, Section 65a of the Virgin Islands Code. All items on the agenda will be forwarded to the full body for further consideration.

The nominees are Danson Nganga and Dr. Vernique Caswell, Pharm. D. to serve on the Virgin Islands Board of Pharmacy for the St. Thomas-St. John District, Laura Forbes for the Virgin Islands Board of Pharmacy St. Croix District, Dr. Ramona Moss, Ph.D., NCSP and Nicolette Cutright, Ph.D. for the V.I. Board of Psychology Examiners St. Thomas-St. John District, Curtis Callender, MS, LMHC, NCC as a Substance Abuse Counselor for the V.I. Board of Licensed Counselors and Examiners St. Thomas-St. John District, Dr. Lisa Adams-Mahepeth, O.D. for the V.I. Board of Optometrical Examiners St. Croix District, Dr. Laura Palminteri, VMD for the V.I. Board of Examiners for Practice of Veterinary Medicine St. Thomas-St. John District, and Jawanza Wallace-Hillare for the V.I. Coastal Zone Management Commission St. Thomas-St. John District.

Nominee Nganga noted that one of his top priorities for serving on the V.I. Board of Pharmacy is to ensure all rights, accesses, and privileges offered to retail pharmacies in the United States are also available to the U.S. Virgin Islands; comparatively, there is a disparity in services. Similarly, Nominee Caswell stated that her primary focus is to provide support for pharmacists in the Territory by gaining access to pertinent resources offered by the National Association of Board of Pharmacies. Moreover, Nominee Forbes defended her re-nomination to the Board citing achievements such as assisting with the development of the revised pharmacy inspection form/process, disseminating pharmacists administered vaccines, and establishing the non-resident pharmacy registration form/process. Forbes stated that providing support to the Board is her biggest priority. Challenges that Nominee Moss vows to tackle while serving on the V.I. Board of Psychology Examiners is to identify whether on-line schools affect the quality of education for students and to develop strategies to provide psychological services to people as needed. Additionally, Nominee Cutright indicated that updating the rules and regulations are some of her goals for improving the Board.

Nominee Callendar mentioned that as a Substance Abuse Counselor for the V.I. Board of Licensed Counselors and Examiners, his aims to shape the landscape of mental health in the Territory. “I pledge to uphold the duty of not only ensuring that clinicians meet the standards as laid out but also take action when harmful/unethical actions threaten the safety of the public and credibility of the field,” said Callendar. Nominee Adams-Mahepeth served on the V.I. Board of Optometrical Examiners for fifteen years. Progressively, Adams-Mahepath mentioned that she will continue to align the standards of Optometry practiced in the Virgin Islands with the National Board of Examiners in Optometry. Similarly, defending her reappointment to the V.I. Board of Examiners for Practice of Veterinary Medicine, Nominee Palminteri noted that she wants to continue to be an asset to the Board. She has practiced veterinary medicine for twenty-eight years and served on the Board for fifteen years. Lastly, Nominee Wallace-Hillare mentioned that he will work towards obtaining funds from grants and to develop a partnership with Federal Programs while serving on the V.I. Coastal Zone Management Commission.

Separately, lawmakers voted and approved: Bill No. 33-0207- An Act amending Title 17, chapter 11, section 121 of the Virgin Islands Code by requiring persons teaching children in Kindergarten-4 through third grade to have specific early childhood education requirements outlined by the Board of Education, thereby ensuring that primary grade students are receiving a quality education; requiring the Board of Education to promulgate rules and regulations to support the criteria for the minimum requirements; and providing funding for early childhood educators to obtain the minimum requirements. Clarifying the intent of the measure, Sponsor of the bill, Sen. Donna Frett-Gregory indicated that the bill does not require teachers to be certified. However, it requires educators who are teaching pre-kindergarteners to meet requisite skills. Lastly, policymakers removed from the agenda at the call of the Chair: Bill No. 33-0152- regarding construction liens by exempting the government-owned property of homeowners under government-administered home repair and construction programs from construction liens and providing protection to certain homesteaders and for other related purposes.

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Governor’s Nominations Moved Forward

ST. THOMAS- The members of the Committee on Rules and Judiciary, chaired by Sen. Janelle K. Sarauw, convened in a meeting at the Capitol Building on Wednesday, Nov. 13th. On the agenda were the Governor’s board nominations, which all would receive a favorable vote to be heard in Legislative Session. The nominations were sent by the Governor by virtue of the Revised Organic Act of 1954, and Title 3, Section 65a of the Virgin Islands Code. Additionally, lawmakers voted and approved several bills which will be heard before the full body.

The nominees for consideration were Gary Jett, MD. to serve as a Health Practitioner Representative for the Virgin Islands Cannabis Advisory Board, Christopher Jones as a Disability Advocate Representative for the Virgin Islands Cannabis Advisory Board, Jason Williams for the V.I. Board of Chiropractic Examiner for the St. Croix District, Eavey-Monique James, CSW, CPM as Compact Administrator for the V.I. Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC), Charisse Hart, MSW, LSW as Deputy Compact Administrator for the V.I. Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children, and Keith O’Neal, Jr. to serve on the Virgin Islands Public Finance Authority Board of Directors for the St. Croix District.

According to Nominee Jett, he has an extensive work history practicing medicine for twenty years on St. Croix and eight years in Florida. Out of the eight years, he worked as a certified medical marijuana physician specializing on interventional and non-interventional pain management in the state of Florida for approximately four years. Jett also stated he treats patients diagnosed with chronic ailments such as cancer, HIV, AIDS, Crohn’s disease and others. Jones’ short-term goals to improve the Virgin Islands Cannabis Advisory Board are to develop the mission statement, ensuring the alignment of the rules and regulations with Act 8167, and to review the Cannabis Boards on the mainland. Identifying a secure location for a cannabis testing lab and designing a Non-Resident Medicinal Cannabis Tourism Program are two of Jones’ long-term goals.

Similarly, Nominee Williams, who presently is the Chief Clinician at the Williams Family Practice on St. Croix, shared his goals for the V.I. Board of Chiropractic Examiners. Williams indicated that his top priorities to improve the Board are to ensure that chiropractors are licensed who are practicing in the Territory, collaborating with lawmakers to draft laws about the Chiropractic Industry, and streamlining the process for incoming chiropractors. Separately, Nominee Hart mentioned that her role to serve on the V.I. Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children commences with becoming acquainted with ICPC statutes, child placement laws on the mainland, and federal laws. Meanwhile, Nominee James stated that her objectives are to host the Association of Administration ICPC annual business meetings in the Territory, to propose legislation that will be ratified by the Senate and to establish the Virgin Islands as a leader in compacting affairs due to best practices. Separately, Nominee O’Neal noted that his recommendation for moving along capital projects is to continue to follow existing strategies of the Virgin Islands Public Finance Authority Board of Directors. This includes which reviewing accounts quarterly to determine whether there are unexpended funds and to ensure its use before expiration.

Policymakers voted and approved the following bills:

  • Bill No. 33-0095- An Act amending Title 34 of the Virgin Islands Code by adding a new chapter 18 enacting the “Virgin Islands Medicaid Program Integrity Act.” Sponsored by senators Novelle E. Francis, Jr. and Athneil “Bobby” Thomas; Co-Sponsored by senators Donna Frett-Gregory and Kurt A. Vialet.
  • Bill No. 33-0201- An Act amending Title 20, part II, chapter 43, section 504 of the Virgin Islands Code by increasing the punishment for negligent homicide using a motor vehicle. Sponsored by senators Javan E. James, Sr. and Steven D. Payne, Sr.
  • Bill No. 33-0134- An act amending title 17, chapter 15 of the Virgin Islands Code to establish a Psychiatric Medical Doctoral Program Scholarship. Sponsored by senators Kurt A. Vialet and Steven D. Payne, Sr.; Co-Sponsored by senators Stedmann Hodge, Jr. and Allison L. DeGazon.
  • Bill No. 33-0199- An Act making an appropriation from the St. Croix Capital Improvement Fund to be used as matching funds to acquire federal funds under the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant award for the St. Croix Molasses Pier Enhancement Project. Sponsored by senators Alicia V. Barnes, Novelle E. Francis, Jr, Donna Frett Gregory, and Kurt A. Vialet; Co-Sponsored by Sen. Allison DeGazon.

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ONE OUT OF TWO NOMINATIONS FOR THE V.I. CANNABIS ADVISORY BOARD, THE V.I. TAXICAB COMMISSION, AND BILLS MOVES FORWARD

ST. THOMAS – Members of the Committee on Rules and Judiciary chaired by Sen. Janelle K. Sarauw, convened in a meeting at the Capitol Building on Thursday, and voted to hold in committee the nomination of the V.I. Department of Agriculture Commissioner Positive T.A. Nelson to serve on the V.I. Cannabis Board. However, the nomination for The V.I. Department of Health Assistant Commissioner Nicole Craigwell-Syms, Ph.D. to serve as a member of the V.I. Cannabis Advisory Board advanced. Senators also voted favorably for three nominees to serve on the Virgin Islands Taxicab Commission and for several bills. The nominations were sent to the Legislature by Governor Albert Bryan; set forth from Section (16) of the Revised Organic Act of 1954, and Title 3, Section 65a of the Virgin Islands Code. All items approved will be forwarded to the full body for further consideration.

Nominee Nelson noted that his years of experience, skills, and advocacy to promote the use of medicinal cannabis has equipped him to serve on the Virgin Islands Cannabis Advisory Board. Furthermore, he stated that thirty-four states across the United States, two U.S. territories, and one Commonwealth have legalized the use of medicinal marijuana. However, senators stated that interisland transporting of that type of medicine may infringe upon Federal Laws. “The interisland transportation of medicinal cannabis in Federal Zones can lead to legal problems for our residents,” said Sen. Sarauw. Similarly, Sen. Kenneth Gittens noted that “It is important that law-abiding Virgin Islanders do not end up on the wrong side of the law who are employed in the Medicinal Cannabis Industry.” Nominee Nelson mentioned that only authorized commercial vessels with legal documentation can transport medicinal cannabis. The law remains that it is illegal for a private boat to smuggle marijuana into the Territory. Ultimately, the nomination was held in committee for further investigation of “conflict of interest” in lieu of the laws.

Nominee Nicole Craigwell-Syms, Ph.D. indicated that educating the community by distinguishing the difference of medicinal cannabis and recreational use is a priority. “The Board should also develop education and certification requirements to work in that industry,” added Sen. Javan James. Craigwell-Syms, Ph.D. mentioned that additional goals are to determine patient qualifications and applicable measurement required for prescriptions per diagnosis. Furthermore, she stated that there is a reduction of opioid addictions in the States that offer medicinal cannabis as an alternative treatment method.

Separately, policymakers voted favorably for the nominations of Loretta Lloyd, Vincent Georges, and Myrna George to serve as members on the Virgin Islands Taxicab Commission. The nominees collectively expressed tackling present challenges such as the unloading of passengers in the middle of traffic, the competition of gypsy cabs, and joining the overpopulated taxicab lines at the airport. Sen. Novelle Francis said, “Taxicab Drivers are Ambassadors of the Virgin Islands yet some of them continue to fly flags of other nations on their vehicles. It’s counterproductive to the Tourism product. Policies and Procedures must be in place for proper representation of the Territory.” Senators recommended that the Taxicab Commission offer passengers an electronic option for payment.

Lastly, Policymakers voted and approved the following measures:

  • Bill No. 33-0116 – An Act amending Title 32 of the Virgin Islands Code as it relates to the Virgin Islands Horse Racing Commission.
  • Bill No. 33-0033 – An Act to add a new section to title 3, chapter 16 of the Virgin Islands Code, to reenact the Virgin Islands Tax Study Commission which will be tasked with reviewing the current laws and tax structure of the Virgin Islands for initiating tax reform and maximizing revenue fairly and impartially.
  • Bill No. 33-0122 – An Act amending Title 7, chapter 1, subchapter 1, section 2 of the Virgin Islands code by expanding the definition of farming and by adding current industry standard terminology.
  • Bill No. 33-0123 – An Act to earmark a percentage of the Government of the Virgin Islands budget to support local agriculture.
  • Bill No. 33-0068 – An Act to amend title 20, part II, chapter 32, subchapter I of the Virgin Islands Code by adding a new section to create a process for transferring a vehicle upon the death of an individual, without going through the probate process.

However, the following were held in committee:

  • Bill No. 33-0100 – An Act amending title 20, part II, chapter 39, section 436(b)(1) of the Virgin Islands Code by including persons who are disabled within the class of persons exempt from being charged a fee for a disabled window decal.
  • Bill No. 33-0151 – An Act amending title 15, part II, chapter 11, section 167 of the Virgin Islands Code by increasing the threshold for summary administration of estates in the Virgin Islands.

Senators present are Janelle Sarauw, Kenneth Gittens, Javan James, Donna Frett-Gregory, Novelle Francis, Kurt Vialet, and Myron Jackson.

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