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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

St. Thomas Legislative Buildings Closed Due to Watermain Issue

St. Thomas—A watermain issue affecting the downtown area of Charlotte Amalie St. Thomas has forced the closure of the Earle B. Ottley Legislative Buildings. According to Acting President, Kenneth L. Gittens the Legislature will close at 11:00 a.m. this morning and will reopen tomorrow with regular hours. “We apologize for any inconvenience that this may have caused,” concluded Acting President Gittens.


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. Lawmakers received testimony and voted in the affirmative for a bill banning corporal punishment at the Virgin Islands Department of Education. Separately, the Virgin Islands Department of Labor shared the status of the Unemployment Insurance, Loss Wage Assistance Program, Federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program, and the Summer Employment payments.

Bill No. 34-0097- An Act repealing and reenacting Title 17 Virgin Islands Code, chapter 11, section 130, relating to authority to discipline pupils in schools; and repealing Title 17 Virgin Islands Code, chapter 9, subchapter I, section 87, relating to the punishment of pupils by school officials. The measure seeks to ban corporal punishment, defines reasonable force, prescribes factors for determining the use of physical force, and grants immunity from civil and criminal liability to a school employee.

In support of the measure, the Virgin Islands Department of Education Commissioner Racquel Berry-Benjamin noted that corporal punishment in schools is an act of violence against students. Defining student discipline sets the precedence for acceptable disciplinary actions. Similarly, Bouyant Living Psychotherapy Psychotherapist Nisha de Jean Charles stated that it is time to employ disciplinary strategies, appropriate to a child’s age and development, helping to teach emotional regulation, self-soothing, and conflict resolution skills. To strengthen the bill, Berry-Benjamin recommended that the bill should apply to private schools as well. Senator Donna Frett-Gregory suggested that the measure be amended to include verbal abuse as a form of corporal punishment. Senator Whitaker indicated that providing training to educators and personnel on crime prevention also supports student development.

Separately, the Department of Labor Acting Commissioner Nesha Christian-Hendrickson shared an update. Due to massive job loss resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, a total of $191,426,922 were paid out to 26,000 active claims for the Unemployment Insurance Programs. Christian-Hendrickson stated $25,159,530 was disseminated from the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program and $19,882,019 from the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation Program. The Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation paid out $82,703,021. Moreover, Christian-Hendrickson mentioned that out of $7,323,000 for the Lost Wages Assistance Program, a total of $7,208,790 was disbursed to certified and eligible applicants.

The following measures were removed from the agenda:
• Bill No. 34-0091 – An Act amending Title 17 Virgin Islands Code, chapter 5, section 41 relating to the courses of study in public schools to address gaps in education curriculum and workforce development by adding home economics, equine studies, information technology, and by creating a reporting mechanism for the development and implementation for curriculum
• Bill No. 34-0094 – An Act amending, Title 17 Virgin Islands Code, chapter 3, section 24(a)(2)(2) to establish and mandate stakeholder engagement and participation in the development of a report for the annual assessment and evaluation of all public-school facilities; and adding subsection (e) to require stakeholders to hold town hall meetings on St. Croix, St. Thomas, and St. John

Senators attending the meeting: Genevieve R. Whitaker, Janelle K. Sarauw, Milton E. Potter, Carla J. Joseph, Donna A. Frett-Gregory, Kurt A. Vialet, and Javon E. James.


ST. CROIX- Members of the Committee on Rules and Judiciary chaired by Senator Milton E. Potter convened in a meeting at the Frits E. Lawaetz Legislative Conference Room. Lawmakers voted favorably for the nomination of Ray Martinez to serve as the Commissioner of the Virgin Islands Police Department (VIPD) and the re-nomination of Oran Roebuck to the University of the Virgin Islands Board of Trustees to serve for the second term. Additionally, senators voted on several bills.

VIPD Commissioner Nominee Ray Martinez noted that he possesses the knowledge and leadership abilities to effectively lead the VIPD. His primary goal is to move forward with crime prevention tactics. As of July 2021, some of his accomplishments are inclusive of meetings to strengthen relations with unions regarding the 12-hour shift stipulation and federal law enforcement partners. To increase police presence on the waters and shorelines, Martinez indicated that he approved the purchase of additional marine assets to include three vessels for shore patrols. He noted that VIPD initiatives currently in progress are the Violent Crime Reduction Strategy with a focus on crime reduction and ongoing negotiations with Skywatch a company that produces deterrent towers and mobile surveillance.

Despite achievements, Martinez stated that more work needs to be done. Challenges facing the VIPD are the lack of manpower and a rise in crime in the Territory. Furthermore, Martinez’s actionable recommendations to improve VIPD operations consist of implementing a vacation schedule, establishing an Intelligence Unit with the New York Police Department, and case management. Senator Potter advised the nominee that VIPD engage and build relationships with residents by participating in community service in neighborhoods. “There are talks about community policing, but I have not seen it. Fostering a good relationship with the community, will assist in crime reduction,” Potter said. Separately, Nominee Oran Roebuck noted that her contributions have yielded several accomplishments. Some of them are the re-affirmation of Accreditation of the University in 2017, the opening of the Childcare Laboratory and Diagnostic Centers on Orville Kean Campus, and the expansion of UVI Center for Excellence in Leadership and Learning, according to Roebuck. Both nominations were approved and forwarded to the full Body for further consideration.

Lastly, the following measures were held in committee:
• Bill No. 34-0047- An Act requiring the Department of Agriculture and the University of the Virgin Islands to create a plan to develop a Community Seed Banking Program to store and preserve seeds for preservation against climate change, natural disasters, and other situations that could lead to total annihilation of crops, plants and other fauna and flora.
• Bill No. 34-0062- An Act amending Title 3 Virgin Islands Code, chapter 5, section 65a relating to filling vacancies on boards and commissions by adding subsection (g) to require memberships on boards and commissions to be gender balanced.
However, lawmakers voted and approved the following:
• Bill No. 34-0074- A Resolution honoring and commending Holland L. Redfield II posthumously for his expansive and continued contributions to the island of St. Croix and the entire Virgin Islands community through his roles in various areas of service in the Territory and awarding him the Virgin Islands Medal of Honor for Public Service posthumously.

Senators attending the meeting: Milton E. Potter, Novelle E. Francis, Jr., Kenneth L. Gittens, Carla J. Joseph, Sammuel Carrión, Kurt A. Vialet, Franklin D. Johnson, Geneveive R. Whitaker, and Steven D. Payne.


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.


ST. CROIX- Members of the Committee on Finance chaired by Senator Kurt A. Vialet, convened in a meeting in the Frits E. Lawaetz Legislative Chambers to receive testimony on several measures regarding extending the mandatory retirement age for law enforcement officers and firefighters from 55 to 63,establishing a Cruz Bay Fish Market, and collecting Hotel Room Tax from travel organizations.

Lawmakers voted in the affirmative for Bill No. 34-0099- An Act amending Title 3 Virgin Islands Code, chapter 25, sections 530 (g) and chapter 27, section 705(c), relating to the mandatory retirement age of police officers, firefighters, and prison guards to change the mandatory retirement age from 55 to 63. The bill was sponsored by Senator Dwayne M. DeGraff. The Virgin Islands Police Department Commissioner Nominee Ray Martinez indicated that although the measure aids in resolving the lack of manpower by extending the tour of duty for law enforcement professionals, the Government of the Virgin Islands assumes a total of $3,663,407.39 in salaries for those officers aged 55-63. Furthermore, Martinez stated that once the law is enacted a total of 47 officers will be mandated to retire by 2022. Similarly, in a written testimony submitted to the Legislature, the Virgin Islands Bureau of Corrections Director Wynnie Testamark noted that an additional $10.1 million for the next ten years is required to compensate correctional officers with over 20 years of service. Despite an increase in the budget, Testamark stated that retaining seasoned corrections officers would assist in the mitigation of staff shortages. The Virgin Islands Fire Service Assistant Director Antonio Stevens mentioned that increasing the retirement age from 55-63 does not affect the minimum requirement for retirement for firefighters. However, employees will have an option to continue working once physically capable.

Senators voted favorably for Bill No. 34-0089- An Act appropriating $920,000 to the Virgin Islands Port Authority for the construction of an aesthetically pleasing Cruz Bay fish market and to modify the existing concrete boat ramp and bulkhead at the Little Cruz Bay Dock, Cruz Bay Quarter; and appropriating $580,000 to the Department of Public Works for the construction of a boat dock and slipway at Enighed Pond on the island of St. John. Senators Steven D. Payne, Sr. and Janelle K. Sarauw are sponsors of the bill. In support of the measure, the Virgin Islands Port Authority Senior Staff Attorney Vincent Frazer noted that the fish market will support amenities for the fishing community on St. John, stimulate the economy, and provide fresh food for residents. Collectively, lawmakers applauded the measure citing that the Cruz Bay fish market is long overdue.

Lastly, policymakers voted and approved Bill No. 34-0070- An Act amending Title 33 Virgin Islands Code, subtitle 1, part I, chapter 3, section 54(b) relating to the remittance of the hotel room tax to the Government from travel organizations; and requiring the Director of the Virgin Islands Bureau of Internal Revenue, with the assistance of the Commissioner of Tourism, to enter into an agreement with all travel organizations that offer sleeping accommodations in the Virgin Islands to collect the Hotel Room Tax required under 33 V.I.C. §54. In support of the bill, the Virgin Islands Department of Tourism’s Assistant Commissioner Alani Henneman Todman stated that some of the challenges include costs that appear expensive to book in the Virgin Islands, potential for lower bookings from travelers, and lower booking prices in the travel market. Senators attending the meeting: Novelle E. Francis, Jr., Kenneth L. Gittens, Samuel Carrión, Kurt A. Vialet, Marvin A. Blyden, Janelle K. Sarauw, Dwayne M. DeGraff, Donna A. Frett Gregory, Javan E. James, Sr., Alma Francis Heyliger, and Franklin D. Johnson.

Body of Former Senator Holland L. Redfield II to Lay in Repose at the Legislature of the Virgin Islands

St. Croix—Senate President Donna Frett-Gregory announced today that the body of Former Senator Holland L. Redfield II will lay in repose on Thursday, October 21, 2021, at the Legislature on St. Croix. The former senator who was affectionately known as “Dike,” passed away at the age of 78. Redfield served six terms in the Senate as a Republican. He was public servant, a Radio Talk Show Host of “Straight Talk with Holland Redfield,” and a licensed commercial pilot.

The body of the former senator will lay in repose from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the St. Croix Legislature Building located at 3022 Golden Rock, Christiansted, St. Croix, on Thursday, October 21, 2021. Members of the 34th Legislature, along with the community, may pay their respects during the public viewing.

All visitors must comply with the Covid-19 protocols established by the Legislature which include sanitizing upon entry, wearing a face mask while on the property, and social distancing as we come together to pay our respects to an outstanding Virgin Islander.


ST. CROIX- Members of the Committee on Health, Hospitals, and Human Services, chaired by Senator Novelle E. Francis, Jr., met Monday in the Frits E. Lawaetz Legislative Conference Room to receive testimony on Bill No. 34-0101 which seeks to establish the “Virgin Islands Fire and Emergency Medical Services.” Bill No. 34-0101 would integrate Emergency Medical Services with the Fire Services to create a new Virgin Islands Fire and Emergency Medical Services. The sponsor of the bill is Senator Donna Frett-Gregory at the request of the Governor.

In support of the measure, VIFS Director Daryl George stated that the integration will allow for more efficient delivery of emergency services with the opportunity for rapid response time with the strategic deployment of resources. Sharing the breakdown of the merge, George noted that assigned emergency medical services personnel, vehicles, and equipment will operate from the main fire stations, territory-wide. Concurringly, Marise James, Esq., former policy advisor to the Office of the Governor, indicated that the integration is logical because there are fewer structural fires and increased medical emergencies. She noted that VIFEMS is also a viable solution for staff shortages and ongoing overtime payments for EMS and VIFS. OMB Director Jenifer O’Neal added that the combined overtime costs for EMS and VIFS total $20,000,000 from 2015 to the present. As of August 2021, VIFS overtime costs totals $1,538,242, while EMS total $569,915 with specific employees earning $50,000 in overtime payments. O’Neal said that it is anticipated that the costs of overtime payment will rise by the end of the year. Fiscally, VIFEMS will be funded by the General Fund appropriation, the Fire and Emergency Medical Services Fund, federal grant awards, and the Emergency Services Fund, according to O’Neal.

Senator Francis and his colleagues questioned the lack of details in the planned integration. Francis called the proposed integration a charged, emotional issue on the parts of both Fire and EMS employees. He affirmed the Legislature’s commitment to support the objectives of the legislation, which include improved response times in emergency care and building overall capacity in the provision of emergency services to the community.

After several rounds of questioning by committee members, the Bill was held in committee pending further development of the measure.

Senators attending the meeting: Novelle E. Francis, Jr., Kenneth L. Gittens, Sammuel Carrión, Kurt A. Vialet, Marvin A. Blyden. However, Senator Janelle K. Sarauw was excused.


ST. CROIX- Members of the Committee on Homeland Security, Justice, and Public Safety chaired by Senator Steven D. Payne, Sr., held a meeting in the Fritz E. Lawaetz Legislative Conference Room and received testimony on measures that strengthen gun laws, penalties, and violations. Furthermore, the Virgin Islands Police Department (VIPD) and the Virgin Islands Bureau of Corrections (BOC) shared an update.

Lawmakers voted in the affirmative for Bill No. 34-0072- An Act amending Title 23 Virgin Islands Code, chapter 5, providing for the declaration of firearm components upon entry into the Virgin Islands and other related purposes. The measure seeks to ensure that any person entering the Virgin Islands with firearm components must immediately declare the firearm components to the Commissioner or the Commissioner’s designee at the port of entry. The declaration must include a complete description of the firearm components, along with the person’s name, address, date of birth, and occupation. “Ghost guns are legally purchased online and sold as kits. They operate and function as registered guns. The only difference is there aren’t any background checks, serial numbers, and registered owners,” said Sen. Payne. “We must get them off the streets.” In support of the measure, the Virgin Islands Chief Deputy Attorney General Eric Chancellor noted that the bill eliminates loopholes exploited by defense attorneys to remove criminals off the streets for an extended time when in violation of the law. In response to Senator Payne’s inquiry regarding how the guns enter the Territory, VIPD Police Commissioner Nominee Ray Martinez indicated that there are a lot of weapons transported via mail postal service and cargo transshipment ports.

However, the following measure was held in committee: Bill No. 34-0098- An Act amending Title 14 Virgin Islands Code, chapter 113, section 2253, relating to the unauthorized carrying of a firearm and evidence of intent to commit a crime of violence and to require that those convicted of the commission or attempted commission of a violent crime must serve the mandatory minimum sentence without suspension of sentence or adjudication and without eligibility for probation or parole before serving the mandatory minimum sentence. Senator Payne, bill sponsor shared remarks. “There is no deterrent, none for carrying an illegal firearm. The Virgin Islands ranks No. 3 per capita for murders in the world. It is not okay to carry an illegal firearm and commit an illegal act in the Virgin Islands,” said Sen. Payne. To date, VIPD continues to arrest and prosecute criminals for illegal possession of guns and related violations. Thus far in 2021, there are approximately 73 firearm arrests. This is a decline compared to 112 firearm arrests in 2020 and 130 firearm arrests in 2019. The amendment closes the loophole and ensures conviction to serve the 10-year mandatory minimum, according to Martinez.

Police Commissioner Nominee Ray Martinez shared an update on his 90 days month in office. Accomplishments are inclusive of the implementation of initiatives such as the DUI/Cellphone/Seatbelt Traffic Initiative. Regarding the Tourism Initiative, VIPD added patrol officers to the Tourist District. Due to the Intel-Driven Firearm Initiative, a total of twenty-four firearms and seventeen arrests were made for the possession of illegal firearms. Moreover, Martinez indicated that the COVID-19 Task Force, a compilation of law enforcement personnel, continues to enforce mandates for the Executive Order issued by the Governor. Furthermore, Martinez approved the installation of additional sensors on St. John and other locations to expand the Shotspotter System. Separately,

In updating the committee, BOC Director Wynnie Testamark mentioned that strict protocols and directives were established to lessen the spread of COVID-19 at the facilities. As of July 30th, BOC employees were mandated to show proof of vaccination or submit a weekly COVID-19 test. Furthermore, BOC protocols are inclusive of COVID-19 screenings, cleanings, and wearing a mask.
Although there were outbreaks at the jails, infected inmates neither died nor were hospitalized. To date, 64% of the employees of BOC are vaccinated, according to Testamark.

Senators in attendance for today’s meeting were Steven D. Payne Sr., Dwayne M. DeGraff, Novelle E. Francis Jr., Kenneth L. Gittens, Alma Francis Heyliger, Javan E. James Sr., Franklin D. Johnson, and Genevieve R. Whitaker.