Published: Oct 5, 2020

ST. CROIX— The Committee on Economic Development, Regulations, and Agriculture, chaired by Senator Allison L. DeGazon, held a public meeting on Monday in the Frits E. Lawaetz Legislative Chambers to receive testimony on several proposed bills.

Bill No. 33-0349, proposed by Sen. Stedmann Hodge Jr., establishes the Tourism Enhancement Revolving Fund (TERF) to enhance the Virgin Islands tourism product and sustainable tourism development. The Bill calls explicitly for the Commissioner of Tourism to establish an Excursion Grant Program for eligible applicants in amounts ranging from $5,000 to $50,000, to support existing excursions and establish new excursion services.

Grant recipients utilize those funds to repair and modernize excursion vessels, terminals, related facilities, and equipment, including the purchase, replacement, or rehabilitation of ferries and terminal-related infrastructure or equipment. Commissioner Calvert White of the Department of Sports, Parks, and Recreation (DSPR) noted the Bill specifically supports pre-existing and new excursions, which do not fall under the scope of the department’s responsibilities. According to Comm. White, his department does not have the resources to execute this mandate if passed. He noted that a grant program of this nature should be undertaken by an authority skilled and knowledgeable in the Territory’s economic development.

Clarina Modeste-Elliott, Exec. Assistant Commissioner of the Department of Finance (DOF) said the department requires further clarification, collaboration, and guidance from agencies directly impacted by the proposed legislation. She added that to avoid confusion with their existing “Tourism Revolving Fund,” revising the Fund’s original name to “Tourism Enhancement and Excursions Fund” is strongly suggested.

Anthony Thomas, Commissioner of the Department of Property and Procurement (DOP), said they could not fully consider the legislation without the Department of Tourism’s (DOT) presence. He added that DOT would bear primary responsibility for the programs under this proposed measure. The Bill was held in Committee for further consideration and additional amendments.

Bill No. 33-0376, sponsored by Sen. Donna Frett-Gregory, an Act requiring the Department of Agriculture (DOA) to develop a Territorial Agricultural Plan with an appropriation of $180,000 from the General Fund to assist with developing the project. The Bill was co-sponsored by Senators DeGazon, Kurt Vialet, Marvin Blyden, Athneil “Bobby” Thomas, and Janelle Sarauw.

According to Sen. Frett-Gregory, the Territorial Plan, known as the “Agriculture Plan,” must contain policy and funding recommendations to support and expand the local food system; to increase locally grown food production, and provide food security for the Territory. The plan must also include short-term and long-term goals, including proposals for legislative enactment.

In his testimony, Commissioner Positive T.A. Nelson, Department of Agriculture (DOA), agreed with the proposed concept and stated two plans; however, they have not been enacted. He added that the proposed project should determine the need for personnel, supplemental organizations, and funding. He further pledged to make the best use of the $180,000 to assist with developing the initiative.

Dr. David Hall, President of the University of the Virgin Islands, said, “The Bill and its underlying initiative are long overdue. The development and enhancement of agriculture, the expansion of local food systems, the increase of locally grown food production, and the obtainment of the compelling goal of food security are vital to the future of the Virgin Islands, and the University stands ready to assist in the attainment of these laudable goals.” He pointed out that the plan must be comprehensive and a mixture of both new and old ideas and programs that will ensure sustained local food production, distribution, and significantly reduce food importation into the Territory.

Dr. Hall concluded that his only concern with the measure lies within the 180-day deadline. “Six months might seem like a long time, but if the goal is to develop a plan that can have the type of impact you desire, it may take longer.” The Bill was favorably approved and sent to the Committee on Rules and Judiciary for further consideration.

Bill No. 33-0350, an Act proposed by Sen. DeGazon, will amend the VI Code, relating to real estate brokers and salespersons to update real estate broker and sales associates’ licensure requirements. The Bill was a collaborative effort between my office and stakeholders present. “My Office brought together the regulators and the regulated to have a balanced approach that improves real estate business practices, gives consumers greater clarity and protection, and allows the Real Estate Commission and DLCA to regulate the laws effectively.”

In his testimony, Richard Evangelista, Commissioner of the Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs (DLCA), said the proposed changes seek to modernize the existing law to serve the Virgin Islands community better. The current legislation was approved on May 4, 1967. With several minor changes passed on October 14, 1986, the Virgin Islands’ real estate laws have gone relatively unchanged. Evangelista indicated that many of the changes seek to strike a harmonious balance between creating opportunities for real estate and property management professionals while ensuring that the consumers’ interests are front and center of the legislation.

Ava Gail Bourdon, a resident of St. Croix since 1972 and a real estate practitioner for 15 years, said the proposed updates to this Bill would bring this statute into the 21st Century. She added that the framework of Bill No.33-0350 sets a solid base for generations to come.

The Bill was held in Committee for further consideration, according to Senator DeGazon, due to its far-reaching measures. She will ensure the changes reflect positive economic growth for the people of the Virgin Islands. The Committee also tabled a status update from the VI Economic Development Authority (VIEDA) on its operations.

Committee members present during the meeting were: Chairwoman Allison DeGazon, Senators Athneil “Bobby” Thomas, Alicia Barnes, Oakland Benta, Marvin Blyden, Myron Jackson, Kurt Vialet, Dwayne DeGraff, and Donna Frett-Gregory.



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