Nov. 27, 2004 Gov. Charles W. Turnbull flexed his veto power and rejected five major pieces of legislation that had been approved by the 25th Legislature during its marathon budget session ending Oct. 4.
Although he approved 31 measures including all appropriations contributing to the General Fund he rejected the Omnibus Justice Act of 2004, the Financial Services Act, the School Vandalism Act, the Determination of Death Bill and the Animal Cruelty Bill.
In a letter to the Legislature made public Friday evening, Turnbull informed the body of his decisions.
Omnibus Justice Act of 2004
Among the bills rejected is a voluminous legislation sponsored by Sen. Lorraine L. Berry geared at reforming the justice system of the territory.
The Omnibus Justice Act of 2004 would have, among other things, established the creation of the controversial Law Enforcement Review Commission, providing residents with a venue to report misconduct of law enforcement officials. The V.I. Police Department and the police unions have both voiced their displeasure at the review commission, stating that an Internal Affairs Bureau is already in place. (See "Police Oppose Provisions of Law Enforcement 'Omnibus Act").
Although Turnbull said he supported several sections of the bill establishing the Law Enforcement Review Commission, uniform laws, the provision providing penalties for the willful transmission of HIV, identity theft, the unauthorized use of government credit cards and the adoption of the Interstate Compact for Supervision of Adult Offenders he withheld his signature from the measure.
"I could not give this important legislation my nod of approval," Turnbull said. "While this bill contains sections which address some major areas of concern, each section must be carefully reviewed and crafted to ensure that their intended purposes are clear and concise."
Turnbull said some areas in the bill were in need of "fine-tuning." The Law Enforcement Review Commission, in particular, should not have quasi-judicial powers, he said, saying this "infringes upon the power" of the Territorial Court and the Justice Department. "The commission should function as an oversight and review body of the Police Department and not oversee the day-to-day disciplinary matters that can and should be addressed by the department's Internal Affairs Bureau," Turnbull said.
The governor also blamed ambiguity and technical errors as part of his decision for disapproving the bill. Berry, who had held hearing after hearing with law enforcement officials and the public in refining the bill, said Saturday afternoon, "The bills that I sponsored are major bills. There was no justification and I'm extremely disappointed."
Financial Services Act
Berry also sponsored the Financial Services Act, a bill that would have reformed the banking industry and to which numerous, often unrelated, amendments had been tacked on. (See "Finance OKs Much-amended Banking Services Bill" ).
"While I am in support of the Financial Services Act, I had no choice," Turnbull said, but to veto the bill in its entirety.
Tacked to the bill was a controversial amendment, sponsored by Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste, mandating the V.I. Water and Power Authority to negotiate and enter into a power purchase agreement with a company that would invest heavily in the island of St. Croix. (See "WAPA Head, Legislators Discuss Amendment" ).
"The bill prohibits WAPA from utilizing the competitive bidding procedure established by law to secure services at the lowest cost," Turnbull said. "In addition, the bill would prohibit certain power producers from participating in the process."
Turnbull also blasted another amendment to the bill that exempted all property covered by an approved Affordable Housing Development Agreement from payment of real property taxes.
"The collection of property taxes is one of the most viable means of generating revenues for this government," Turnbull said. "Therefore, we cannot afford to give away revenues, which are sorely needed in a time of fiscal challenge."
The governor said further, "If the Legislature resubmits a bill to enact the Financial Services Act, which does not contain non-germane and fiscally irresponsible sections, I will support the legislation."
School Vandalism Act
Turnbull also chose to withhold his signature from a bill sponsored by Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone that provides for increases in the fines for school vandalism and authorizing that those fines collected be deposited into an impress account established by the principal of the vandalized school to help defray the cost of repairing the damage that occurred. The bill also holds parents responsible if a minor did the damage.
Recently, public schools across the territory have undergone a rash of acts of vandalism, including a fire at the Addelita Cancryn Junior High School on St. Thomas, which destroyed several classrooms.
Turnbull said although he agrees with the bill's intent, he "regrettably had to veto" it because it appropriates $50,000 in fiscal year 2004, which ended Sept. 30. The money was designated to post signs at every school informing individuals of the fines and penalties for vandalism.
"We cannot determine if this is a typographical error nor can we make the determination as to which fiscal year the monies will be appropriated," Turnbull said.
"In addition, it is unclear as to whether a new impress account for each vandalized school is to be established or if the current impress accounts will be utilized to deposit the funds into."
The governor said once the issues he noted were clarified he would "gladly" approve a similar bill.
Malone could not be reached for comment by press time Saturday.
Determination of Death
Turnbull rejected a bill that would establish a standard for the determination of death. Some in the health profession have called the current V.I. law, adopted in 1984, "outdated." In addition, since a 1993 amendment, local families cannot request to pull respirators unless two physicians declare there had been no brain activity for 24 hours, making the donation of vital organs difficult. (See "Witnesses Urge Changes to Law on Determining Death").
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Douglas Canton Jr., authorized each hospital and community health facility to set its own standard for the determining of death. (See "Panel Approves Different Bill on Determining Death").
The governor, in giving his reason for vetoing the bill, said Health Commissioner Darlene Carty had advised him that all hospitals and health facilities in the territory should have one common stand for the determination of death, which currently exists under V.I. law.
"To allow each hospital or community health center to make a determination as to when death occurs is not rational and may lead to painful confusion," Turnbull said.
Animal Cruelty Bill
Turnbull also vetoed a bill, sponsored by Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, which would stiffen penalties for animal cruelty saying the penalties were "overreaching and draconian." (See "Turnbull Turns Back Help for Abused Animals" for details).
"With all due respect, I advise the Legislature, in its endeavor to pass legislation that is well-intentioned a
nd seeks to address vital needs and concerns of the community, that more scrutiny and reflection be given to certain pieces of legislation before they are sent for my consideration," Turnbull wrote to the Senate. "While I support the spirit and intent of such legislation, I am often forced to veto important bills because of their unintended negative consequences on the people we serve."
Senate President David Jones told the Source Saturday he is not going to call another session to address Turnbull's vetoes, saying most senators are traveling or away on vacation. "The next legislature can take care of those issues," he said.
Berry did not hold the same view, however. Berry said if Jones would not call a session she would gather input from the other senators on whether they wanted to address the bills.
"If enough senators agree we will have a session," Berry said.
Eight senators are needed to petition for a special session and 10 senators are needed for an override, according to Berry.
To view a list of the bills Turnbull approved, see "Governor Approves 31 Bills".
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