Jan. 24, 2005 Members of the 26th Legislature were not put on the hot seat Monday at the League of Women Voters biennial luncheon for new Legislatures.
Traditionally, the League gives the Senate a list of expectations of what it looks forward to in the upcoming two years, and asks the senators how they will approach these goals. These can include long and short-term options for revenue expenditure reductions, education reform, and the perennial quest of the league, passage of the Comprehensive Land- and Water-Use Plan. This plan was circulated last year by Sen. Louis Hill, then chair of the Planning and Environmental Protection committee. Rosalie Simmonds-Ballentine, league president, said Monday she had given each senator a list of "Do's and Don'ts" from the league's 2002 meeting. "We have wrapped these up like a little scroll, which you should look at every so often. Don't be afraid, listen to your constituents," she said."
Ballentine also admonished the lawmakers, "Don't forget the little things. How can we ask for more cruise ships for St. Croix, when there is sewage flowing in the streets? It makes no sense to have so many cruise ships in St. Thomas that it creates gridlock traffic all day long."
She admonished the six new senators and those entering their second term, "You have a unique opportunity. Don't be afraid to think outside the box. There are workable solutions if you leave yourself open to hear them. We don't have a viable party system."
She continued, "The people voted for you individually because they see someone who can fulfill their hopes and dreams. Don't let them down."
The room at Pilgrim Terrace was packed. Everyone awaited words of wisdom from the lawmakers, plans of action and an idea of what to expect in the next two years.
Senate President Lorraine Berry laid out priorities of the Senate majority's agenda. Berry, and several senators referred to the rift between the two factions of the Legislature, but it was clear the audience was no longer interested in the Senate's infighting. "Get over it, let's move on," came a comment from one of the league members, seconded quietly by others at her table.
Berry listed issues which she said applied to all the senators, not simply the majority.
She lamented the lack of productivity in the 25th Legislature Democratic majority, asking if we were better off today than yesterday? "The answer is a resounding 'no'."
She presented areas of political consensus which she said applies to all 15 senators. They include:
– St. Croix economic rehabilitation.
– A Tourism Board. Berry has fought Gov. Charles W. Turnbull tooth and nail on the make-up of a such a board, and Turnbull has vetoed Berry's legislation.
– Infrastructure improvements. The Anguilla landfill closing on St. Croix and re-zoning for the Bovoni landfill to allow a tire shredder to operate. Berry said the re-zoning will be in her first session agenda.
– Government Employees Retirement System reform.
– Private sector expansion. The V.I. Port Authority needs approval of a dredging application for the Ann Abramson Pier in Frederiksted to accommodate larger cruise ships.
– Support of Willliam and Punch development in Frederiksted, the Golden Gaming Resorts project in Christensted and pursuing a positive working relationship with Hovensa.
– Economic Development Program reform. Working with the executive branch to make the required changes to fit federal mandates, which should be tailor made to sustain the V.I. program.
– Crime. Fund the Police department staff shortages. Pass the Omnibus Justice Act, a massive document which instituted reforms including a civilian review board, and which Berry worked on extensively in the 25th Legislature, and which Turnbull vetoed.
Berry listed some issues as the majority's alone. They include:
– Public education. Immediate schools change Addelita Cancryn Junior High School on St. Thomas and Julius Sprauve School on st. John need to be moved to more appropriate locations. Education policies must change to accommodate removing disruptive students from the student body and placing them in an alternate learning facility.
– No pay raises for government employees until funding is identified.
– Health care. $6 million is needed for the Charlotte Kimelman Cancer Care Center.
– Fiscal reform. Berry has long supported a Financial Control Board, but has never gotten support from her colleagues. She said she is supporting an Emergency Fiscal Policy and Economic Development Summit for all stakeholders to formulate a mechanism acceptable to all.
– A Senate sexual harassment policy that covers all senators and staff. She said the Legislature is "seeking to resolve an internal matter" now. However, she said, since the matter is presently in court, she could not comment further.
Many of the majority and minority's issues are the same.
Boosting the St. Croix economy is at the base of both agendas.
Minority leader Sen. Roosevelt David, speaking after Berry, said, "It was my hope to be able to present our agenda today, but I will do that on my Saturday radio program." However, David said, "I agree with a number of issues Sen. Berry mentioned, and I hope to start a dialog so we can start working on the same page."
Each of the eleven senators was given a couple minutes to state his goals.
Crucian Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste said November tax collections showed a shocking disparity. Of $30 million collected, $21 million was from St. Thomas-St. John, and $9 million from St., Croix. "That is a serious imbalance," he said which has to be addressed.
Crucian Sen. Ronald Russell, an avid advocate for his district, didn't surprise anyone when he again said he would move to have the newly created Supreme Court located in Frederiksted. The court, at present, only exists on paper; it has not been funded.
Hill said he and Jn Baptiste have GERS reform legislation ready for a committee. He also asked the league to continue to advocate for the V. I. Port Authority's long awaited waterfront improvement project.
St. Thomas Sen. Liston Davis, Education committee chair, said he has meetings on both islands scheduled for late in February to examine school infrastructure issues.
And St. Thomas senior Sen. Celestino A. White Sr., gave a semi-serious end to the meeting with a plea. "The election is over, gone," he said. "Stop stating the time and date Sen. Berry and I will have a problem. It's not gonna' happen. I suggest you redirect your efforts."
For a look at those "Do's and Don't from two years (See "Dos and Don'ts for the 25th Legislature").
Here's a peek. The first item: "Do remember that you are public servants, not of individuals but of the whole electorate. The campaign and election are over. You represent all of us and have a responsibility to do what is right for all."
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