Home News Local news Senate Synopsis: July 11-15

Senate Synopsis: July 11-15


July 17, 2005 — For residents frustrated that getting a V.I. license or registering a car in the territory is more like a Third-World experience in the 1950s than one in the 21st century under the U.S. flag, the Senate gave no solace this week.
In a surprise move, Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg ordered a bill to the floor Wednesday that seeks to establish the Motor Vehicle Bureau as an agency separate from the Department of Public Safety. The bill has been under discussion since June but appears to be in need of some fine tuning. Senators proposed amendments and debated the bill for hours, but no consensus was reached on what to do with it.
Maybe if all the senators had to go together to the Patrick Sweeney Headquarters, go through the process of getting a license or registering car, and sit on those hard benches while bureaucrats shuffled and reshuffled their forms — for no apparent reason — the senators could come up with a plan to fix the mess.
A bill for Moderate Income Affordable Housing also lost its positive momentum and flopped dead on the Senate floor Wednesday under the burden of an amendment by Sen. Celestino White. (See "Senate Approves Water Island Housing, Disagrees On Other Bills".)
The bill had passed the Senate earlier in the session, but White had called it back for reconsideration and an argument burst out immediately. Senate President Lorraine Berry was not even going to permit the move by White, but after some consultation did agree that it could be called back up.
White wanted to make tax breaks to those involved in affordable housing retroactive to 2003. Sen. Usie Richards objected, saying that the V.I. government could not be wiping the slate clean of taxes already owed. He said it was an amendment that would help just a special few.
Senators voted down the amendment, and this is when it really got confusing. Unfortunately, for the TV viewing audience this is also when the sound went out. Senators were running around everywhere looking very animated. Parliamentary procedures evidently went through some twists, and in the end, the final verdict was that the Affordable Housing bill, which had once had the Senate's OK, no longer did.
Berry said that despite the tension during the two-day Senate session much was accomplished.
On the first day of the legislative session senators approved Gerville R. Larsen and Robert G. Moron to the Historic Preservation Commission, and Robert O'Connor to the V.I. Port Authority Governing Board.
Sen. Roosevelt David asked that a veto by the governor of a $10 million appropriation for union workers be overruled. He did not garner enough support for his measure. Voting against the bill were Sens. Craig W. Barshinger, Liston Davis, Donastorg, Shawn-Michael Malone, Terrence "Positive" Nelson, Richards, and White. Those in support of the bill were Sens. Berry, Ronald Russell, Neville James, Juan Figueroa-Serville, Pedro M. Encarnacion, Louis P. Hill, and David.
A bill to petition the governor to submit appointments of individuals for a V.I. Wage Board opened the door for heavy criticism of Gov. Charles W. Turnbull .
"This bill is clearly well intentioned, but we're talking about a negligent governor … one who doesn't want to work," James said. "We could pass this legislation unanimously … but the governor will not do anything about it." Russell said that the Legislature was at a "crossroads" and "had to distance themselves from poor leadership," while Richards said that he would be "pleasantly surprised if the appointments were made."
The bill urges Turnbull to appoint seven members to a wage board. It was noted at a recent committee meeting to discuss raising the minimum wage that the board was no longer functioning. (See "Senate Passes Drugs for the Elderly, Bigger Fines for Car Dumping".)
Other bills disposed of on Monday included one to increase penalties for littering and abandoning vehicles and also operating an unlicensed car repair business. The bill also decreased the amount of tinting allowed on car windows from 70 percent to 35 percent.
Figueroa-Serville opposed the bill in the initial stages because he said it would discourage entrepreneurs with small garages. He gained an amendment to appease his fears. The bill was adopted as amended, with Sens. Davis, Encarnacion, Malone, Nelson, Richards, Russell, and White offering support. Berry, David, Donastorg, Hill, Jn. Baptiste, and Figueroa-Serville did not support the adoption of the bill. James did not vote.
To mark Bastille Day, Government House held a discussion program entitled "Sustaining a Rendezvous of Victory –Two Centuries of French Democracy." Participants included Malik Sekou, associate professor, University of the Virgin Islands; Jean P. Greaux; and Senate President Berry.
Senators heard an overview of the budget from executive department heads. The news was generally good, although it was admitted that the effects of Economic Development Commission companies leaving was just starting to be felt.
Office of Management and Budget Director Ira Mills said "The U.S. Virgin Islands economy has made some strides back to economic health and is on a path to moderate expansion."
(See "Governor's Fiscal Team Says Spending Will Be Matched by Revenues".)
Friday , July 15
At the request of Education, Culture and Youth Committee Chairman Davis, the Committee Of the Whole discussed the issues surrounding the recent U.S. Department of Education decision to "add special conditions to all pending and subsequent grants that are subject to the current Compliance Agreement."
In this hearing, OMB Director Mills asked that the U.S. government treat the Virgin Islands like it has treated other territories. He said school officials in Puerto Rico went to jail for mismanagement of funds.
During her testimony, Mary Moorehead, vice president of PTA for Central High School, said, "We've performed at the very bottom of standardized test exams. Students at UVI have had to register for skills classes, and our honors students have had to apply to remedial classes." (See "Senate Looks At Education Department's Compliance Agreement").
Davis has been extremely critical of Education Commissioner Noreen Michael throughout the week. He said that needed school repairs were not being done and, if Michael could not get the job done, she should step down.
Michael refused to answer questions about summer school repairs during the hearing.
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