Sept. 27, 2005A bill to separate the Motor Vehicle Bureau from the V.I. Police Department was both approved and not approved by senators at full session on Monday.
Accompanied by much debate, as well as insults hurled back and forth across the Legislative chamber, the bill was first introduced by Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, whose argument for the bill was, "if something is wrong, try something else."
Donastorg explained the bureau has been plagued with shortages in resources and staff for at least the past ten years, and because of these factors, is closed a third of the year. Furthermore, Donastorg said since bureau director Lawrence Olive has limited authority within the bureau's chain of command, there has been little change in the situation.
To take care of the funding needed to stop these shortages, the bill also sets up a separate budget for the bureau equal to $1 million dollars, or 10 percent of the bureau's revenues for the year. Donastorg said since the bureau is one of the government's largest revenue producing agencies, they should be able, under favorable conditions, to make at least $20 million annually.
Both Sens. Celestino A. White Sr. and Shawn-Michael Malone added the police need to take time and concentrate on the increase in crime in the territory. "There are 33 homicides and very few arrests," White said. "There's no reason for the police to be fighting to keep the Motor Vehicle Bureau. Let them take care of the people who are dying instead."
Malone also mentioned motor vehicle bureaus on the mainland are not controlled by police departments, and consequently, the V.I. should move into the modern age.
Sen. Ronald E. Russell, however, opposed the bill. He said, "The police commissioner does not support the bill, and we should put faith in his decisions." Russell, along with other senators, said a new agency would create more expenses for the government, as well as additional bureaucracy.
Subsequently, after a motion was made by Donastorg to approve the bill, senators voted against it, eight to six, with Sens. Craig W. Barshinger, Juan Figueroa-Serville, Louis P. Hill, Neville James, Norman Jn Baptiste, Terrence "Positive" Nelson, Usie R. Richards, and Russell in opposition to the measure. Sens. Lorraine L. Berry, Roosevelt C. David, Liston Davis, Donastorg, Malone, and White voted in favor of the bill.
After the vote, Russell moved to take certain sections out of the bill to consider and vote on separately. The first section allows the bureau to issue certificates of destruction for vehicles imported into the V.I. before Sept. 1, 2005, and also provides for the safety of these vehicles.
The second section provides that trailers, backhoes, forklifts, rollers and cranes only need one license plate to drive on V.I. roads.
After both sections were unanimously approved, senators then decided to vote on the remaining parts of the billsections which they had already resolved not to support. The vote taken on whether or not to separate the bureau from the police department yielded different results this time.
With a seven-to-six vote in favor of the remaining sections, the Senate found themselves approving the bill in its entirety, despite the concerns they had previously voiced. Changing their votes on the bill were Jn Baptiste, to favor the bill, and Nelson, who decided to abstain.
"You guys like to waste a lot of time," Berry said once the vote was complete.
Discussion on the matter continued with the introduction of a bill relating to the hiring and firing of individuals on the territory's many boards and commissions, with Donastorg stating he had taken "a lot of blows" for his motor vehicle bill from senators who have not as yet put any measures on the floor.
"When you win a vote, move on," Barshinger and Russell said. "Even when you don't win a vote, move on."
Consequently, senators opted to continue discussion of the bill at hand, a measure which prohibits individuals from being employed by any authority, agency or department within two years of serving its board or commission.
As all senators agreed the bill was a necessary "transparency-promoting" measure; it passed unanimously.
A bill to establish a chief of police in each district of the territory was also approved Monday amidst much debate, with senators voicing many of the same concerns expressed regarding the motor vehicle bureau bill.
In addition to creating more bureaucracy, some senators said a chief in each district would be too expensive to maintain.
On the other hand, some senators argued, it would give Novelle Francis, territorial police chief, a break. "We used to have two chiefs," White said. "Then we changed it to one, and one isn't working. There's too much crime out there now."
Subsequently, the bill was approved, with Barshinger, Berry, David, Davis, Donastorg, Encarnacion, Hill, Jn Baptiste, Malone, Russell and White voting in favor of the measure. Figueroa-Serville, James, Nelson, and Richards were opposed.
On a crime-stopping spree, senators further approved a bill creating three mobile police substations for the territory — one each on St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix. Once established, these substations would be able to move from neighborhood to neighborhood on these islands, allowing police to concentrate on areas with high crime activity.
The bill also provided $75,000 for the renovation and maintenance of police headquarters in Bournefield, St. Thomas, as well as $300,000 for the construction of three storage facilitiesone each for the three islands.
Also approved by senators Monday were:
–a bill to increase the minimum wage to $6.15 an hour, beginning Jan. 1, 2006.
–a bill relating to the charge of security deposits by the Water and Power Authority for new and transferred meter service.
–a bill to enact the Identity Theft Prevention Act of 2005.
–a bill relative to the collection of delinquent and contested contribution-interest on past due contributions and other related purposes.
–a lease agreement between the Government of the Virgin Islands, the Department of Property and Procurement, and A-9 Trucking Enterprises Inc.
–a lease agreement between the Government of the Virgin Islands, the Department of Property and Procurement, and Clifford Hamilton for the establishment of Villa's Bar on St. Croix.
–a resolution to honor Colonel Gerald Luz A. James.
–a resolution to honor and commend the V.I. Amateur Boxing Team for its participation in the Caribbean Amateur Boxing Association Championships and winning a record number of medals.
All bills will be forwarded to Gov. Charles W. Turnbull for final approval.
All senators were present at Monday's session.
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