Nov 11, 2005Senators unanimously voted to override Gov. Charles W. Turnbull's veto of a bill which adds language to the V.I. Code allowing non-unionized government employees serving at the pleasure of an executive director or governing board to bring a wrongful discharge action against the government if they are dismissed, demoted, or suspended.
The motion to override was brought forward at a full Legislative session Thursday by Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone, who has previously stated the law will particularly benefit members of the Supervisor's Union, who have not had a collective bargaining agreement with the government since 1995.
Malone said Turnbull vetoed the bill earlier last month because of a clause which includes the V.I. Housing Authority on the list of government entities whose employees could potentially bring an action for wrongful discharge. Since the authority, and its employees, were taken out of the government's personnel system years ago, Malone explained, it should not be included in the bill.
However, this reasoning was not put in a transmittal letter written by Turnbull to Sen. Lorraine L. Berry in October. Supporting his decision to veto the bill, Turnbull stated, "It is my position that boards, commissions, and other instrumentalities should have the full authority to manage their operations, and that includes the changing of their staff."
Furthermore, Turnbull claimed employers do not "arbitrarily" terminate staff; instead, they must have "some cause for their action."
Turnbull added the bill would therefore create additional financial responsibilities for the government, overwhelm the Public Employees Relations Board, and fill important positions with people who should rightfully be "disciplined, demoted or terminated."
In other financial matters, a motion made by Sen. Liston Davis to override Turnbull's veto of a bill reducing the fuel tax for customers from 14 cents to seven cents failed at Thursday's session.
In the transmittal letter to Berry, Turnbull wrote the territory's 14-cent tax was lower than any other jurisdiction's and a 50 percent cut would not be a benefit to those residents still suffering from the high price of gas. Davis disagreed at Thursday's session, saying that the reduction could save consumers between $250-$500 per year on gasoline.
Other senators said they felt such a law result in a loss of revenues for the government. Turnbull's made similar comments in his letter, stating the reduction from 14 cents to seven cents would affect the revenue stream for the Transportation Trust Fund, which is set up to provide funding for matters relating to transportation.
Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste said this is not so, as the government collected about $700 million in revenues for fiscal year 2005.
"And, according to the revenue report given to me by the Finance Department, we only spent about $563 million of thatmeaning that there is currently a surplus in revenues of more than $100 million. You're telling me that we can't afford to cut the tax in half and provide the people with a little relief?"
After the meeting, Davis said he was disappointed with the vote, because "the tax reduction was not meant to hurt the government," he said. "It was only meant to help the people who are paying an astronomical amount of money at the pump."
Voting for Davis' override were Sens. Berry, Davis, Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, Juan Figuera-Serville, Louis P. Hill, Jn Baptiste, Malone, Usie R. Richards, and Celestino A. White Sr. Sen. Craig W. Barshinger voted against the bill, while Sens. Roosevelt C. David, Neville James, Terrence "Positive" Nelson, and Ronald Russell abstained. Sen. Pedro "Pete" Encarnacion was absent.
Legislative law states a motion to override requires ten favorable votes.
In other action, senators passed resolutions which:
— honor and commend Abdul R. Ali for over twenty years of service to the Virgin Islands community as a Social Worker.
— honor and commend Oscar Rosario for his dedication and contribution to the people of the Virgin Islands.
— honor and commend Darwin Antonio King for his outstanding achievements and contributions to the people of the Virgin Islands
— support the goals and ideals of the Pulmonary Disease Awareness and Prevention Program.
All senators were present at Thursday's session, except for Encarnacion.
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