Nov. 14, 2005Paychecks for some local residents will soon be a little heavier, after senators unanimously voted Monday to override Gov. Charles W. Turnbulls veto of a bill increasing the minimum wage by $1.
The new law will give all employees a 50-cent hourly wage increase beginning Jan. 1, 2006, and another 50-cent hourly wage increase beginning Jan.1, 2007.
Turnbull vetoed the bill early last month, stating that it had too many "technical errors and ambiguous language." Although Turnbull asked senators to work on the bill and resubmit it for approval, no changes had been made when a motion to override the veto came up at Mondays full Senate session.
Senators also unanimously voted to override Turnbulls veto of an amendment cutting the fuel tax paid by consumers in half. Turnbull line-item vetoed the amendment, which was tacked onto the Omnibus bill in early September, later that month. In a subsequent transmittal letter to Sen. Lorraine L. Berry, Turnbull said he vetoed the bill because the territory's 14-cent tax was lower than any other jurisdiction and a 50 percent cut would not be a benefit to those residents still suffering from the high price of gas.
At a full Senate session last week, Sen. Liston Davis made a motion to override the veto, as he thought the reduction could save consumers between $250 to $500 per year on gasoline.
However, the motion failed, with Sens. Berry, Davis, Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, Juan Figuera-Serville, Louis P. Hill, Jn Baptiste, Malone, Usie R. Richards, and Celestino A. White Sr. voting for the amendment, and Sen. Craig W. Barshinger voted against. Sens. Roosevelt C. David, Neville James, Terrence "Positive" Nelson, and Ronald Russell abstained. Sen. Pedro "Pete" Encarnacion was absent.
Richards made a motion to re-consider the vote on Monday. That time, all senators voted for the reduction, which lowers the tax from 14 cents to seven cents.
In other action, senators approved a bill requiring school monitors to undergo drug and psychological testing before being hired by the Education Department. The bill also establishes a criminal check to prevent employees convicted locally or on the mainland from being employed in local schools.
Davis and Sen. Neville James made amendments to the bill that were also unanimously approved Monday. These amendments state:
— the Education Department will provide training for all monitors before they begin working at a school, and professional development training for monitors after they are hired.
— $100,000 is appropriated from the General Fund to the Board of Education to conduct a study on revising the curriculum used in the public school system.
— local public schools be inspected and certified as environmentally safe by the Health Department, Planning and Natural Resources Division of Environmental Programs, and the Labor Departments Occupational Safety and Health Administration division.
Also approved was a bill regulating the use of cellular phones while driving. Sen. David, the bills sponsor, said he introduced it to keep residents from being "maimed or killed" when drivers are too busy talking on the phone "to look at the road."
The bill, which does allow "hands-free" devices to be used while driving, is a standard on the mainland, David said.
The only objections to the bill came from Donastorg and Jn Baptiste. Donastorg said the bill would negatively impact the ability for businessmen stuck in traffic to make calls to the office, or residents who need to use the phone in case of an emergency. Jn Baptiste said he felt the bill is "too restrictive" and "undemocratic."
Bills designating March as Virgin Islands History Month, and prohibiting the use of pocket-bikes on local highways were also unanimously approved.
All senators were present on Monday except for Sens. Pedro "Pete" Encarnacion and Sen. Terrence "Positive" Nelson.
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