Jan. 12, 2006 — Senators narrowly passed a bill calling for the reorganization of the Legislature, leaving the Senate with a new majority after a Senate session Thursday.
In a surprise move, Sen. Roosevelt C. David special ordered the bill to the floor at the end of Thursday's session. Prior to the special order, the bill had not yet been introduced to a Senate committee of jurisdiction, nor had it been debated on the floor by the former majority senators.
Furthermore, David called for the bill to be voted on without debate, allowing it to pass quickly with eight senators voting for the bill, and seven senators voting against it.
According to the legislative booklet, the Senate has only been reorganized on two other occasions: the 15th Legislature in July 1983 and the 17th Legislature in March 1987.
"This was supposed to be a total surprise," David said when contacted Thursday evening. "The majority senators did not expect itit shocked them terribly." David added that the senators decided to introduce the bill about an hour before the session reconvened from a lunchtime recess at 3:40 p.m.
The Senate was in an uproar after the bill passed, with former majority senators Liston Davis and Celestino A. White Sr. claiming that they had not known about the bill. White also said he had not been worried about a majority split, even though rumors have been circulating since September that the relationship between White and Sen. Lorraine L. Berry was problematic (See Rumors Rampant About Majority Breakup.)
Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, however, said he had "a feeling" the minority was pushing for reorganization.
"The timing on this was unexpected, though," he said when contacted Thursday evening. "And, unfortunately, this is just another example of people pushing their own personal agendas, not doing what's in the best interest of the V.I. people. What happened today was politics at its best."
Donastorg added that legislative offices will soon be going through some "major" renovations because of the reorganization. "People are also going to have to be laid off, new staff needs to be hired. This is all going to cost the government a lot of money," he said.
During the session, however, David said he introduced the bill because he felt "the Legislature has been going in the wrong direction."
"It's now time for us to save the institution," he said.
After the meeting, David stated that the former minority senators had been getting together "off and on for some time" to discuss the bill.
"We knew that that chemistry wasn't there within the group as it was," David said. "It was time to make a change." David, for example, knocked White out of his seat as majority chair, while Sen. Ronald E. Russell replaces Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste as the Senate's vice-president.
Former majority members were also surprised when the deciding vote came down to Sen. Lorraine L. Berry, who supported the reorganization. The bill allows Berry to retain her seat as Senate president.
"We feel that her [Berry's] philosophy meshes better with our philosophy," David said.
When contacted Thursday evening, Berry said she has been thinking about "switching sides" since last July, after the introduction of the controversial Jobs Creation Act.
Berry said during that time, Jn Baptiste had a public explosion, during which, she says, he verbally made political, racial, and gender attacks toward members of the Senate.
"After that, the political consensus majority was lost," she said.
Berry added that she tried to hang on to the majority but "couldn't stomach the political machinations of certain people after awhile."
Other organizational changes are as follows:
— Sen. Juan Figueroa-Serville replaces Davis as legislative secretary.
— Sen. Louis P. Hill replaces Richards as secretary for Intergovernmental and Territorial Affairs.
— Sen. Pedro "Pete" Encarnacion replaces Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone as Liaison to the White House.
— Sen. Craig W. Barshinger replaces Donastorg as Liaison to the U.S. Congress.
— Sen. Neville A. James replaces Sen. Terrence "Positive" Nelson as Liaison to the U.S. Department of Interior/Office of Insular Affairs.
The new committee chairmanships are as follows:
–Russell replaces Malone as chairman of the Committee on Rules and Judiciary.
–Hill replaces Jn Baptiste as chairman of the Finance Committee.
–Malone replaces Davis as chairman of the Committee on Education, Culture and Youth.
–Nelson remains chairman of the Committee on Labor and Agriculture.
–Figueroa-Serville replaces White as chairman of the Committee on Housing, Sports and Veterans Affairs.
–David replaces Donastorg as chairman of the Committee on Government Operations and Consumer Protection.
–Encarnacion remains chairman of the Committee on Public Safety, Homeland Security and Justice.
–Sen. Neville James remains chairman of the Committee on Economic Development, Planning and Environmental Protection.
The reorganization was adopted on an eight-to-seven vote with Barshinger, Berry, David, Encarnacion, Figueroa-Serville, Hill, James, and Russell voting in favor and Davis, Donastorg, Jn Baptiste, Malone, Nelson, Richards, and White voting in opposition.
All senators were present at Thursday's session.
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