March 8, 2007 – After sailing through two Senate committees, a bill prohibiting any utility regulated by the Public Services Commission from applying for Economic Development Commission benefits was not approved by senators during a full session Thursday.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Louis P. Hill, was first introduced during a Government Operations and Consumer Protection meeting late February, where representatives from Innovative Communications Corp. told senators that the bill was "blatantly targeting" the company (See "Committee Approves Bill Denying EDC Benefits to Utility Companies"). The bill was then fast-tracked through the Rules Committee to the full body during a meeting earlier this week.
During Thursday's session, however, senators said they could not give the bill the final go-ahead because it may adversely affect the viability of the ferryboat industry, whose rates are also regulated by the PSC. "We can't punish these businesses for the benefits that were granted to Vitelco," Sen. Usie R. Richards said. "By doing that, we are taking away from all utilities the opportunity to subsidize their business with benefits. I can't support that – some of these companies will actually need those benefits, especially the ferryboats, or those companies that deal with wharfage and shipping cargo inter-island."
Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste added to Richards' statements by saying he was concerned that creating the bill could be illegal. "Is this how we're operating now, by considering a bill which may not be legally binding, which might have a retroactive impact to employees, which appears to be an assault on private enterprise? We haven't even stopped to consider whether we can do something like this – we're talking about taking away a funding source for businesses, and I think that if the bill isn't reviewed some more, that we could be dragged into court if it's approved."
Jn Baptiste voted against the bill, along with Richards and Sens. Lorraine L. Berry, Pedro "Pete" Encarnacion, Neville James, and Celestino A. White Sr. Voting for the bill were Sens. Craig W. Barshinger, Juan Figueroa-Serville, Hill, Terrence "Positive" Nelson, and Ronald E. Russell.
Sens. Roosevelt C. David, Liston Davis, and Shawn-Michael Malone abstained.
In other action, senators unanimously voted to confirm acting Public Works Commissioner George W. Phillips as Commissioner of Public Works. The nomination was forwarded to the full body from the Rules Committee earlier this week, but was not acted upon until Phillips submitted various financial records to the Legislature.
The nomination of Desmond Maynard to the Government Employees Retirement System Board of Trustees was held until the next full body session. Senators said Maynard had to submit information proving he is up to date with his property taxes.
Senators also approved:
–a resolution honoring and commending Trevor Nicholas "Nick" Friday for his contribution to calypso music and naming the road from the Red Hook Ferry terminal to the Estate Nadir intersection "Trevor Nicholas 'Nick' Friday Memorial Drive."
— a bill authorizing the ratification of a contract for off-island services rendered by the Pine Residential Treatment Center for Children, located in Virginia, on behalf of the local Education Department.
–a bill allowing senior citizens and persons with disabilities to pay their bills at any government department or agency where there is a bonded cashier.
–a bill enacting education and safety regulations for recreational vessels.
A bill to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace was also unanimously approved Thursday. Barshinger, the bill's sponsor, said the bill provides a clear definition of, and prohibition of, sexual harassment. "The term 'sexual harassment' is nowhere in the V.I. Code," Barshinger said during the session. "So, if you're a victim of sexual harassment, then you don't have a firm foundation to base a case on – but this bill changes that, and hopefully, since people will have a clear picture of what's appropriate and what's not appropriate, the number of sexual harassment cases will die down."
All senators were present during Thursday's session.
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