March 27, 2006 – The Legislature's Government Operations and Consumer Protection Committee on Monday agreed to put a damper on noise pollution in Frederiksted and Christiansted, St. Croix, as well as in Savan, St. Thomas, by imposing a five-year moratorium on new tavern licenses.
The vote was three yes to two no on an amendment by Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone to include Christiansted and Savan to the original bill that pertained only to Frederiksted, and also on the amended version of the bill.
Sen. Roosevelt David and Sen. Ronald Russell voted no, while Sen. Louis P. Hill, Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone and Sen. Terrence Nelson voted yes. Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, who had been at the meeting, was absent for the vote. Sen. Craig Barshinger was absent for the entire meeting.
Al Franklin, who serves as president of Our Town Frederiksted, said the bill will help with the town's development. He said that whenever a building becomes available for rent, it becomes a bar.
"Economic development is being hampered. We recommend some strong action on the part of the body," he said, noting that loud music was a major complaint in Frederiksted.
Licensing and Consumer Affairs Commissioner Andrew Rutnik opposed the bill, but only because he said strong enforcement of existing laws was a better approach.
Rutnik complained that the Police Department had far more officers than Licensing, and had passed the buck to his department when it came to enforcement.
He predicted that bars bent on loud noise would simply add a restaurant to get around the new law.
The bill's primary sponsor, Sen. Raymond "Usie" Richards, said that there were 22 bars within a seven-block radius in Frederiksted.
Non-committee member Sen. Liston Davis said he thinks there are more than 35 bars in Savan.
"Every available house is a bar or restaurant," he said.
Rutnik also said that a rezoning rather than a variance for a small convenience store in the middle of a Sion Farm, St. Croix, residential area allowed a cock fighting operation to set up shop.
"There's major crime there, and drug use, noise, violence and swearing," Rutnik said.
Rutnik came under fire from Sen. Juan Figueroa-Serville for observing that "Santo" bars had speakers the size of cars and played very loud music.
"That term is offensive, Commissioner, and I respectfully ask you not to do so again," Figueroa-Serville said.
Rutnik, who was referring to bars owned by people who came to the Virgin Islands from the Dominican Republic, had no response.
The five senators at the meeting approved a bill to help with consumer fraud.
"It will go a long way in protecting consumers from schemes and scams," said Ali Paul, director of consumer protection at Licensing.
All bills acted on Monday now go to the Rules Committee for consideration.
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