April 13, 2006 – Moving quickly through a packed agenda Wednesday, the Senate Rules Committee approved eight bills in under two hours – including bills to increase graduation requirements for physical education in all local public schools and to enact a five-year moratorium on the issuance of tavern keepers licenses within three of the territory's towns.
The physical education bill – which stipulates that students in grades nine through 12 are required to take four years of P.E. in order to graduate – received strong opposition from various Education officials at an Education, Culture and Youth Committee meeting last month, based on the fact that it might lengthen the school day for students and affect those who are already struggling to balance their academic and vocational requirements.
During Wednesday's meeting, Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste, the bill's sponsor, introduced an amendment that would move the requirement from the high school level to the elementary level so that it would not affect school schedules. The amendment also gives the Board of Education the authority to implement the requirement.
Jn Baptiste said that the bill is designed to combat issues such as childhood obesity and the prevalence of Type-2 diabetes in adolescents.
Only Sen. Terrence "Positive" Nelson abstained when the vote was taken. Sen. Roosevelt C. David was absent at voting time.
A bill to promote a sustainable farming industry in the Virgin Islands was also approved Wednesday – along with an amendment added to the bill by Sen. Ronald E. Russell, which appropriates $5 million from the government's Insurance Guarantee Fund to the Agriculture Revolving Fund to help subsidize the effort.
The appropriation gave rise to concerns from some senators, who said the money in the Insurance Guarantee Fund is designed to help residents in the event of a natural disaster. While Russell argued that the fund – which currently has a balance of $50 million – had not yet been tapped into, Sen. Louis P. Hill explained that many insurance companies are withdrawing coverage from hurricane-ravaged areas like Louisiana because "they've incurred such drastic losses."
"It is critical that we have the money there so that our residents are protected," Hill added.
The bill clarifies which farming activities are official components of the agriculture industry, outlines the rights and responsibilities of agriculturists, addresses land management guidelines and establishes the responsibilities of the agriculture commissioner. It also includes a $1.2 million appropriation to purchase equipment and vehicles for the Department of Agriculture and charges the department with providing equipment, through rental or sale, to farmers for their farms.
Hill was the only senator to vote against the bill.
Also approved on Wednesday were bills:
–directing the Motor Vehicle Bureau to issue license plates to veterans.
–allowing military personnel and their families to vote anytime up to and including the day of an election.
–enforcing safeguards which protect residents against consumer fraud practices.
–placing a five-year moratorium on the issuance of tavern keepers licenses within Frederiksted and Christiansted on St. Croix, and the Savan area in St. Thomas.
–ensuring that residents find out who voted how when the territory's boards and committees go into closed session.
A bill to enact the Carnival Promotion Accountability Act of 2006 was held in committee because the bill's sponsor, Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg was not present during Wednesday's meeting.
All committee members were present during Wednesday's meeting.
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