April 20, 2006 – After a morning full of long speeches, arguments, and frequent recesses, senators put their heads together during the second half of a full Legislative session and approved $2.5 million worth of new appropriations to a supplemental budget bill that was submitted by Gov. Charles W. Turnbull in February.
Half of the supplemental budget requests included in the original bill – which appropriated $59.2 million to various government departments and agencies – were incorporated last month into a $49.6 million appropriations bill that Turnbull signed into law in late March (See "Rules Committee Approves Second Supplemental Budget Bill").
The remaining supplemental budget requests were approved Thursday, along with amendments appropriating additional funds for various youth groups, union members, and capital improvement projects, among other things.
According to Sen. Lorraine L. Berry, the total amount of supplemental budget appropriations is still unknown, however, since many appropriations are duplicated in both bills.
The amendment process was arduous Thursday, as each senator had the opportunity to offer three amendments which not only included some new appropriations, but several policy changes to already existing laws. However, while some took the time to speak out about rushing amendments to the floor at the last minute, the majority of senators voted favorably on the bill when the session ended at 11 p.m.
Several amendments sparked heavy debate during the seven-hour deliberation process, including an amendment establishing an 11-month window in which all interest and penalties are waived for residents who have not paid their gross receipts taxes. "This will help those residents whose businesses are about to go under," Sen. Norman Jn. Baptiste, the sponsor of the amendment, said. "Particularly in St. Croix, there are people who have been struggling to pay their taxes because of the downturn in the economy."
Speaking out against the amendment, Sen. Usie R. Richards said, "I'm concerned when a government, who is always in need of revenues to fund the activities of its people, takes on measures to waive money that's owed."
After seeking an opinion from the Legislature's Legal Counsel and Internal Revenue Director Louis Willis, Jn Baptiste changed the amendment to give IRB the responsibility of waiving the penalties and interest. Once changed, senators approved the amendment.
Legal Counsel had to give opinions on other amendments as well, including one to prohibit any government department, agency or instrumentality from conducting more than one inspection on vehicles in the territory.
During a round of debate, Sen. Celestino A. White Sr., the amendment's sponsor, said the amendment specifically applies to taxi drivers, who are required by the Department of Licensing and Consumer affairs to undergo two inspections per year on their vehicles. He said each time a taxi driver gets their car inspected, it costs $30, which is putting money into the department's pockets.
"Now, the only inspection they would have to go through is the one which is conducted by the Motor Vehicle Bureau once a year," White added, after hearing concerns from senators who said they thought the amendment should be turned into a bill and assigned to a committee for further consideration.
The amendment would also re-institute the moratorium on the issuance of taxi operator badges and identification cards to all applicants except veterans. White explained that while the moratorium was enacted several years ago, an exception to the rule was made for applicants who contract or lease taxi plates. He said the amendment would repeal the exception, bringing the law back to its original form.
At voting time, the amendment was approved with Berry, Jn Baptiste, Richards and White, along with Sens. Roosevelt C. David, Liston Davis, Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, Pedro "Pete" Encarnacion, Juan Figueroa-Serville, Louis P. Hill, Neville James, Terrence Nelson and Ronald E. Russell voting in favor, and Sen. Craig W. Barshinger voting against.
Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone was absent during Thursday's session.
Another significant amendment to the bill mandates that Notices of Personnel Action (NOPAs) do not have to be signed by the governor unless they are for exempt employees or individuals working in the Office of the Governor.
"The government generally allows NOPAs to linger," Sen. Louis P. Hill, the amendment's sponsor said. "Usually, they're sitting right there on the governor's desk because he doesn't have time to sign them. I've heard this complaint many times, and we really must remove the governor from the process."
If approved by Turnbull, the Director of Personnel would sign the NOPAs instead of the governor.
Other amendments added to the bill during Thursday's session:
–appropriates $150,000 to Public Works to repair the portion of Hard Labor Road on St. Croix on which the government has operated a water distribution tank, and $35,000 to repair the portion of road beginning at the intersection where Routes 69 and 766 connect.
–appropriates $2.5 million from the Land Bank Fund to the Virgin Islands Housing Finance Authority to purchase land for affordable housing.
–appropriates $150,000 to the Education Department to hire five school monitors for the St. Croix Educational Complex.
–appropriates $110,000 from the St. John Capital Improvement Fund to Public Works for the purchase of a stage for public performances on St. John.
–amends an appropriation made in the 2006 Executive Budget to allow a $442,000 appropriation for Virgin Islands Perinatal Inc. to be available until expended.
–appropriates $250,000 to the Education Department to secure janitorial services for the public schools in St. Croix.
–appropriates $24,490 to pay outstanding retroactive wages to the Members of the United Industrial Workers Service, Transportation, Professional and Government Workers of North America, of the Seafarers International Union of North America, Atlantic, Gulf, Lakes and Inland Waters District/NMU, AFL-CIO (SIU) House Residents.
–amends the V.I. Code and transfers the responsibility of producing the Latin Music Festival on St. Croix from Housing, Parks and Recreation to the Tourism Department.
–appropriates $100,000 to the American Red Cross in St. Croix to purchase equipment in preparation of hurricane season and to provide disaster relief for needy individuals.
–amends a law prohibiting sexual harassment in the workplace to allow the amount funds appropriated to the Virgin Islands Civil Rights Commission to be appropriated for subsequent fiscal years.
–requires the Motor Vehicle Bureau to be responsible for inspecting and managing all vehicles in the territory, including those owned by car rental agencies.
–appropriates $60,000 to the Tourism Department for Bright Spark Inc. to host a cross cultural exchange with the African Hebrew Israelites focusing on education, history, family life, religion and entertainment.
–appropriates $50,000 to Housing, Parks and Recreation for the Virgin Islands Track and Field Federation for travel, room and board while representing the territory in international competition.
–appropriates $25,000 to Housing, Parks and Recreation for the St. Croix Swimming Association to pay dues and tuition for local swimmers.
–mandates that Hovensa shall help WAPA evaluate its water and electric energy production system and operations and submit a comprehensive report of their findings to the Legislature.
–appropriates $150,000 as a grant to the Girl Scouts of the Virgin Islands and $150,000 as a grant to the Boy Scouts of the Virgin Islands for training, camping and other related activities.
–amends the 2005 supplemental budget bill to reprogram $1 million from an appropriation made to the Edu
cation Department and use it for teacher-certification training, workshops, recruitment of teachers, travel and other related expenses.
–appropriates $250,000 to the St. Croix district and $250,000 to the St. Thomas district to the Abandoned Vehicle Task Force under the Office of the Governor for the removal of abandoned vehicles in the territory.
–appropriates $40,000 to Education to pay for a sound system for the Ivanna Eudora Kean High School on St. Thomas and $180,000 to pave the parking lot at Ulla F. Muller Elementary School.
–reprograms money previously appropriated for the renovation of bathrooms at the Charlotte Amalie High School on St. Thomas to the Economic Development Authority to develop a master restoration plan for Savan.
–appropriates $125,000 to the St. John Celebration Committee for the 2006 St. John Celebration and $35,000 from the Casino Revenue Fund to Housing, Parks and Recreation for the St. Thomas Baseball Explorers to travel to the 2006 Cooperstown Baseball World Champion of Champions Tournament in Cooperstown, NY during the month of August.
–appropriates $110,076 to pay outstanding retroactive wages to the members of the United Steel Workers of America enforcement officers.
–establishes a special fund in the V.I. Treasury as the "Parking Lot Fund," where fees collected for the use of public parking lots on each island are distributed into separate accounts set up for each island in the territory and used for the maintenance of parking lots on each specific island.
–appropriates $50,000 to VITEMA for the purchase of a multipurpose vehicle to be used by the Homeland Security Unit and for the erection of a storage structure for the protection of its emergency vehicles.
–amends the 2006 Executive Budget to specifically appropriate $108,333 for the building of bathrooms at Kramer's Park on St. Croix, and John Brewer's Bay Beach and Lindbergh Bay Beach on St. Thomas.
All senators except Malone were present during Thursday's session.
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