Gov. John deJongh Jr. vetoed Wednesday two bills deregulating taxis and an apprenticeship bill containing multiple unrelated measures mandating government loans at 3 percent interest, waiving property tax penalties, letting the government pension plan purchase properties slated for tax auction and other purposes.
He signed into law numerous pieces of recent legislation on topics from sex offenders to termination of parental rights.
DeJongh vetoed a bill to permit taxis to be operated as private vehicles when “off duty” and to be driven by anyone with a valid Virgin Islands driver’s license, saying it was unfair to other drivers and raises enforcement issues [Vetoed Bill 29-0255].
Taxis "are exempt from the payment of the highway user’s tax and so to permit their unlimited use as a private vehicle when “off duty” constitutes a functional circumvention of the obligation to pay a road tax borne by all other private vehicle operators in the territory. This is simply unfair," deJongh said in his letter to the Legislature accompanying the signed and vetoed measures. Moreover, it is sometimes difficult to determine when a taxi is operated in an “off duty” status as a private vehicle, he said.
"The character of a taxi is well-known to the public irrespective of whether it is being operated in an ‘off duty’ status," deJongh said. “Thus, a member of the public may unknowingly engage a taxi operated as a private vehicle by an individual without a commercial license, reasonably thinking otherwise.”
There are also serious issues related to liability insurance and authorized drivers that could potentially represent a danger to the public, he said.
The governor vetoed a bill to permit anyone with a valid class-C license to operate a taxi [Vetoed Bill 29-0256], saying "this measure would create an enforcement issue and does not adequately protect the owner of the vehicle from being held liable for the acts of a duly licensed third parties, particularly given that 80 percent of taxis are operated by individuals who have leased the medallions from the owners."
DeJongh also vetoed a bill that would have modified apprenticeship rules to conform to federal grant rules because it also contained a series of provisions he said he was "not empowered with line item veto authority" to remove separately [Vetoed Bill 29-0320].
DeJongh objected to provisions:
- from Sen. Terrence "Positive" Nelson, requiring the Economic Development Authority to provide low (3 percent) interest loans to small businesses, saying the rate is too low and the funding source already tapped;
- from Sen. Carlton "Ital" Dowe, letting the Government Employee Retirement System and the V.I. Housing Finance Authority purchase properties otherwise slated for tax auction, for the amount of the past due tax, saying those agencies do not want this power;
- from Dowe and Sen. Patrick Sprauve, waiving all interest and penalties for property taxes from 2002 to 2010, if the principal is paid in the next six months, saying it is "patently unfair to the vast majority of taxpayers who are responsible about payment of their tax obligation" and "cannot be justified when our economy is under great stress";
- from Sen. Janette Millin-Young, mandating more primary polling locations this fall, saying the change to election law was prohibited elsewhere in local law.
DeJongh signed into law legislation:
- clarifying when the Department of Human Services may trigger court hearings to terminate parental rights and initiate adoption of severely abused and neglected children who are already in out-of-home placement [Act 7374];
- a sex offender monitoring bill expanding the definitions in the local statutes and establishes a tiered system for registrants that brings the territory in line with federal standards [Act 7372];
- allowing physicians' assistants with the proper training and licensing to write prescriptions;
- expanding the role of optometrists to permit them to apply therapeutic and diagnostic eye drops and ointments;
- allowing fishermen to transfer their commercial fishing licenses to either family members or fishing helpers who worked with the licensed fisherman;
- prohibiting WAPA from back-billing more than three months for faulty meters and previous billing mistakes;
- requiring the director of the Division of Personnel to prepare a list for the Legislature of everyone hired by any V.I. government or quasi-governmental entity "during this state of fiscal emergency";
- instituting staggered terms for members of the V.I. Board of Education, reinstating a residency requirement and authorizing the board chairperson to appoint a designee to the University of the Virgin Islands Board of Trustees and the V.I. Public Television System;
- allowing the governor to fill vacancies on boards and commissions when the vacancy requires the appointment of a commissioner or division head;
- a resolution requesting Congress follow the Third Circuit's recent recommendation that Congress grant the V.I. Supreme Court the same status as state supreme courts;
- a use variance for the construction and operation of an indoor motion picture theater in Estate Thomas;
- and a resolution honoring and commending Audie Enrique Henneman and to name the gymnasium at the Bertha C. Boschulte Middle School the “Audie Enrique Henneman Gymnasium."