All government departments, agencies and semi-autonomous agencies will have to conduct a review of their contracts for telephone, data and internet accounts by the end of the year and report to the Legislature by March, if a bill approved Tuesday by the Legislature becomes law.
Sen. Nereida “Nellie” Rivera-O'Reilly, the bill's sponsor, said the goal is to identify duplicate services or contracts that could be renegotiated to realize some savings for the government.
Another bill from O'Reilly approved Tuesday seeks to address invasive species like the Pacific Lionfish. The bill sets up a special committee to work out the most effective responses and establish rules and regulations governing the species. The measure tasks that committee with developing a lionfish and invasive species response plan, as well as recruiting divers, fishermen and others in a position to help with the response.
It also seeks to appropriate $150,000 from the Fish and Wildlife Fund to cover the expenses of setting up the committee and forming the plan. The Fish and Wildlife Fund contains all license and other fees paid by V.I. fishermen to the Department of Planning and Natural Resources and is reserved by law solely to administer fish and wildlife restoration programs.
The Senate approved a bill authorizing the V.I. Public Finance Authority to issue a request for proposals for a "cultural historical and ecological adventure" theme park and tourist attraction, similar to Colonial Williamsburg, presenting St. Croix history and culture.
The V.I. Port Authority commissioned a feasibility study on the possibility of a theme park back in 2003 in response to cruise industry recommendations that St. Croix work on creating a more unique brand to draw visitors to the destination. But shortly after the study was completed, cruise ships pulled out of St. Croix for several years and the study was shelved, according to O'Reilly, the bill's sponsor.
O'Reilly said her goal with the bill is to resurrect that study and actively go out and see if developers would be interested in such a project.
The Senate also voted to make St. Thomas Carnival, Crucian Christmas Festival and St. John Festival exempt from the territory's noise law and allowed to stay open beyond the 2 a.m. curfew. The original measure, proposed by Sen. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen, was much broader, saying the territory's noise pollution law "does not apply to sounds emanating on the weekend," until 3 a.m. Fridays or Saturdays and midnight Sundays, among many other broad exemptions. The amendment, offered by Sen. Usie Richards during an earlier hearing, limited the curfew extension to annual Carnival and Festival events.
Also approved was a bill from Sen. Sammuel Sanes to mandate the Bureau of Motor Vehicles issue identification cards to people with disabilities. Along with serving as another form of identification, Sanes has previously said the cards would enable those individuals to verify they are handicapped, while no similarly convenient identification currently exists.
The Senate approved a measure to increase the maximum Workers Compensation benefit for police, corrections and fire service employees injured in the line of duty to $750,000, of which the first $250,000 must be paid by the Government Insurance Fund.
The Senate unanimously approved former University of the Virgin Islands President LaVerne E. Ragster for a seat on the V.I. Waste Management Authority Board. Also approved without opposition were resolutions honoring St. Croix residents Otto Tranberg, Edwin “Eddie” Ortiz and Vera Magdalena Falu Allende, for their contributions to the community over many decades.
Senators unanimously voted to override Gov. John deJongh Jr.'s veto and enact into law a bill sponsored by Hansen to permit anyone with a valid class-C license to operate a taxi. DeJongh said the measure would create an enforcement issue and does not adequately protect the owner of the vehicle from being held liable for the acts of duly licensed third parties.
The Legislature also approved an array of Coastal Zone Management permits, minor rezonings and use variances, including:
- Major Coastal Zone Permit No. CZX-39-07(W) issued to St. Croix Marine & Development Company Inc.;
- Major Coastal Zone Permit No. CZT-02-10(W) issued to Wyndam St. Thomas Development Company LLC.;
- Major Coastal Zone Permit No. CZT-05-11-(W) and Major Coastal Zone Permit No. CZT-06-11(FL) issued to IGY-AYH St, Thomas Holdings LLC (American Yacht Harbor);
- Major Coastal Zone Permit No. CZT-08-11(L&W) issued to Chaconia Properties LLC;
- a use variance for plot No. 37-A Estate Castle Coakely, St. Croix, zoned R-2;
- A use variance for plot No. 2B-1 Estate Mt. Pleasant, St. Croix, zoned C-Commercial;
- rezoning parcel No. 6-1 Estate Peter's Rest, St. Croix, from R-2 to B-3;
- rezoning plot No. 1-AM (Consolidated), Estate Diamond, St. Croix, from R-2 to B-3.