Automobile liability insurance will be mandatory for Virgin Islands motorists in six months, and cruise ships calling anywhere in the territory can keep their casinos open while in port, effective immediately.
These are among the provisions of the Short-Term Revenue Enhancement Act of 1999 that Gov. Charles Turnbull signed into law Wednesday. At the same time, he "reluctantly" vetoed the Government Financial Accountability Act of 1999, saying he would submit "corrective language" for that bill to the Legislature within five days.
The auto insurance and cruise ship casino provisions are just parts of the revenue enhancement act. The measure also provides, among other things, for new or increased fees and taxes affecting the insurance industry, domestic and foreign corporations, and cigarettes, beer and soft drinks; and allows horse race franchise holders to simulcast and conduct pari-mutuel betting on dog races.
The onboard casinos provision apparently does not impact on St. Croix, where, under previous legislation, ships are already permitted to open their casinos while in port, but only until the opening of the island's first casino scheduled for December at the Divi Carina Bay Resort.
The mandatory auto insurance measure sets a cap of $75,000 for recovery of non- economic damages and provides for the provision to take effect 180 days after the bill becomes law.
Motor vehicle operators will have to provide documentation of liability coverage as a condition of obtaining license plates and annual inspection stickers. In a statement, the governor said the bill also provides for the implementation of a point system that "will aid in maintaining affordable insurance and protect the public from unsafe and reckless drivers."
Under a point system, drivers who accumulate a specified number of points for traffic violations and other vehicle convictions automatically have their licenses suspended or taken away.
Turnbull said in the statement that he signed the bill even though it needed some changes to address deficiencies and that he would be submitting legislation to do this "in the near future."
He said he vetoed the financial accountability measure because of issues raised by Attorney General Iver Stridiron, noting "ambiguities and some constitutionally questionable provisions which concern me greatly."
In his transmittal letter to Senate President Vargrave Richards, the governor said that in the bill the Legislature has "ordered the governor to reorganize the executive branch." Although he does intend to introduce a reorganization plan shortly, Turnbull said, a directive from the legislative branch to do so would violate the U.S. Constitution and the doctrine of separation of powers.
He also told Richards provisions of the bill would diminish his control of agencies and instrumentalities of the executive branch. But, he added, "given the goals of this administration and the severity of our financial circumstances, these provisions would be acceptable to us with minor changes."
The bill also would impose a personnel attrition program for the executive branch, Turnbull said, while not applying the same standard to the other two branches of government.
Beyond the separation of powers concerns, he said in the letter to Richards, "the goals of the bill generally coincide with those of this administration." He pledged to submit proposed amendments within the next five days that would make the bill acceptable to him.
In a statement released to the news media in response to Turnbull's letter, Richards expressed disappointment at the governor's veto of the financial accountability bill and said he disagreed with the governor's conclusion that it was unconstitutional. He pledged to "develop a strategy" with fellow lawmakers to secure passage of the measure once the governor's recommended amendments are received.
The governor also signed into law on Wednesday a bill that would establish a cancer registry in the territory. Richards said in his release that the law will "allow for better recording and reporting measures" which could, in turn, lead to additional funding to "enable health care providers to educate citizens through intensive community outreach programs."