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HomeNewsArchivesSENATE PASSES BILL TO SPUR CARIFEST FUNDING

SENATE PASSES BILL TO SPUR CARIFEST FUNDING

July 19, 2001 – Senate President Almando "Rocky" Liburd vowed on Thursday morning, as the Legislature began the third day of its marathon session, that "we're not going to go into Friday." However, at 9:30 p.m. the tally was six bills passed, and more to come for consideration.
The first bill approval came after a surprise move in the unusually cordial morning session by Sen. Celestino A.White Sr. He special-ordered to the floor a bill to create a not-for-profit corporation to operate the long-planned Carifest theme park on St. Thomas, a move intended to greatly enhance the project's potential for securing needed funding.
The Caribbean cultural entertainment attraction has been in the works since 1988, but until Thursday it lacked government backing.
Carifest's president, Eric Matthews, and its corporate chair, Leo Barbel Jr., leaned forward in the Senate gallery, intent on the floor action, as the bill passed unanimously, 14-0, with all of the lawmakers vying for time to compliment the concept. Sen. Vargrave Richards was excused from the session.
Liburd said, "In 1992, Senate President Virdin Brown had hearings galore on the project, but nothing ever got done." Liburd said the theme park "will be a way of life, providing jobs and opportunities."
"I thought the bill would pass," Matthews said afterward. "We've been meeting with the senators for months. But the unanimous vote is great."
Sen. David Jones lauded the Senate action as "another example of creative financing where the V.I. government is not obligated in any way."
The legislation empowers the corporation to issue bonds or other obligations, but without the government or the Public Finance Authority incurring any obligations, Amadeo Francis, PFA director, stated in a letter. The corporation hopes to have $80 million circulating by November, White said, envisioning a groundbreaking that month at the park site east of the West Indian Co. dock.
In other action, the Senate passed the Healthcare Quality Improvment Act of 2001, a bill to give the territory's hospitals further autonomy, 13-1, with Sen. Adelbert Bryan casting the lone negative vote.
Sen. Douglas Canton Jr., the bill's sponsor, successfully offered an amendment leasing the Ingeborg Nesbitt Clinic to Fredriksted Health Care Inc. for $1 a year so that the clinic can be operated as not-for-profit entity and thus be eligible for federal funding. Amid objections from Bryan about staffing the clinic, Canton pleasded, "Let's keep the politics out of health care."
White and Sen. Norma Pickard-Samuel sponsored another successful amendment, allowing any board-certified physician to practice in any hospital or clinic in the territory. The impetus for the amendment, White said, was that Dr. Roy L. Schneider had been denied authority to operate on three patients at the Roy L. Schneider Hospital until White and Pickard-Samuel interceded.
The body also approved a bill to make Water and Power Authority hazardous-duty employees eligible for retirement after 20 years of service, also 13-1, with Sen. Lorraine Berry in this case the sole opponent. Berry said her negative vote was based on funding concerns cited in a letter from the Government Employees Retirement System administrator, Laurence Bryan.
The GERS administrator had written to Liburd that "in order to accommodate an increase of the magnitude, an immediate appropriation of $15 million is requested." The letter continued, "The GERS has repeatedly counseled and cautiously advised the Legislature not to proceed with any new legislation which will contribute to the further erosion of GER's assets … and ultimately compromise the system's ability to meet its pension benefits … and not impose any additional burdens which will ultimately precipitate the collapse of the system before the end of the decade."
Berry reminded her colleagues: "Remember, everyone in this room will be depending on this system one day."
The senators also passed bills to:
– Provide an alternative residential correctional program for youths ages 18-22 convicted of offenses committed prior to their 16th birthday.
– Protect minors with inheritances in the Virgin Islands Uniform Transfers to Minors Act.
– Honor the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity for dedication and commitment in the establishment of the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial on the mall in Washington, D.C.
An amendment to the territory's tobacco settlement bill, to create a Tobacco Settlement Financing Corporation empowered to receive settlement payments and issue bonds secured by them, hit multiple snags early in the afternoon. One was a lengthy letter from Attorney General Iver Stridiron detailing "mistakes" he saw in the legislation. Liburd held the measure for legislative legal counsel to draft new amendments.

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