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BILL WOULD UNPLUG GOVERNMENT PHONE ROBOTS

Oct. 19, 2001 – If a few senators have their way, it may soon be possible to call a government office and talk to a human being, as opposed to an electronic device.
The Government Operations Committee approved legislation Friday sponsored by Sens. Celestino A. White Sr. and Norma Pickard-Samuel that would do away with what the bill calls "the people's business being held hostage by an impregnable automated telephone system."
White, who is not a member of the committee, exercised his show business flair as he played a tape of a telephone being answered at the V.I. Housing Authority. It went through the usual routine: "If you know your party's extension, dial it now, or punch the first letter of the name you want, or … "
"We have to be responsive to the people who want information from government offices," White said. "We don't want to enter a spelling bee or a geography test."
His committee colleagues mostly agreed. Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg said the issue shouldn't have to be legislated. He asked if White had investigated using the federal Welfare to Work program to supplement government staffing if personnel are needed to answer phones. He said there might be federal money to pay for the program.
Donastorg also wondered, for the record, what Senate President Almando "Rocky" Liburd had done about the $58,000 automated voting system the Legislature purchased last year but has yet to put into effect. His inquiry went unanswered.
Sen. Roosevelt David suggested looking at phone systems used by several stateside agencies. "We don't want to take a back step," he said.
Several senators asked about the expense of changing over the system. White maintained there are receptionists in each agency who could answer the phones.
Sen. Donald "Ducks" Cole complained about the system in use at The V.I. Daily News. "We should include that, too," he told Daily News reporter Hal Hatfield.
Sen. Adelbert Bryan amended the measure to read that government offices "be required to answer all initial calls (with a human being)," substituting the previous language "shall employ a sufficient number to answer."
The amended bill passed on a 4-2 vote. Committee chair Emmett Hansen II, Bryan, Cole and Sen. Carlton Dowe voted for the bill; Donastorg and David voted against. It will now go to the Rules Committee.
The committee also passed the Uniform Athlete Agents Act, a bill to protect student athletes and the educational institutions where they compete. Tom Bolt, chair of the V. I. Commission on Uniform State Laws, helped draft the legislation, which requires a background check of sports agents seeking to represent student athletes who are eligible to participate in intercollegiate sports.
The bill provides student athletes with a statutory right to cancel an agency contract within 14 days after signing without penalty. It also provides the University of the Virgin Islands and other educational institutions with a statutory right of action against an athlete agent or former student for certain damages. The bill passed unanimously.
Also unanimously, the panel approved a bill sponsored by White and Pickard-Samuel to impose a moratorium on the issuing of taxi medallions, taxi operator's badges and identification cards. The moratorium would become effective upon passage of the bill and would remain in effect unless and until the Legislature should repeal it.
White prides himself on being the voice of the taxi drivers and the housing communities, a fact he drew attention to Friday. He complimented Sens. Cole and David for trying to fill in during his absence from the 23rd Legislature but added, "You did a good job, but you didn't deliver the beef."
White and other senators said the moratorium is needed to protect the taxi drivers' livelihood from further competition. The legislation exempts V.I. military veterans who lived in the territory for at least five years before entering military service. Bryan amended the exemption to include such veterans' offspring, with the same five-year residency requirement.
David mentioned his efforts to form a unified taxi association to replace the various ones that exist. If the associations were united, he and White said, "They could have built their own hotel by now."
The measure passed unanimously 6-0. Committee member Pickard-Samuel was absent from the meeting.
Sen. Lorraine Berry had originally scheduled several bills on Friday's agenda, including the 2001 Child Protection Act. However, Berry was ill and asked Hansen to reschedule the bills for a November meeting.
Committee members attending the meeting were Sens. Emmett Hansen II, committee chair; and Bryan, Cole, Roosevelt David, Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg and Carlton Dowe. Sen. Norma Pickard-Samuel was absent.

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Oct. 19, 2001 – If a few senators have their way, it may soon be possible to call a government office and talk to a human being, as opposed to an electronic device.
The Government Operations Committee approved legislation Friday sponsored by Sens. Celestino A. White Sr. and Norma Pickard-Samuel that would do away with what the bill calls "the people's business being held hostage by an impregnable automated telephone system."
White, who is not a member of the committee, exercised his show business flair as he played a tape of a telephone being answered at the V.I. Housing Authority. It went through the usual routine: "If you know your party's extension, dial it now, or punch the first letter of the name you want, or ... "
"We have to be responsive to the people who want information from government offices," White said. "We don't want to enter a spelling bee or a geography test."
His committee colleagues mostly agreed. Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg said the issue shouldn't have to be legislated. He asked if White had investigated using the federal Welfare to Work program to supplement government staffing if personnel are needed to answer phones. He said there might be federal money to pay for the program.
Donastorg also wondered, for the record, what Senate President Almando "Rocky" Liburd had done about the $58,000 automated voting system the Legislature purchased last year but has yet to put into effect. His inquiry went unanswered.
Sen. Roosevelt David suggested looking at phone systems used by several stateside agencies. "We don't want to take a back step," he said.
Several senators asked about the expense of changing over the system. White maintained there are receptionists in each agency who could answer the phones.
Sen. Donald "Ducks" Cole complained about the system in use at The V.I. Daily News. "We should include that, too," he told Daily News reporter Hal Hatfield.
Sen. Adelbert Bryan amended the measure to read that government offices "be required to answer all initial calls (with a human being)," substituting the previous language "shall employ a sufficient number to answer."
The amended bill passed on a 4-2 vote. Committee chair Emmett Hansen II, Bryan, Cole and Sen. Carlton Dowe voted for the bill; Donastorg and David voted against. It will now go to the Rules Committee.
The committee also passed the Uniform Athlete Agents Act, a bill to protect student athletes and the educational institutions where they compete. Tom Bolt, chair of the V. I. Commission on Uniform State Laws, helped draft the legislation, which requires a background check of sports agents seeking to represent student athletes who are eligible to participate in intercollegiate sports.
The bill provides student athletes with a statutory right to cancel an agency contract within 14 days after signing without penalty. It also provides the University of the Virgin Islands and other educational institutions with a statutory right of action against an athlete agent or former student for certain damages. The bill passed unanimously.
Also unanimously, the panel approved a bill sponsored by White and Pickard-Samuel to impose a moratorium on the issuing of taxi medallions, taxi operator's badges and identification cards. The moratorium would become effective upon passage of the bill and would remain in effect unless and until the Legislature should repeal it.
White prides himself on being the voice of the taxi drivers and the housing communities, a fact he drew attention to Friday. He complimented Sens. Cole and David for trying to fill in during his absence from the 23rd Legislature but added, "You did a good job, but you didn't deliver the beef."
White and other senators said the moratorium is needed to protect the taxi drivers' livelihood from further competition. The legislation exempts V.I. military veterans who lived in the territory for at least five years before entering military service. Bryan amended the exemption to include such veterans' offspring, with the same five-year residency requirement.
David mentioned his efforts to form a unified taxi association to replace the various ones that exist. If the associations were united, he and White said, "They could have built their own hotel by now."
The measure passed unanimously 6-0. Committee member Pickard-Samuel was absent from the meeting.
Sen. Lorraine Berry had originally scheduled several bills on Friday's agenda, including the 2001 Child Protection Act. However, Berry was ill and asked Hansen to reschedule the bills for a November meeting.
Committee members attending the meeting were Sens. Emmett Hansen II, committee chair; and Bryan, Cole, Roosevelt David, Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg and Carlton Dowe. Sen. Norma Pickard-Samuel was absent.