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AMENDMENTS, OVERRIDES DOMINATE SENATE SESSION

June 22, 2002 – After eight hours of reviewing, refining and rehashing three bills and nearly two dozen amendments, the 24th Legislature on Friday reconfirmed the government's top accounting investigator, set up a funding system for road improvements, approved new life insurance coverage for government employees and took a step toward gaining accreditation for public high schools.
It also overrode several vetoes by Gov. Charles W. Turnbull, including one of a measure requiring The West Indian Co. to provide quarterly financial statements to the Legislature. WICO had opposed the measure, saying that untimely public disclosures would jeopardize its ability to negotiate in world financial markets. The governor is on record as saying WICO should be allowed to keep its accounting confidential.
The law currently requires WICO to submit annual financial statements to the governor and the Legislature. But Sen. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen, Finance Committee chair, said the Senate needs the quarterly statements in order to perform "its statutory oversight responsibility."
Other veto overrides enacted bills capping lease rates for government land used for agriculture at $20 per acre, providing loans for affordable housing, and adding dependent children to the list of beneficiaries eligible to receive annuity payments after a government retiree's death.
The confirmation of Steven Van Beverhoudt as V.I. Inspector General and of Earl Haase as a member of the Conservation District Board of Supervisors came with little debate.
Senators took the time to praise Van Beverhoudt for his diligence in probing the fiscal operations of almost every government agency and presenting his findings in dozens of detailed audit reports. Van Beverhoudt sat in the Senate chambers with his wife and two sons as lawmakers unanimously confirmed his reappointment to a third term and vowed to approve funds to increase staffing for his office and grant it status within the law-enforcement community.
One bill approved was to transfer $1.2 million from the Land Bank Fund to the Human Services Department to pay a Texas institution for the residential care of severely disabled Virgin Islanders. In traditional Christmas tree fashion, it became the host of numerous unrelated amendments.
Pledging to keep the Senate session from bogging down in rhetoric, Senate President Almando "Rocky" Liburd allowed his colleagues to present two amendments apiece. Senate staff carefully controlled the time allowed for debate, cutting off the microphones of any speakers who exceeded their allotment.
A single successful amendment from Liburd appropriating more than $3 million had multiple parts, including $1.7 million for property tax assessments and $250,000 in supplemental funding for the annual meeting of the National Conference of Lieutenant Governors which is to open Tuesday on St. Croix. Liburd said the money for the lieutenant governors' gathering is for accommodations, local entertainment and related expenses.
Sen. Carlton Dowe successfully offered as an amendment legislation authorizing the Finance commissioner to supply discretionary funds to school principals as a move toward greater autonomy. Giving principals greater control over day-to-day school operations is one of the changes called for by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools as a condition of accrediting the territory's high schools.
This amendment was formulated by Dowe, Liburd and Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste, Education Committee chair, after a meeting Tuesday night with a Middle States official. The measure is a start to "put some power in the principals' hands," Dowe said.
Another of the amendments passed would change the law that now requires contractors to pay for potable water line connections for subdivision construction in areas where lines exist.
Toward the end of the session, senators voted to waive debate on a bill approving a new government life insurance contract. They adopted the Health Insurance Board's proposal to replace current life, accidental death and dismembement coverage provided by Aetna Insurance with a new group policy with Metropolitan Life Insurance. The Aetna policy expires at the end of June; the Met Life coverage will commence on July 1.
In contrast, there was lengthy debate before the body passed the Infrastructure Maintenance Act of 2002. The measure calls for creating funds on St. Thomas, St. Croix, St. John and Water Island for road repairs, street lighting and potable water service. Funding would come from 5 percent of property taxes and 5 percent of interest on delinquent property taxes.
Sen. Adelbert Bryan expressed concern over who would decide which infrastructure projects would be approved for funding, since the bill was intended to benefit all homeowners including those living in communities with private roads. "If I cannot drive into Judith's Fancy because of a private road, what am I doing paying my taxes to pave roads in Judith's Fancy that I can't use?" he said.
A Human Services bill amendment that was defeated called called for the Government Employees Retirement System to invest up to 10 percent of its portfolio assets in small business investment companies. The proposal was sponsored by minority coalition senators led by Sen. David Jones.
The minority bloc came back later and successfully attached an amendment allocating $2 million for a micro-loan proposal to benefit businesses on St. Croix. The amendment joined Sen. Donald "Ducks" Cole's amendment appropriating funds to build a cafeteria and a gymnasium for Addelita Cancryn Junior High School and a gym for Charlotte Amalie High School. Cole, a majority senator, urged his majority colleagues to allow the micro-loan measure to go through, saying minority members had "caught them off guard" with the amendment, but it was the right thing to do to help St. Croix.
The Senate also appropriated $4 million for school repairs, which are usually performed during the summer, although some said it was unclear from the governor's transmittal letter accompanying the bill as to how the money would be used.
Sen. Norma Pickard-Samuel garnered support for an amendment to fund repairs to the CAHS Music Suite and to assist the school's steelband. Bryant and Sen. Douglas Canton Jr. won passage of an amendment to fund a Rising Stars Youth Steel Orchestra on St. Croix.
A humanitarian amendment that passed appropriates $ 7,393.15 to cover outstanding funeral costs for Police Officer Dexter Mardenborough, who was killed in the line of duty several years ago. Sen. Celestino A. White Sr., a former police officer, said he wants to sponsor legislation to guarantee funeral benefits in any case where police lose their lives while serving the community.
Also passed was an amendment allowing the Licensing and Consumers Affairs Department to award 11 taxi medallions on St. Croix despite a moratorium on issuing new medallions. Bryant spoke against the amendment, saying the issue is the subject of a case in Territorial Court.
Amendments passed
Following are the amendments by number that were approved as attachments to the Human Services funding bill (24-0259):
– 24-775 (part 1), requiring contractors to connect potable water lines or to pay for such connections when building subdivisions in areas where water lines run.
– 24-772, authorizing payment of outstanding funeral expenses for Police Officer Dexter Mardenborough, killed in the line of duty.
– 24-645b (section 1), amending the V.I. Code regarding "vehicular transportation services between St. Thomas and St. John by barge or other vessel capable of transporting vehicles by water."
– 24-645b (section 2), authorizing payment of $34,000 to Maurice's Enterprises for mechanical work performed for the Narcotics Strike Force between 1988 and 1994.
– 24-645b (section 3) (part 1), increasing an appropriation for school repairs this summer to $4,316,300 from $316,300.
– 23-645b (section 3) (part 2), increasing an Education Department appropriation from $128.3 million to $132.3 million.
– 24-645b (section 4), appropriating $1.7 million to the Office of the Lieutenant Governor for reassesment of property taxes.
– 24-645b (section 5), appropriating $250,000 to the Office of the Lieutenant Governor for the National Conference of Lieutenant Governors annual meeting on St. Croix.
– 24-645b (section 6), appropriating $26,700 from the General Fund for Great Adventure Enterprise to travel to Orlando, Florida, July 31-Aug. 7; and appropriating $25,000 for the Elmo Plaskett Developmental League to attend a baseball tournament in San Antonio, Texas, in July.
– 24-645b (section 7), appropriating $1.2 million from the General Fund for completion of a Vendors Plaza.
– 24-645b (section 8), appropriating $15,000 from the General Fund to Michael John Compton to represent the Virgin Islands at the Pan Am Windsurfing Championships.
– 24-187a, directing the Licensing and Consumer Affairs Department to issue a taxi license and identification card only when the applicant has valid taxi plates and a medallion or authoritization to use valid plates and medallions.
– 24-187, modifying language on the taxi license amendment.
– 24-185, appropriating $150,000 for completion of repairs to the Charlotte Amalie High School music suite pan room.
– 24-742a, to end an ongoing dispute between St. Croix taxi drivers and tour operators over the transport of cruise ship passenger; authorizing Licensing and Consumer Affairs to suspend the moratorium on issuing taxi medallions in order to sell 11 medallions within three months of enactment.
– 24-764, increasing meeting fees for persons serving on boards and commissions.
– 24-778, appropriating money from the Anti-Litter and Beautification Fund for establishment of a Rising Stars steelband program on St. Croix.
– 24-774, appropriating $2 million to fund a micro-credit loan program for St. Croix; and appropriating $12 million to build a cafeteria at Addelita Cancryn Junior High School and gymnasiums at Cancryn and Charlotte Amalie High School.
– 24-621, to comply with U.S. law, providing that when public employees bring a greivance before the Public Employees Relations Board and are not satisfied with the outcome, they can take the matter to court and name the PERB as defendant.
– 24-769, modifying language for establishing a new Human Resources Information System at the Personnel Division.
– 24-763 (section 1) (part 1), appropriating to Education up to $50,000 per school for materials, equipment and services.
– 24-763 (section 1) (part 2), granting each school principal discretionary power to spend up to $50,000.
– 24-763 (section 2), providing for the hiring of purchasing agents to assist school principals.
– 24-763 (section 3), authorizing principals and assistant principals to pay substitute teachers.
– 24-763 (section 4), providing for the Finance commissioner to set aside funds to pay substitute teachers and directing Education to set guidelines for the management of a substitute teacher pool.
– 24-763 (section 5), creating an Education Initiative Fund to collect and channel money into Imprest Fund Checking Accounts for discretionary spending; and directing the Bureau of Audit and Control to conduct annual audits of each Imprest Fund checking account and provide audit reports to the governor and the Legislature; and designating which school officials hold spending power.
Four other amendments corrected language in bills.

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