Oct. 8, 2003 – After much heated discussion on Wednesday, members of the Senate Government Operations Committee moved to hold for further consideration a bill that would confer peace officer status on investigators of the V.I. Inspector General's Office and enforcement officers with the V.I. Lottery.
The bill, which would give the Inspector General's Office the authority to arrest individuals and charge them with violating the law, was held in committee on a 4-1 vote.
Sen. Celestino A. White Sr. asked his colleagues if they were going to grant peace officer status to the Inspector General's Office without knowing what additional cost it would entail for the government. "It makes no sense," he said. "We don't even have a budget in place."
Inspector General Steven van Beverhoudt told the senators that the need for such authority "has become apparent as investigations have been conducted." Without peace officer status, he said, his office is "dependent on other agencies with law-enforcement authority to execute search warrants in the conduct of our investigations."
The Office of Inspector General is the oversight agency for all three branches of the V.I. government and their instrumentalities. Its tasks include conducting audits, monitoring departmental operations and investigating suspected fraud, waste and other abuses.
Van Beverhoudt also testified that the lack of peace officers hampers the ability of his office to get and share information with law-enforcement entities. "In our attempts to obtain a connection with the Federal Bureau of Investigation's National Crime Information Center, we were informed that a primary criterion is that the investigators have peace officer status," he said.
Sen. Emmett Hansen II, an opponent of the bill, said that before the committee could approve the measure, it would need to hear from the Government Employees Retirement System as to how it would be impacted, since peace officers are eligible for early retirement.
Last year, the law was changed to make certain Water and Power Authority hazardous duty workers eligible for early retirement; activists concerned about keeping GERS from going bankrupt are seeking repeal of the measure on the grounds that it is fiscally unviable. Van Beverhoudt, however, is seeking peace office status for just three individuals. (See "Inspector general makes familiar requests".)
V.I. Lottery officials were not on hand to testify on their need for peace officers because of an oversight on the committee.
Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone, the committee chair; and Sens. Hansen, Louis Hill and White voted to hold the bill in committee. Sen. Lorraine Berry voted against the measure. Sen. Carlton Dowe, who attended the hearing, was absent for the vote.
In other action, the committee forwarded to the Rules Committee a bill to establish a central grants agency to pursue and track all types of federal and non-federal funding available to the Virgin Islands. Dowe said of the measure: "I believe the time is right for us to move forward with this."
The two administration officials invited to testify on the measure — Finance Commissioner Bernice Turnbull and Office of Management and Budget director Ira Mills — did not appear. The committee decided to move forward on the legislation nonetheless, approving it unanimously.
Sen. Usie Richards had words for the no-shows, however. "We are currently in a fiscal and financial crisis," he said. "This speaks volumes of the people who are unwilling to testify on the matters at hand."
Committee members present were Sens. Berry, Dowe, Hansen, Hill, Malone and White. Sen. Douglas Canton Jr. was excused. Also present were Sens. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, Norman Jn Baptiste and Richards, who are not members of the committee.
Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name, and the city and state/country or island where you reside.
Publisher's note : Like the St. John Source now? Find out how you can love us twice as much — and show your support for the islands' free and independent news voice … click here.