Oct. 22, 2003 – Nine senators have signed a petition asking Senate President David Jones to call a special session of the Legislature for Oct. 31 to address what they say is a language error in recent legislation on jobless benefits that is holding up the issuance of unemployment checks.
Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste, who chairs the Senate Labor and Veterans Affairs Committee, explained the reason for the petition on Wednesday: "Because of an error in the construction of language in the bill, the unemployment recipients are being denied those benefits right now. They are not able to receive them because the law as it is written does not allow the Department of Labor to send out the checks."
In May, legislation was signed into law extending unemployment benefit an additional 13 weeks. The new law states, however, that "no additional benefits shall be paid after Aug. 30, 2003."
Jn Baptiste said the wording should have read that "no new additional benefit claims shall be effective after Aug. 30, 2003."
Because of the error in language, he said, "about 540 people on St. Croix alone" are being denied benefits to which they should be entitled. "When you consider those who have families, some 2,000 people could be impacted," he said. "This is why we have to move it urgently."
According to Jn Baptiste, Jones had said he would write to the Labor Department about the matter. However, Jn Baptiste said, "our counsel said that is not a legal approach." Instead, the law itself must be changed.
Four senators from the 10-member majority — Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, Shawn-Michael Malone, Luther Renee and Ronald Russell — joined the five minority senators — Carlton Dowe, Jn Baptiste, Almando "Rocky" Liburd, Usie Richards and Celestino A. White Sr. — in signing the petition.
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