May 7, 2004 – Friday's legislative session to deal with the governor's proposed fiscal year 2004 supplemental budget was scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. but didn't get going until 2:07 p.m., then was recessed moments later. Another recess called at 6:14 p.m. lasted until about 9:45, when the lawmakers returned for about an hour before the session was recessed again — until Tuesday.
Before Senate President David Jones called the final recess at about 10:45 p.m., he gave each senator three minutes to comment on the measure before them — Gov. Charles W. Turnbull's $590 million proposal plus assorted amendments it took on before being passed at a Finance Committee hearing on Monday and again at a Rules Committee meeting on Thursday.
"The legislation as passed out of the Rules Committee is seriously flawed," Sen. Celestino A. White Sr. said in his three minutes. He said amendments are supposed to "perfect a bill, not just be added on."
He was referring in particular to an amendment appropriating an additional $9.1 million for negotiated union pay increases was tacked onto the bill in the Finance Committee. Turnbull's proposal provides funding for raises negotiated for teachers two years ago but not for those of other unionized workers, including firefighters.
White said the amendment should be worded in such a way as to ensure that the pay increases for the firefighters and other workers will be sustained in the future.
"One of the most sacred charges that we have is to take care of our people," Sen. Emmett Hansen II said in expressing agreement that the union members should be paid their negotiated raises.
Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, who chairs the Finance Committee, warned his colleagues not to "proceed haphazardly." He said he understands the importance of paying the unionized employees, but the Legislature has to be certain of the funding source for doing so.
The Legislature included $12 million for all negotiated wage increases in the FY 2004 budget it passed in November. However, Turnbull vetoed the bill in its entirety on Dec. 23 and said the FY 2003 budget would remain the law of the land for all FY 2004 — but that he would shortly submit a supplemental budget. That is what the Senate officially received on Monday.
Amendments blamed for delays
Upon arriving at the Legislature building on Friday morning for the scheduled 10 a.m. session, Senate staff and news media representatives were notified that it had been rescheduled for 1 p.m.
A fax sent to the media shortly before 10:30 a.m. cited Senate President David Jones as saying the rescheduling was done "to facilitate the number of amendments that were made to the bill during Thursday's Rules Committee meeting." (See "Senate in session to act on supplemental budget".)
"The additional time will afford the legal counsel's office, along with the Division of Post Audit, ample time to have documents ready for consideration by the full body," Jones said in the release.
However, Jones announced at 1 p.m. that the session would instead start at 2 p.m.
Sen. Roosevelt David, the Rules Committee chair, said the reason for the delay was that "the bill was not ready after coming out of Rules yesterday." The bill as amended had not been completely prepared, he said.
After the session was called to order at 2:07 p.m., the invocation was offered and the national anthem and "The Virgin Islands March" were played.
At that point, Sen. Usie Richards said that copies of the full version of the bill as amended had just been handed to the lawmakers, and that those not members of the Rules Committee had been given no chance to review the measure. The senators then voted to recess until 3:30 p.m.
By law, senators are to have 48 hours to review bills before a vote is taken.
When they came back into session, the senators approved two resolutions:
– To honor and commend Silva Teresa Gibbs for her contributions to the community of the Virgin Islands.
– To honor and commend Digna Marie Wheatley by naming the Ivanna Eudora Kean High School gymnasium for her.
The senators also voted to petition the National Park Service to rename the downtown Christiansted square opposite FirstBank on King Street and adjacent to the taxi stand "Alexander Hamilton Square."
Another recess was called at 6:14 p.m., to be in effect until all amendments to the supplemental budget bill were brought to the Senate floor. Three and a half hours later, the session reconvened for the one hour before the final recess.
On Tuesday, when the session resumes, the Senate is to vote on any further amendments and then on the bill itself.
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