May 12, 2004 – A bill called the Public Safety, Judiciary, Homeland Security and Justice Omnibus Act of 2004 got its first public airing Wednesday on St. Croix at a hearing before the Senate committee of the same name.
The bill, submitted by Sen. Lorraine Berry, who chairs the committee, provides for the following changes to the V.I. Code regarding law enforcement, according to a release from the Legislature:
– Establishing a Police Department Civilian Review Board.
– Appropriating funds to the Police Department.
– Making the killing of a police officer or other individual assisting in the investigation of a crime first-degree murder.
– Establishing an incentive program for police officers to remain on the job beyond their retirement eligibility after 20 years.
– Changing the early retirement eligibility to 25 years effective Jan. 1, 2006, the date that the current Police Benevolent Association collective bargaining agreement expires.
– Setting a 10-year prison term and a $10,000 fine for willfully transmitting HIV.
– Establishing a 13-member task force "against the trafficking of persons."
– Requiring that any person convicted of a crime involving the possession or distribution of child pornography, or found not guilty of such a crime by reason of insanity, register as a sex offender.
– Requiring the transfer to adult court of any minor found to be in possession of a loaded firearm on school property.
– Amending the territory's stalking statute.
– Allowing the registration of low-speed vehicles.
– Requiring that the license of any person found guilty of driving under the influence be marked "DUI offender" following a second such conviction; and that the name and photograph of any such offender be published after a third such conviction.
– Establishing standards for sunscreening and tinting of motor vehicle windows.
– Observing uniform interstate enforcement of domestic violence protective orders.
– Expunging of criminal records.
According to the release, Berry at the end of Wednesday's hearing described the legislation as "a benchmark proposal."
Pledging her committee "to do the work to get this bill perfected," she said that the opportunity to provide input will be extended to anyone "interested in seeing this legislation through the process."
After telling the committee that some issues addressed in the bill are too important to rush through the legislative process, Police Commissioner Elton Lewis focused on two provisions that he opposes.
While saying he is not against the idea of a civilian review board, Lewis noted that Berry's bill makes no mention of the existing functions of the Internal Affairs Bureau. "Why is it deemed necessary to replace the I.A.B. with the bureaucracy of a new government commission?" he asked, adding that all of the duties outlined in the bill for the board are now carried out by the bureau.
He also said the review board proposal does not take the current collective bargaining agreement's provisions regarding disciplinary proceedings into consideration.
Berry said she feels that a civilian review board would help "eliminate negative perceptions of the Police Department" and noted that the idea has been discussed in previous Legislatures.
Lewis also spoke against the provision for expunging criminal records, arguing that such law would "hamper investigation and shift the burden of proof from an individual seeking expunging to the government," according to the release.
Other law-enforcement personnel testifying were Police Chief Novelle Francis Jr.; Daniel Matarangas-King, legal counsel; Ray Martinez, acting director of the Internal Affairs Bureau: Sgt. Thomas Hannah, public information officer; and Anthony Xavier, St. Croix acting president, Law Enforcement Supervisors Union. Other witnesses included Attorney General Iver Stridiron; Mary Mingus, co-director of the Women's Coalition of St. Croix; and Lynn Spencer of the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Council of St. Croix.
Xavier said his union opposes both the creation of a civilian review board and the lengthening of years to 25 for retirement eligibility.
Stridiron said some provisions of the bill appear to be in conflict with federal law and that terminology and definitions in the measure need review. He told Berry his office would review the proposal and submit recommendations to the committee.
A hearing with the same agenda and invited witnesses is scheduled for 10 a.m. Friday on St. Thomas.
Committee members present in addition to Berry were Sens. Emmett Hansen II, Almando "Rocky" Liburd, Shawn-Michael Malone and Ronald Russell. Sens. David Jones and Celestino A. White Sr. were not present. Also present was Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste, who is not a member of the committee.
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