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Committee Approves Chair's Omnibus Justice Bill

June 28, 2004 – The Senate Public Safety, Judiciary, Homeland Security and Justice Committee voted to approve an amended Omnibus Justice Act of 2004 on Monday.
The approval came after "intense scrutiny" and six hearings to take testimony on the bill, formally known as the Public Safety, Judiciary, Homeland Security and Justice Omnibus Act of 2004.
Among other things, the amended bill establishes a Law Enforcement Review Commission that would investigate claims of misconduct by law enforcement employees and prosecute those claims if substantiated.
Police Commissioner Elton Lewis had testified earlier that he could support a review board that would make recommendations on policy but would not support a board with investigative and prosecutorial powers. The Internal Affairs Bureau already fills this role, he said.
"A review board that does not review but, rather, investigates will not provide the proper avenue for change," Lewis said. (See "Same Witnesses Offer Same Criticisms of Omnibus Bill".)
Other provisions of the bill include:
– Establishing a 13-member task force to address the trafficking of persons and making the trafficking of persons a felony.
– Instituting a 10-year prison term and $10,000 fine for willfully transmitting the HIV/AIDS virus.
– Providing incentives for police officers willing to work past their 20-year retirement eligibility. (The committee approved an amendment to the bill appropriating $150,000 to fund such incentive programs.)
– Adding designer drugs to the list of substances carrying a penalty for simple possession.
– Prohibiting the following categories of persons from possessing guns and ammunition: the mentally ill, fugitives, drug addicts and anyone convicted in any court of a crime punishable for a year or more in prison.
– Increasing the penalty for illegal gun and ammunition possession.
– Increasing the penalty for simple assault and battery
– Renaming the Narcotics Strike Force the V.I. Drug Enforcement Bureau.
– Establishing the Uniform Child-Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act
– Establishing a Uniform Interstate Enforcement of Domestic Violence Protective Orders.
– Establishing the Uniform Trade Secrets Act.
The bill as amended was passed on a 4-0 vote. Sens. Berry, Carlton Dowe, David Jones and Almando "Rocky" Liburd were present and voting. Sens. Emmett Hansen II, Shawn-Michael Malone and Ronald Russell were absent.
Berry said she did not include in the omnibus bill a recommendation from Attorney General Iver Stridiron to reduce to 13 the age at which a young person could be tried as an adult. "Thirteen is simply too young," she said, adding that children that age do not usually commit "heinous" crimes.
Also left out of the bill were two other measures recommended by Stridiron:
– To designate certain locales "high-crime areas" and to prevent loitering in these areas.
– To create a DNA databank.

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