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Three-Day Session Results in 31 Amendments

May 7, 2005 – Growling isn't the average method used to gain support, but it appeared to have aided the process for Sen. Terrance "Positive" Nelson Friday as the 26th Legislature wrapped up its three-day full session.
When Nelson failed to get the support of his colleagues – even members of his own majority coalition – for an amendment that would reduce the amount of time a retired government worker can receive retirement benefits after being rehired in the public sector, the senator made a fuss and roared, saying he could be like a lion.
The chambers erupted in laughter at his roaring, but later that afternoon Sen. Pedro Encarnacion asked for a reconsideration of Nelson's amendment.
Nelson's amendment, like so many of the other amendments formulated in a hurry to be brought to the floor Friday, had no explanation and did not reveal the sponsor's intent.
The amendment read: "Title 3, chapter 27, section 706(c) is amended in the first sentence by striking "three years" and inserting in lieu thereof "75 days."
Senators voted 7-7 in the first round, with Sen. Craig Barshinger – who made a sign that the measure was over his head at that point – abstaining and thereby leading to the failure of the bill. Barshinger said he would not vote on any legislation that he does not fully understand.
Sens. Juan Figueroa-Serville, Neville James, Norman Jn Baptiste, Shawn-Michael Malone, Nelson, Usie Richards and Celestino White voted in the affirmative. Sens. Lorraine L. Berry, Roosevelt David, Liston Davis, Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, Encarnacion, Louis P. Hill, Ronald E. Russell voted against.
Encarnacion said after "carefully reviewing," Nelson's amendment he saw its merit and asked to "change his vote if possible."
Nelson then explained that he had brought the measure because he felt the government's practice was keeping young Virgin Islanders from obtaining government jobs, while retirees came back to the public workforce and earned salaries while receiving annuities for up to three years.
Originally the V.I. Code had stipulated the 75-days period, but in the 24th Legislature, David had offered legislation to extend the timeframe to three years, and the measure was adopted.
Hill suggested Friday that Nelson's measure be considered along with the Government Employees Retirement System reform bill that he was working on. But his colleagues decided to go ahead with the reconsideration and approved the measure with a 12-3 vote.
Barshinger, Donastorg, Encarnacion, Figueroa-Serville, Hill, James, Jn Baptiste, Malone, Nelson, Richard, Russell and White voted in the affirmative. Berry, David and Davis voted against.
Similarly, an amendment offered by Russell to remove a $50,000 cap on claims against the V.I. Port Authority had to be reconsidered. On the first round it failed with a 7-8 vote split along minority/majority lines.
After Russell explained that his bill addressed the situation with residents of Yellow Cedar who were suing the V.I. Port Authority for damages incurred in removing them from their homes to expand the Rohlsen Airport on St. Croix, his colleagues approved the measure with a 9-6 vote.
Barshinger, David, Donastorg, Encarnacion, Figueroa-Serville, Hill, James, Jn Baptiste and Russell voted in the affirmative. Berry, Davis, Malone, Nelson, Richards and White voted against.
Berry berated her colleagues for trying to sneak in bills – disguised as amendments – with "far-reaching effects" through the back door instead of properly reviewing them in committees of jurisdiction.
"This is not good decision-making," Berry said.
The Senate president said from now on all amendments would be reviewed in committee and would not be attached to bills on the floor unless they were germane to the particular bill.
Berry had allowed each senator to offer three amendments to a bill appropriating $300,000 for V.I./ Puerto Rico Friendship Day and Emancipation Day activities. At the end of the full session Friday, senators had attached 31 amendments to the bill.
Two amendments were sent to different committees for further review. One was a measure by Barshinger to add swimming and water safety instruction to the curriculum of the territory's public schools. The other was a measure from Hill amending the territory's Sunshine Act to ensure that all votes taken by government boards and commission be done publicly.
Legal Counsel Yvonne Tharpes suggested Hill's amendment be moved to committee for further review to ensure that confidential issues were properly addressed.
Tharpes also declared one amendment "unconstitutional." The amendment, offered by Russell, sought to recall executive nominees, even though they had been previously confirmed by the Legislature. Tharpes said it was taking away powers granted to the governor by the Revised Organic Act. According to the act, the governor is the only one to remove his nominees from office.
Here is a list of other amendments approved by the Senate Friday:
– A measure to insert the phrase "eminent domain" into the act that was passed to acquire Vessup Bay.
– A measure to increase the penalties to businesses that fail to notify the Labor Department of vacancies to $500 for the first offense and $1,000 for each additional offense. The penalty is now $200 and $500 respectively.
– A measure mandating that the governor of the Virgin Islands must submit the executive budget by March 31 instead of the current May 30. The law will take effect in 2007.
– A measure to entitle employees of the Youth Rehabilitation Center on St. Croix the same disability benefits as officers from the Bureau of Corrections.
– A measure allowing enforcement officers with the Human Services Department and firefighters and police officers with the Port Authority to participate in career incentive programs.
– A measure approving $191,000 from loan repayments of a 1985 Community Development Block Grant program for the Frenchtown Fisherman's Facility, the Mid-Island Fisherman's Facility on St. Croix and the continued management of the Block Grant program.
– A measure redirecting $225,000 in federal Community Development Block Grant funds to install a playground in Contant Knolls and to acquire a building for the Methodist Training and Outreach Center to house homeless individuals.
– A measure authorizing Human Services to determine which organizations can receive grants from the Crisis Intervention Fund.
– A measure allowing GERS to invest in viatical and senior life settlement policies. Viatical life settlement policies allow individuals facing terminal illness the right to use the value of their policies to help offset medical expenses. Senior life settlement policies allow individuals over age 65 to cash out of unwanted or unaffordable life insurance policies.
– A measure prohibiting physical assistants from administering chiropractic care. The measure also holds chiropractors and practitioners of naturopathic medicine accountable for any violations of their regulating board policies.
– A measure allowing 10 percent of proceeds from the V.I. Lottery and video lottery terminals to be placed in the Territorial Scholarship Fund.
– A measure setting the maximum penalty for nonpayment of property taxes at no more than 25 percent of the taxes owed by the individual.
– A measure creating the makeup of governing boards for the Maritime Academy and the Hotel and Hospitality Academy, which have not been implemented since the enabling legislation was enacted in 1995.
– A measure requiring all government departments, agencies and instrumentalities, to set aside 3.5 percent of their budget for paying unionized contracts and utility bills from the V.I. Water and Power Authority.
Senators had approved 10 of the 31 amendments to Bill No. 26-0013 on Thursday. For a list of the amendments appropriating money from various government funds, (See "Senators Pull Money From 'Committed' Funds").

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