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Charlotte Amalie
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HomeNewsArchivesSenate Synopsis: Aug. 22-26

Senate Synopsis: Aug. 22-26

Aug. 21, 2005 – Going to a V.I. Senate meeting is not always a bad thing. Seeing an elected government live is probably more entertaining than watching the Eagles or Badfinger trying to capture the gestalt of the '60s one more time.
However, the Senate hearings can get tedious at times. George Phillips, acting commissioner of the Department of Public Works, read Wednesday from a document that was longer than three Raymond Carver short stories combined and a heck of a lot less interesting.
After all this material was digested by the senators and brought up for discussion, and then redigested and brought up again by the senators, everyone in the media had enough. They were out in the courtyard outside the Frederiksted chambers. They were doing things like talking on the cell phone, smoking a cigarette, or just walking off the ache of a sore back. The Senate proceedings are broadcast on speakers into the courtyard, so the reporters were not really skipping on their work. However, none of them were able to get what might have been the quote of the week. Sen. Juan Figueroa-Serville told Phillips that he could be hiring local people for his department. Serville said something to the effect of: "Even as smart as I am, I had classmates even smarter." This might have been the point when the Daily News reporter dropped her phone and broke it.
Another moment that could have been interpreted as humorous, if not for its implication, was when Sen. Terrence "Positive" Nelson asked Phillips, if highways were not supposed to have shoulders.
Nelson's point, and it was a good one, was that DPW should be doing something besides patching roads. It should actually be bringing them up to reasonable safety standards.
Of course in the melodrama that is the Senate, the big story is whether the majority is going to remain the majority. Both the St. Croix Avis and the V.I. Daily News had articles on Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste threatening to leave the majority if an amendment was attached to his Emergency Job Creation and Economic Stimulus Act of 2005.
As these things go, The Avis reported that Baptiste said he would not join the minority, but remain independent; and an editorial in the Daily News said he definitely would. We will just have to wait and see.
But Sens. Ronald Russell and Figueroa-Serville, members of the minority, were not waiting, they were encouraging.
Friday the Senate Committee on Labor and Agriculture held a hearing on three bills. (See "Senate Committee Approves Minimum Wage Increase".)
The committee is chaired by Nelson of the majority. Russell and Figueroa-Serville were just full of praise for how Nelson conducted the meeting, one even said that if Nelson ever thought of making any changes, he would be welcomed by the minority.
The real problem is the bill that Baptiste nurtured and is causing this flareup should never have made it to the Senate in the first place. All this could have been resolved last year.
In the summer of 2004, WAPA went through an extensive and expensive process sending requests for bids to potential suppliers of supplemental energy. (See "WAPA Moves Ahead Without Blessing of PSC".) Unfortunately, the Public Services Commission got involved, and the process, which could have been completed by December, ground to a halt. Now the Senate jumps in and tries to shackle WAPA since the PSC already handcuffed it. No wonder the public utility is staggering.
The Finance Committee was still hearing budget presentations last week. One of the few department heads not to ask for an increase in funds was DPW's Phillips. He still did not get a gentle reception from the senators on St. Croix because maintenance programs have fallen way behind on the Big Island and bushes are encroaching on roads like the South Shore highway causing a two-lane road to become a one-and-a-half-lane road. (See "Senators Press Public Works to Fix St. Croix Roads".)
The Waste Management Authority did ask for an increase, but no one seemed surprised by that. The WMA is a relatively new entity and its funding issues are still evolving. (See "WMA Asks for Bigger Budget").
One of the more interesting hearings, even if it seems we have heard this all before, was that of the Inspector General Steven van Beverhoudt making his request for more autonomy. (See "IG Says to Expect Audit Delays if Underfunding Continues".)
One has to wonder, if the Virgin Islands had a well-funded Inspector General's office making necessary and timely audits, then maybe the Senate would not get so mired down in micromanaging and mandating who gets what contract.
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