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HomeNewsArchivesSenate Synopsis: Sept. 5 to 9

Senate Synopsis: Sept. 5 to 9

Sept. 10, 2005— The majority remained intact this week, but the Jobs Creation Act, also known as the Jn Baptiste bill, didn't.
Rumors that Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste would be splitting from the Senate majority were put to rest Wednesday when Jn Baptiste said he would stick with the seven-member majority.
"My reason for not leaving is that I'm willing to sacrifice myself for the sake of my people in St. Croix," Jn Baptiste said. "Sometimes it is better for one person to suffer than to have a whole multitude of people suffer. If I leave the majority, then my people will be left to a whole bunch of sharks just waiting to prey upon them."
He wasn't clear which side the sharks were swimming on, but it could go either way.
While Jn Baptiste's unhappiness with the party began with the introduction of amendments made by other senators to his controversial Emergency Job Creation and Economic Stimulus Act of 2005 , he added Wednesday it is now time to move on to another issue. (See "Rumors Rampant About Majority Break-Up).
"I do not agree with these amendments. I think they are like a vampire, sucking the blood out of the lifeline of the people. But regardless of what happens with my bill, it is important that we stay together for the good of the people." He also didn't say which people.
Sen. Celestino A. White Sr., who supported Jn Baptiste's bill, added to his colleague's comments by saying although the Job Creation Act has generated much discussion amongst senators, there is no reason for a break-up. "Because senators are holding their positions on this bill doesn't mean that friends have to become enemies," White said.
It is rumored that White also had a conversation with Sen. Lorraine L. Berry, who was ready to jump to the minority if Jn Baptiste left – scuttlebutt had it that Berry would retain her presidency, simply switching to the other seven senators. White wasn't talking friendship with Berry though, according to several informed sources. He was talking trouble. It seems Berry wasn't willing to sacrifice herself either. So, for now, it's a moot point.
Leaving the pure politics aside for a moment, the amendments to the Jobs bill passed and have to now be approved by the governor. To hear Jn Baptiste tell the story, the amendments effectively "gut" the bill, which some believe set impossible standards for small power providers and which Alberto Bruno-Vega, Water and Power Authority executive director, has said all along completely ties his hands and usurps his authority to solicit bids for supplemental power, and negotiate with potential providers. The amendments seemingly ease the ties that bind Bruno-Vega.
(See "Senate Passes Amendments to Energy Bill").
Getting the amendments passed was nip and tuck Wednesday for a completely different reason. Just as senators were getting ready to vote it was announced that a bomb threat had been called into the Legislature and everyone was evacuated. However, the senators, after hobnobbing with the vendors set up across the street, did return to complete the session.
In another controversial matter, the two sitting commissioners to the Public Services Commission that the governor wanted reappointed sailed through the Rules Committee Thursday, despite some noise made about whether they have conflicts of interest. Before even considering the voting policies of Alric Simmonds and Alecia Wells which seem to favor the local phone company at every turn, it must also be considered that technically they both work for the governor, as do most people serving on boards and commissions in the territory. It is unknown if anyone in the Senate considers that a conflict of interest.
Harkening back to remarks made by Louis M. Willis, director of the Internal Revenue Bureau, about the governor telling him that he should be sure to "vote the right way" on Vitelco's bid to renew the utility's Economic Development Program tax benefits, the conflict seems to arise in that instance, too. Willis sits on the Economic Development Authority board and serves in his other position at the pleasure of the governor.
No noise was made Thursday about the non-reappointment of PSC chairman Valencio Jackson who was replaced – after serving only one term — by Raymond Williams. Joseph C. Boschulte, vice president of the University of the Virgin Islands, was easily approved to replace Desmond Maynard, who was recently appointed to the Government Employees Retirement System board.
Another sail through was the appointment of Kerry Drue to replace her step-uncle, former Attorney General Alva A. Swan. Drue is Superior Court Judge Ive Swan's step-daughter. After lengthy, mostly good-natured, questioning from senators Drue was unanimously approved.
She was clear that if government officials broke the law, they would be treated like anyone else – a refreshing change from the screaming absence of prosecutorial activities against government corruption under some past AG's watches. (See "Senators OK New Attorney General and Others").
Earlier in the week the beleaguered tire shredder got one step closer to operational. But it still seems a long way off before it will actually be doing the job of shredding the hundreds of thousands of tires that have piled up at the Bovoni landfill. (See "Tire Shredding Remains Months Away"). Now that the lease has been signed to allow A-9 Trucking to house the shredder, wouldn't you know it, the temporary CZM permit has expired. Not only that, but now the Ashbys – owners of A-9 Trucking – have to dig a hole, build a road, and install an electrical system – along with getting that CZM waiver again.
Meanwhile, the tires that are no longer being accepted at the land fill are ….?
The week wrapped up under the "this should come as no surprise" heading when senators listened to a host of unhappy "affordable home" owners talk about the unacceptable conditions of their affordable homes on St. Croix.
Ira Hobson, Housing Parks and Recreation commissioner and John Wessel, president of General Engineering Corporation, who built the Castle Burke homes, promised the residents they would make necessary repairs to doors and windows, where water is seeping through – only when it rains, of course — within two weeks. (See "Castle Burke Residents Promised Repairs").
Replacing tiles that have all but moved out of the houses and that Wessel called "inappropriate" for the climate, was much more of a hot potato. At an estimated $300,000 to replace all of them, no wonder.
Wessel, who built the homes, was applying, and has been approved to build eight more homes.
The houses cost $60,000. Hobson claimed Friday night they are now worth $87,000.
And though Sen. Juan Figueroa-Serville, railed on about building affordable homes with inappropriate materials, senators approved the eight new homes, with White saying he didn't want to deprive eight families from "living their dream" – or maybe their nightmare – as some Castle Burke residents described life in their "affordable homes."

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