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Governor Signs Bulk of Legislation in Record Fashion

Dec. 22, 2005 – In what is possibly the fastest turnaround in local gubernatorial history, and certainly the fastest in the tenure of the current office holder, Gov. Charles W. Turnbull on Thursday acted on and returned to the Senate the voluminous stack of legislation he had received less than 24 hours ago.
He approved all the legislation, except an amendment repealing the $75,000 cap on pain and suffering resulting from an automobile accident. The measure has received sharp criticism from some representatives of the insurance industry and equally strident support from members of the legal community. (See "Debate Continues Over Lifting Cap on 'Pain and Suffering' Damages".)
Perhaps influenced by the holiday spirit, Turnbull was unusually generous with the senators' multitudinous amendments, with his veto pen only making the one aforementioned appearance.
He approved moving the Constitutional Convention from 2006 to July 2007. Turnbull also signed into law a bill raising the minimum annual salary of government workers from $15,000 to $20,000.
One amendment needing immediate attention, which Turnbull signed into law, allows for the traditional Christmas races to take place this year on Dec. 26 at the Randall "Doc" James Racetrack on St. Croix. The amendment appropriates $100,000 from the General Fund to the Housing, Parks and Recreation Department to promote holiday events.
The wording in the appropriation amendment does not specify the Dec. 26 races, though that was the intent of the amendment's sponsor, Sen. Neville James. Details of how the funding will be handled were not available Thursday. The St. Croix Racing Commission is meeting on Friday, according to a published report.
The amendments were attached to a bill appropriating $1.5 million to the Department of Human Services for the purchase of the Massac Nursing Facility in Estate Hope on St. Thomas.
Turnbull said in his cover letter to Senate President Lorraine Berry that he had signed the bill into law, with the exception of the amendment repealing the $75,000 cap on pain and suffering from an automobile accident.
The governor said, "passage of this section would likely have an adverse impact on the insurance industry and the availability of affordable automobile insurance, as was the case in the past." He continued, "I, however, feel that the $75,000 cap is too low. After further analysis and research, I will be submitting to the Legislature shortly a bill to amend Title 20, section 555, V. I. Code, that would include a more reasonable cap that would be fair to all parties concerned."
Sen. Louis Hill, who sponsored the Constitutional Convention amendment to move the date, was a happy man Thursday evening. "I have taken a beating for it. I'm glad I did it, and now we can move forward with the process of informing the electorate of the importance of the convention. I look forward to UVI holding very dynamic and informative forums."
The legislation includes a $100,000 appropriation for the University of the Virgin Islands to provide for a public education program.
Members of the Joint Board of Elections have said they are prepared to go ahead with the February special election for delegates to the convention. At a St. Croix District Board of Elections meeting on Thursday, members voted to remain neutral on the issue of conducting the special election.
Hill said Turnbull's knowledge of past conventions must have influenced his approval. "I thank the governor," Hill said, "for his wisdom in signing the amendment. He has attended all four previous conventions, and his knowledge of the process is what caused him to sign the amendment; he recognizes how important it is to ensure that this time around will be successful."
Hill was also pleased that two other of his amendments also passed. One keeps the V.I. Drug Enforcement Bureau in business, appropriating $400,000 from the General Fund to pay salaries for employees of the Bureau, which did not receive renewed federal funding.
The other amendment sets a precedent for the Legislature, setting aside equal pay for each senator's allotment, regardless of political alignment (except for those in leadership positions). The amendment passed by the slimmest of margins, eight to seven. Hill's minority colleagues all voted for the measure, joined by one majority member, Sen. Terrence "Positive" Nelson.
The Legislature is notoriously secretive about individual senators' allotments. The Source has been trying unsuccessfully to get this information from Berry since January 2005, when a hand-delivered request citing the Freedom of Information Act was delivered to her office.
Turnbull approved the following amendments:
– a $150,000 appropriation to the Tourism Department to study the feasibility of a floating hotel on St. Croix;
– a $15,000 appropriation to the St. John Love City Steel Band to play in the St. Croix Agricultural Fair;
– a $75,000 additional appropriation for the Crucian Christmas Festival;
– a $250,000 appropriation from the General Fund to hire five firefighters in the St. Thomas-St. John District to staff the Bordeaux Fire Station;
– a $2.5 million appropriation from the General Fund to build a new gymnasium at the Charlotte Amalie High School, and $100,000 to repave the CAHS tennis courts; and
– allowance of a $14 million set-aside in the Omnibus bill for books for the Education Department to be spent by Education on V.I. cultural programs and technology equipment.
In addition, resolutions were approved honoring:
– Rosa Parks for her commitment and dedication to the Civil Rights movement;
– Yvonne Williams-Henry for 30 years of outstanding service in education in the territory; and
– Dr. John Samuel Moorhead on his 100th birthday for his dedicated and distinguished medical service to the Virgin Islands.
Turnbull also approved a 25-year lease agreement between the government and Grade-All Heavy Equipment Inc. for Sub Base property. Also, zoning variances were granted to the McKnight property in Estate Mount Pleasant on St. Croix and to property in Estate Thomas on St. Thomas to be developed into professional offices and a medical clinic.
The Source was pleasantly surprised at the governor's quick action, and the staff wishes him a relaxed and happy holiday. (See "Turnbull Has His Holiday Work Cut Out for Him".)
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