Bill Aimed at Senate Transparency Fails, Deemed an 'Insult'

April 19, 2006 – A bill mandating the Legislature open its books and records to the public is "an insult" and a "personal attack on the leadership of this institution," Sen. Lorraine L. Berry said during the second half of Wednesday's full Senate session.
Berry further stated that the bill – which has been lingering in the Legislature since last December – was a moot point because she had already released information disclosing the salaries of senators and staff. She added that the government is already required to release such information under the Sunshine Act, and that the proposed transparency bill allows residents to "come in from off the streets and have access to our business" by making "photographic copies of every document" created in government institutions.
She explained that she had initially voted against the bill – which was introduced by Sen. Craig W. Barshinger – at the request of the former majority senators, but since switching sides last year, had released the information. "Since the legislation to equalize allotments was passed, everything that was requested from me was made public," she said, referring to a bill mandating that each senator receive 2 percent of the Legislature's total operating budget. "I know that some of us have to play politics…but colleagues, you had better stop this nonsense."
While applauding the intent of the bill, most senators said they agreed with Berry and saw no need to pass the bill when the information had already been released.
While Sen. Juan Figueroa-Serville further criticized the media for publishing the names and salaries of Senate employees, Barshinger added that the bill was intended to stop "barricades" from being put up by the Legislature against individuals who might want to access specific documents.
The bill narrowly failed to gain approval, with Berry and Sens. Roosevelt C. David, Liston Davis, Juan Figueroa-Serville, Louis P. Hill, Norman Jn Baptiste, and Celestino A. White Sr. voting against; and Sens. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, Pedro "Pete" Encarnacion, Neville James, Terrence "Positive" Nelson, Usie R. Richards, and Ronald E. Russell voting in favor.
Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone was absent.
During Wednesday's meeting, senators also discussed a bill regulating the use of Segway human transporters–an electric scooter used in pedestrian areas and run primarily on sidewalks.
Some senators said the bill, which was extensively debated during a recent Rules Committee meeting, is problematic because it does not address certain key issues, such as whether or not the machines are classified as motor vehicles or whether residents would have to obtain a license and insurance before operating them. They added that new infrastructure might have to be built to accommodate the machines, which could also cause further congestion in crowded pedestrian areas.
Barshinger, the bill's sponsor, introduced an amendment during the session, which he said would address all of the concerns raised by senators – including additional provisions relating to the definition of the machines, how and where residents can use them, and responsibilities given to the Police Department to prohibit the use of the machines should they pose a threat to residents.
The bill was approved and sent to Gov. Charles W. Turnbull for final approval.
Senators also approved a bill allowing senior citizens and persons with disabilities to make payments on any debt owed to the government at any department or agency where there is a bonded cashier. An amendment added to the bill stipulates that, if approved by Gov. Charles W. Turnbull, the bill would go into effect 60 days after the government's new Enterprise Resource Planning System is installed.
The new system will be replacing the government's old financial management system.
A bill to honor and commend Ethel Elfrida Henry McIntosh for her contribution to V.I. culture, heritage, and music was also approved. The bill further names Mahogany Road on St. Croix as "Ethel McIntosh Memorial Drive" and appropriates $3,000 from the General Fund to Public Works to install a sign with the new name of the road.
Senators further approved a bill honoring and commending Sophia Johnson, who rescued a potential drowning victim on Hotel on the Cay Beach in August 2002. The bill additionally appropriates $1,000 for the purchase of a savings bond for Johnson, who was seven when she rescued then four-year-old Alyssa Carasotti.
All senators except Malone were present during Wednesday's session.
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