From renovating Frederiksted’s historic Customs House to requiring banks holding government funds give the Legislature access to their records, senators approved a slew of unrelated items by attaching them as amendments to one of the 2012 budget bills approved in full session Wednesday.
Each senator was given the chance to offer two measures as amendments to the one budget bill not being considered under a closed rule forbidding amendments—a measure to allow the Health Department to use $3.9 million of its own revenues for its internal operation.
The Legislature approved a proposal from Sen. Louis Hill to take $1.2 million in bond funding left over from a land purchase on St. John and devote most of it to renovate the Omar E. Henry Customs House, adding a proposal from Sen. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen to divert $300,000 of that sum for unspecified road and lighting work in Estate Humbug.
A measure from Sen. Neville James requiring anyone who takes a $10,000 bonus for early retirement repay the full amount if they return to work for the government got the thumbs-up. So did James’ proposal to have retired governors’ pensions depend on their salaries while in office rather than the salaries of current governors.
Sen. Usie Richards persuaded his colleagues to change the law so no physician can prescribe controlled substances, such as opiate painkillers, electronically. Richards also added a measure to adopt parts of federal regulations governing trucks up to 26,000 lbs. in weight.
Two measures from Sen. Janette Millin-Young met muster and were added to the bill. One mandated any banks holding government funds provide the Legislature access to its records, and the other clarified language in the law to ensure a $1 monthly cell phone user fee only apply to each account and not to each cell phone in the household.
Other amendments passed Wednesday would:
–eliminate pension provisions for the widow or widower of a deceased governor;
— direct the Public Finance Authority not to spend any local matching funds for the federally-funded broadband expansion project except to comply with federal guidelines until the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration certifies the program is in compliance;
— appropriate $1.5 million from monies saved on personnel costs due to large numbers of early retirements this year, giving it to the Office of the Lieutenant Governor to cover the costs of compiling and processing several property tax bills this year; and
— allow V.I. Superior Court at its own discretion to reprogram funds left over in its special funds to cover its own most pressing priorities.
Separately, the Legislature passed a measure to end a nearly three-year moratorium on building new cell towers, create new cell tower application and public hearing procedures, and give the V.I. Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR) regulatory and enforcement powers over tower construction.
The bill gives DPNR broad regulatory authority to set height, setback and other requirements, as well as enforcement powers and the ability to impose fines of $1,500 per day on violators. Along with creating an application procedure, it requires DPNR to rule on tower applications within 90 days, or within 150 days if a hearing is required.
It also approved a bill clarifying and amending an existing law to increase availability of automatic external defibrillators (AEDs) in part by mandating each public high school with competitive athletics maintain an AED and have a trained staff member on hand during large events. In the private arena, gyms and health clubs with at least 75 members would have to acquire and maintain an AED, too.