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Panel Approves Bill Reserving Water Island Property for Veterans

A measure approved Thursday by the Senate Rules Committee will, if passed by the full Senate, reserve some residential land on Water Island for veterans.

The committee unanimously approved Senate Bill 29-0030.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Celestino White Jr., recalled a time not long ago when "only the well-connected or the, so called, mighty connected resided [on Water Island],” which was managed by the U.S. Department of the Interior before the federal government turned it over to the territorial government. The bill passed by the committee Thursday reserves at least 15 percent of the government-owned land for sale as residential home sites for veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces.

Committee members praised the bill for taking care of people who gave their time, some risking their lives, in the service of their country.

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Voting yes were Sens. White, Alicia "Chucky" Hansen, Sammuel Sanes, Simon Patrick Sprauve, Ronald Russell, Carlton "Ital" Dowe, and Usie R. Richards.

Approval by the Rules Committee means the bill goes on for consideration by the full Senate.

In other action Thursday, the committee:

• Unanimously approved bill 29-0042, which creates an incentive program for making housing "visitable." A visitable home is one in which residents with disabilities or limited mobility can have easy access. Such elements as no-step entrances, wide doorways and passages, and wheelchair accessible first-floor bathrooms can make a home visitable.

The bill, sponsored by Hansen, authorizes the Department of Planning and Natural Resources to establish a Visitable Housing Design and Incentive Program.

• Rejected by a 3-4 vote, bill number 29-0080, which would appropriate $3 million from the general fund to construct an institution for the mentally ill.

Hansen, the bill’s primary sponsor, spoke passionately about the plight of the mentally ill.

"Mental illness is just that. It is not a crime to be mentally ill. Mentally ill people do not belong in jail," she said.

Several senators, while recognizing the plight of the mentally ill, asked if the territory can afford building an institution for the mentally ill while facing a potential $15 million shortfall in the current year’s budget.

White said prudence dictates that the Senate first determine if there is a budget deficit, and if there is, come up with a plan to plug it before committing $3 million to a project that doesn’t yet have a solid price tag.

"If we have $3 million right now, we can put that towards the $15 million shortfall and then we’re only looking for 12," he said. "I acknowledge the need … but we have employees who are on the verge of losing employment, we have to fix this budget issue."

Dowe pointed out that there was no mention of design costs or operations, just a request for $3 million for construction.

"This is a necessary thing," he said, "but whether this is necessary today, I’m not convinced."

Hansen, Russell, and Sanes voted to move the bill out of committee and into the full Senate, but they were outnumbered by White, Dowe, Sprauve, and Richards voting no.

• Approved and sent to the full Senate bill 29-0044, the Fraudulent Transfer Act. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Shawn-Michael Moore and Sanes, seeks to prevent people from hiding assets to create artificial insolvency. The measure passed 6-1, with Hansen voting no.

• Approved and sent to the full Senate bill number 29-0147, Hansen’s bill to create a civil cause of action with remedies for employment discrimination in the courts. According to Hansen, the bill does not replace the current system, but creates alternatives for those whose complaints have become bogged down in the administrative system.

The measure passed the committee on a 7-0 vote.

• Unanimously approved the nomination of Stephanie Hodge to the Real Estate Commission of the Virgin Islands, and the nomination of Noreen Dunn to a second term on the Real Estate Appraisers Board.

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A measure approved Thursday by the Senate Rules Committee will, if passed by the full Senate, reserve some residential land on Water Island for veterans.

The committee unanimously approved Senate Bill 29-0030.

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Celestino White Jr., recalled a time not long ago when "only the well-connected or the, so called, mighty connected resided [on Water Island],” which was managed by the U.S. Department of the Interior before the federal government turned it over to the territorial government. The bill passed by the committee Thursday reserves at least 15 percent of the government-owned land for sale as residential home sites for veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces.

Committee members praised the bill for taking care of people who gave their time, some risking their lives, in the service of their country.

Voting yes were Sens. White, Alicia "Chucky" Hansen, Sammuel Sanes, Simon Patrick Sprauve, Ronald Russell, Carlton "Ital" Dowe, and Usie R. Richards.

Approval by the Rules Committee means the bill goes on for consideration by the full Senate.

In other action Thursday, the committee:

• Unanimously approved bill 29-0042, which creates an incentive program for making housing "visitable." A visitable home is one in which residents with disabilities or limited mobility can have easy access. Such elements as no-step entrances, wide doorways and passages, and wheelchair accessible first-floor bathrooms can make a home visitable.

The bill, sponsored by Hansen, authorizes the Department of Planning and Natural Resources to establish a Visitable Housing Design and Incentive Program.

• Rejected by a 3-4 vote, bill number 29-0080, which would appropriate $3 million from the general fund to construct an institution for the mentally ill.

Hansen, the bill's primary sponsor, spoke passionately about the plight of the mentally ill.

"Mental illness is just that. It is not a crime to be mentally ill. Mentally ill people do not belong in jail," she said.

Several senators, while recognizing the plight of the mentally ill, asked if the territory can afford building an institution for the mentally ill while facing a potential $15 million shortfall in the current year's budget.

White said prudence dictates that the Senate first determine if there is a budget deficit, and if there is, come up with a plan to plug it before committing $3 million to a project that doesn't yet have a solid price tag.

"If we have $3 million right now, we can put that towards the $15 million shortfall and then we're only looking for 12," he said. "I acknowledge the need ... but we have employees who are on the verge of losing employment, we have to fix this budget issue."

Dowe pointed out that there was no mention of design costs or operations, just a request for $3 million for construction.

"This is a necessary thing," he said, "but whether this is necessary today, I'm not convinced."

Hansen, Russell, and Sanes voted to move the bill out of committee and into the full Senate, but they were outnumbered by White, Dowe, Sprauve, and Richards voting no.

• Approved and sent to the full Senate bill 29-0044, the Fraudulent Transfer Act. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Shawn-Michael Moore and Sanes, seeks to prevent people from hiding assets to create artificial insolvency. The measure passed 6-1, with Hansen voting no.

• Approved and sent to the full Senate bill number 29-0147, Hansen's bill to create a civil cause of action with remedies for employment discrimination in the courts. According to Hansen, the bill does not replace the current system, but creates alternatives for those whose complaints have become bogged down in the administrative system.

The measure passed the committee on a 7-0 vote.

• Unanimously approved the nomination of Stephanie Hodge to the Real Estate Commission of the Virgin Islands, and the nomination of Noreen Dunn to a second term on the Real Estate Appraisers Board.