A bill to ensure that the Planning and Natural Resources Department continues to get $1.5 million in federal funding to run its Fish and Wildlife Division got the OK in Monday’s Rules Committee meeting.
However, the senators who attended spent much of the time pressing Planning Commissioner Alicia Barnes and Fish and Wildlife Director Roy Pemberton to make sure a future bill calling for recreational fishing licenses does not mean that people fishing off piers with hand lines need licenses.
“Federal dollars is one thing, but tradition and culture is another,” Sen. Carlton Dowe said at the meeting held at Earle B. Ottley Legislative Hall on St. Thomas.
Barnes responded that she didn’t want to “give the impression” that such fishing was going to be regulated.
“We don’t want to create that anxiety,” she said.
The bill originally included a provision to mandate recreational fishing licenses, but it was removed in an earlier committee meeting. Barnes said discussions have begun with recreational fishermen to develop a collaborative plan for licensing.
However, she said that if the senators don’t pass the recreational fishing license bill when it comes before them, it could put federal funding in jeopardy.
According to the bill, the federal funding pays 100 percent of Fish and Wildlife salaries. Barnes said that funding from 13 federal grants pays for more than 80 percent of Fish and Wildlife’s budget.
Barnes said an audit completed in March pointed out that the territory hadn’t passed a bill firming up regulations concerning use of the money.
The bill under discussion Monday was approved by all six senators at the meeting. It will have its next airing when the full Legislature meets.
The senators also passed on to the full Legislature a bill that calls for all the territory’s banks to cash Social Security checks issued by the U.S. government and pension checks issued by the Government Employees’ Retirement System.
Banks have been reluctant to do so for people who don’t have accounts with that bank. Some elderly residents don’t have bank accounts because they don’t have enough money to maintain a minimum balance as required by the banks, senators learned when the bill was heard in the Finance Committee.
“These same banks have in their coffers government money,” Sen. Usie R. Richards, who chaired the meeting, pointed out.
Two bills were held in committee and one was removed from the agenda at the request of the sponsor. A bill to provide an offset on gross receipts and property taxes when the local government owes people and businesses money was held in committee.
Dowe, the bill’s sponsor, explained the bill was held “given the fiscal conditions of the government.”
A bill dealing with the procurement of goods and services by the Legislature, as well as awards and incentives to its employees, was held without explanation.
A bill posthumously naming the Frederiksted bicycle substation in honor of Police Ofc. Cuthbert Chapman, who died in the line of duty, was also held without explanation.
In addition to Richards and Dowe, Sens. Ronald Russell, Sammuel Sanes, Patrick Simeon Sprauve and Celestino White attended the meeting. Sen. Alicia Hansen was absent.