Legislative plans for congressional internship scholarships for UVI students got strong support from Puerto Rico Secretary of State Kenneth McClintock Monday in committee hearings on St. Thomas.
The bill directs the university to establish a program for congressional internships for college students to participate in intern programs administered by The Washington Center for Internships and Academic Scholarships. It also creates a scholarship fund and makes an initial appropriation for the fund. The Washington Center is a 35-year-old nonprofit educational organization in Washington, D.C.
Sen. Patrick Hill, one of the bill’s sponsors, said Puerto Rico had been active in the program for many years and had reaped great rewards from it.
McClintock, who helped establish a similar program in Puerto Rico more than a decade ago as a member of that territory’s Legislature, came to St. Thomas to sing the program’s praises and encourage the U.S. Virgin Islands to follow suit.
"We are into the 34th semester of the Washington Program in Puerto Rico," McClintock said. In that time, about 650 Puerto Rican college students worked as congressional interns in the nation’s capital in the semester-long program, he said. The work experience, world experience and the new social connections created through the program has served the students well, to the point were its alumni are starting to fill top public and corporate posts, he said.
"After 15 years, you see a huge impact of the program in government … and I didn’t even mention the private sector," McClintock said.
Hill said he believed the value of the program "is the opportunity for our young people in the university to be able to participate in the federal government for a period of time." It opens doors, creates relationships and allows for an enriched life and I think it would be a benefit for us," he said.
UVI President David Hall testified in support of the plan, saying "There isn’t a college or school that wouldn’t be interested in this." While he said he accepted that funding is limited, he urged more funding than the $50,000 originally proposed, asking for $100,000 instead.
The bill was amended to increase the appropriation to $100,000 then approved unanimously by the Education, Youth and Culture Committee Monday. It will next be considered by the Rules and Judiciary Committee.
The government is currently facing a $27.1 million budget shortfall for 2012, calling into question whether the funding for this new appropriation currently exists.
The committee also sent forward a bill to require public school students participating in interscholastic sports to have an annual doctor’s examination. Originally, the bill proposed by Sens. Carlton "Ital" Dowe and Alicia "Chucky" Hansen required students to get an electrocardiogram (EKG), out of concern for possible sudden cardiac arrest due to undetected heart disease.
But after health professionals testified that an EKG was only warranted in a very small number of cases and could be expensive, the committee changed the bill to require only a medical examination.
A bill establishing elementary school agricultural classes and school gardens was held in committee for amendment.
Present were: Hill, Dowe, Sens. Craig Barshinger, Neville James, Sammuel Sanes and Chairwoman Janette Millin-Young.