Bill Would Make Telecom Vandalizing a Felony

The crime of stealing or tampering with utility or cable television equipment will be a felony rather than a misdemeanor if a bill approved in committee Wednesday becomes law. The measure, introduced by Sen. Nereida "Nellie" O’Reilly late last year, is especially timely and topical now as Innovative reported telephone and internet outages this week that were a direct result of vandalism to its equipment on St. Croix.

"The goal is to really discourage this behavior," said committee chair and bill cosponsor Sen. Sammuel Sanes Wednesday afternoon. "Theft is increasing, and not only does it interrupt regular service, but it disrupts essential services,” he said. “If someone, let’s say, steals the copper wire at the hospital, that will put people’s lives at risk."

Experts testifying on the bill raised the concern that there is no clear definition of "tampering" in the bill, but all the parties agreed to create a definition to add to the bill by the time it is heard in the Rules and Judiciary Committee, Sanes said.

The committee temporarily held a bill to create a crime and public health task force for further amendment. The measure aims to bring agencies of the government together to examine the problem of violent crime from a public health perspective, according to its sponsor, Sen. Janette Millin-Young, in a statement. The bill also creates a mandate to form holistic strategies to combat crime from a more preventative and cost-efficient approach, she said.

Government officials raised concerns about creating new task forces that would require new hiring and new expenditures at a time when the government is facing a fiscal crisis, without identifying a source of funding.

In a statement issued after the hearing, Millin-Young said she would try to address the concerns raised by administration officials in amendments, but believed the task force would not cost much up front and ultimately save more than it cost.

“People in communities besieged by violent crime are much less likely to engage in outdoor activities and are much more likely to suffer from emotional disorders,” Millin-Young said. “As such, we are paying costs for violent crime that we are not even aware of. Without the proper data and analysis, we may be pursuing policies that are penny-wise and pound-foolish. The Task Force will help us to make the best and most effective decisions to safeguard our community.”

No vote was held on the second bill, which was held both for amendment and due to a lack of a quorum, Sanes said.

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