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Charlotte Amalie
Tuesday, August 16, 2022
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Senators Predict Smoother Relations with Executive Branch

After the State of the Territory address Monday, many senators endorsed Gov. John deJongh Jr.’s firm stance toward Hovensa and predicted smoother relations with the executive branch in the upcoming 30th Legislature than in recent years.

Senate President Shawn-Michael Malone.Senate President Shawn-Michael Malone, who has considerable power to set the legislative agenda, said he agrees with the governor’s stance on the need to ensure there is a full-scale cleanup of the Hovensa site if it is not reopened by a new buyer. Malone also said he hopes efforts to find a buyer will be successful.

"I would be thrilled if we found a new operator for Hovensa; however, it is time for us to move rapidly toward new and sustainable industries on St. Croix to include using the former Hovensa docking facility as the basis of a transshipment port," said Malone, who was elected from St. Thomas.

Senate Vice President Sammuel Sanes of St. Croix said, "One thing we have to keep in mind is the safety and wellbeing of our community, especially the communities that live near the refinery."

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"The governor is right in taking a hard stand,” Sanes said. “And hopefully in the near future we will get an answer. We had better get an answer." Majority Leader Donald “Ducks” Cole

Right after the governor’s speech concluded, Majority Leader Donald Cole of St. Thomas said he hoped the government could come to an amicable solution with Hovensa. "The governor has outlined a plan and I support his plan and look forward to supporting him in whatever he needs to do to accomplish that goal," Cole said.

Sen. Craig Barshinger also expressed his support. "We will stand with him to make sure that land is repurposed for a new industrial purpose or cleaned up and remediated. Those were the governor’s words: It is either going to be this way or that way, and I applaud him for that.”

Support was not limited to members of the Democratic majority, who share partisan affiliation with deJongh. While minority members vary in their degree of opposition to the majority and the governor, several espoused qualified support for some of the aims deJongh outlined Monday.

"I would support the direction he is heading," said Sen. Tregenza Roach, an independent and the only minority senator on St. Thomas. "The suddenness of its closure and overall impact on the economy of the territory suggests that we take an aggressive approach.” …

Sen. Tregenza Roach“It seems to me,” Roach said, “that he has put substantial resources, legal and otherwise to determine what is the sound posture for the government of the Virgin Islands to take, and I am encouraged by that because it suggests to me that he might come with an approach the Legislature can wholeheartedly support."

Sen. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen, an independent who has represented St. Croix in the Legislature on and off for more than 20 years, also agreed.

"If they are not going to reopen, they must clean up the site," Hansen said after the speech. "They must, in fact, comply with the agreement and should create jobs through that cleanup process.”

“They cannot just walk off from it," Hansen said.

When deJongh castigated judges for releasing too many violent offenders before trial, some senators, both majority and minority, were strongly supportive, while others expressed reservations.

"I was surprised when he came very hard on the judicial system, on the judges," said Sanes, “but I think it is something we needed. We have had a revolving door and I was glad he mentioned that."

Sen. Judi Fricks-BuckleySen. Judi Buckley, a freshman independent representing St. Croix strongly agreed. "Certainly as someone who has worked really hard in the arena of crime prevention, I was thrilled he stated publicly the need for judges and prosecutors to be a little tougher on criminals and keep them detained when they are a danger to the community. It is what I have been saying for awhile," she said.

Roach, an attorney, was less sanguine. Maybe the average person wants the ability to keep people in jail prior to trial and hold them there without bail, he said, adding that wasn’t the case. "As much crime as we experience as a society, we are still guided by a fundamental principal in American jurisprudence and that is the presumption of innocence,” he said.

Roach said the governor’s “very strong statement” about keeping offenders in jail without bail “might appeal to Joe Blow in the public, but it is not an objective that can realistically be satisfied."

Sen. Myron Jackson, a member of the majority representing St. Thomas, said it raised a "red flag" for him, but he was more equivocal. "This is not the first time I have heard the governor make a statement as to the role of judges," Jackson said.

"I look forward to having an engagement with the judicial system when we do have hearings. And to explore some of that on my own as well and really see what are the issues relating to the judicial system and our young men, especially, who come through the system," Jackson said.

Jackson is a former head of the V.I. Cultural Heritage Institute and said he was happy to hear the governor talk about improving graduation rates and other educational matters, as well a work on important historical landmarks like Fort Christian and the Oscar E. Henry Customs House. "The Customs House is very much part of the economic development of both the town of Frederiksted and St. Croix at large," Jackson said.

On the topic of violent gun crime, deJongh got high marks for emphasizing the federal role in controlling the borders and the U.S. Postal System and saying he was pushing the federal government to increase patrols and postal inspections.

Malone said he "agreed with the governor’s statement on guns and the responsibility of the federal government, to include the Postal Service, to better protect our borders and stem the flow of weapons into the territory."

"I concur with the governor that we don’t manufacture guns here and we need to work with all the agencies that can help," said Sen. Kenneth Gittens, a freshman member of the majority on St. Croix. "The borders are a federal responsibility," he said. Sen. Kenneth Gittens

Gittens also said he was glad to hear the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms was back in the territory, but "I need to hear in what capacity," he added.

Gittens, like Jackson, said he was glad to hear about upcoming capital projects on St. Croix, especially the news that a request for proposals for renovating the Paul E. Joseph Stadium in Frederiksted. "But I wanted to hear about more shovel-ready projects," he said.

Gittens did express some reservations about deJongh’s proposal to increase the length of the school day and school year, but he did not say he opposed them outright.

"The problem is we have to compensate the teachers. And the (teacher’s union) has not signed a contract since 2011," Gittens said.

Roach said he was encouraged by the governor’s suggestion that we need to have greater parental responsibility in the educational system, but he didn’t want any children to fall through the cracks, noting that some children do not have parents or guardians at home that can really play a part in their educational advancement.

“We think the home environment should be able to provide more support for educational advancement than it can," Roach said.

Malone, Cole and several other senators said they agreed with deJongh that tax breaks through the territory’s Economic Development Commission would be an important tool to bring new economic development to the territory in the year and years ahead.

"The Virgin Islands, I believe, are going to be fertile ground for some of those investments the governor spoke about," Cole said, referring to the EDC program

Malone also said he fully supported the changes the governor talked about “in terms of requiring applicants to start operations within 12 months as opposed to five years,” but he noted he didn’t believe the territory has “come even close to maximizing the full potential of our EDA program."

Malone said, "I currently have proposed legislation to allow for renewable energy and aviation companies to receive tax benefits. We must work aggressively to inform industry leaders about the many advantages of relocating to the U.S. Virgin Islands.”

He also agreed with the governor’s assessment “that we must look to diversify our economy with numerous smaller companies as opposed to relying on one large employer."

Some senators had a few specific complaints and areas they want to see the governor address.

"I am still seeing government vehicles on the road at night with no legitimate government function and I am hoping the governor will take more action on government vehicles being used after hours," said Gittens.

Barshinger said he was glad to hear of progress toward converting local utilities to run on cheaper natural gas but he wanted to hear more specific information about when utility rates would come down, with specific benchmarks. Barshinger also expressed concern that federal grant funds may be being sent back without being spent. And he was also concerned that swimming is not being taught in elementary school.

"It is a mandate,” he said. “We overrode the governor’s veto but he is not doing it. Rotary Clubs and other community organizations are pushing for this. Our children are eager to learn to swim. It creates jobs as well as increasing safety and it is just not being done," Barshinger said.

But Barshinger and many other senators predicted smoother relations between the executive and legislative branches than in the recent past.

"Overall this one will be better than the last one for him," Barshinger said. "He doesn’t know it yet but it is going to be better.”

“This is a Legislature which is committed to transparency and restoring people’s trust in the first branch of government,” Barshinger said, adding “that was lacking in the last Legislature.”

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After the State of the Territory address Monday, many senators endorsed Gov. John deJongh Jr.'s firm stance toward Hovensa and predicted smoother relations with the executive branch in the upcoming 30th Legislature than in recent years.

Senate President Shawn-Michael Malone.Senate President Shawn-Michael Malone, who has considerable power to set the legislative agenda, said he agrees with the governor's stance on the need to ensure there is a full-scale cleanup of the Hovensa site if it is not reopened by a new buyer. Malone also said he hopes efforts to find a buyer will be successful.

"I would be thrilled if we found a new operator for Hovensa; however, it is time for us to move rapidly toward new and sustainable industries on St. Croix to include using the former Hovensa docking facility as the basis of a transshipment port," said Malone, who was elected from St. Thomas.

Senate Vice President Sammuel Sanes of St. Croix said, "One thing we have to keep in mind is the safety and wellbeing of our community, especially the communities that live near the refinery."

"The governor is right in taking a hard stand,” Sanes said. “And hopefully in the near future we will get an answer. We had better get an answer." Majority Leader Donald “Ducks” Cole

Right after the governor’s speech concluded, Majority Leader Donald Cole of St. Thomas said he hoped the government could come to an amicable solution with Hovensa. "The governor has outlined a plan and I support his plan and look forward to supporting him in whatever he needs to do to accomplish that goal," Cole said.

Sen. Craig Barshinger also expressed his support. "We will stand with him to make sure that land is repurposed for a new industrial purpose or cleaned up and remediated. Those were the governor's words: It is either going to be this way or that way, and I applaud him for that.”

Support was not limited to members of the Democratic majority, who share partisan affiliation with deJongh. While minority members vary in their degree of opposition to the majority and the governor, several espoused qualified support for some of the aims deJongh outlined Monday.

"I would support the direction he is heading," said Sen. Tregenza Roach, an independent and the only minority senator on St. Thomas. "The suddenness of its closure and overall impact on the economy of the territory suggests that we take an aggressive approach.” ...

Sen. Tregenza Roach“It seems to me,” Roach said, “that he has put substantial resources, legal and otherwise to determine what is the sound posture for the government of the Virgin Islands to take, and I am encouraged by that because it suggests to me that he might come with an approach the Legislature can wholeheartedly support."

Sen. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen, an independent who has represented St. Croix in the Legislature on and off for more than 20 years, also agreed.

"If they are not going to reopen, they must clean up the site," Hansen said after the speech. "They must, in fact, comply with the agreement and should create jobs through that cleanup process.”

“They cannot just walk off from it," Hansen said.

When deJongh castigated judges for releasing too many violent offenders before trial, some senators, both majority and minority, were strongly supportive, while others expressed reservations.

"I was surprised when he came very hard on the judicial system, on the judges," said Sanes, “but I think it is something we needed. We have had a revolving door and I was glad he mentioned that."

Sen. Judi Fricks-BuckleySen. Judi Buckley, a freshman independent representing St. Croix strongly agreed. "Certainly as someone who has worked really hard in the arena of crime prevention, I was thrilled he stated publicly the need for judges and prosecutors to be a little tougher on criminals and keep them detained when they are a danger to the community. It is what I have been saying for awhile," she said.

Roach, an attorney, was less sanguine. Maybe the average person wants the ability to keep people in jail prior to trial and hold them there without bail, he said, adding that wasn’t the case. "As much crime as we experience as a society, we are still guided by a fundamental principal in American jurisprudence and that is the presumption of innocence,” he said.

Roach said the governor’s “very strong statement” about keeping offenders in jail without bail “might appeal to Joe Blow in the public, but it is not an objective that can realistically be satisfied."

Sen. Myron Jackson, a member of the majority representing St. Thomas, said it raised a "red flag" for him, but he was more equivocal. "This is not the first time I have heard the governor make a statement as to the role of judges," Jackson said.

"I look forward to having an engagement with the judicial system when we do have hearings. And to explore some of that on my own as well and really see what are the issues relating to the judicial system and our young men, especially, who come through the system," Jackson said.

Jackson is a former head of the V.I. Cultural Heritage Institute and said he was happy to hear the governor talk about improving graduation rates and other educational matters, as well a work on important historical landmarks like Fort Christian and the Oscar E. Henry Customs House. "The Customs House is very much part of the economic development of both the town of Frederiksted and St. Croix at large," Jackson said.

On the topic of violent gun crime, deJongh got high marks for emphasizing the federal role in controlling the borders and the U.S. Postal System and saying he was pushing the federal government to increase patrols and postal inspections.

Malone said he "agreed with the governor's statement on guns and the responsibility of the federal government, to include the Postal Service, to better protect our borders and stem the flow of weapons into the territory."

"I concur with the governor that we don’t manufacture guns here and we need to work with all the agencies that can help," said Sen. Kenneth Gittens, a freshman member of the majority on St. Croix. "The borders are a federal responsibility," he said. Sen. Kenneth Gittens

Gittens also said he was glad to hear the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms was back in the territory, but "I need to hear in what capacity," he added.

Gittens, like Jackson, said he was glad to hear about upcoming capital projects on St. Croix, especially the news that a request for proposals for renovating the Paul E. Joseph Stadium in Frederiksted. "But I wanted to hear about more shovel-ready projects," he said.

Gittens did express some reservations about deJongh's proposal to increase the length of the school day and school year, but he did not say he opposed them outright.

"The problem is we have to compensate the teachers. And the (teacher's union) has not signed a contract since 2011," Gittens said.

Roach said he was encouraged by the governor's suggestion that we need to have greater parental responsibility in the educational system, but he didn’t want any children to fall through the cracks, noting that some children do not have parents or guardians at home that can really play a part in their educational advancement.

“We think the home environment should be able to provide more support for educational advancement than it can," Roach said.

Malone, Cole and several other senators said they agreed with deJongh that tax breaks through the territory's Economic Development Commission would be an important tool to bring new economic development to the territory in the year and years ahead.

"The Virgin Islands, I believe, are going to be fertile ground for some of those investments the governor spoke about," Cole said, referring to the EDC program

Malone also said he fully supported the changes the governor talked about “in terms of requiring applicants to start operations within 12 months as opposed to five years,” but he noted he didn’t believe the territory has “come even close to maximizing the full potential of our EDA program."

Malone said, "I currently have proposed legislation to allow for renewable energy and aviation companies to receive tax benefits. We must work aggressively to inform industry leaders about the many advantages of relocating to the U.S. Virgin Islands.”

He also agreed with the governor's assessment “that we must look to diversify our economy with numerous smaller companies as opposed to relying on one large employer."

Some senators had a few specific complaints and areas they want to see the governor address.

"I am still seeing government vehicles on the road at night with no legitimate government function and I am hoping the governor will take more action on government vehicles being used after hours," said Gittens.

Barshinger said he was glad to hear of progress toward converting local utilities to run on cheaper natural gas but he wanted to hear more specific information about when utility rates would come down, with specific benchmarks. Barshinger also expressed concern that federal grant funds may be being sent back without being spent. And he was also concerned that swimming is not being taught in elementary school.

"It is a mandate,” he said. “We overrode the governor's veto but he is not doing it. Rotary Clubs and other community organizations are pushing for this. Our children are eager to learn to swim. It creates jobs as well as increasing safety and it is just not being done," Barshinger said.

But Barshinger and many other senators predicted smoother relations between the executive and legislative branches than in the recent past.

"Overall this one will be better than the last one for him," Barshinger said. "He doesn't know it yet but it is going to be better.”

“This is a Legislature which is committed to transparency and restoring people's trust in the first branch of government,” Barshinger said, adding “that was lacking in the last Legislature.”