After meeting for nearly four hours Monday afternoon, the Senate Homeland Security, Justice and Public Safety Committee passed four bills on to the Rules Committee for consideration. A bill to mandate that the Territorial Parole Board notify victims when an inmate comes up for parole got unqualified support from all the senators at the meeting.
However, Sen. Judi Buckley, who sponsored the bill, used the words “shock” and “dismay” to describe her feelings when she learned that the Parole Board already does just that.
“This bill circulated through your office,” she said, suggesting that someone should have told her about this practice.
However, should the bill make it all the way through the Rules Committee and the full Senate as well as being signed into law by Gov. John deJongh Jr., it will put into the V.I. Code what is already in practice at the Parole Board.
Under questioning, Darien Wheatley, who serves as the Parole Board coordinator at the Justice Department, said his office has about a 50 percent success rate in notifying victims that perpetrators are scheduled for a parole hearing or to get out of prison on parole.
He said the perpetrators’ names are released to the media for circulation in case his office has been unable to get hold of the victims.
Wheatley said his office also contacts agencies that deal with victims of crime for help in getting in touch with victims.
During discussion on expanding peace officer status to qualified people in various agencies, Police Commissioner Rodney Querrard Sr. said that all too often people with peace officer status don’t take action when they see a crime being committed.
“Step up to the plate. Do your part to make the place better,” he said.
Kelvin Vidal, an attorney for the V.I. Waste Management Authority, urged the senators to include the agency’s environmental enforcement officers on the list.
“They are dealing with the risks associated with law enforcement officers,” Vidal said.
He said peace officer status will help protect them and serve as a deterrent to those bent on breaking the territory’s laws.
Two separate bills focused on the peace officer issue. One was sponsored by Sen. Sammuel Sanes and the other by non-committee member Sen. Terrence Nelson.
When the committee voted on them both, Waste Management, Superior Court probation officers, the Legislature’s chief or assistant chief of security and the sergeant of arms as well as the officers that provide security at Government House were on the list.
The committee also passed on the Rules Committee Sen. Nereida Rivera O’Reilly’s bill to authorize the Motor Vehicle Bureau to issue photo identification cards for people who don’t have driver’s licenses. She, Motor Vehicle Bureau Director Jerris T. Browne as well as others at the meeting agreed the bill needs some clarifications and tightening, but presumably that will happen in the Rules Committee.
The bill is needed because people need to show identification, for example, when cashing checks.
“They can’t go to the bank,” Browne said.
If a person has a Virgin Islands driver’s license, they will not be eligible to get an identification card because they already have a form of identification, Browne said.
He also said issuing identification cards will serve as a revenue enhancement for the government since there will be a charge for them.
Those applying for the identification cards will have to prove they are legal residents of the Virgin Islands.
All the senators on the floor when the bills came up for voted said yes. In addition to Buckley and Sanes, Sens. Alicia Hansen and Clarence Payne attended the meeting. Sen. Kenneth Gittens chaired the meeting. Sens. Craig Barshinger and Tregenza Roach were absent. Non-committee members Nelson and O’Reilly were also at the meeting.