Some V.I. criminals motivated by group hatred and bigotry will face more jail time due to that hatred, now that Gov. John deJongh Jr. has signed the measure into law, along with an array of other legislation approved in Senate session in December.
The act [Bill 30-0280] sponsored by Sens. Craig Barshinger and Clarence Payne is similar to hate crime legislation in a number of mainland states. It increases the penalty for crimes "motivated by prejudice of the victim’s actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, sex, ancestry, age, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity."
If the underlying crime is punishable by up to one year in prison, then prosecuting it as a hate crime would mean the sentence could be up to two years and a fine of up to $20,000. If the maximum penalty is more than one year but less than five years, a hate crime conviction will mean a sentence of up to five years and a fine of up to $50,000.
"It is my pleasure to sign this measure into law and join the rest of the nation in furthering the hope that one day crimes motivated by hate of any kind will cease to occur," deJongh wrote in a letter to Senate President Shawn-Michael Malone informing the Legislature of his actions.
DeJongh also approved a measure that added a definition of sexual conduct and changed the definition of sexual contact [30-0109]. V.I. Police Department officials requested the changes to the law, testifying in committee hearings that the changes were needed to help police and prosecutors show that particular abusive actions are prosecutable criminal offenses.
The governor also signed legislation sponsored by Barshinger requiring payments to government retirees for career accumulated excess leave to be budgeted separately to ensure they can get paid soon after retirement. Some employees have been forced to wait many months to receive payment for accrued excess annual leave upon retirement, and the bill aims to allow agencies to plan ahead and pay retirees sooner.
DeJongh also approved measures to:
– get rid of a statute that gives 100 percent tax breaks to captive insurance companies that set up on St. Croix but 90 percent if they set up in St. Thomas, which Graham said violates existing law;
– authorize the Property and Procurement commissioner to ratify a purchase order and pay Betteroads Asphalt Corporation $274,000 for additional work performed for the Virgin Islands National Guard on behalf of the Government of the Virgin Islands. The job became larger than expected due to unsound soil that had to be hauled away [Bill 30-0303];
– honoring and commending Orville “Chopper” Brown for his outstanding service to youths on the island of St. John and naming the basketball court located in Pine Piece, Enighed in his honor [Bill 30-0297];
– correct a date in a past resolution honoring the late Sen. Lorraine Berry;
– increase the number of licenses available for notaries public and requiring at least two notaries at each health care facility;
– divide the 0.5 percent of any net lottery funds that are statutorily devoted to the care of retired and injured horses between Islands Horse Welfare and Golden Age Ranch;
– clarifying language in the law on employer contributions to the Government Employee Retirement System;
– and issue a nonbinding resolution Tuesday to ask the U.S. Congress to pass legislation before it now that would include the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and the other U.S. territories in the federal Supplemental Security Income program. SSI pays benefits to children and adults with disabilities and limited financial resources.
DeJongh vetoed legislation requiring the shuttered Enid M. Baa library’s upper floors be used for the territorial archives and saying the first floor must have a reading room and may be leased out for a gift shop or other commercial outlet with proceeds to help finance the archives.
"Though it is intended to improve the conditions of our libraries and archives, the many flaws in the bill necessitate its disapproval," deJongh said in his letter to the Legislature. The law "defines with far too much particularity the purposes for which the Enid M. Baa Library and Archives Building can be utilized in a community where the lack of typical library or museum programs would gather government and nongovernment materials of historical interest.”
“We simply cannot afford to so limit our archival resources at this time," deJongh continued. He also said the bill contains unfunded mandates, puts materials at risk by having the archives on one floor but the reading room on another, and transfers irreplaceable historical documents to "an inadequate facility."
DeJongh also vetoed a measure extending a previous $450,000 appropriation for fencing at Joseph Sibilly Elementary School that had automatically expired, saying the effect would be to make the appropriation a Fiscal Year 2014 General Fund obligation at a time when there is not enough money to pay the anticipated obligations.
He similarly vetoed legislation appropriating $52,000 to pay Scot McChain for legal work he performed on behalf of the St. Croix Board of Elections for financial reasons, but said the Board of Elections’ Fiscal Year 2014 budget allowed it to spend $50,000 on prior year obligations.
DeJongh rejected a resolution calling for the resignation of Bureau of Corrections Director Julius Wilson, saying it was "improper" and "unjustified."
"During the current director’s tenure, not only has he seen the Bureau of Corrections through the 2009 transition from a division of the Virgin Islands Department of Justice to a separate and distinct executive branch agency, he has also settled two major pieces of litigation in 2013," deJongh wrote.
One case was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union concerning the jails on the island of St. Thomas and litigated for nearly 20 years, and the other involved a consent decree entered into in 1986 with the U.S. Department of Justice concerning the Golden Grove Adult Correctional Facility on the island of St. Croix, deJongh said.
While a settlement agreement has been entered into, a court-appointed independent monitor issued a report in December 2013 saying "very little has improved" at Golden Grove over the course of 2013 and it "remains a dangerous and violent environment and is inadequately staffed, equipped, funded, maintained and operated to provide and consistently sustain environmental and operational conditions of inmate care and confinement that meet constitutional requirements."
In supporting Wilson, deJongh said the prison system’s problems were not Wilson’s fault, were partly due to funding and were not a uniquely Virgin Islands problem.
"While we can always strive to do better," the problems inherent to running jails "are universal and not confined to the operations of our Bureau of Corrections," deJongh said.
"Oversight over the work of the executive branch is a clearly proper role for the Legislature, but passing petulant votes of no confidence, without ever having sought to work out whatever differences may exist from time to time between a legislator and a cabinet member is disappointing," he added.