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Friday, February 23, 2024
HomeNewsLocal newsFunding Permitting, V.I. May Get Forensic Crime Lab

Funding Permitting, V.I. May Get Forensic Crime Lab

The V.I. Department of Justice will be mandated to create a forensics lab if legislation approved by the full Senate on Tuesday becomes law.
The lab measure [Bill 31-0145] sponsored by Sens. Novelle Francis, Neville James and Sammuel Sanes says the Justice Department "shall establish, staff and equip a forensic crime laboratory in the Virgin Islands," and that it must be certified by one of the major national certifying bodies.
The bill was initially completely unfunded. When the bill was first heard in committee in August, V.I. Department of Justice officials said they could really use a local a lab, but without funding, the mandate would probably fall by the wayside.  But an amendment Tuesday appropriated $500,000 for the lab from federal excise tax revenues from V.I. rum production.
When introducing the bill in August, Francis, a former V.I. police commissioner and retired career V.I. police officer, spoke about the high cost and delays for law enforcement caused by the lack of a local lab.
Currently evidence such as blood, DNA, saliva and alcohol are sent off-island. Sending the tests off-island "is not only time consuming but extremely costly," Francis said at the time. In many cases, violent criminals were never convicted because there was no good way to process the evidence in a timely fashion, he said.
Even with a $500,000 cash infusion, the lab will probably need much more funding to get off the ground, Sen. Terrence "Positive" Nelson said during session Tuesday.
"I don’t want us to do this like when we first opened up (St. Croix Educational Complex High School)," Nelson said. Nelson is a former teacher who taught at Complex.  When Complex first opened, "they had no supplies, no books,  no chalk no nothing," he said.
"I don’t think this $500,000 is enough to open this forensic lab. We know it is needed," Nelson said.
Sen. Neville James said, "A legitimate question has been asked by the ranking member from St. Croix with respect to cost."
"Obviously the $500,000 is merely a start and we are looking for additional funding and Sen. Francis has identified numerous sources that we are hoping to tap into,” James continued, adding later, “We will be reaching out to our delegate to see if the federal funds are there for us, because that is the job."
During the initial hearing on the bill, Justice officials said there was some federal funding potentially available for a crime lab, but not enough.
Sen. Kenneth Gittens said the lab may be able to generate revenues by processing requests from other Caribbean nations.
The Senate also approved a bill sponsored by Sen. Nereida "Nellie" Rivera-O’Reilly requiring that all agreements requiring ratification by the Legislature be submitted to the Legislature no less than 45 days before the effective date of the agreement.
Rivera-O’Reilly said the measure was first proposed several years ago, possibly during the 29th Legislature, out of frustration with important contracts, like the government’s health insurance contract, being presented at the last minute.
"It is ironic that we are considering this now, when we just received the Hovensa agreement Dec. 1," Rivera-O’Reilly said, referring to the purchase agreement for the refinery, which the Legislature is considering this week.
Another bill from Rivera-O’Reilly that the Senate approved Tuesday would mean those applying to the courts to change their names will have a specific list of documents they have to submit, verifying their identity and checking if they have any pending legal issues or criminal offenses. When the bill was heard in committee, Rivera-O’Reilly said the territory needed new law to clear up once and for all what the court required.
"This measure … results from an opinion from the V.I. Supreme Court in 2013," Rivera-O’Reilly said at the time.
In that case, the V.I. Superior Court denied plaintiff Kristen Reynold’s request to change her last name to Tauer. The V.I. Supreme Court overturned the Superior Court’s ruling, finding V.I. law does not specify particular petitions or documentation, but does require a hearing, while the Superior Court denied the request without a hearing, saying the petition was not sufficient.
A bill was approved sponsored by Sen. Justin Harrigan establishing the last Sunday in September as Gold Star Mother’s Day, in honor of mothers and all family members of military service members who died while serving their country. The bill also directs the Bureau of Motor Vehicles to create a special license plate for those Gold Star mothers.
In 1926, the U.S. Congress established that day as a national day of commemoration and it has been commemorated every year with a presidential proclamation.
Other bills approved Tuesday:
– require the director of the BMV to transmit to the director of the Virgin Islands Taxicab Commission all information pertaining to the cancellation of any insurance policy a taxicab operators is required to maintain;
– appropriate $432,000 to establish the bachelor of science in the nursing degree program at the University of the Virgin Islands at the St. Croix Campus.
All senators were present.
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