During session Thursday, senators approved a proposed law that would direct the West Indian Company to buy property next to Government House on St. Thomas for the governor’s residence and take the cost out of WICO’s back taxes.
It also approved a slew of new laws to create new boards, shrink old ones, increase prison time for illegal guns, update probate law and let government employees bid on government-owned cars and more.
The governor’s housing bill, [31-0295] sponsored by 11 senators, was special ordered onto the session agenda that morning. It says the government "acting through the West Indian Company, shall negotiate with the owner of Parcels No. 21, 22, 23 and 24 Dronningen’s Gade, St. Thomas," at appraised prices. It authorizes WICO to rent the properties for up to $8,000 per month until the purchase, should it occur, "and deduct any amount spent from the payment in lieu of property taxes owed to the Government of the Virgin Islands.”
Introducing the measure, Sen. Myron Jackson said that while the federal Revised Organic Act of 1954 requires Government House to be the governor’s residence, Government House was already a complex of buildings, and the adjacent properties could be folded into that complex.
Senators approved bills reducing the size of the Casino Control Commission, the body that regulates the territory’s sole casino at Divi Carina Bay Resort, from five to three members, and reducing the size of the Nurse Licensure Board from 11 to 9 members. In both cases, senators said the goal was to make it easier to fill the positions and make a quorum, and with the Casino Control Commission, save money on salaries.
The Legislature approved a measure sponsored by Sen. Sammuel Sanes that puts unlicensed possession of assault rifles in the same category as machine guns and sawed-off shotguns, and prohibits probation, parole or reduced sentences for those caught with them. Senators approved an amendment from Sen. Kenneth Gittens increasing gun sentences, including increasing the maximum sentence for possession of an unlicensed firearm to 10 years, up from the current five years; and increasing the minimum sentence for using a gun in a crime from 15 years to 20 years.
Gittens initially wanted to also prohibit first-offender status or probation for these offenses, but that turned out to already be prohibited in the law.
Senators also approved a bill from Sen. Marvin Blyden to allow government employees to bid on used government vehicles when they are sold at auction. The bill would limit any one bidder to purchasing no more than two vehicles at no more than two vehicles per auction.
And they approved a bill from Sanes and Sen. Kurt Vialet to establish a daytime curfew for school-aged children. The measure would stiffen fines for truancy, raising them from $25 to $100 for the first offense and $500 for subsequent offenses. It would enable police to hold a child until his or her parents came to pick the child up. And it would enable police to turn a child over to the commissioner of Education. It contains exemptions for home-schooled children.
The Legislature approved legislation letting the Water and Power Authority close a portion of Route 752 next to its St. Croix power plant, for security reasons. The affected road runs east to west, parallel to the shore, just south of WAPA and the recently condemned and emptied LBJ public housing community.
Other legislation approved Thursday reenacted parts of the Uniform Probate Code making it easier to set up bank accounts with multiple owners, transfer bank accounts and investments, like retirement accounts, to designated heirs after the owner dies.
The Legislature also approved bills:
– Appropriating $35,000 from the Casino Revenue Fund as matching funds for a USDA grant to help support farm-to-school education training;
– To require the V.I. Fire Service director to determine occupancy levels for businesses and to require businesses to post the occupancy limits prominently;
– Appropriating $90,000 from the Community Facilities Trust Fund, which consists of a small percentage of remitted federal alcohol excise taxes, for renovations to the Horace Clark Ballpark located by Arthur A. Richards Jr. High School near Frederiksted;
– Treating non-resident hires by companies receiving special V.I. tax breaks as non-resident employees for the duration of those tax breaks;
– Allowing DNA evidence to be used by heirs claiming inheritance status when not mentioned in wills;
– Creating new licensing boards for fiber optics installers and for professional counselors;
– And honoring Stanley Jacobs, lead singer and founder of St. Croix quelbe band Stanley and the 10 Sleepless Knights.