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Senate Passes Two Unfunded Mandates

The V.I. Legislature voted overwhelmingly Monday in favor of two unfunded mandates: one to require the Education Department to train public school counselors in "grief and stress counseling" and one mandating juvenile corrections programs tailored to female inmates.

In both cases, V.I. officials testified they already have similar programs and that any new or different programs would need funding in order to happen.

The new grief training mandate [Bill 31-0279] is sponsored by Sens. Marvin Blyden, Justin Harrigan, Neville James and Kurt Vialet.

When it was heard in committee, Assistant Education Commissioner Charmaine Hobson-Johnson testified that grief and stress counseling is important and that school counselors already deal with the subject as part of their educational background.

Hobson-Johnson also said the bill "fails to identify and establish a revenue stream to fund the proposed mandate" and asked $20,000 per year be appropriated and budgeted to the purpose.

When it was heard a second time, Avery Lewis, president of the St. Thomas-St. John Federation of Teachers, said school counselors "already provide grief counseling," and that "we really don’t see the need for this bill."

"Who will pay for this training? Will there be an additional stipend for those who receive this?" Lewis asked. Deputy Superintendent of Schools for St. Thomas-St. John Racquel Berry Benjamin, St. Thomas-St. John District Director of Student Services Winifred Anthony Todman and V.I. Board of Education Chairwoman Mary Moorhead also testified that it would need funding.

Some senators dismissed concerns over being able to pay for the training.

"We always talk about money for everything," Sen. Marvin Blyden said when it was considered in the Rules Committee in April. "Training is already a part of your budget. Also there is federal funding out there you can apply for," Sen. Kenneth Gittens said at that same hearing.

The V.I. public school system currently has several areas of instruction, from swimming to real estate appraisal, mandated by previous legislative acts, which it is partially unable to fund and carry out. (See V.I. Public High Schools May Implement Universal CPR Training in Related Links below)

Voting for the grief counseling bill were: Blyden, Gittens, Harrigan, James, Vialet, Sens. Jean Forde, Novelle Francis, Clifford Graham, Myron Jackson, Almando "Rocky" Liburd and Positive Nelson. Voting no were Sens. Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly, Tregenza Roach, Sammuel Sanes and Janette Millin Young.

O’Reilly, sponsor of the mandate for female-focused programs in the juvenile justice system, said there are growing number of females in the system, who need special attention.

The bill requires Human Services to develop a "comprehensive care program for females in the Youth Rehabilitation Center and the Juvenile Justice System."

When the bill was heard in committee on April 8, officials engaged

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