The V.I. Legislature approved a bill Friday to ban the large-scale burning of wood and vegetative debris from the recent storms.
Environmental groups and others raised concerns about the health impacts of large-scale incineration after Gov. Kenneth Mapp (I-VI) suggested at a recent press conference that he may authorized the Army Corps of Engineers to begin incineration.
Senators amended the bill to allow individual property owners to burn material on their own properties, if they got a burn permit first.
The body also approved its own substitute for a bill authorizing the Public Finance Authority to enter into loan agreements with the Federal Emergency Management Agency for Community Disaster Assistance Loans. The approval is not for a specific borrowing amount. PFA Director Valdamier Collens told senators the PFA would initially be seeking $296 million in loans but the eventual total may be considerably higher. These special disaster loans are for government operating expenses, not capital projects.
Senators approved several amendments to the authorization. One, from Sen. Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly (D-STX), stipulates the PFA may only spend the funds on projects or services act “only as specifically authorized by the Legislature.”
Another, also from O’Reilly, requires all expenditures and drawdowns on the loans be posted on a publicly accessible website within 30 days of the drawdown or expense. Her amendment cites a 2011 V.I. law requiring all V.I. government expenses and tax exemptions to be posted online at a publicly accessible website.
Another amendment, from Sens. Neville James (D-STX) and Kurt Vialet (D-STX), appropriate 0.75 percent of loan proceeds to the V.I. judiciary and 0.5 percent to the Legislature for non-payroll expenses.
The sums would amount to $1.5 million for the Legislature and $2 million to the judiciary on the initial $300 million loan, James said.
“This will allow both branches to function and not be 100 percent dependent on the executive branch,” James said.
Senators also approved legislation, languishing since December 2016, to consolidate the territory’s two horse racing commissions into one body and to enact anti-doping rules on V.I. horse racing. Mapp initially proposed the measures as part of a plan to promote horse racing that involved granting slot machine operator VIGL a franchise to run the St. Thomas and St. Croix horse tracks and operate slot machine parlors at both tracks. In exchange, VIGL is to pay for extensive improvements to the tracks.
V.I. gambling regulation is overseen by three entities, depending on the type and location of the gambling. The horse racing commissions regulate horse races and gambling on horse races. The V.I. Lottery Commission regulates the V.I. Lottery and slot machine type gambling, called “video lottery terminals” on St. Thomas. The V.I. Casino Control Commission regulates casino games and slot machines at the race tracks.
All members were present during the initial part of Friday’s hearing. Sen. Marvin Blyden left and was absent at the time of the final votes on the legislation.