Lawmakers on Friday overturned Gov. Kenneth Mapp’s veto of a bill aimed at curbing his emergency powers, giving the Legislature a voice in extended states of emergency that continue beyond 60 days.
Sen. Tregenza Roach’s (I-STT) bill, which is now law, inserts the Legislature into the process of deciding long-term extensions of the state of emergency. The governor would be able to renew an existing state of emergency for another 30 days, giving him a total of 60 days of free rein. After that, the Legislature steps in: the governor would have to appear before the Senate five days before the end of the current state of emergency and justify the extension.
If the Senate fails to convene within five days, the state of emergency can continue. Roach stressed that the bill does not take away governor’s power to declare a state of emergency, saying it is important that that authority remains intact.
Mapp, who has extended the state of emergency 12 times since the 2017 hurricanes, vetoed the bill in a Sept. 25 letter to the senate. According to Mapp, the bill was “irresponsible” and “reeks of politics.” (See Related Links, below.)
“The Virgin Islands of the United States remains under a Presidential State of Emergency,” Mapp wrote. The Presidential State of Emergency exists so federal agencies can respond and assist the people of the Virgin Islands in a more responsive and timely manner. The Virgin Islands’ State of Emergency exists so that we can expedite the procurement process and response to federal imposed cost share deadlines.”
Whether or not Mapp will enforce the law, which means going to the senate for approval before declaring a 13th state of emergency, is unclear. In the past, Government House has refused to enforce one successful override of his veto relating to the purchase of Estate Catherineberg.
Roach said the bill rose out of concerns from constituents who have asked him why the state of emergency remains in place almost a year after the hurricanes. Current statutes give the governor the authority to declare a state of emergency and to extend it indefinitely at will.
Along with the declaration come powers that would not be available to him otherwise, including taking any action he deems necessary, suspending statutes describing procedures for conduct of business in the territory, utilizing all available resources, commandeering any private property and compelling evacuations.
Roach has expressed concerns that the governor’s emergency powers are “pretty exhaustive,” as well as the lack of input from the Legislature in the decision to extend states of emergency.
Along with Roach, voting to override the governor’s veto were Sens. Marvin Blyden (D-STT), Dwayne Degraff (D-STT), Jean Forde (D-STT), Novelle Francis (D-STX), Alicia “Chucky” Hansen (I-STX), Myron Jackson (D-STT), Janette Millin Young (D-STT), Positive T.A. Nelson (ICM-STX), Sammuel Sanes (D-STX), and Senator-at-Large Brian Smith. Voting against the override were Sens. Neville James (D-STX), Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly (D-STX), Janelle Sarauw (I-STT) and Kurt Vialet (D-STX).
Lawmakers also unanimously overrode the governor’s veto of O’Reilly’s bill amending the territory’s descriptions of practices and procedures constituting the practice of optometry. The bill would abolish certain restrictions such as the exclusion of glaucoma from the scope of optometrists’ practice in the Virgin Islands.
When Mapp vetoed the bill in September, he said the language in a section dealing with telemedicine is “confusing as written,” appearing to require two licensed Virgin islands healthcare professionals to be present at any time a telemedicine practitioner is administering services to a patient. Mapp also objected to the bill allowing physicians and healthcare facilities accepting Medicare and Medicaid to defer payment of gross receipts taxes.
In another unanimous vote, lawmakers also overrode the governor’s veto of a bill redefining urgent care facilities. The measure, sponsored by O’Reilly and Vialet, allows urgent care facilities to operate as stand-alone facilities in the territory. It also exempts them from having to get a certificate of need.
Mapp vetoed the bill in September, stating it would allow the opening or expansion of healthcare facilities without having to go through local regulation under the V.I. Department of Health. Mapp also questioned if – following the language of the bill that sets an expiration date of March 31, 2019 on the certificate of need exemption – urgent care facilities would be required to have a certificate of need to continue operating beyond the expiration date.
Nominations to Boards and Commissions
The Senate voted unanimously to confirm the nomination of Jay T. Watson to the Virgin Islands Horse Racing Commission. Watson boasts 40 years of experience in the horse-racing industry and advocated making the horse-racing revenues part of the territory’s gross domestic product.
Lawmakers also confirmed the nomination of St. Thomas veterinarian Laura Palminteri – who owns Canines, Cats and Critters – to the Horse Racing Commission, even with concerns over conflict of interest that Palminteri herself disclosed in a Rules and Judiciary hearing on Thursday. Palminteri is the only equine veterinarian in the territory, and her actions as board member have the potential to benefit her business.
Voting to confirm Palminteri were Degraff, Hansen, Millin Young, Nelson, O’Reilly, Roach, Sanes, Sarauw and Smith. Forde, Francis and Vialet voted against. Blyden, Jackson and James abstained.
The Senate also:
– Voted to confirm veteran trial lawyer Dorothy Isaac’s nomination to the Public Finance Authority Board for St. Thomas and St. John. Forde voted no.
– Voted unanimously to confirm the nomination of Ralf Hartwell Boulon, Jr. to the V.I. Coastal Zone Commission for the St. Thomas-St. John district.
– Voted unanimously to confirm the nomination of David Lee Silverman to the V.I. Coastal Zone Commission for the St. Thomas-St. John district.