Eleven of the 15 incoming senators to the 33rd Legislature formed a majority caucus Wednesday, naming Sen. Marvin Blyden as majority leader and returning Sen. Kenneth Gittens as Senate president.
All Democrats, the majority announced officers and committee heads at a Wednesday news conference.
Blyden introduced the members and talked about their goals over the next two years, including “economic stability and prosperity available to all.” He and others said the Government Employees Retirement System, due to bankrupt itself in a matter of years, also will be a major focus after they are sworn in Jan. 14.
Gittens is a former policeman from St. Croix who served in the 31st Legislature.
First-time lawmaker Donna Frett-Gregory of St. Thomas, who was commissioner of the Department of Education under Gov. John de Jongh Jr. was named vice president of the 33rd Legislature. St. Croix Senator-elect Alicia Barnes of St. Croix, who served as commissioner of Planning and Natural Resources, also under de Jongh, was named secretary.
The other members of the coalition are Sen. Myron Jackson of St. Thomas, who served in the 30th, 31st and 32nd Legislatures; and, newcomers Allison DeGazon, Oakland Benta and Javan James Sr. from St. Croix; and St. Thomas Senators-elect Athneil “Bobby” Thomas and Stedmann Hodge Jr.. Steven Payne of St. John rounds out the majority caucus.
The minority caucus consists of Sens. Janelle Sarauw, Dwayne DeGraff, Kurt Vialet and Novelle Francis. Vialet and Francis are Democrats who pulled out of the caucus over the assignment of the Finance chair – they believed it was time for a St. Croix senator to hold the position but were overruled.
The committee chairs are:
Finance: Frett-Gregory, chair, and DeGazon, vice chair.
Rules and Judiciary: Barnes, chair, and Jackson, vice chair.
Health, Hospitals and Human Services: Benta, chair, and Hodge, vice chair.
Education and Workforce Development: Hodge, chair, and Benta, vice chair.
Youth, Sports, Parks and Recreation: James Sr., chair, and Thomas, vice chair.
Economic Development and Agriculture: DeGazon, chair, and Blyden, vice chair.
Homeland Security, Justice and Public Safety: Payne, chair, and Benta, vice chair.
Government Operations, Consumers and Veterans Affairs: Thomas, chair, and Sen. Dwayne DeGraff, vice chair.
Housing, Transportation, Infrastructure, Telecommunications: Blyden, chair, and Barnes, vice chair.
Culture: Jackson, chair, and James, Sr. vice chair.
All 15 senators comprise the Committee of the Whole.
In addition to the goals mentioned by the senators, they responded to questions from the media regarding youth programs, GERS and preemptive sponsors of bills. James said that although the Youth Commission is not funded, his committee will look for funding. Several said GERS is a major focus and they will look into setting deadlines for preemptive bill sponsors who take a long time to present their bills to the Legislature, while another senator waits to present his/her similar bill. Some bills never make it to the floor for that reason.