A bill defining Virgin Island veterans and another strengthening their right to taxi cab medallions moved easily through the Committee on Government Operations, Consumer and Veterans Affairs Monday.
However, a bill on how local businesses renew trade-name registrations received resistance from the Lt. Governor’s Office.
Denise Johannes, director of the division of Corporations and Trademarks, representing Lt. Gov. Tregenza Roach, had two problems with the trade-name bill. The bill, as sponsored by Sen. Athneil Thomas, would require trade names be renewed annually with a fee of $50. Trade names are now renewed every two years for that fee.
Johannes testified her office would rather see the renewals remain every two years and the lieutenant governor determine a “reasonable fee.” She said business trade-name holders have grown accustomed to two years and may find it cumbersome to change to an annual term.
She asked that the bill be amended by striking the words “a fee of $50” and inserting the words “a reasonable fee to be set by regulation” in its place.
“It has been 26 years since the fee was increased by legislation,” she said. “The intent of the suggested change is to enable a quicker response to the changing economic conditions that can support reasonable fee increases concomitant with cost of living increases.”
Senators did not speak against the first change but the idea of letting regulations determine the fee brought comments from several senators.
Sen. Novelle Francis said he was not in favor of abdicating the responsibility for setting the fee to the executive branch.
“This is the forum where that decision should be made,” he said.
Sen. Athneil ”Bobby” Thomas, chairman of the committee, said legislators “are charged with representing the people” and therefor should decide what a reasonable fee is.
Sen. Janelle Sarauw was the only senator who said there was no problem with inserting the words “reasonable fee” instead of a dollar amount. She said many of the government fees were low.
A man watching the Legislature’s live stream and who identified himself as Lee Stanciauskas, said “It’s not just the fee, it’s the time it takes to deal with it for a one-person business.”
Johannes discussed with the senators a new online system called Catalyst. She said residents could renew their registration of a trade name in less than 15 minutes. She added that the turn-around time for registering a new trade name is seven days, but the office has the goal of cutting that time in half.
The trade-name bill, along with the two veteran bills, were moved on to the Rules Committee with a favorable recommendation. The vote was unanimous with all five committee members present voting yes on all three measures. The only committee member absent was Sen. Alicia Barnes.
Testifying in favor of the veteran bills were Patrick Farrell, executive director Office of Veterans Affairs, and Levron Sarauw, acting director of the Taxicab Commission.
On the bill prohibiting veterans who obtain taxi medallions at auctions from selling the medallion to a non-veteran, Farrell testified, “For me, this bill is cut and dry and makes absolute sense.” He said veterans have to fight for every benefit they get and giving up any benefit did not sit well with him.
The second measure is an effort to codify who qualifies for veteran benefits offered by the Virgin Islands government. The goal of the bill with its definition of a veteran is to insure benefits go to only native-born Virgin Islanders. The definition says a qualified veteran must have enlisted while living in the Virgin Islands or when living temporarily in the United States.
Francis asked Farrell whether there might be a time when a person who lived a long time in the Virgin Islands could be considered for benefits. Farrell answered, “Maybe 10 or 15 years; 10 years would be too easy,” Farrell testified. “State laws are actually that, laws that are state specific. State laws affecting veterans are no different. If a Virgin Islands veteran goes to another state within the United States they are not able to take advantage of state veteran laws, federal laws yes, but not state. Federal laws affect all veterans in the United States and its territories while state laws are crafted by legislators like you to benefit their constituents.”
Sen. Marvin Blyden said the definition was necessary to assure benefits went to veterans who “were of the soil and part of the community.”
Editor’s note: Since it was posted, this story has been edited to give the correct name of the lawmaker who sponsored the bill, Sen. Athneil Thomas. The Source regrets the error.