A bill strengthening the loitering law and one making seat belts mandatory for those in the back seat went through the V.I. Senate and toward the governor’s desk, but the ride has not been smooth.
Eight other bills getting full Senate approval Monday had smoother rides.
The loitering law has had opposition every step of its way through the Senate process. Some fear it will lead to more incarcerations of black youths and others fear it will be enforced discriminatorily at the expense of the young men in the lower classes.
Sen. Marvin Blyden said that is what he saw when he was working in the Housing Authority. He said he saw police harass youths who weren’t bothering anyone while the real troublemakers were left alone.
Claude Walker testified in February 2018 when he was the V. I. Attorney General, as the law was then proposed, that it was “fraught with ambiguity and opens the door to random and inconsistent results regarding how officers will apply it.”
Amendments have been made to the bill to clarify some of the ambiguity, but Sen. Alicia Barnes was not convinced. She said she was worried about the unintended consequences of the bill. She added she saw no data connecting loitering to violent crime. She urged senators to look for more crime preventative measures instead of punitive measures.
“We have some angry children. We need to look at the socio-economic issues that cause that anger,” she said. “This bill is not a solution to the crime problem.”
However, with five former police officers in the Senate, it was always likely that the loitering law would make it through. Law enforcement officers see the stricter law as a tool to use in their war against criminals.
Senate President Novelle Francis, a former commissioner of the police department, sponsored the bill. He said loitering groups in certain areas made residents feel under siege in their own homes.
The seat belt law’s bumpy ride through the Senate and out the door to the governor’s desk was not because of anyone opposing its intent. The only opposition was from those who said it did not go far enough.
Sen. Donna Frett-Gregory was most vocal about this position. She said the issues had to be addressed comprehensively. The issues she mentioned were people in Safari taxis without seat belts, people in buses without seat belts, and people riding in the back of trucks without seats.
When it came up for vote, six senators voted yes, four voted no and four did not vote. For a short time, it was determined that the measure had failed because six votes did not constitute a majority of fourteen. However, a legal opinion held that the four non-votes did not count and six counted as a majority for the 10 senators who did vote so the measure did pass.
A measure to have posters describing how to help a choking victim placed in all restaurants ran into no bumps, receiving all affirmative votes from the senators present. The only senator missing the session, which started at 2 p.m. and ran until a little after 7 p.m., was Sen. Allison DeGazon.
Another measure that passed in the midst of positive remarks was a Major Coastal Zone Permit to allow the expansion of Gold Coast Yachts. Sen. Marvin Blyden said the expansion project at Gold Coast would bring 150 jobs during the construction phase. Senators were pleased that one of the seven new buildings being proposed was one for the training of workers.
A bill that started its journey as a proposal to make it mandatory for taxi drivers to accept a credit card expanded to cover almost all businesses in the territory by time it left the Senate Monday. It requires all businesses doing more than a minimum amount of business to give customers two different options of making payment.
Blyden said it was an “excellent” bill and “long overdue.”
Other measures that moved through the Senate Monday were:
– An act providing for the continuing operation of the judicial branch in the event of a natural disaster.
– An act amending the powers of the Economic Development Commission relating to tax reduction benefits for beneficiaries and to the Hotel Development Trust Fund.
– An act increasing the number of days for the appointment of members to the Legislative Youth Advisory Council.
– An act amending the Hotel Development Act regarding the economic recovery fee.