Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. took action on 22 measures in the past week, vetoing six, including changes to the Government Employees’ Retirement System Board and Cannabis Advisory Board, and signing 16 of them into law.
On a bill to restructure the makeup of the Cannabis Advisory Board, Bryan wrote he vetoed it because he already “has pending legislation that should be promptly considered by the Legislature and that will revise the Cannabis Use Program substantially. Any amendments to the composition of the board should be made in that legislation.”
The Source editorialized against that bill, arguing that adding numerous specific requirements for membership to a volunteer board will result in paralysis and delay the start of a legal V.I. cannabis market.
Bryan vetoed a bill mandating the GERS board to get legislative approval for changes that affect retirees’ pensions. In his letter to the Legislature, he said he vetoed it because it would essentially allow the Legislature to run the GERS board, rendering the board and its member’s authority null and void. He said it is too broad and overrides the purpose of the board because it mandates the Legislature to have blanket approval and power over any policies created by GERS trustees.
“If the Legislature’s intent is to prohibit or allow annuities to existing retirees benefits to be reduced, the Legislature should so state its intent specifically,” Bryan wrote.
The V.I. government pension system will completely exhaust its trust fund within the next two or three years and is long past the point of no return where any local policy might prevent an abrupt, involuntary, sharp reduction to retiree benefits.
Decades of legislative actions that increased pension payments while decreasing employee contributions, along with an increasing ratio of retirees to active employees, caused its impending collapse. It has been spending more on pensions than it earned in contributions and returns on investments since 1999.
What prompted the bill was GERS’ consideration of a plan to cut pensions next year to prevent an uncontrolled, chaotic collapse when the money runs out. Unless accompanied by funding on the order of $100 million per year, a legislative mandate to not cut benefits will not prevent benefits from being cut when the money runs out.
Bryan also vetoed Bill No. 33-0054, which sought to enhance business opportunities for local and resident businesspersons by establishing the “Virgin Islands Small and Local Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Act,” because it contained critical statutory errors that were pointed out but not corrected.
“Principally among these corrections needed is the merger of the Small Business Development Administration into the Economic Development Bank, which is operated within the Economic Development Authority,” Bryan wrote. “The bill references the Small Business Development Agency throughout. This agency no longer exists,” he said.
Bryan also said that similar programs to the one that would be created by the bill already exist within the Department of Property and Procurement, Department of Public Works, Housing Finance Authority and Small Business Development Center.
“All of these programs and agencies provide similar services, assistance and reporting as proposed in the bill. There is no reference in the bill how this proposed new function within EDA would run concurrently, collaboratively or duplicative with these other agencies,” Bryan wrote. “It is necessary that this issue be addressed by bringing these separate programs into the collaborative administration by the Economic Development Authority.”
He also vetoed Bill No. 33-0106, which seeks to regulate the use of drones in the territory. The bill has several unrelated amendments, including sections affecting existing protections for coral reefs from chemicals used in sunscreens; restrictions for registered sex offenders regarding operating drones; and exemptions for where gas stations can be located.
“I urge this Legislature to meet with the experts from our Department of Planning and Natural Resources and the University of the Virgin Islands to craft the proper amendment to this law in order to protect our coral reefs properly and avoid deleting words and creating loopholes in the V.I. Code for manufacturers and vendors to bypass the purpose of this law,” Bryan wrote.
“I urge the Legislature to act on the different sections of this bill independently and to involve the necessary experts and practitioners in crafting the amendments in order to present the people of the Virgin Islands with clear and enforceable laws,” he wrote.
Regarding Bill No. 33-0217, which seeks to establish more public restrooms in Charlotte Amalie, Governor Bryan said he vetoed it because it encroaches on executive authority to implement capital improvement projects.
“The administration already has plans underway to utilize the site at 48B Norre Gade and the adjacent lot, and is looking at alternative sites for public restrooms,” he wrote. “Further, the bill lacks flexibility in its operation and use of the site and does not provide a funding source or personnel for the activities it mandates.”
Bryan vetoed Bill 33-0320, a rezoning request for Parcel No. 5 in Estate Honduras on St. Thomas because it has an incorrect property description.
“Even a minute mistake in the legal description in a document or legislation affecting land and property can cause unforeseen consequences for years to come affecting the rights of an owner,” Bryan wrote.
Bryan approved Bill No. 33-0077, which is focused on preventing financial exploitation and abuse of elderly persons and dependent adults. But he recommended revising the bill to include any exploitation, not just financial exploitation; plus strengthening punishments and penalties; and fixing language so the bill will allow the Human Services Department to request certain financial records that right now only federal entities and law enforcement agencies can get.
Other measures the governor approved are:
– Bill No. 33-0245, commending Pastor Hector Gonzalez for 56 years of ministry and authorizing naming a road in his honor.
– Bill No. 33-0321, to rezone a parcel in Estate Donoe on St. Thomas to allow the Virgin Islands Housing Authority to build residential units to replace the previous Donoe Housing Community.
– Bill No. 33-0323, to rezone a parcel in Estate Diamond on St. Croix to address housing for the Juan Luis Hospital staff.
– Bill No. 33-0307, ratifying a Minor Coastal Zone permit for CTC Charters.
– Bill No. 33-0308, ratifying a Minor Coastal Zone permit for Pleasant Properties.
– Bill No. 33-0336, ratifying a Minor Coastal Zone permit for S. Donald Sussman.
– Bill No. 33-0337, ratifying a Major Coastal Zone permit for Kings Alley Management.
– Bill No. 33-0327, approving a lease agreement between the Government of the Virgin Islands and Marco St. Croix.
– Bill No. 33-0328, approving a lease agreement between the Government of the Virgin Islands and Alliance Data Services.
– Bill No. 33-0329, approving an agreement for certain insurance coverage between the Government of the Virgin Islands and CIGNA.
– Bill No. 33-0331, approving a zoning variance for Plot 6 Estate Adrian on St. John to be developed into an assisted living facility.
– Bill No. 33-0332, approving rezoning of Parcels 34B and 34 Remainder in Coral Bay, St. John to bring the property’s long-existing use into conformity.
– Bill No. 33-0333, granting a conditional zoning use variance for Parcel 6D in Estate Adrian on St. John for the development of a restaurant, bar and retail businesses.
– Bill No. 33-0339, to enable a referendum on the adoption of a U.S. Virgin Islands territorial constitution.