Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. on Monday signed into law 23 bills forwarded to him from the 33rd Legislature’s last session held on Dec. 11, 2020, and vetoed six others.
Among the 23 measures that have become law are bills that speak to beach access for persons with disabilities, a $900,000 appropriation to improve the Lorendon Boynes Sr. Ferry Terminal on St. John, a $1.7 million appropriation toward improvements at Henry E. Rohlsen Airport on St. Croix and a $20,000 appropriation to remove and replace the bust of King Christian IX from Emancipation Garden on St. Thomas.
Bryan said he had concerns over a couple of the bills he signed into law in his transmittal letter written to the Legislature. One of his concerns was regarding the removal of the bust of King Christian IX. The legislation was called for after resident Michael Vante started an online petition that gained community traction calling for the bust’s removal.
“I must reiterate the cautions testified to by the Virgin Islands Council on the Arts that the statue ‘The Conch Shell Blower’ is not appropriate in shape and style to replace the bust of King Christian IX at the location in Emancipation Garden,” Governor Bryan wrote in his transmittal letter. “Additionally, the appropriation of $20,000 for the relocation of the two statues will most likely fall short of the cost of the project.”
Among the bills vetoed was Bill 33-0055, a measure which would have allowed for Water and Power Authority oversight by the Public Services Commission. The legislation follows decades of disputes between the two entities, and while some senators saw the bill as necessary, others said it would only complicate the situation by replicating powers already granted to the authority’s governing board.
Bryan called the bill “overly punitive and overly expensive,” and said he was concerned that had he approved the bill, the Public Services Commission would be an autonomous agency funded through charges, penalties and fees – all of which would ultimately be passed on to ratepayers.
“Our V.I. residents do not need to add the cost of maintaining the PSC to their utility bills, whether electricity, water, waste management, communication or internet bills,” Bryan said in his transmittal letter. “On behalf of the people of the Virgin Islands, this is not acceptable, and the Legislature needs to fund the PSC fully, and its consulting and investigative fees to not add a greater burden on the utility companies and the V.I. residents.”
Bryan said he vetoed some measures because they lacked necessity, like Bill 33-0282, which sought to add the athletic director of the University of the Virgin Islands and the Little League administrator to the Virgin Islands Sports Commission.
“The Commission has sufficient members and raising the number of members to 14 is simply cumbersome and inefficient,” Bryan said.
Bill 33-0364, which sought to recognize the territory’s indigenous tribes through the creation of the Virgin Islands Indigenous Tribe Identification Card, was not signed for several reasons, according to the governor.
“This issue, unfortunately, has been abused by certain persons claiming to be Sovereign Nation Persons who are not subject to laws of the United States of America or the territory,” Bryan said. “This matter needs more critical discussion and redrafting.”
Bryan said the legislation before him lacked “sufficient definition of requirements for providing proof of qualification, strict requirements for indigenous peoples’ organizations to identify their members and limitations to the use of the identification card and any perceived rights beyond identification.”