Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. filed a temporary restraining order and motion for a preliminary and permanent injunction against the Virgin Islands Government Hospital and Health Facilities Corporation in V.I. Superior Court on Jan. 29.
The order and motion is in response to the Legislature’s override of Bill No. 33-0343, first heard by the Legislature in July of 2020. In September, it was signed by the Senate president and forwarded to the governor in October, and subsequently vetoed by Bryan in the same month. Two months later, the Legislature voted to override the governor’s veto, and, consequently, the bill became law.
Known now as Act No. 8348, the law is meant to establish criteria for members of the Virgin Islands Government Hospital and Health Facilities Corporation Board, decrease the number of its members and increase the stipend members receive.
But court documents reveal that the governor is seeking a declaratory judgment that Act No. 8348 “is unconstitutional, inorganic, and therefore invalid under the Revised Organic Act. And … for supplemental equitable relief in the form of a temporary restraining order and preliminary and permanent injunctions against implementation of Bill No. 33-0343 as it relates to the selection, composition, qualifications and removal of members of the Virgin Islands Government Health Facilities Corporation Board and its respective district governing boards.”
In an interview with the Source, the bill’s sponsor Sen. Kurt Vialet said he does not understand the governor’s reaction.
“We have other boards that are not named by the governor, like the Magens Bay Board where they literally interview individuals, and they name the board members themselves. There are a number of boards where members are appointed through various mechanisms … I don’t see how this bill, in particular, violates the Organic Act,” Vialet said.
Prior to the legislation, the governor had the power and authority to appoint every member of the board, a total of 15 members. The new law has changed the composition of the board entirely and the governor’s ability to appoint members.
The law reduces the board members from 15 to 13, changes how many members represent each district, allows for three Cabinet members, of which one can be appointed by the governor, and requires several non-Cabinet members that would fill the rest of the board’s seats. The positions are outlined in the legislation as two doctors elected by their own district boards, two nurses, two attorneys, two certified public accountants and two engineers or architects.
“The bill was done as a result of both district boards not being fully complimented,” Vialet said. Because the boards were not functional, “All decisions have been passed on to the territorial board when they are having their meetings. We don’t have that leadership component presently at any of the hospitals and we haven’t had it for the last two years.”
With the passage of the bill, Vialet said, “It allows for individuals with subjects of expertise to serve on the board instead of just naming anyone. With the passage of the bill, you would now have to have expertise in particular areas in order to be considered for the board. It is just switching that responsibility to those professional organizations or unions.”
The argument raised within the court documents is that Act No. 8348 violates the Revised Organic Act and the “separation of powers principle because it deprives the governor of the executive authority to appoint, oversee and control those who execute the laws as part of the governor’s general authority of supervision and control over all departments, bureaus, agencies and other instrumentalities of the executive branch.”
“Of those 13 members, three are members of the governor’s Cabinet, of which two are specifically designated based on their Cabinet position, leaving only one appointment where the governor has discretionary authority. Act No. 8348 diminishes the governor’s power of appointment as to the board by 93 percent,” read the filed court documents.
Though the argument made by the governor is about the power of appointment, Vialet said the goal of the legislation is only to, “increase the efficiency and overall qualifications of individuals who are able to serve on a district board.”
The court documents note the governor provided a transmittal letter communicating his veto of the original bill in which he said, “The Legislature was attempting to usurp and hamper the governor’s appointment power or impose direct legislative control over the departments, bureaus, agencies and other instrumentalities of the executive branch without the authority to do so.”
But Vialet said he does not agree with the governor’s assessment and added, “I am tired of individuals just being named to the board because they campaign for somebody.”
“This has nothing to do with this governor; this is overall. We have not had a fully complimented board for a number of years, since the last administration,” Vialet said. “You have individuals who are there because they campaign for a particular person and they did a good job, they are good with the governor,” he added. Vialet later emphasized he believes they should be named for the board because they bring expertise to the table.
When the Legislature overrode the governor’s veto, court documents allege senators disrupted the “status quo.”
“In blatant disregard for the Revised Organic Act, the Legislature ignored Governor Bryan’s admonishment and deliberately usurped his executive authority in violation of congressional mandates and legal precedent, thereby, exceeding its legislative authority, which encompasses the power to make laws, but not to enforce them or appoint, directly or indirectly, the agents charged with the duty of such enforcement,” the documents read.
By overriding the governor’s veto, the Legislature has been accused of removing the governor’s constitutional and organic power to control the development of the territory’s health care policy, “threatened havoc through the disruption of managerial control over the territorial health care system and failed to provide for a smooth and orderly transition of power.”
“We have to begin to move in the direction where our boards are a reflection of individuals who have some kind of area expertise needed for that particular board,” Vialet said. “I am hoping to do that with a number of the boards. Tried to do it with the WAPA board and it was vetoed. We want to strengthen the board for GERS … that is the direction I am moving in.”
Along with the civil complaint, the Bryan Administration filed a summons Jan. 28 to St. Croix District Governing Board Chairperson Olivine Treasure. Treasure must respond within 21 days from that date, which would make Feb. 18 the deadline.
Editor’s note: At Vialet’s request, we have eliminated part of a quote which he feels was unclear in meaning and added an update on what he meant to convey.