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Cruz Bay
Thursday, August 11, 2022


A stronger conflict of interest law and a proposal allowing crematoriums to alleviate cemetery overcrowding were both approved Wednesday by the Senate Committee on Government Operations.
The conflict of interest bill, sponsored by Sen. Lorraine Berry, adds to the territory's existing laws by further preventing government officials from using the power of their position to benefit a family member or anyone they have a financial relationship with.
"We should tighten up language to indicate that anyone who participates in his official capacity in any transaction, contract, bid, or business matter, that he knows will be of financial benefit to any person he has a…financial relationship with would be a conflict of interest," Berry said. "So we are strengthening the law dealing with conflict of interest."
The bill was approved 6-0 with Berry, Committee Chair Sen. Gregory Bennerson and Sens. Donald "Ducks" Cole, Roosevelt David, David Jones, and Allie-Allison Petrus voting in favor. Committee member Sen. Adelbert "Bert" Bryan was absent.
Although they supported the bill, some senators said it will be difficult to completely eliminate conflicts of interest in a community as small as the Virgin Islands.
"I understand the basic movement towards what Sen.Berry is doing and her intent behind the legislation," Bennerson said. "I will, however, caution anything that gets a little too broad. We have to understand the size of the community that we have right now."
Petrus agreed.
"One of the difficulties that we have in any small community is we have a situation where everyone knows everyone, so there's a relationship one way or the other," he said.
Among the penalties for a conflict of interest conviction are: one to five years imprisonment, a $5,000 fine, or a fine equal to any direct monetary gain derived in connection with the violation — or all three.
The second measure the committee approved was Sen. Judy Gomez's bill allowing crematoriums to operate for the first time in the territory.
"In light of the overcrowding of cemeteries, particularly here on St. Thomas, where the population continues to grow and land space is limited and of course, people continue to die, the capacity for the Western Cemetery is basically limited," Gomez said.
"And, from all appearances, it seems by the year 2000, that Western Cemetery will be full to capacity, I therefore present this alternate route for the burial of the dead in this territory," she said.
Assistant Commissioner of Public Works Wayne Callwood told the committee said the cemetery has a life span of another two to four years.
DPW, however, has identified land where additional cemeteries could be located and will soon present this information to the Legislature, Callwood said.
Gomez said she has legislation that would authorize the government to negotiate for land that could be used for new cemeteries.
"When we look at Western Cemetery Four, I think it's a total disgrace," Gomez said. "When people look at the fact that that might be the only burial space available, I'm sure many may be looking at cremation rather than going in that spot."
The two bills will now be forwarded to the Committee on Rules for consideration.
The committee discussed two other bills, but held both for further development. One would revoke the drivers, business and professional license of any person convicted of engaging in continued criminal activity while the second would have authorized the governor to negotiate the construction of government complexes.
The license revocation bill, sponsored by Berry, was held because officials who testified said it potentially weakened existing statutes and was vague in some areas.
"While the bill is laudable, the net effect if it is passed, the new law in truth would weaken current laws," Attorney General-Designate Iver Stridiron said.
Assistant Licensing and Consumer Affairs Commissioner Louis Penn said the bill did not separate an individual who is convicted of a drug violation from a company they may be a partner in. Penn said the bill did not specify if only that individual's right to participate in the business would be revoked or the entire business' license would be taken away.
The other bill was withheld because complexes are already addressed in the Senate's Financial Accountability Act, which directs the administration to submit a report to the Senate on all property the government currently owns.

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