April 17, 2003 – The Senate wasted no time in appropriating funds for the rebuilding of the roof over the bungalow at Rothschild Francis "Market" Square which collapsed late Tuesday after being hit by a tractor-trailer truck.
An appropriation of $250,000 to the Department of Public Works was unanimously approved by the lawmakers on Wednesday in the second day of their full session. The bill was sponsored by Senate President David Jones and Sen. Roosevelt David.
In discussion of the bill, Sen. Lorraine Berry wondered if the company that owns the truck had insurance. If so, she said, and if the driver is at fault, the insurance could cover the cost of rebuilding. Or, she said, it could reimburse the government for the initial cost.
Several other senators agreed, saying the legislation might have been drafted with too little investigation into funding sources and the cost of the damages. Jones said an amendment to the bill, which was not yet circulated, specifies the funding sources.
David said he had called different government departments looking for assistance. "We have to try to bring back some order to the area before Carnival," he said. The traditional Food Fair is held at Market Square; this year's is scheduled for April 30.
Senators observed a moment of silence in memory of well-known St. Thomian and Carnival legend Gerald Hodge, who died Thursday at Roy L. Schneider Hospital. (See "'Mr. Carnival,' Gerald E. Hodge Sr., is dead".) The Carnival Committee decided earlier this year to name this year's Carnival Village "Gerry's Place in his honor.
Resolution again seeks equal Medicaid funding
Once again, the Senate passed a resolution calling on the federal government to make the territory's Medicaid benefits consistent with those of the states. A similar resolution passed by the 24th Legislature last June has yielded no results.
Wednesday's measure petitions the president and Congress to reduce the Medicaid statutory matching rate, eliminate the cap on Medicaid payments to the Virgin Islands, and increase the average Medicaid expenditure for V.I. residents.
The territory receives about $436 for each of the approximately 15,000 people eligible for federal Medicaid assistance, former Sen. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen said at a Rules Committee hearing last June on the earlier resolution. The national average is about $3,800 per eligible person, her resolution stated.
According to Delegate Donna M. Christensen, the federal government restricts the allocation of Medicaid funds to the U.S. territories in part because the territories do not pay taxes into the Medicaid Fund. Because of the cap, the federal government covers only about $6 million of the $15 million in annual Medicaid bills in the territory, leaving the local government to pick up the difference, according to statistics from Christensen's office. That federal portion is far lower than what is paid in any state, the delegate said.
Senators expressed indignation about the inequity Wednesday. Sen. Louis Hill said he is considering filing a lawsuit against the U.S. government for discrimination which causes V.I. residents severe hardship.
Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg said he plans in his position as the Senate's congressional liaison to pursue the matter with the leadership of Congress.
The gallery was spiffy Wednesday morning with officers of the American Legion in dress uniform, headed by Ronald Connally, national commander of the 2.8-million member American Legion, who is visiting the territory with his wife, Barbara.
The veterans gathered at the Senate to witness a resolution extending condolences to the families of the men and women who lost their lives in Iraq.
A resolution honoring political figure Elmo D. Roebuck for his contributions to the Virgin Islands was passed unanimously with the senators heaping praise on Roebuck, "while he is still here to smell the roses," as one lawmaker remarked.
Roebuck served eight terms in the Legislature and was four times elected its president. Aside from his political career, which includes a myriad of government positions in multiple administrations, Roebuck taught for five years at Charlotte Amalie High School. At a celebration last year honoring the CAHS Class of 1952, Roebuck, who was the class valedictorian, joked: "I've always been a man of a few thousand words."
Roebuck said then that his natural flair for dramatics, which he discovered in high school, found its home on the Senate floor. Many of today's senators have strong ties to the veteran politician. "I've known him since I was a tad," Donastorg said, and Sen. Almando "Rocky" Liburd recalled his years working with Roebuck.
'War' resolution asks U.S. to cover V.I. debt
A resolution regarding the war in Iraq didn't fare nearly as well. It is a three-part resolution. Part 1 offers prayers for political leaders, service men and women, innocent civilians and all residents of the United States and Iraq.
Part 2 asks for the forgiveness of all V.I. debt. It requests that the president and Congress appropriate funds and make available necessary resources for the Virgin Islands to pay all of its outstanding bonds and debts and to stimulate and sustain the V.I. economy during and after this war. Part 3 provides for the circulation of the resolution in Congress.
Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste wondered how the Virgin Islands could ask Congress to cover the territory's "$1.5 million debt" when the federal government is facing its own war debts. The resolution, sponsored by Sen. Ronald Russell, passed on a 10-5 vote with Sens. Baptiste, Emmett Hansen II, Liburd, Raymond "Usie" Richards and Celestino A. White casting the negative votes.
Sen. Carlton Dowe sponsored a resolution honoring V.I. sports hero Elridge Wilburn Blake. It commended Blake for a career which includes Central American and Caribbean Fastpitch Softball Championship titles, as well as leading the V.I. men's national volleyball team to a gold medal championship. Blake, who has taught physical education, was included in the 6th edition of "Who's Who among America's Teachers" in 2000.
Blake will be honored at a special ceremony and presented with a plaque.
Lloyd Alfredo "Sonny" Barnes was honored for his activism on behalf of the special needs community. St. Croix's La Reine VITRAN bus station will be named the "Lloyd Alfredo 'Sonny' Barnes Transit Terminal." The resolution was sponsored by Sens. Douglas Canton, Lorraine Berry and David Jones.
Barnes received no end of praise from the St. Croix senators, all of whom know him personally. Barnes, who suffers from muscular dystrophy, has fought since he was 9 years old for rights for people with special needs — for access to public buildings, better education for handicapped citizens and better transportation.
Hansen recalled when Barnes as a very young man came to his office in search of bus transportation, which led Hansen to wait along with him for hours for the bus to come. Barnes has been known to put his wheelchair in front of a bus to protest the lack of service for persons with special needs, Hansen said.
All senators were present for the session, which broke for lunch around 1:30 p.m., to continue later in the afternoon.
An appropriations bill, which had not until then been circulated, was scheduled for the afternoon session along with consideration of a number of agriculture land leases.
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