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Senate Budget and Bills Coming to Crunch Time

Sept. 14, 2004 – The territory's 2005 budget will make it before its Sept. 30 deadline, according to Sen. President David Jones.
Jones won't be back for the 26th Legislature, if unofficial counts in Saturday's primary hold up, but two large items still remain before him. Along with overseeing passage of the budget, he said Tuesday, he is working to identify funding for the $9 million in raises to unionized government workers.
Gov. Charles W. Turnbull vetoed the raises, but the Senate overrode the veto in July. Now it is up to the Senate to obtain the funding. (See "Senate Says Workers Will Get Raises.").
Jones was philosophical about his apparent senatorial defeat. "I will still work for the interests of St. Croix," he said. He said he would work for the proposed William and Punch Resort on St. Croix's West End and Golden Resorts proposal for a development near Great Pond. The Golden Resorts development is currently embroiled in a legal dispute over a Coastal Zone Management permit. (See "Supporters of Plans for Resort Rally in Frederiksted").
But getting to work might be slow. Senate sessions set for Wednesday and Thursday were postponed because of the weather and no new dates were set for them.
The agenda for those sessions includes 13 bills and a vote on three Turnbull nominees. Proposed legislation includes Sen. Lorraine Berry's Omnibus Justice and Homeland Security Act, a proposal to establish a Supreme Court and a bill to increase the penalties for animal cruelty.
The Senate has a lot on its plate now, even excluding the pending bills. Reform legislation for the territory's procurement practices is scheduled before the Government Operations Committee Sept. 21. Administration officials are invited to shed light on the legislation introduced and then rescinded by Turnbull last week. The proposal and about face resulted in the demise of Iver Stridiron as Attorney General. (See "Attorney General Resigns in Controversy Over Bill.").
Committee Chair Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone has delayed meeting on this legislation at the behest of Stridiron, he said in a release. Malone said he had wanted to act earlier on recommendations of Inspector General Steven van Beverhoudt for improvement in the government's procurement practices. "One of those recommendations was to close loopholes and restore transparency to the process," Malone said.
In a February meeting, Malone said, he learned the administration was in the process of drafting a new procurement code, which was to be sent to the Legislature for consideration. The first draft of the legislation was to have been submitted by March 15, Malone said.
Since that meeting, Malone said, he has been in constant contact with Stridiron's office and with the Department of Property and Procurement. "Most recently," Malone said, "I was asked by the former attorney general to delay placing the draft on the agenda, and I granted his request."
"Now, it seems like the reason the draft proposal was held all these months is because they were working on the amendment the governor withdrew, and not the procurement code," he said.
On top of that, a Finance Committee budget hearing is scheduled for next week. The Finance Committee held many meetings during July, but nothing solid was hammered out. (See "Month of Hearings Brings No Balance to V. I. Budget ).
Finance Chair Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg's office confirmed the meeting, however, David Dennis, Donastorg's chief of staff, did not have a definite day. The meeting should provide some fireworks between Donastorg and Jones who have been at odds over the budget issue; with Donastorg claiming Jones is meeting in secret with administration officials. (See "Senators Trade Barbs Over Nature of Meetings"). The Legislature announced offices on all islands would be closed Wednesday.
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