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GERS Amendment Causes Senate Stir

Oct. 2, 2004 — An amendment offered Thursday evening to broaden the scope of the Government Employees Retirement System's investments caused quite a stir during Friday's legislative proceedings, although it had been voted down.
Accusing Senate President David Jones of "stealing" from his legislation, Sen. Louis Hill said the amendment was taken word for word from a proposal of his that is currently before legal counsel.
Hill questioned the integrity of Jones and the other senators who had voted for the amendment, which legal counsel had marked "not approved for lack of legal sufficiency."
Jones had brought the amendment to the floor while Hill had left to conduct a town meeting at the University of the Virgin Islands on the proposed Land and Water Use Plan. But it failed with a 4-8 vote.
Sens. Lorraine Berry, Douglas Canton Jr., Luther Renee and Jones voted for the amendment. Roosevelt David, Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, Carlton Dowe, Almando "Rocky" Liburd, Shawn-Michael Malone, Usie Richards, Ronald Russell and Celestino White voted against it. Emmett Hansen II and Norman Jn Baptiste abstained, and Hill was absent.
"We ought to have a sense of honor," Hill said. "If we don't have a sense of honor, how do we expect the public to trust us?"
According to legislative policy, if a senator submits a bill to legal counsel for approval, another senator cannot submit any proposal on the same matter. Hill said Jones' amendment was a clear violation of the rules.
However, Jn Baptiste circulated a document on the floor which said he had requested for legislation to be drafted on the same issue before Hill.
"In actuality I am the one with ownership to this bill," Jn Baptiste said, adding that sometimes things fall through the cracks.
Jn Baptiste said when he found out about Hill's measure he did not make a fuss but requested to be a co-sponsor on the bill. But Hill said although Jn Baptiste requested for legislation to be drafted, he did not submit an entire bill to Legal Counsel for review as Hill had done.
"It is never my motive, nor is it my intention to in any way steal, remove or even attack members and their integrity," Jones said, adding that some senators seem "bankrupt for credit."
Jones said the issue of GERS reform has been ongoing for 10 years, long before Hill became a member of the body. Jones further said the language in his amendment had been given to him by Raymond James, chairman of the GERS board.
"I'm very disturbed by what I heard here this morning," Berry said, adding that Hill was "playing politics" because he should have been present at the budget hearing instead of conducting town meetings that other senators could not attend.
James, who was present at the session, said he was "tired" of approaching the Senate on the issue of broadening the investment scope of GERS.
"This is about the fourth time I've been down here with this same issue," James said.
James, who was aware of Hill's measure, said he approached Jones to see if the specific part of the legislation could be rushed and attached to the budget because "the time is now right" to invest in other stock.
The GERS' investment managers had advised James to invest in Triple B stock for an increase in the yield to the system. Right now GERS can invest only in Triple A stock by legislative mandate.
"I was trying to speed up the process," James said. However, James apparently never told Hill he was going to approach Jones about thie amendment, and Jones did not inform Hill before gutting his bill.
While the senators argued among themselves Friday, no budget was approved, and the GERS is still nowhere closer to being able to broaden its investments to pay retirees and its unfunded liabilities. (See "GERS Officials: Unfunded Liability Nearing $1 Billion").
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