Feb. 10, 2005 The Senate approved an amendment Thursday that clarifies ambiguous language in legislation that created the University of the Virgin Islands Research and Technology Park. It gives UVI a clear avenue to attract potential investors.
UVI President LaVerne Ragster told the Senate Committee of the Whole Thursday morning that ambiguous language regarding intellectual property ownership was dissuading potential park tenants from setting up shop in the St. Croix institution.
Testifying with Ragster were Malcolm Kirwan, UVI chief financial officer; tax attorney Marjorie Roberts; and technology consultant Michael Fields, who is chief executive officer of Crucian Global, a St. Croix technology company.
The amendment clears up a conflict in the original legislation, assuring that any company moving into the park will retain all ownership of its intellectual property.
Fields said, "Read quite literally, the original legislation says that no matter what happens, the university and the park own the intellectual property. The university could write something saying that wouldn't happen, but the legislation says it can happen."
The amendment the Senate passed Thursday, Fields said, ensures that any company moving into the technology park will retain ownership of its intellectual property, even if it leaves the park.
Ragster said her proposed amendment was based on a legal review done by the D.C. law firm of Ballard, Spahr, Andrews & Ingersol. She appealed to the senators for quick action. "As you can appreciate, time is of the essence. We actually have several potential investors standing by, waiting for the opinion to be issued."
In a written statement, Auguste Rimpel, UVI board chair and park board chair, said the park is "a simple but compelling business proposition."
He said, "It allows companies to distribute digital content and transfer ownership of its intellectual property to a locally-based subsidiary in the islands where the company can benefit from tax incentives, the protection of U.S. law for its intellectual assets, and access to one of the largest broadband capabilities in the world."
Ragster thanked the senators for their previous support of the park improvements and infrastructure, estimated to cost $7 million. A source for the funding remains to be identified.
Under questioning by Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone, Kirwan said, "Fifteen tenants could generate up to 250 jobs with $10 million in payroll and $5.3 million in taxes paid annually to the government."
Kirwan said "intellectual property" includes downloadable software, music, videos and digital reports. He said many companies are looking for jurisdictions that provide protection of intellectual property under U.S. law. It is intended, he said, that the property be placed on servers located on and distributed from St. Croix.
Some St. Croix senators weren't so sure. Sen. Usie Richards questioned whether the amendment would increase or decrease payment of taxes from tenants. Roberts assured Richards it would in crease the payments, because without it there would be nobody to collect from.
Responding to Sen. Terrence Nelson, Kirwan said UVI would share in the ownership rights of intellectual property when it is developed at the university.
Sen. Neville James took a different tack, saying, "What we are talking about is barren land on St. Croix being put to use." He said he had heard enough talk about the island's "pristine land." "We need this," he said.
Sen. Craig Barshinger said, "What we are talking about is closing a loophole which could have created problems, and substituting it with language which poses no problems."
The amendment also sets a five-year term limit on park board directors appointed by the governor. Ragster said the original legislation did not give the board the power to remove a director who presented a problem.
"It seems to me the possibilities of this park are endless," Sen. Liston Davis said. "Two to three hundred companies subscribing to e-commerce can only help the V.I."
The amendment passed later in the afternoon on a 14-0 vote. Sen. Louis Hill was excused because of a death in the family.
A smiling Fields walking out of the chambers, said, "Now the real work can begin."
The senators met in Committee of the Whole in the morning and early afternoon to take testimony, meeting in full session later for voting. The agenda was changed to allow for votes on the two morning bills, the UVI amendment and a rezoning for the Bovoni Landfill, which also passed unanimously.(See "Rezoning Passes Unanimously Tires to Get Shredded").
As the day wore on, little frictions developed as the six freshman senators sought to find firm ground. In the final five-minute round of discussion before the vote on the rezoning, almost no lawmaker used his time for that purpose.
Several minority members instead praised Senate President Lorraine Berry for her conduct in the four days of meetings this week. One majority member commented on this aloud, saying, "You are saying that in the absence of one of your members," a reference to Hill, who had vied with Berry for the Senate presidency in the weeks following the election.
Berry thanked the senators for their remarks, and said, "Now you see that experience counts. I said I was best qualified."
She also received what could only be termed as a left-handed compliment from James, a minority senator. After making laudatory comments about her ability, James said Berry reminded him of his "lady," because Berry is "light-skinned, lovely and solid."
Berry, who is rarely caught off guard, laughed along with her colleagues.
Friday's session will convene at 9:30 a.m., Berry said Thursday evening. On the agenda is consideration of the following:
– Bill 26-0003 – The Omnibus Justice Act of 2005,
– Bill 26-0004 – To increase penalties for animal cruelty,
– Bill 26-0007 – The Financial Services Act of 2005,
– Bill 26-0008 – To increase fines for school vandalism and deposit them in an impress account to defray the cost of damage incurred,
– Bill 26-0002 – A Resolution to express the Legislature's opposition to the closure of any additional fishing grounds in the V.I.,
– and Bill 26-0006 – A Resolution to honor and commend Condoleezza Rice on her appointment as Secretary of State.
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