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Senators Get a Little Religion During Budget Hearing

Aug 17, 2005 — When attorney Richard Austin, executive director of Legal Services of the Virgin Islands, made his budget hearing presentation Wednesday, he could not help but inject some religion into it. Austin, who ministers at the Beulah and Medford A.M.E. Zion churches, said, "I'm bi-vocational."
Sens. Norman Jn Baptiste and Terrence "Positive" Nelson both expressed appreciation of Austin's openness with his faith. Nelson liked some lines of expression so much he reread them aloud. The lines said, "Each of us has a purpose in our journey through this time called life. My purpose, my passion, my peace, is to promote justice. It is a purpose that is grounded upon a deeply held belief in each person's right to be treated fairly, justly and decently – to live and to die with dignity. The passion I have comes with the awareness I have at the end of each work day, that I have done what I can to move us closer to a just society. And the peace that I have is in knowing that there is a higher being that is just and merciful."
And with that beginning, the questioning period ranged over what V.I. residents can do to cure ills that haunt the islands, although it was apparent that Legal Services would not generally play a leading part in most of those initiatives.
Baptiste started by questioning Austin about recent violent crimes on St. Croix, specifically mentioning the shooting in the 2+2 parking lot just over a week ago. Baptiste said he thought the problems with these youths were beginning in their junior and senior high school years and then exploding when they are in their late teens or early twenties.
Austin said that he followed those cases closely, but Legal Services just handled civil cases so he was not directly involved in those cases. However, he said that work with the youngsters had to start earlier – in pre-school. He said the best foundation to build strong character was a strong family.
Nelson agreed with those ideas, but then went on to express his idea that maybe schools – junior and senior highs should be separated by sex. Baptiste followed up on the idea and asked Austin whether constitutionally the Virgin Islands could get away with all-female and all-male schools.
Austin said his opinion was, if each school was equal, it would not be found unconstitutional.
Last year the Legal Services received $300,000 from the V.I. General Fund. This year the governor recommended the same, but Austin is requesting $400,000. He said Legal Services would survive on the lower amount, but it would not be servicing all the people that needed it.
He gave three scenarios where Legal Services played a part. The scenario called "Fighting the Rich and Powerful" was the story of the rich family of an abusive father trying to take custody of the children from the mother.
The second scenario called "Representing Vulnerable Seniors" was about a senior who was being forced by a realtor to sell her home against her will.
The third scenario, about a large private employer terminating employees for reasons that were later found to be spurious, was entitled "Securing Unemployment Benefits for Clients and Families."
Baptiste was also pleased that the main office for Legal Services was located on St. Croix. Baptiste said, "I am always looking at the disparities, and generally it seems that St. Croix gets the short end of the stick."
Austin said he recognized Baptiste's concerns. He added that Baptiste might be interested to know that at least one country, South Africa, had three capitols: one for the courts, one for the Legislature; and one for the executive branch.
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