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Politics Trumps Dengue Fever at Senate

Aug. 25, 2005 – Politics apparently pushed dengue fever off the Health, Hospitals and Human Services Committee agenda Wednesday night.
Dengue prevention and treatment programs were to be discussed by the committee and Health Commissioner Darlene Carty was present. As the hearing was running after 9 p.m., however, committee chairman Sen. Usie Richards announced that dengue as a subject of discussion would be put off until a later date.
The hearing was scheduled to start at 2 p.m., but a Finance Committee budget hearing concerning Gov. Juan F. Luis Hospital scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. did not get underway until 1 p.m. and ran until 4 p.m.
The reason for the delay, according to Senate staffers, was that a party caucus was going on. Reports in recent days have been that the majority caucus was in trouble because Norman Jn Baptiste, chairman of the Finance Committee, was threatening to leave the majority because of an amendment, offered by fellow majority members Sen. Terrence "Positive" Nelson and Senate President Lorraine Berry, would dramatically change his bill forcing the Water and Power Authority to negotiate with small power suppliers.
Baptiste was the only senator present when the Wednesday budget hearing started, although Sen. Juan Figueroa-Serville, who was not in the chambers, was counted present.
Sen. Celestino White might have illustrated the pattern of the day as he gave a speech about how important all the issues under discussion were at the Health Committee and then immediately left the chambers.
In an odd turn of events, Figueroa-Serville took the chairmanship of the Finance Committee. He is a member of the minority; Baptiste and vice chairman Nelson, another member of the majority, were absent from the hearing.
Sen. Neville James, a member of the minority, took several opportunities to criticize what was going on. "Let's do the business of government," he said. "Let's not make people wait. Caucuses can be held afterward."
But a lot of political statements slowed down the budget hearing and the Hospital and Health hearing.
White, the majority leader, made an effort to stop speculation about what was going on behind closed doors in the Legislature. "Nothing has changed," he said.
"The Majority will remain as it is."
Baptiste, interviewed in the courtyard during one of his many comings and goings, refused to comment about what was going on with the majority caucus.
Although Carty did not get a chance to make a presentation on dengue, her prepared remarks were circulated to the press.
In the remarks, she said that her department has undertaken an active surveillance program and initiated and a comprehensive response plan "that will serve to address the dengue transmission problem now and into the future."
She outlined various steps being taken to eradicate the mosquitoes responsible for spreading the disease and steps to educate residents about prevention.
She added that efforts are under way to have individuals trained so testing for dengue can be done in the Virgin Islands. Presently, dengue lab tests have to be performed in Puerto Rico.
Released with her prepared remarks was a chart prepared by Dr. Eugene Tull, territorial epidemiologist. The chart shows a decrease in confirmed cases after the death of a child in June and 30 cases confirmed in one week in July.

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