Dec. 21, 2005 Though most Virgin Islanders appear ready to start their holiday season respites, the islands' chief executive has work to do.
Legislation from the Senate's Dec. 15 session was scheduled to reach Government House Wednesday afternoon, according to the Senate secretary's office.
Gov. Charles W. Turnbull will have his hands full with many controversial bills, along with bushels of no less controversial amendments with appropriations reaching into the millions of dollars. The amendments are attached to what's traditionally called a "Christmas tree" bill, so, if nothing else, the legislation is season appropriate.
High on the list of controversial issues is an amendment to move the scheduled Constitutional Convention from 2006 to 2007. The issue has been dominating discussion on the radio talk radio circuit.
The community appears divided on the issue. It was introduced by Sen. Louis Hill who believes the community needs more information to make an intelligent choice of delegates, and to understand the issues involved in creating a document which will affect the lives of Virgin Islanders forever.
Others in the community feel they have waited long enough, after four previous conventions have failed. They have expressed their anger at the proposal of another delay. (See Constitutional Convention an Issue of Ready or Not). For a synopsis of the previous conventions, see Constitutional Conventions: What's Gone Before.
Some of the other measures affect the pocket books of the private sector as well as government
There is a bill raising minimum pay for government workers from $15,000 to $20,000. This comes on the heels of the governor's request to the Senate last week for a raise for himself and for Lt. Governor Vargrave Richards. The senators have not yet acted on the request, but they did not react warmly to it in the Dec. 15 session. (See Senate Sounds Off on Governor's Requested Pay Raise).
Another thorny issue is an amendment proposed by Sen. Celestino A. White Sr. repealing the $75,000 cap on pain and suffering damages resulting from an automobile accident, which has riveted the attention of the insurance industry. (See Debate Continues Over Lifting Cap on 'Pain and Suffering' Damages).
Affecting the private-sector as well as the public, is a far-reaching measure that ensures that National Guard members called into active service would continue to receive full salaries while away in active service. Private or government employers would be required to make up the difference between what VING members make on active duty and what they were making before they were called up. National Guard members are paid by rank, which would leave some making less than their former government or private-sector jobs.
St. Croix Sen. Neville James introduced an amendment that could allow for the traditional Christmas races to take place this year at the Randall "Doc" James Racetrack on St. Croix. The amendment appropriates $100,000 from the General Fund to the Housing, Parks and Recreation Department to promote holiday events.
The governor has 10 days, excluding Sundays and holidays, to act on the legislation
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