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Senators Move on Bills on Inmate Reading, Traffic Signal Devices

May 22, 2006 – Senators moved quickly through their agenda during the first half of a Public Safety, Homeland Security and Justice Committee meeting Monday – sending three bills onto the Rules Committee for further approval and holding two others.
Among those sent to Rules was a bill establishing a voluntary reading program for inmates in the territory. The bill, which has been languishing in the committee since February, has sparked much debate at previous Senate meetings, after representatives from the Justice Department testified that some of the bill's provisions are already components of the department's Inmate Re-Entry Program (See "Senators Continue Debate of Police Chief Bill in Committee").
According to a press release sent by the Legislature on Monday evening, an amendment was adopted during the meeting to address the concerns. Once amended, senators unanimously – and without discussion – voted to move the bill onto Rules for further consideration.
A bill prohibiting the sale and use of traffic control signal preemption devices was also unanimously approved by senators Monday. According to the release, such a device "changes a traffic light to green" or extends the duration of a green light for emergency vehicles.
During the meeting Sen. Pedro "Pete" Encarnacion, the bill's sponsor and chairman of the committee, said such devices "pose safety problems" when used by the "average person" instead of authorized emergency personnel. He said the devices are currently being sold over the Internet, and could enable motorists such as "delivery workers" and "teenagers" to "speed through intersections."
The bill, which was sent onto Rules for further consideration, imposes a ban on such devices and a fine for individuals caught using them. "If you think the roads in the Virgin Islands have traffic safety problems now, just imagine if individuals could go online and purchase a traffic signal device that would allow drivers to change traffic signals from their cars at will," Encarnacion said.
Police Commissioner Elton Lewis testified in favor of the bill during the meeting, but told senators that the measure could be enhanced by "adding some amendments."
A bill allowing residents purchasing new vehicles to use their temporary plates for up to 45 days was also approved.
Senators voted to hold other bills, including one prohibiting motorists from playing excessively loud music on public streets and highways, and another extending the retirement age for policemen, firemen and prison guards to 65 – if found mentally and physically capable of working.
Lt. Ramon Ortiz, vice president of the Police union, said that officers on the job who have not yet turned 65 should be given the opportunity to train and supervise younger officers "as long as they are capable."
He said there is currently a shortage of supervisors within the Police system and older officers could step in and help with younger recruits.
Despite the support, Sen. Louis P. Hill, the bill's sponsor, moved that the bill be held in committee so that senators could hear more testimony from union members.
After a long recess, the meeting reconvened around 2 p.m. to discuss a bill establishing a Civilian Review Board within the Police Department. However, since only two senators were present, Encarnacion adjourned the meeting with a lack of a quorum.
Present during the first half of Monday's meeting were Sens. Lorraine L. Berry, Davis, Encarnacion, Hill and Shawn-Michael Malone.
Present during the second half of the meeting were Davis and Encarnacion.

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