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Despite Ire of Some Senators, Last-Minute Bill Passes During Special Session

Dec. 28, 2006 — "Im not a happy camper right now. In fact, Im royally pissed," Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone said, as the Legislature sat in special session on Thursday to consider a 50-page proposal recently submitted for consideration by Gov. Charles W. Turnbull.
Turnbull's call for a special session came down late Wednesday afternoon, accompanied by a bill that includes, among other things, reforms to the Government Employees Retirement System and pay raises for senators, the governor and lieutenant governor.
The call for a special session, which was officially announced over the radio on Wednesday, raised the ire of several senators, who spoke out against "the governor's need to pass things at the last minute."
"It is an abomination, and a frightening one at that, to see people use this body for their own self-serving needs," Sen. Usie R. Richards said. Richards specifically spoke out against the GERS reforms, as well as provisions in the bill that call for senators to ratify three illegal government contracts.
"I can't see why, with only four days left before a new administration is sworn in, we want to stick all these things in one particular bill," he said. "But I for one will not become a political prostitute and sell out my principles and beliefs on the altar of political expediency."
Richards and other senators have consistently spoken out against the government's practice of allowing vendors to start working on various projects before any agreements are formally approved.
According to the bill, the contracts exist between:
–the V.I. National Guard and Virgin Islands Paving Inc., in the amount of $98,341 for paving the parking lot at the Army Aviation Operation Facility at the Henry E. Rohlsen Airport on St. Croix;
–the V.I. National Guard and Virgin Islands Paving Inc., in the amount of $62,569 for paving the parking lot at the Combined Support No. 10A and 18 VICORP Land on St. Croix; and
–the Department of Health and VIPS Inc., in the amount of approximately $142,915 for providing routine maintenance services to diagnose and correct computer system problems and to provide enhancement changes to the software for the Medicaid program.
Richards and other senators said they also had concerns about two appropriations included in the bill — one for the Department of Justice to fund a negotiated settlement agreement and another for the Department of Public Works to pave roads in the Tutu High-Rise Housing Community.
"Why are we all of a sudden in a rush to pave roads?" Richards asked.
Sen. Terrence "Positive" Nelson added that measures included in Turnbull's bill, while important, should not be considered "a matter of urgency."
"My father sent a message with me for Gov. Turnbull," Nelson said. "Gov. Turnbull, my father says to go home, it's finished, it's done."
Other senators echoed Nelson's remarks, saying that there is "no reason" why the proposals included in the bill could not be considered by the incoming Legislature. However, a majority of senators said they would be in favor of approving the entire bill, which they described as "more of a positive than a negative."
In particular, senators spoke in favor of a provision that appropriates $2.85 million to cover a $5,000 minimum-wage increase for government employees.
A provision authorizing the Public Finance Authority to give Golden Gaming Resorts a guarantee on a $15 million "interim loan" also drew much support, as senators said the company's proposal to construct a hotel and resort complex on St. Croix would bring many economic development opportunities to the big island.
While arguments for and against the bill floated across the floor much of the morning, senators ultimately decided to give the proposal their final stamp of approval. Voting in favor of the bill was Berry, along with Sens. Roosevelt C. David, Pedro "Pete" Encarnacion, Juan Figueroa-Serville, Louis P. Hill, Norman Jn Baptiste and Ronald E. Russell.
Sens. Liston Davis, Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, Malone, Nelson, Richards and Celestino A. White Sr. voted against the bill, while Sens. Craig W. Barshinger and Neville James were absent.
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