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Senate Approves Bill Setting Up Magistrate Court

June 18, 2008 — In light of the government's cash-flow shortfall, senators tried not to approve any multi-million dollar amendments during Wednesday's full session, but still ended up tacking on about $295,000 in new General Fund spending measures to a bill that deals with establishing a local magistrate court.
Without the amendments, the bill gives the V.I. Superior Court until the end of March 2009 to set up its magistrate division. It also ups the number of members on the magistrate-selection panel to 11 and allows magistrates to issue temporary and permanent restraining orders in domestic-violence cases.
With the amendments, the bill sets aside $70,408 to cover payments owed by the Department of Education to Silcott Corp. Enterprises; $75,000 for events and equipment for youth organizations; $100,000 for transportation for the Ivanna Eudora Kean High School's JROTC members; $5,000 for medical-alert bracelets for senior citizens; and $44,000 for Human Services to continue a pilot program that trains students to deal with their aggression.
Another amendment allows the V.I. Water and Power Authority to put $250,000 — allotted more than 10 years ago for a new generator — toward buying a new bucket-and-digger truck for St. John. WAPA was originally scheduled to receive $5 million from the St. John capital improvement fund to purchase the generator, but only $250,000 was actually allotted, according to Sen. Carmen M. Wesselhoft. Since then, the money has been "sitting in the bank," and has accrued about $390,188 in interest, she said.
Later in the meeting, senators voted to override the governor's veto of a $400,000 General Fund appropriation to the Village Partners in Recovery for the purchase of a new shelter on St. Croix.
Other amendments approved Wednesday:
— call for the Board of Education, in conjunction with the Education Department and Office of Management and Budget, to implement a data-collection system to track how federal and local appropriations are spent, and to submit a report on the expenditures to the Legislature on a quarterly basis;
— set up an amnesty program that waives all interest and penalties for residents owing gross-receipts taxes up to 2007;
— mandate that the Office of the Tax Assessor justify delinquent tax notices dating back more than seven years; according to amendment sponsor Sen. Ronald E. Russell, the government has issued delinquent tax notices without checking whether residents actually owe money;
— call for residents or companies applying for zoning changes to be in good standing with the Bureau of Internal Revenue, Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs, Tax Assessor's Office and Department of Finance before presenting their request before the Senate;
— allow high school students going for a bachelor's degree in international relations to qualify for a $5,000 scholarship; and
— make money previously appropriated to the Department of Housing, Parks and Recreation for upgrades to recreational facilities and equipment on St. Croix available until expended.
Senators also approved the nominations of Francisco Depusoir, Leslie A. Smith and Janice V. Hodge to the V.I. Board of Public Accountancy and a bill that sets up a separate beach access account within the government's land bank fund to buy land or easements for public beach access.
Also approved were lease agreements between the government and: Joseph Challenger (doing business as Joe's Hideout); Nigel Newton (doing business as Reliable Automotive Repairs); and Kenneth Estrill Jr. (doing business as Kenny's Auto Repairs).
Senators also special ordered to the floor, and approved, resolutions:
— honoring and commending Alan V. Sokolow for his work with local policymakers through the Council on State Governments, Eastern Regional Conference, to develop region-wide initiatives, facilitate cooperation between the three government branches, advocate on joint state-federal issues, and analysis on regional priorities and current trends;
— honoring and commending the 2007 Latin American-Caribbean Junior League champions for their excellent sportsmanship and promotion of the territory; and
— honoring and commending Victor W. Sewer posthumously for his service to the St. John community and renaming the Cruz Bay Creek the Victor W. Sewer Marine Facility.
All senators were present during Wednesday's session.
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