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Rules Panel Passes Slew of Bills to Full Senate

The Rules and Judiciary passed on to the full Senate a $3 million appropriation for renovations and upgrades to the Juan F. Luis Hospital along with several smaller appropriations and bills on a cornucopia of topics Thursday in Frederiksted.
Among other things, the hospital hopes to add more beds to serve more patients in the emergency room. The money for this and several hundred thousand dollars in other appropriation bills before the committee is to come from about $4 million more than expected in federal rum excise taxes coming back to the territory in its Internal Revenue Matching Fund. The $4 million is the estimated amount of revenue after current year appropriations are accounted for, but outstanding appropriations from prior years may lower the available total, Sen. Neville James said.
A bill from Sen. Nereida "Nellie" Rivera-O’Reilly appropriating $300,00 to Juan Luis Hospital was amended to make these rum funds its revenue source.
The committee also funded a new, separate revolving fund to pay National Guard members, with $200,000 from the rum revenues. When the governor mobilizes the V.I. National Guard for state purposes, such as after a hurricane, the local government is responsible for paying them, while under normal circumstances, most of the Guard’s expenses are paid by the federal government. But as these emergencies are not part of the regular budgeting process, at times there have been difficulties in paying them and Guards members have worked without a paycheck, sometimes waiting months or even years to be paid for that time. Having $200,000 set aside will help ensure they get paid right away if needed.
An amnesty on interest and penalties on overdue gross receipts taxes made it on to the full senate too. Interest and penalties accrued on taxes up until Sep. 30 would be waived if the underlying tax is paid within 12 months.
The committee also approved a bill setting up fines for texting while driving and one to allow members of the V.I. Lottery Commission to continue to serve after their terms have expired until a replacement is confirmed.
Several bills changed Virgin Islands law to bring them into the same uniform standards used in much of the U.S. One would replace the Virgin Islands Anatomical Gift Act with a new act changing the consent process by accommodating the forms commonly found on the back of drivers licenses in the United States. It also gives individuals more power of choice by allowing a signed refusal that bars others from making a gift of the individual’s organs after death and prevents others from overriding an individual’s decision to make or refuse to make an anatomical gift. The act establishes standards for donor registries and provides for cooperation between medical examiners and organ procurement organizations.
Other bills that establishing uniform U.S. standards locally would:
• Require physicians to file all Medicare prescriptions electronically with pharmacists beginning no later than December 31, 2011;
• Establish uniform standards for licensing mortgage lenders and;
• Allow real estate professionals to file documents online.
Present were Sens. Carlton "Ital" Dowe, Shawn-Michael Malone, Usie Richards, Sammuel Sanes, Patrick Sprauve, Michael Thurland and Celestino White. Sprauve voted nay on the lottery commission bill. The other votes were unanimous. All of these bills will now be considered and voted upon by the full Senate.

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