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Wednesday, October 5, 2022
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Senators Spar Over Paper Ballots, Overturn Vetoes

During a full session Monday, senators passed a flurry of bills and overturned several vetoes, but the biggest fireworks came over something the senators did not do.
Shortly before the Sept. 11 primary election, courts ruled that the V.I. Elections Board was not required to provide voters with paper ballots. Monday Sen. Terrence "Positive" Nelson tried to introduce legislation that would require that paper ballots be available, but he was stymied.
Several senators insisted they are in favor of paper ballots, but they couldn’t justify violating Senate procedures and possibly breaking V.I. law.
"The voters are asking something of us," Nelson said. "In November we’re going to be asking something from them. What could it hurt?"
But Senate President Louis Patrick Hill ruled Nelson’s motion out of order, saying he hadn’t complied with the chamber’s rules for submitting legislation.
Nelson challenged the ruling, but the senators backed Hill by a vote of 7-4, with Sens. Craig Barshinger, Carlton "Ital" Dowe, Hill, Wayne James, Sammuel Sanes, Patrick Sprauve and Celestino White voting in support; while Sens. Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly, Michael Thurland and Alvin Williams voted for Nelson’s challenge.
Sens. Neville James, Shawn-Michael Malone and Usie Richards did not vote, and Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donatorg was absent.
Hill was backed by a report from the Legislative Counsel’s Office which pointed out that V.I. statutes forbid election law from being amended less than six months before an election, unless acting under a court order. Nelson countered that the Senate had done so once before, in September 1994 in a bill that returned hundreds of voters to the polls after they had been removed under questionable circumstances.
The counsel’s representative said the fact that an action had transpired wasn’t proof of its legality.
During the morning session the senators, with no discussion, overrode several of Gov. John deJongh Jr.’s vetoes of bills. The overrides included overturning vetoes on:
–a bill establishing the V.I. Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drug Control, a reincarnation of the now defunct Narcotics Strike Force. In his veto message, deJongh said the agency lacked funding and would create a situation that led to problems in the old Strike Force;
–a bill establishing a DNA database. The governor said he vetoed it because it lacked funding;
–a bill to establish a park at Creque Dam on St. Croix. In his veto message, the governor said the Land Bank Fund did not have the $7 million it needed to buy the land, and that no due diligence had been done on the park concept;
–a bill increasing fines imposed by the Public Employees Relations Board.

In the afternoon, the senators approved:
• Bill No. 28-0225 – an act appropriating $4 million in the fiscal year ending September 2011, and yearly thereafter for 10 years to cover contributions to be made by the government employees who were not covered; providing for correction and adjustment of NOPAs for annuity payments, the payment of retroactive annuity payments;
• Bill No. 28-0246 – An act requiring pawnbrokers and others who deal in gold for cash to install video recording devices to record the transaction.
• Bill No. 28-0238 – An act to facilitate the transfer of firearms from a state to the U.S. Virgin Islands by having the acquired firearm mailed to a federally licensed firearms dealer within the territory. Senators believe this will place stricter control on the transfer of guns into the territory.
Those bills and several others passed by votes of 14-0, with Donastorg absent.
In other news, the senators approved granting a lease to Robert O’Connor for about 5,000 square feet of government-owned land in Cruz Bay, St. John, for his car rental business. The 15-year lease will cost $13,769 a year for the first five years. Increases will be based on the Consumer Price Index.
“We owe him a debt of gratitude because he allowed the government to take land where his family operated a business to create the roundabout,” Sen. Craig Barshinger said.
O’Connor operated the Texaco gas station, which closed to make way for the Cruz Bay, St. John, roundabout.
The senators also agreed to name the Subbase tennis courts on St. Thomas in honor of the late Doris E. Hodge. She was a well-known St. Thomas tennis player who fostered tennis enthusiasm in many island youths.

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