Half a dozen legislative bills have become law despite Gov. John deJongh Jr.’s veto because the vetoes missed the 10-day legal deadline, sources in the Legislature and Government House confirmed Tuesday. The newly enacted legislation devotes the Massac Nursing home to a sports facility, redefines RTPark membership, changing fall claims laws and other purposes. The vetoes were sent down two days too late.
“My office made an error in the manner in which the 10 days for the governor’s review were calculated,” Nagesh Tammara, the governor’s legal counsel, said in a statement from Government House. As a result of the tardy submission, the pieces of legislation the governor “vetoed” are law, according to deJongh and Senate President Shawn-Michael Malone.
“While the measures in question are now law, I would like to note that the various bills I intended to veto have issues beyond the administrative oversight,” deJongh said. “I draw the Legislature’s attention to some of these concerns.”
DeJongh had vetoed legislation sponsored by Sen. Myron Jackson to transfer the former Massac Nursing Home on St. Thomas from the Department of Human Services to the Department of Sports, Parks and Recreation for conversion to a sports facility, boxing gymnasium and housing for visiting athletes. In his letter to the Legislature, deJongh said there is also a proposal to use the facility for adults living with disabilities, "the details of which are currently being negotiated."
He said the University Center for Excellence on Developmental Disabilities "did not have an opportunity to inform the Legislature of this possible use for the nursing home, which is important given that approximately 20 percent of the territory’s residents live with disabilities."
The legislation limits the use of the facility to a specific sports-related purpose, "which could in turn result in the property remaining empty and a burden on the department should that specific purpose prove incapable of being met," deJongh said. Also Sports, Parks and Recreation does not have the money to renovate the building and doing so would take away from current programs for youth, he said.
Jackson said in a statement that he remained “firm in my conviction that our youth also need attention and facilities to receive that care. We are losing our youth, our young black males, everyday to gun violence and other criminal behavior,” Jackson said.
“When it comes to our young people, we cannot merely talk the talk. The longer we talk and forgo action, the more of them we lose," he said. He also said the building had been vacant for a number of years already and would continue to deteriorate if left unoccupied. “For years this administration has had the opportunity to do something – anything. It hasn’t. It is time to stop wasting our precious resources. We cannot continue to allow the few structures we own to decay due to neglect," Jackson said.
DeJongh had also vetoed a bill sponsored by Malone and Sen. Judi Buckley that makes some specific business types eligible for RTPark tax benefits, requiring a directory of all tenants and other measures. According to Government House, the governor’s biggest concern with this measure is that the Legislature failed to follow the normal processes such as conducting hearings, committee review or allowing for open discussions with the administration and independent agencies affected.
“Once again the failure to follow any of the normal processes such as conducting hearings, committee review or allowing for open discussions with the administration and independent agencies affected has not surprisingly produced an unacceptable result," deJongh said.
Legislation making it so a private citizen would be able to file suit against a person or company that submits false claims for payment to the V.I. government, allowing private citizens to seek damages on behalf of the government and to take a share of any court judgment, was also enacted. DeJongh had objected that federal law already covers most of the situations covered by the legislation and that its greater generosity than the federal act would have encouraged a flood of frivolous claims that would strain the court system.
Also enacted was legislation to set aside 2 percent of the Peace Officer Training Fund and the Internal Revenue Matching Fund for emergency management scholarships. DeJongh had said peace officer training is a critical need and the funds are needed for their original purpose.
And there will be a new task force, with nine members appointed variously by the governor, Legislature and the V.I. Superior Court presiding judge. When or if it is funded, manned and functional, that new body will be tasked with investigations into consolidating government information technology and reducing energy costs "by at least 20 percent" in several government departments and would to report back to the Legislature. DeJongh had objected that this attempts to take executive branch functions out of the executive branch, violating the doctrine of separation of powers enshrined in the Revised Organic Act of 1954.
DeJongh said Tuesday he is hopeful the Senate will review his concerns over the four measures he intended to veto and, where applicable, provide amendments to the existing laws to ensure the concerns are properly addressed.