76 F
Cruz Bay
Friday, March 31, 2023
HomeNewsArchivesDeJongh Vetoes Marijuana Decriminalization and New Casino License

DeJongh Vetoes Marijuana Decriminalization and New Casino License

Gov. John deJongh Jr. vetoed legislation decriminalizing marijuana Monday, saying the wording would hamstring government workplace codes of conduct while leaving private companies unaffected and limit court power to punish detainees. He vetoed another bill relating to divorce because it had an unvetted amendment that allows casinos in Frederiksted and Christiansted. The governor approved 45 bills, including all the major Fiscal Year 2015 budget bills.

The marijuana decriminalization bill sponsored by Sen. Terrence "Positive" Nelson would leave possession illegal and leave in place serious penalties for "manufacture" and sale of marijuana. But anyone arrested with less than one ounce would only commit a civil infraction punishable by a fine of $100. If the person is under age 18, parents or guardians would be notified and the offender would have to complete an "approved drug awareness program."

Speaking in support of the measure, Nelson focused on the major negative effects that a conviction for marijuana can have on a V.I. youth, including denial of student loans and being ineligible for many jobs that involve background checks.

DeJongh vetoed the bill, saying the "measure as drafted represents an inconsistent application of law as it pertains to private employees versus" government employees, it curtails the government’s ability to "enforce and regulate workplace rules and codes of conduct, particularly in those areas involving hazardous jobs, public safety and the operation of heavy equipment," and it compromises the ability of the "judiciary to effectively enforce its orders pertaining to pre-trial release and bail."

DeJongh also vetoed legislation sponsored by Sen. Nereida "Nellie" Rivera-O’Reilly giving divorce courts jurisdiction to distribute property acquired after the marriage, with some exceptions for gifts, inheritances and judgments. [Bill 30-0392] DeJongh said he supported the measure but was forced to veto it because of an unrelated amendment creating a new category of casino license for hotels in the towns of Christiansted and Frederiksted.

"The manner in which this amendment was offered and enacted without going through the committee process and without the proper due diligence is troubling, especially when the charrettes conducted in both the Christiansted and Frederiksted communities within the last year definitively revealed that residents did not want casino gaming as part of their community development plans," deJongh said in his letter to the V.I. Legislature announcing his actions.

He also said no study had been done to see whether it would be beneficial. DeJongh said he hoped the casino measure would be sent to committee for a full vetting rather than simply overriding the veto.

DeJongh expressed concern over two pieces of legislation that he nonetheless signed. He signed a bill authorizing the Public Finance Authority to guarantee as much as $20 million of private hotel developers’ leases, for a period of up to 25 years, amending the Hotel Development Program incentives. [Bill No. 30-0431], But he questioned the "implications and consequences of this measure on the government’s debt limit and borrowing capacity" springing from contingent lease guarantees. DeJongh also said there were inconsistencies in the terms of the program that should be clarified by further amendments.

DeJongh signed a bill giving away 10 acres of government land on St. Croix to American Legion Post 102 and let it use a government building in Peter’s Rest rent-free indefinitely. (See Related Links below) But he questioned if the plans were in "concert with the zoning requirements or whether any possible deed restrictions or covenants exist." He mentioned several other concerns and said he plans to submit legislation “to address these matters as well as achieve a partnership between the government and Post 102 so that the land is fully utilized as intended within the next ten years otherwise it shall revert back to the government."

Measures signed into law covered a variety of actions, including the naming of facilities for prominent Virgin Islanders, ratifying Coastal Zone Management permits, and renaming the Industrial Development Program as the Economic Development Program to "modernize the territory’s tax incentive program" establishing the V.I. Sports Commission and the Agriculture Business Incubator Center.

The governor acknowledged receipt of a resolution sponsored by Sen. Kenneth Gittens that "petitions and requests" deJongh to "return the sum of $490,00 plus interest at the rate of 9.5 percent taken from Act 6917 section 17 to upgrade his private residence" by Jan. 5, 2015.

When deJongh took office in 2007 and decided to live at his private residence, rather than the official residence set aside in Estate Catherineberg, Public Works spent $490,000 on a security system, fencing, a guard house, and driveway and parking changes.

Before expending the money, Public Works asked the V.I. Attorney General’s Office for a legal opinion on whether public funds could be used for security work at the governor’s private residence. The acting attorney general concluded spending public funds is permissible so long as a public purpose is served and is the primary reason for the expense.

However, while some senators were aware of the work and the appropriation that was used for it, others were surprised at the news and looked and found the appropriating legislation silent on plans to use a portion of the funds this way. DeJongh said in 2009 that he would return the funds on the conclusion of his governorship. And in 2010 the U.S. Interior Department’s inspector general issued a report saying the work "usurped the Legislature’s authority to determine how to spend public funds" and should be returned.

The Interior Department’s report did not allege any criminality but deJongh’s political opponents have repeatedly accused the governor of being corrupt and enriching himself.

In Monday’s letter deJongh reaffirmed his commitment to "paying over to the government the value of what remains on my property after my term."

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Keeping our community informed is our top priority.
If you have a news tip to share, please call or text us at 340-228-8784.

Support local + independent journalism in the U.S. Virgin Islands

Unlike many news organizations, we haven't put up a paywall – we want to keep our journalism as accessible as we can. Our independent journalism costs time, money and hard work to keep you informed, but we do it because we believe that it matters. We know that informed communities are empowered ones. If you appreciate our reporting and want to help make our future more secure, please consider donating.