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Legislature Passes Second Chance For Misdemeanor Convictions

It will be much easier in the U.S. Virgin Islands to have misdemeanors and records of charges that never led to convictions expunged from one’s record, thanks to legislation approved Wednesday by the full Legislature.

The lawmakers also approved changes to net metering, approved a feasibility study, legislation to promote marine tourism and changes to legal protections for "good Samaritans" who help in emergencies.

They also approved six of Gov. Kenneth Mapp’s cabinet nominees

The criminal expungement bill, titled "“The Second Chance For Jobs and Education After a Misdemeanor Conviction Act” [Bill 31-0094], sponsored by Sen. Nereida "Nellie" Rivera-O’Reilly changes expungement procedures so that if the requirements are met and a petition is filed, expungement is automatic unless the Department of Justice objects. Currently the already overworked Justice Department must deliberate and act on each application.

The legislation explicitly states that people who are charged but not convicted are automatically entitled to have their records expunged.

When O’Reilly introduced the bill in committee in April, she said many young Virgin Islanders who get into some trouble while teenagers and young men face lifelong hardship due to difficulty getting jobs and getting into schools as a result of their criminal records. She also said some of them are pushed into crime by their lack of opportunity.

During Wednesday’s debate, senators broadly echoed those sentiments.

Sen. Novelle Francis said "the revolving door is something I saw firsthand" during his career as a police officer, saying he saw young men get out of jail, then end up back in jail after giving up looking for work.

An amendment from O’Reilly requires a person to wait at least two years to apply for expungement of an offense with a penalty of 61 to 180 days. Another amendment, from Sen. Marvin Blyden, prohibits discrimination in housing based on an expunged criminal record.

Good Samaritan protections for those who provide help in emergencies will be broadened slightly due to a bill sponsored by Sen. Sammuel Sanes, that was approved Wednesday. [Bill No. 31-0030]

The existing law is unclear on who is covered and can be read to assert that only certain first responders and other specific kinds of individuals who assist in emergencies are immune from liability.

Residential net metering customers with less than 10-kilowatt solar systems selling power to the V.I. Water and Power Authority will continue to get maximum full-price net metering payments after 2025, thanks to another bill sponsored by Sanes. [Bill 31-0067]

Another item approved Wednesday, sponsored by Sens. Janette Millin Young and Clifford Graham, would require the Tourism Department to "hire employees, subject to the availability of funds," to promote marine tourism and develop a marine tourism plan. [Bill 31-0017]

And the Senate approved a bill, sponsored by Sen. Myron Jackson, to mandate the Agriculture Department to do a feasibility study on establishing a St. Croix plant for processing local fruits and agriculture products and a satellite plant on St. Thomas. [Bill 31-0055] This measure includes a $75,000 appropriation from the V.I. General Fund.

The territory is in the midst of a severe budget shortfall, with about $133 million in existing appropriations now unfunded due to insufficient revenues, creating questions about whether the Finance Department would be likely to allocate this new appropriation ahead of existing ones.

Sen. Terrence "Positive" Nelson questioned why a feasibility study was necessary and whether the money would be better spent on equipment for a processing plant.

But several senators including, Sen. Kurt Vialet, said the feasibility study is needed to apply for USDA grants.

The Legislature also approved the following of Gov. Kenneth Mapp’s cabinet nominations:

– Education Commissioner Sharon Ann McCollum;

– Sports, Parks and Recreation Commissioner Pedro Cruz;

– Police Commissioner Delroy Richards;

– Bureau of Motor Vehicles Director Lawrence Olive;

– Labor Commissioner Catherine Hendry.

All votes were unanimous. All senators were present.

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