Those applying to the courts to change their names will have a specific list of documents they have to submit, verifying their identity and checking if they have any pending legal issues or criminal offenses, if a bill approved in the Senate Rules and Judiciary Committee becomes law.
Introducing the bill, [No. 31-0162] its sponsor, Sen. Nereida "Nellie"Rivera-O’Reilly, said the territory needed new law to clear up once and for all what the court required.
"This measure … results from an opinion from the V.I. Supreme Court in 2013," O’Reilly said.
In that case, [VI Supreme Court Kristen Tauer Case] the V.I. Superior Court denied plaintiff Kristen Reynold’s request to change her last name to Tauer. The V.I. Supreme Court overturned the Superior Court’s ruling, finding V.I. law does not specify particular petitions or documentation, but does require a hearing, while the Superior Court denied the request without a hearing, saying the petition was not sufficient.
"The court found she did not supply sufficient reason, because she did not provide enough documentation and reason to change to her partner’s name," O’Reilly said. "From that opinion, we gather our statute needs to clarify what is required.”
O’Reilly said her staff looked at the statutes of various states for guidance and said the bill is modeled after the Florida statute.
Attorney General Claude Walker testified, giving qualified support to the bill. He raised concerns about who would conduct "verifying searches or even what the searches should entail."
"A second issue concerns the proposed statute’s requirement that ‘[i]f the applicant attended graduate school, the names of all graduate schools attended, the date of graduation, and degrees received;’ must be disclosed. To attend graduate school presupposes that the applicant also attended an undergraduate institution, yet there appears no requirement in the proposed statute that this information be disclosed. We question this, as well as the relevance of the applicant providing his or her educational history on a change-of-name application," Walker said.
O’Reilly offered an amendment to make the V.I. Department of Justice the entity conducting the searches, which was approved.
The committee approved a second bill from O’Reilly to require any contracts, leases or agreements that the Legislature must ratify, be presented to the Legislature at least 45 days before any deadline for it to be acted upon. She pointed to numerous cases where massive, often extremely technical and complex agreements were presented just days before deadlines to pass them. She specifically cited amendments to agreements with the Hovensa refinery, deals with Alpine for trash-to-energy plants and a yearly struggle to get the government’s health insurance contracts submitted with enough time for review.
As originally presented, the bill required 90 days, but several senators said they were concerned that was a very long time for some entities. O’Reilly said the bill did not prevent the Legislature from acting if there was a need and a time constraint, but put agencies on notice that it could reject requests for not being timely. She later proposed an amendment to reduce the time frame to 45 days, which was approved without objection.
Both bills were approved without opposition. Present were Sens. O’Reilly Jean Forde, Novelle Francis, Justin Harrigan, Neville James and Kenneth Gittens. Sen. Janette Millin Young was absent.