Government employees will be able to take paid time off work to go give blood if a bill sent on to the full Legislature is enacted into law. The Rules and Judiciary Committee also approved bills increasing identity theft penalties and mandating federal grant information in government budget preparations.
Sen. Kurt Vialet introduced his paid-leave for blood donation measure [Bill 31-0188] saying the territory urgently needed more blood to be donated.
"I saw this measure as being very important to the people of the Virgin Islands after visiting both hospitals. I realized we are spending a tremendous amount of money purchasing blood from Puerto Rico and the mainland," Vialet said.
Vialet added that he had a personal connection with a person who had to delay an operation while the hospital procured enough blood. After investigating, Vialet said he found the "level of donation in the Virgin Islands is very minimal."
Every pint of blood donated locally is worth over $300 that does not have to be spent off-island, he said. "As a community we have lost that spirit of responsibility and spirit of civic duty," he said.
Vialet then compared the matter to controversy over recent legislation appropriating $1.5 million from rum funds previously appropriated to shore up the Government Employee Retirement System to instead serve as a fund from which the Legislature could aid territorial nonprofit organizations. (See: Legislature Creates Fund to Donate to Nonprofits in Related Links below)
"People were really upset and it made me see we have a long way to go," Vialet said.
Senators were supportive of the bill’s goal of increasing blood donation.Sen. Kenneth Gittens, the committee chairman, said he was concerned about giving out more employee leave as an incentive, but ultimately voted in favor.
"I’m not to comfortable with the fact that we need to provide an incentive to save lives," Gittens said
"If we continue to provide these types of incentive to give time off from employment to go do different things, eventually there will be no time in the day for them to perform their duties," Gittens said in part.
“We have been hearing from agency and department heads of the shortage of manpower across the government.” He suggested the Department of Health could take its new van into neighborhoods after business hours for blood drives.
In the end, he said, he was assured there would be a good verification process to ensure that employees really do give blood and that he would support the bill because of the need for the blood.
"It is very important that we have blood available to us especially as we are two and a half hours from the mainland," Gittens aid.
If another bill [Bill 31-0037]approved in the Rules and Judiciary committee Thursday is enacted into law, the maximum sentence for using a minor’s or a senior person’s identifying information to steal will increase to 15 years in prison, regardless of how much or little is stolen,.
Sen. Sammuel Sanes introduced the bill proposing new penalties for this type of fraud, which in recent years has come to be called "identity theft," saying minors are especially vulnerable and because the crime may not be discovered for years and may be especially harmed.
"There have been cases of individuals going to apply for a lease or credit card for the first time and find their credit has been damaged extensively. And in some cases somebody has stolen the identity of their own children," Sanes said. "When it happens to a child who is 7 or 8 years old, they have to wait 10 years before they apply to school or for loans. So sometimes it takes years for a person to find out their identity has been stolen," he said.
Sen. Novelle Francis, who was a career police officer and former V.I. Police commissioner, said he "is not inclined to just wantonly increase fines." Francis said he has personally seen a case where a parent used a child’s social security number to get tax refunds for years, and the child had a difficult time when trying to go to college.
The committee also approved a bill, sponsored by Sen. Janette Millin Young, to require agencies to submit a copy of what federal funds are included in their budget and what grants they are applying for."The intent of it is to allow any Legislature …. to assess better the budgets submitted by the executive branch and know what grants they have submitted for," Millin Young said.
Voting in favor of all three bills were Francis, Gittens, Millin Young and Sen. Justin Harrigan. Sens. Jean Forde, Neville James and Nereida "Nellie" Rivera-O’Reilly were absent.