Gov. Kenneth Mapp vetoed an extension on the use of plastic grocery bags; tighter restrictions on back-billing by the Water and Power Authority and criticized unfunded expenses, while acting on an array of legislation Monday.
In a letter to Senate President Myron Jackson explaining his vetoes, Mapp said extending the use of plastic bags was “a step in the wrong direction.”
“Change requires courage. Many retailers and customers have greeted the ban on plastic bags well. They prepared themselves, spent thousands of dollars on brown bags and reusable shopping bags. Many businesses have purchased large orders of bags in compliance with the new law. For whom and why are we retreating to re-allow plastic bags into the market place?”
The vetoed section also would have required that anyone fined for violating the plastics ban be refunded.
During debate on extending the ban, senators pointed to the likelihood the same bags would end up in the landfill anyway, since stores already had them on hand. It extended the April 1 deadline until August.
“This is codifying what the Waste Management Authority is already doing,” Sen. Kurt Vialet (D-STX) said when offering the measure. Some stores had purchased “trailers” of the bags before the ban was enacted, he said, and “instead of having them dump all those bags in our landfill we decided to let them use them,” Vialet said at the time.
Mapp also brought up the Federal Aviation Administration’s concerns over the future of St. Croix’s Anguilla Landfill. The FAA wants it to close. The Environmental Protection Agency wants both it and the Bovoni landfill on St. Thomas to close. Both landfills are quickly reaching capacity too. The cost of closing Anguilla is projected at more than $70 million; funds the territory does not have right now. And trash would still need to be disposed of. To try to extend the landfills’ lifespans, Mapp proposed comprehensive source separation, recycling and container deposits last year. He urged senators to act on that legislation in his letter.
Mapp also vetoed a measure which would have required the Water and Power Authority to correct an improperly issued customer bill within 30 days. The current limit is 90 days, which Mapp said is well within the industry standard, with some jurisdictions allowing as long as two years.
He said that instead of helping ratepayers, the proposed law would put the cost of some consumers onto all the rest.
“If a subscriber … uses 100 kilowatts of power, shouldn’t that subscriber pay for using 100 kilowatts of power? Why should the remaining ratepayers be saddled with this cost because it may take WAPA more than 30 days to correct an error on a bill?” Mapp said.
These provisions were all amendments to a bill designating the week of June 26th to July 3rd as Virgin Islands Freedom Week. While he issued a proclamation commemorating the week, he said “must advise the members of the Legislature that it has provided no funding for the tasks it requires. Hence nothing will be done.”
While approving appropriations for needed repairs and infrastructure improvements at the territory’s two hospitals, Mapp vetoed sections of the bills. He objected to the Senate’s omission of funding to increase salaries for registered nurses at the Gov. Juan F. Luis Hospital, while specifically providing funding for RN salaries at the Schneider Regional Medical Center. He also said nurse salaries are set by collective bargaining agreements, not legislative appropriations.
The governor also vetoed a bill amending the Virgin Islands Code to replace the Government Employees Services Commission with the Public Employees Relations Board and the Division of Personnel or the Commissioner of Education where appropriate. He said a section of the bill deleted a section of V.I. code that allows the V.I. police commissioner to suspend an employee for misconduct.
“While the Legislature may have intended to change the entity to which an aggrieved employee may appeal a commissioner’s decision—from the GESC to the PERB—what the Legislature actually did was change the entity and repeal a vital authority of the police commissioner to act in a time of crisis,” Mapp said.
He also vetoed a bill relating to the composition of the Government Employees’ Services Commission and re-designating the GESC as the Government Employees and Retirees Health Insurance Board of Trustees because it is interconnected with the other GESC bill he vetoed and if he vetoed one and not the other he “would create substantial conflict in the law.”
Mapp approved but criticized a measure from Senate President Myron Jackson (D-STT) to prorate a senator’s salary and office allotment from the date they take office instead of giving pay simply by year. This measure would affect the pay and allotment of a senator who takes office months after the original election. One seat in St. Thomas is affected. Mapp suggested the Legislature could make that change internally. Getting the governor involved may violate the separation of powers doctrine enshrined in federal law, he said.