The first act of business for the V. I. Senate Thursday was a vote to override Gov. Kenneth Mapp’s veto of the ban on burning hurricane debris.
It was also the only action sparking heated comments.
Sen. Alicia “Chucky” Hansen, who supported the governor’s effort to burn debris from September’s hurricane, objected to Senate President Myron Jackson introduction of the veto effort.
She said the introduction should be an introduction not a discussion. Jackson was telling senators how Puerto Rico was handling its debris (no burning so far) and the results of a public hearing on St. John (residents were against it.)
After stating her point Hansen was told by Sen. Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly, who was acting chair for this portion of the meeting, to sit down. Hansen refused and kept talking. O’Reilly said, “You must sit down.” Hansen’s last comment to O’Reilly was a question, “Are you out of your mind?”
The legislature upheld its ban on burning, overriding the governor’s veto with a vote of 12 to 2. Only Hansen and Sen. Dwayne DeGraff voted against the override.
The senators then approved three nominations sent down by the governor. They were Johann Clendenin to the Public Services Commission, St. Croix district; Vaughn Hewitt, Housing Board, St. Croix district; and Lee Steiner, V. I. Port Authority Governing Board, St. Thomas district.
Steiner was the only nominee who faced opposition. Ten senators approved the nomination, but four voted against it. Jackson and Sen. Kurt Vialet expressed concern that Steiner had avoided answering some questions during the vetting process. Vialet said it was important that qualified people served on that board because “We all know the Port Authority is in shambles.”
Sen. Neville James said he was glad the Legislature was considering nominees because he had concerns about the process. He said there was something wrong with the process and specifically cited what was happening at the Water and Power Authority Board. Perhaps the Legislature should abolish the WAPA board, he suggested.
Jackson echoed James’ concerns. He said the Senate has suggested individuals to the governor to serve on key boards, such as they Government Employee Retirement Services Board, but have heard nothing from him in response. He said it might be best if the Senate just came up with its own nominees.
A zoning request and two Coastal Zoning Permits also were approved by the Senate. The zoning request received the most comments, all in favor of a request by the Seventh-day Adventists for a variance to bring a halfway house already in operation in Estate Glynn into conformance with zoning. The permits were for the establishment of a swimming beach to the east of the ferry dock in Cruz Bay and to allow the Carden Beach Association on St. Croix to replace a wooden dock.
Throughout the rest of the meeting, which involved the consideration of several bills, senators kept coming back to comment on the burning ban. Jackson said he hoped the override would not begin a “tit for tat” battle with the governor.
Sen. Jean Forde said, “We have other options to burning and they are not on the table as if they don’t exist.”
Overriding the veto appeared to Sen. Positive Nelson to be tainted by hypocrisy. He said the senators had been ignoring other pollutants in the air like those coming from car emissions while making a big deal out of the burning of debris.
Another issue running throughout the senators’ comments, but was not relative to any legislative issue on the agenda was the non-payment of wages to members of the National Guard since the hurricanes. Hansen had brought the issue up. Many senators echoed her concern and added that many subcontractors on the island were also not being paid on a timely schedule.
They said this was especially troubling as families were preparing to celebrate Christmas.