Omnibus Family Bill Gets Support, but Held in Committee

Senators ponder what to do about a huge piece of legislation. (Source photo by Don Buchanan)
Senators ponder what to do about a huge piece of legislation. (Source photo by Don Buchanan)

A bill addressing the issues of maternity leave, postpartum care, early childhood screening, banishment of corporal punishment and health care for incarcerated men and women was held in the Committee on Government Operations, Consumer Affairs, Energy, Environment and Planning Friday.

Senators at the hearing expressed support for the bill, sponsored by Sen. Janelle Sarauw, but were concerned with what the cost of implementing the proposals would be.

Sen. Donna Frett-Gregory called it an omnibus bill and “a very critical piece of legislation.” She noted the legislation’s proposed changes would protect women and children.

Sen. Marvin Blyden called it “a very good bill” that, on its implementation, could improve the quality of life for many residents.

The bill called for providing for maternity, paternity and adoption leave for government employees; providing for early screening of children for developmental problems, postpartum care and standards of health care for incarcerated women and men; establishing a new procedure for obtaining a birth certificate; prohibiting the use of corporal punishment; and provide for paid time off from work for parents to visit their children’s schools.

Dayna Clendinen, director of the Division of Personnel, testified that government workers have options to take maternity leave. She mentioned sick leave, donated leave and annual leave.

“As written, the proposed maternity, paternity and adoption leave is in addition to sick leave, annual leave, FMLA [the federal Family Leave Act] and donated leave, which can be used consecutively,” Clendinen said. “Considering only the proposed maternity, paternity and adoption leave plus FMLA, a department or agency may be without employee coverage for a minimum of six months.”

The Family Leave Act allows for unpaid medical leave.

Testimony from Alliyah Dessout was read into the record. Dessout is a second-year, hospitality and tourism career and technical educator at Ivanna Eudora Kean High School. During the Christmas break, she learned she was expecting her first child in late July.

“I was filled with joy, as I began preparing for the arrival of my little one,” she wrote. “However, as I began my preparations, I met my first major setback, ‘Maternity Leave.’ As a new educator, I was unaware that the USVI’s government employees are not granted maternity leave and are required to utilize their acquired sick hours, annual leave to be compensated for their time out. This news has placed a great amount of stress on me during my first trimester of pregnancy and played a role in the recent increase in my blood pressure. High blood pressure during pregnancy can cause growth complications for my unborn child.”

In written testimony, Wynnie Testamark, director of the Bureau of Corrections, said the bureau is already doing more than the bill requires.

“Currently, the bureau provides breast exams, mammograms and pap smears to female inmates and detainees who have been incarcerated for six months or more. Similarly, the bureau now offers prostate exams to all male inmates and detainees over 40 years of age who have been incarcerated for six months or more,” she wrote.

Senators pointed out that some departments were having problems fulfilling the mandates they already have.

“We have to be cautious. How do we afford this?” Frett-Gregory said.

Attending the hearing were Sens. Alicia Barnes, Marvin Blyden, Allison DeGazon, Novelle Francis Jr., Frett-Gregory, Kenneth Gittens, Myron Jackson, Javan James, Sarauw and Athneil Thomas.

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