Marathon Senate Session Forwards Dozens of Bills to Governor

Sen. Marvin Blyden, seen here with Sen. Janelle Sarauw, at Thursday’s session, called it “action day.” (Senate photo)

Almost 12 hours after the scheduled start of the Senate session Thursday, legislators passed their first bill. After that, the passage of over 20 more bills went quickly.

Sen. Marvin Blyden said of the session, “It is action day.”

Among those bills passed was one aimed to augment enforcement of noise pollution; another specifying how the governor should report to the Senate on infrastructure plans and one regarding the composition and duties of the Board of Naturopathic Physicians. Also, a comprehensive behavioral health bill and one requiring that Virgin Islands and Caribbean history be integrated into the curriculum from kindergarten through grade 12.

Sen. Franklin Johnson said about the noise pollution measure, “I am so glad we have addressed it. It is about people being able to sleep in their homes.”

Sen. President Donna Frett-Gregory said it might require keeping pressure on the police department to make sure it is enforced.

Sen. Angel Bolques said reporting methods from the governor needed to be changed, “So we can know what direction we are going with our infrastructure.” The bill would change the time and frequency for the governor to submit his report to the Legislature and to establish procedures and standards for paving roads.

The Behavioral Health Act aims to provide for services and interdepartmental coordination of agencies and organizations to provide a structure of support to individuals in the territory who suffer from behavioral health challenges, and to open a comprehensive public Behavioral Health Facility to treat individuals voluntarily and involuntarily who face behavioral health challenges. It also amends and repeals conflicting laws.

The Naturopathic bill changes the makeup of the board. The new makeup would be four naturopathic physicians licensed to practice in the Virgin Islands; one physician licensed to practice medicine in the Virgin Islands, who practices integrative medicine; and one member from the community, who is versed in herbal or natural remedies by training or experience. At least one naturopathic physician must be a resident of the district of St. Croix, and at least one naturopathic physician must be a resident of the district of St. Thomas and St. John.

Other bills passed in the first block considered during the early hours of Friday morning included establishing the Office of Disability Integration within the Territorial Emergency Management Agency. The purpose of this bill is so emergency services personnel will know where elderly and vulnerable residents are located during storms or other disasters.

Sen. Novelle Francis termed most of the bills passed in the session “quality of life” issues.

Two of them are concerned with education. One extends the eligibility for the Higher Education Scholarship Program to part-time students. The other bill would establish “The Virgin Islands Stenography Scholarship Fund,” which will fund a scholarship for individuals pursuing a certificate in stenography, court reporting, or a related field.

Frett-Gregory cited the need the Senate has for stenographers and called it “a dying profession.”

Another bill passed codifies the illegality of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Bolques, in a press release Friday, said he was “incredibly proud” of the passage of the bill which appropriates $250,000 from the St. John Capital Improvement Fund to the Department of Sports, Parks, and Recreation to be awarded as a grant to the friends of the Virgin Islands National Park to fund the second phase of the Cruz Bay playground revitalization project on St John.

“This will provide a long overdue recreational project for the island of St. John that will impact almost 1000 young children, infants, and toddlers. Currently, the youth of St. John do not have enough designated public places to play of their own, and I look forward to that changing in 2023 with the completion of this project,” he said.

That bill, if the governor signs it, will also appropriate $150,000 to the Department of Sports, Parks, and Recreation to purchase equipment to maintain the running track surface and for temporary isolation stables at the Clinton E. Phipps Racetrack.

While passing a bill to raise the minimum salary of a government worker from $28,000 annually to $32,000, Sen. Francis mentioned the rising cost of living and specifically the rising costs of paying a Water and Power Authority bill. One of the reasons WAPA is in debt is because of a deal the authority made with VITOL in transitioning to propane. The Senate passed a bill allocating $250,000 to the Inspector General’s Office to hire a special investigator to investigate that deal.

The Senate also passed an appropriation measure for Frederiksted Health Care of half a million dollars to provide funding for the purchase of vehicles and for the homeless program.

A resolution was passed “acknowledging that the U.S. Supreme Court’s Decision in the Insular Cases and the ‘Territorial Incorporation Doctrine’ are contrary to the text and the history of the United States Constitution as they rest on racial views and stereotypes from the era of Plessy v. Ferguson that have long been rejected as contrary to the United States’ most basic constitutional and democratic principles, and should be rejected as having no place in the United States Constitutional Law.”

Another measure sitting on the governor’s desk would reduce the number of members on the Commission on Youth from 11 to nine, change the age requirements for membership on the commission, and appropriate $50,000 to the commission.

The Senate approved the lease of the property known as The Enrique Romero Nieves American Legion Post and the land adjacent to No. 1 Estate Peter’s Rest, Queen Quarter, to St. Croix Majorettes for a practice center, headquarters, and civic activities.

A zoning use variance granted by the Senate will allow for transitional housing at 173B-88 Estate Anna’s Retreat, No. 1 New Quarter, St. Thomas.

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