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Charlotte Amalie
Saturday, July 20, 2024


The two primary movers of a bill aimed at making senators’ positions part time promised Friday to fast track the proposal.
At a press conference at the Legislature building in Frederiksted, Senate President Vargrave Richards, the bill’s sponsor, and Sen. Gregory Bennerson said that they hope to have the full Senate vote on measure before the end of the 23rd Legislature in December. Bennerson, a co-sponsor of Richards’ bill and chairman of the Senate’s Government Operations Committee, said he is scheduling public hearings on the proposal on Oct. 4 on St. Thomas, Oct. 5 on St. John and Oct. 10 on St. Croix. Bennerson said he hoped the committee would vote to either forward the bill to the Rules Committee after public testimony on Oct. 10.
"I look forward to public debate on the measure," Richards said, adding that two of his colleagues, Sens. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen and Adelbert Bryan, already tried to "fast forward" the bill by calling for a vote on it without debate during a full session of the Senate earlier this week. "It’s not a matter of only a Senate vote, it’s a public process."
Richards said he was open to having the bill fine tuned during the public hearing process. But his main goal is to have the full Senate vote on the measure in the last session of the term. If that doesn’t occur, he said he would consider calling a special session to decide the matter.
"There are those who say it won’t come forward," Richards said. "We’re going to move it forward in this Legislature."
The proposal would limit the time the Senate meets to 90 consecutive days annually and reduce senators’ $65,000-a-year salaries to $30,000. Additionally, it would withhold per diem payment to senators who fail to attend required committee hearings. The current salary level for V.I. senators, who represent some 100,000 people, ranks third in the entire nation behind California and New York.
Richards said there are 40 states that have part-time, efficient legislatures. He noted that senators in Puerto Rico, home to some 4 million people, earn $40,000 a year.
"If they can do it . . . why can’t we do it," he asked.
Bennerson said the bill is a way to implement needed change in the government, something the Legislature can do by example. He also said that making the position part time would get senators back into the community.
"We’re not reinventing the wheel but we are being more economical," he said. "This brings senators back to where they should be."
Richards said the primary difference the public would see if the bill is successful is in the use of the Legislature’s resources and time. He estimated that if passed, the bill would save between $4 million to $5 million a year.
Reducing salaries would also separate individuals who now seek a senate seat for the $65,000 salary from those who are truly dedicated to public service.
"I think it will force senators to focus on issues that are real. We spend time on frivolous bills," he said, adding that the bill will set apart individuals "truly committed to their constituents.
"The hue and cry has always been the salaries. People seem to be preoccupied with the $65,000. Lets face it, $65,000 is the most attractive salary in the government. So it stands to reason people are going to consider the salary when running for the job."

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