Gov. Charles W. Turnbull signed the bills on Wednesday, ending lengthy legislative journeys for both.
But in his letter so informing Senate President Almando "Rocky" Liburd, he stated with reference to the Child Protection Act that while he is in favor of increased penalties for sexual crimes against minors, laws alone are not enough to address the problem.
He then called on "the members of our community to continue their efforts to reduce the increase in these types of crimes and to suggest alternative ways in which we can further stem the flow of crimes against our children."
It took the bill's prime sponsor, Sen. Lorraine Berry, three years to win Senate approval of the controversial measure. She called its passage on Jan. 30 a victory "for the children of the Virgin Islands." The legislation raises the age of consent for sexual relations to 17 from 16, as amended by Berry from her initial intent of raising it to 18, an idea that was opposed by a number of senators and others in the community. And it expands the definition of statutory rape to include sexual activity between a person 16 of 17 years old and someone at least five years older, if the two are not married to each other.
The bill also dramatically increases penalties for rape, providing for prison terms of 15 years to life for first-degree rape and up to 10 years for second-degree rape. Also, it eliminates the three-year statute of limitation for reporting aggravated rape.
The Women's Coalition of St. Croix, Family Resource Center, Safety Zone, Kidscope and Attorney General Iver Stridiron endorsed the measure when it was before the Senate.
On the same day that the 24th Legislature approved the rape bill, it also passed the Uniform Commercial Code bill, in a version reworked after the governor returned it with a line-item veto. The bill will bring the Virgin Islands into compliance with the national code.
A year ago, Turnbull approved two sections of the complex document as passed by the Legislature but vetoed the third section, saying it contained "provisions for non-judicial enforcement of mortgages" that could lead to foreclosures without due judicial process. The chair of the V.I. Uniform Law Commission, Tom Bolt, said that was not the case, and Cassan Pancham, president of the V.I. Bankers Association, said language Turnbull had inserted into the bill "effectively eliminates repossession as an alternative." Nonetheless, the measure that passed on Jan. 30 is an amended version that incorporates the language the governor had submitted.
In testimony before a Senate committee in October advocating passage of the new code, Pancham said that "every state in the country, as well as the District of Columbia, has already adopted this body of law." Without the standard, uniform, updated provisions of the code in place locally, he said, "our people are being asked to run a race with their shoelaces tied together." He termed the legislation "of critical importance to the territory's economic status and ability to do business using the same commercial language as the rest of the American business world."
Bolt told the committee said that failure to pass the bill would "limit the amount of credit available to the V.I."
Sen. Roosevelt David, a former banker, concurred, saying, "The commercial codes in the V.I. are 50 years behind."
The governor's transmittal letter Wednesday raised his objection to one section of the child protection bill, saying its definition of the term "position of authority" on one section "needs further clarification, as it contains ambiguities."
In a release announcing his approval of the two bills, Turnbull also acknowledged four Senate resolutions, which do not require the governor's approval:
– Granting Amadeo I.D. Francis the V.I. Medal of Honor. In December, Turnbull fired Francis from his position as director administration and finance of the Public Finance Authority. The Senate voted on Jan. 30 to award Francis the medal.
– Honoring Edward Emmanuel Griffin and Helen Angelica Sutton.
– Petitioning Congress and the Bush administration to pass legislation making future aid to Afghanistan and other nations conditional upon the countries ending discrimination against women.