April 10, 2004 Over the Easter weekend, Gov. Charles W. Turnbull announced the veto of two bills that had won hard-fought Senate approval just weeks ago.
The governor vetoed in its entirety both Sen. Lorraine Berry's legislation to create a tourism board and another bill granting peace-officer status to investigators in the Inspector General's Office.
The veto will in all probability come as no surprise to Berry, who has publicly said she anticipated a veto from the governor. Nor is the governor's action likely to surprise Inspector General Steven van Beverhoudt, given the strong objections to the legislation recently voiced by Attorney General Iver Stridiron. (See "Stridiron, van Beverhoudt split on arrest power".)
Turnbull first proposed legislation granting peace-officer status for the investigators. However, he took issue with the amended bill, which passed, granting investigators the power to arrest individuals.
In a five-page letter to Senate President David Jones, Turnbull explained his vetoes of the two bills. Regarding the inspector general legislation, Turnbull said, "Granting the investigators … these broad powers [arrest powers], is not necessary for that office to perform its duties."
In the April 7 letter, Turnbull noted that he was including an amendment to the bill to confer peace-officer status on the IG investigators, as well as those of the V.I. Lottery Office and UVI campus officers.
Van Beverhoudt had written Turnbull in March 2004 that Stridiron's assertions were "baseless and without merit." He said: "Either Mr. Stridiron does not know or understand the role and authority of the Inspector General's Office, or he chooses to ignore it. His assertions throughout his correspondence deal with only one aspect of the inspector general's authority and responsibility, that is the audit function. "
In his letter, the Inspector General stressed to Turnbull that his investigators had to have the arrest power to go with their peace officer status. He said that there have been only two instances where his office has sought to have an individual arrested. In both cases he said, the Justice Department "was aware of the impending arrest, and a warrant showing probable cause was obtained from territorial court judge. Because we didn't have peace officer status, we were forced to coordinate with the police to execute the arrest."
Van Beverhoudt told Turnbull that this arrangement "could be very cumbersome and time-consuming. Also, if a confidential undercover operation is ongoing, he said, "the fewer people who know its existence, the less likely for it to be leaked."
In a letter written last month to Turnbull, Police Commissioner Elton Lewis urged the governor to "grant the [inspector general's] employees the authority to do their jobs and cut out the middlemen."
Fifteen months ago, in his 2003 State of the Territory address, the governor said he advocated "the establishment of a Tourism Authority in which all stakeholders are equally and fairly represented."
However, Turnbull has zealously guarded his options about just who those "stakeholders" should be. And he has been adamantly protective of the Tourism Department as currently constituted.
The governor has never voiced approval for any measure that would weaken the powers of the present Tourism Department. In fact, as the bill was being debated in the Senate March 11, the governor was keeping a close eye on the proceedings and issued a release that same day.
"At no time did I commit to approving the bill to any senator," Turnbull said in the release. "In fact, I called several senators during the debate to voice my concerns with the limited time for proper review of the proposed amendments."
The March 11 release said the administration had received copies of proposed amendments to the bill that had been tabled at Berry's request last December "shortly before the Senate reconvened on Thursday, and much too late for proper review by [the governor's] legal counsel and other members of his review team."
A bill to create an entity to stimulate tourism has been bounced around repeatedly from one Legislature to the next. What the lawmakers finally approved is not a tourism authority but instead a government-dominated tourism board stripped of much of its original clout. Additionally, the Tourism Department, which would have been eliminated under the original bill, remains intact.
The legislation would replace the existing Commerce Publication Revolving Fund and the Tourism Advertising and Revolving Fund with a Tourism Trust Fund. Revenues for the new fund would come from the existing hotel room and time-share tax, plus taxes on ATM fees and gross receipts from V.I. casinos, an entertainment and amusement tax, a telephone long-distance surtax, along with any money appropriated by the Legislature.
In order to pass some type of legislation to help the territory strengthen its tourism marketing, Berry admittedly watered down her initial legislation in an effort to appease Turnbull.
The governor said in his March 11 release that the current legislation would "usurp the powers and authority of the Tourism Department…. I am dismayed to see that the proposed Tourism Board will receive more money and have access to and control over more funds than the Department of Tourism currently has."
Turnbull also took issue with the bill's approval of a 2-percent increase in the hotel room occupancy tax, which Turnbull noted was "previously repealed after hoteliers voiced the strongest opposition."
He noted that 80 percent of the tax would be placed in a Tourism Trust Fund, and 20 percent would be deposited in the General Fund for allotment to the Tourism Department. "Where is the public outcry now?" the governor asked.
Senate could override IG veto
It is possible that the legislation regarding the inspector general could be overridden by the Senate. Overrides require 10 votes, and the bill passed on 13 affirmative votes, with Sens. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg and Carlton Dowe absent.
An override for the tourism board bill doesn't appear likely. Passage of the bill came on a vote of 8 to 4. Voting for the measure were Sens. Berry, Roosevelt David, Carlton Dowe, Louis Hill, David Jones, Shawn-Michael Malone, Luther Renee and Ronald Russell. Voting against were Sens. Jn Baptiste, Liburd, Usie Richards and Celestino A. White Sr. Sen. Douglas Canton Jr. abstained. Sens. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg and Emmett Hansen II were excused.
Turnbull also vetoed measures to establish a federal Youth Challenge program in the territory because he said the measure creates "spending conflicts." He said the program has been frozen and that there is no federal money available for the territory. "The territory is one of 20 states and territories that have not received any federal funding for this program," he said.
A bill appropriating $100,000 from the St. John Capital Improvement Fund to renovate the Cruz Bay dingy dock was also vetoed because the fund is, according to the governor, "over-obligated."
The governor approved bills to:
– Transfer the East End Family Health Center and the Fredriksted Health Center to not-for-profit corporations.
– Clarify the language establishing the salaries of legislators at $65,000 annually.
– Reduce the number of members of the UVI board who are appointed by the governor and provide an alumnus member elected from the board's members.
– Approve 15 rezonings.
Neither Berry nor van Beverhoudt could be reached for comment Saturday.
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