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Charlotte Amalie
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Senators Dance Around the Budget Bills

Sept. 29, 2004 – In the first day of its scheduled two-day session, the Senate Wednesday acted on 10 nominations and six bills, barely making a dent in its overstuffed agenda, which also includes the fiscal year 2005 budget.
While the 23 budget bills and several major pieces of legislation –Sen. Lorraine Berry's massive Omnibus Justice Act of 2004 and Homeland Security Act, the Financial Services Act and the anti-animal cruelty bill – waited in the wings, the senators passed four resolutions. One makes quadrille the official native dance of the Virgin Islands. Another resolution identifies the Caribbean Chorale as the "official ambassadors" of chorale music in the Virgin Islands. Still another proclaims October of each year as V.I. Family Month.
The lawmakers also passed one resolution that actually had been on its agenda. This resolution would petition the U.S. Congress to enact legislation granting permanent resident status to the 292 natives of Montserrat who were granted temporary protective status by the U.S. Attorney General in August 1997, shortly after volcanic eruptions on Montserrat forced residents to evacuate. Their protective status expires in February 2005.
Discussion of the three resolutions added at the last minute raised the ire of some senators. Sen. Celestino A. White Sr. asked, "With all the things we have to do here, is dancing (the quadrille) the only thing we can think of?"
The meeting, scheduled for 11 a.m., got off to a solemn start at almost noon. In his invocation, Rabbi Arthur Starr asked for a moment of silence for Leon Bowry, the 4-year-old boy who was shot to death on St. Thomas. Senators gave condolences to the family of the child, a family they know well. The boy was a grandchild of Una Sutton, Legislature assistant executive director. Many of the senators knew the little boy.
The issue of crime and gun laws was raised from time to time throughout the day, as it related to the child's death. Several senators proposed amendments to Berry's crime legislation, which reached the floor after 6 p.m. Senate President David Jones recessed the session about 7 p.m. for legal counsel to draw up the amendments. The bills were heard on the floor, but voting was put off until Thursday.
Sen. Emmett Hansen II lost no time in moving for an override of Gov. Charles W. Turnbull's veto of his Homeownership Act of 2004, and he was rewarded with unanimous approval from his colleagues. Hansen had bristled at the governor's action in August. It caused Hansen to cancel a housing seminar of national experts in faith-based housing initiatives, which was scheduled a few days after the governor's veto.
The governor had objected to the bill's using a portion of the real estate transfer Stamp Tax for housing development. Hansen succeeded in moving an amendment Wednesday eliminating the tax. "I expected the support," he said later. "I'm a happy camper. Now, I can reschedule the seminar."
Eight of the 10 nominations sailed through with no controversy. However, the nominations of Edward Milligan and Bernadette Messer didn't.
The Rules Committee had forwarded those two nominees to the Senate with an unfavorable recommendation because they had failed to appear at their hearing. (See "No Racing Nominees Win Approval at Hearing").
Berry said, though she thought him an honorable and fine person, she wasn't approving Milligan's nomination because he had not supplied the Rules Committee with the required paperwork. With the exception of Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, the other 13 senators voted with Berry to disapprove the nomination.
Messer, who had not appeared at her hearing because she was off-island, had written Lt. Gov. Vargrave Richards (then acting governor) declining the nomination. After close to an hour of discussion, her nomination was removed from the agenda.
Approved for the Horse Racing Commission – St. Thomas District – were Norma Pickard-Samuel, Lindley "Buddy" Kennings and Leon D. Battiste. Louis A. Hassell Jr. was the lone nominee approved for the St. Croix district.
Fern La Borde was approved for the Coastal Zone Management Committee; Dr. Ramona J. Moss was approved for the Board of Psychology Examiners; Kenneth L. Damon was approved for the V.I. Waste Management Authority; and Oswin Sewer was approved for the V.I. Lottery Commission.
Sen. Usie Richards found himself a party of one when all of his 14 colleagues soundly rejected his Commercial Motor Vehicle Act of 2004. The bill had been approved by and passed through the Government Operations Committee, through the Public Safety, Judiciary, Homeland Security and Justice Committee, and the Rules Committee, only to be thoroughly cast out Wednesday.
The legislation would standardize and regulate commercial vehicle inspections and establish a separate commercial drivers' license. Current law doesn't differentiate between commercial and personal vehicles. Taxi vans, large trucks and safari buses undergo the same inspections as automobiles.
Though the legislation had met enthusiastic approval from the police, the taxi industry strenuously objected to it. Judith Wheatley, president of Taxis in Unity, which represents 13 taxi organizations, in an April Senate committee meeting, objected to the bill's provision for spot inspections to be done by inspectors on the road.
Richards, though disappointed, seemed resigned. Speaking after the meeting, he said, "It's the taxis, though I'd have thought I'd have at least eight votes."
After a great deal of debate, the lawmakers approved Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone's legislation to lower the boom on perpetrators of school vandalism, which as amended would increase fines to $5,000 from the current $1,000 and set a maximum of five years in prison for the vandalizing of school property. The bill makes the parents of minors convicted of vandalism responsible for the penalties.
The bill was further amended Wednesday reducing the fine back to $1,000, and lessening the prison time from five years to two years. Fines collected are to be placed in accounts at the vandalized facilities, to be used for school improvements and the purchase of supplies.
The bill also appropriates to the Department of Education from funds available in the General Fund, $50,000 to post at the entrance to all public schools signs indicating the fines and costs for vandalism of school property. An amendment Wednesday changed implementation of the appropriation from fiscal year 2004 to FY 2005.
Sen. Ronald Russell, who on Tuesday had suggested the militia be called out to address crime on the island, offered an amendment Wednesday to change the amount of the fine to the cost of the article damaged. He said you couldn't assess as harsh a penalty for damaging a $500 desk as for a $15,000 copy machine. The amendment didn't pass.
Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste said, speaking of youth and education, he thought if senators were tested to see how much they retained of the legislation they had read, "they would fail." He pointed out the $50,000 amount appropriated for signs in the vandalism legislation.
A light touch was added to the long afternoon in a lively parliamentary dance between Russell and Sen. Luther Renee on just how and where the quadrille originated, and whether it should really be called a V.I. dance when other Caribbean islands also use it.
Renee, who sponsored the legislation, said it was easy: "It's native to the Virgin Islands because we have our own way of doing it." Russell claimed that the dance's full history should be included in the legislation to ensure it would be accurate.
Sen. Carlton Dowe, who sits next to Russell, simply gazed open-mouthed during the discourse, while his colleagues smiled indulgently.
All senators attended the session. Thursday's session is scheduled for 10 a
.m. Aside from the 23 budget bills yet to be heard, are 12 bills, six zoning requests and two lease agreements.
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