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HomeNewsArchives'Senior Senators' Take the Floor in Mock Senate Debate

'Senior Senators' Take the Floor in Mock Senate Debate

May 16, 2006 – Lots of laughter and some serious debate filled the halls of the Earle B. Ottley Legislative Hall on St. Thomas Tuesday, as senior citizens from all over the territory gathered to participate in a mock Senate session and deliberate on a fictitious bill designed to establish an Assisted Living Program within the Department of Human Services.
The seniors – who each represented a senator – took their jobs seriously and thoroughly scrutinized the mock bill, which charges Human Services with the responsibility of providing facilities for elderly residents who want to live independently but need assistance with certain tasks.
"The difference between these facilities and a nursing home is that nursing homes take care of frail people who have various health needs, while assisted living facilities cater to elderly persons who can generally take care of themselves but need assistance with certain things like bathing or purchasing medication," Alfred Bachoo, representing Sen. Pedro "Pete" Encarnacion, said.
Building on Bachoo's statements, most seniors said they were in favor of the mock bill – which would allow private entities to come in and build the facilities according to requirements put in place by Human Services. "The retirement homes we have here right now are inadequate and don't provide the type of services we need," Joseph Cline, representing Sen. Roosevelt C. David, said. "In my mind they're more like death institutions than housing facilities," he added.
"Senior citizens need to be more appreciated," Eleanor Cerge, representing Sen. Lorraine L. Berry, added. "So many of us don't have our children around to help us, so this bill gives us some of the assistance we need."
Despite these statements, however, the "senior senators" also said they found the bill was flawed and asked legal counsel, represented by Thomas Hodge, to clarify the definition of "assisted living" and lay out exactly what the bill was trying to accomplish.
Furthermore, the "senior senators" said that a $10 million appropriation made in the bill to Human Services for the establishment of the facilities should specifically delineate how much funding each island would receive.
Representing Sen. Craig W. Barshinger, Edna Freeman said that nursing homes have already been established on both St. Thomas and St. Croix, leaving seniors on St. John without a place to "rest."
"When considering a bill like this, we always have to remember to do what is right," she said. "So you have to provide funding in the plan for us as well."
True to form, Ina Lee – representing Sen. Celestino A. White Sr. – also advocated that seniors on Water Island should also get a piece of the money pie. "We need to give common sense a chance," she concluded, borrowing White's 2006 campaign slogan.
Lee also tried to introduce an amendment to the bill that apportioned $3 million to St. Thomas, $3 million to St. Croix, $3.5 million to St. John and $500,000 to Water Island.
The amendment was objected to by Hugh Payne, representing Sen. Juan Figueroa-Serville, who said that the money should be distributed based on the needs of each island.
The amendment failed.
Additionally, the seniors voted to send the bill to the Finance Committee for further consideration "so that the flaws could be ironed out."
After the vote was taken, the "senators" were surprised to see that Gov. Charles W. Turnbull had also sent a representative to participate in the meeting and give a few words on his behalf. "I would like to start out by saying that our government is running very well," Ruth de Gout Smith, representing Turnbull, said. "Our tourism industry is doing well, and we've also been working on a lot of different projects. In terms of the bill that was considered today, it is a wonderful idea to give seniors the opportunity to give their input on the matter. As you have seen, we all have a wealth of information that's just waiting to be shared."
Smith additionally gave her own opinion on the bill, which she said should also create a gated community for seniors, where residents could be "protected" and participate in various activities.
"It's a wonderful thing to want to take care of our seniors," she said. "Especially after they have done so much for our community."
Other seniors participating in Tuesday's mock session were: Ellaine Millington as Sen. Liston Davis, Clarence Todman as Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone, Angelita Jennings as Sen. Louis P. Hill, Edith Cameron as Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, Emily Tranberg as Sen. Terrence "Positive" Nelson, Otto Tranberg as Sen. Ronald E. Russell, Theresa Lloyd as Sen. Neville James, Josephine Williams as Sen. Usie R. Richards, Magna Finch as Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste, Sadie Reeves as the legislative clerk, Jorge Estemac as the sergeant at arms, Ellen Daniel as the minister, Vitalyn Henry as the time keeper and Maria Lewis as the post auditor.
Also present during the session were Sens. Barshinger, Berry, David, Davis, Donastorg, Hill, Jn Baptiste, Malone, Richards and White.
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