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Labor Commissioner a No-Show at Wednesday's Full Session

June 29, 2005 – A bill bringing the V.I. Division of Occupational Safety and Health into compliance with federal statutes almost didn't pass during Wednesday's full Senate session due primarily to Labor Commissioner Cecil Benjamin's failure to attend the meeting.
Benjamin, who was called to provide testimony on possible changes to the bill, informed senators he would be attending the Wednesday session at 10 a.m. However, by the end of the day, Benjamin instead told senators he would not be able to attend because of a scheduling conflict.
Benjamin also did not send a representative from Labor to testify on the bill.
"This is a dereliction of duty," Sen. Ronald E. Russell said when the bill was called up for a vote. "It's also disrespectful to this body."
"Since he has not chosen to show up or send a representative, clearly the bill is not that important to the commissioner," Sen. Louis P. Hill added. "And if it's not that important to him, I don't see why it should be important to us."
While other senators offered various comments about Benjamin's absence, Sen. Celestino A. White Sr. theorized that Benjamin did not "show up" because he "didn't want to tangle" with Sen. Lorraine L. Berry.
White said that Benjamin, the state chair of the Democratic Party, did not want Berry — rumored to be a possible candidate for lieutenant governor — to win a bid in this year's gubernatorial race. "Clearly, he has not chosen you," White said. "And since he brought this whole OSHA situation upon himself, he does not want to come into the lion's den to meet the lioness."
While senators proposed that the bill be held on the floor until Benjamin testifies on the changes, Berry said she did not want the Legislature to "be holding the bag" when the federal government decides not to appropriate funding for safety and health in the territory.
Berry explained that at a previous Senate meeting, Francine Lang, OSHA's division director, said federal funds would be lost if the bill is not passed by July 1. At the time, however, Lang also testified that several technical and grammatical changes needed to be made to the bill.
During Wednesday's session, Legislative Legal Counsel Yvonne Tharpes said the changes had already been made and that senators could vote on the bill without having to draft an amendment to incorporate Lang's concerns. However, senators said they were hoping to find out from Benjamin whether the changes would have any adverse impact on the intent of the bill.
Despite the concern, however, Berry and Sens. Roosevelt C. David, Pedro "Pete" Encarnacion, Juan Figueroa-Serville, Neville James, Shawn-Michael Malone and Russell voted in favor of the measure, while Sens. Craig W. Barshinger, Liston Davis, Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, Terrence "Positive" Nelson, Usie R. Richards and White voted against it.
Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste abstained.
In other news, senators unanimously passed a number of bills which:
–rezone land in Estate Fareham, St. Croix, from A-1 (agriculture) to R-1 (residential-low density) to allow the for continued operation of the St. Croix Marksmanship Associations' rifle range, and the improvement of camping facilities.
–require employers to give employees meal and rest breaks after a certain number of hours worked.
–set up a scholarship fund for music students in the name of Trevor Nicholas "Nick" Friday.
–establish a permanent position for a Family Court judge in each district.
–require new Economic Development Commission beneficiaries to donate $3,000 annually to the V.I. Board of Education's Territorial Scholarship Fund.
–prohibit the sale or purchase of traffic signal pre-emption devices
–designate the month of June as Cancer Awareness Month.
–provide for the establishment of environmental covenants.
–provide for the establishment of conservation easements.
–extend the time temporary license plates can be valid, require car dealers to make four copies temporary registration documents for distribution to the Police Department, and increase the fee for dealers to $25.
All senators were present during Wednesday's session.

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