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HomeNewsArchivesSenate President Previews Legislative Agenda for Women's League

Senate President Previews Legislative Agenda for Women's League

Jan. 29, 2007 — Over the past few weeks, senators have been "settling down" and prioritizing an agenda that focuses on education, crime and health-care reforms, along with new initiatives for agriculture, transportation and economic development, according to Senate President Usie R. Richards.
Speaking Monday at the League of Women Voters' bi-annual meeting on St. Thomas, Richards said many of these proposals are currently going through the drafting process, and will be introduced in bill form on the Senate floor within the next six months.
Other major pieces of legislation on the Senate's agenda: appropriating funds to the Department of Planning and Natural Resources to revise and lay out a comprehensive land- and water-use plan; creating a system that allows the government to check when gross-receipts taxes get paid by private-sector businesses; and proposing reforms to the Public Services Commission.
After Richards' speech, league members discussed some of their own recommendations, which call for senators to maintain and follow the territory's Sunshine Laws, consider a bill to deal with the retirement system's unfunded liability and be prudent when appropriating local revenues.
According to Richards and other senators speaking on Monday, the Legislature will take input from community organizations and work with the new administration in formulating public policy.
"Tomorrow we're going to meet with the governor, so we can work around his agenda and move ahead with legislation that benefits everybody," said Shawn-Michael Malone, the Senate's vice-president.
When discussing the Legislature's plan for education reform, Richards said that upcoming proposals will enhance the quality of programs available to students, and improve the skill levels of the territory's residents by appropriating money for training and educational courses.
"We will also assure that the appropriate institutions are available for the preservation of our culture and heritage, establish the required structure for apprenticeship training and set forth policies that will hold our administrators, teachers and parents accountable for improved performance of our students in the public school system," he said.
Richards proposed that the educational system also be used as a link to promote agriculture within the community.
"Agricultural programs ongoing within the schools are not included in the plans of the Department of Agriculture," he said after the meeting. "We have to find a way to take what's growing in our gardens and put them on the tables of our school children, so they have a better idea of the process. The same thing should be occurring within our correctional facilities, where there are agricultural programs set up. Their efforts should be tied to the government."
The Senate will also focus on improving the "quality, quantity and continuity" of health-care services in the territory, said Richards, former chairman of the Senate's Committee on Health, Hospitals and Human Services. New legislation has already been submitted to address the issue of providing health-care insurance to private-sector employees, he said.
The new health-insurance bill does not resemble a controversial proposal submitted in 2005 by Gov. Charles W. Turnbull, which required local employers to purchase policies for their employees. Over the past two years, Richards has consistently spoken out against the original bill, which he describes as a "conflict of interest."
The Legislature also stands in support "of any and all efforts" to regain control over the V.I. Housing Authority, currently managed by the federal government, Richards said.
"We have already introduced legislation to consolidate all functions and management of housing opportunities under the V.I. Housing Finance Authority," he said. "The 27th Legislature will also increase opportunities for home ownership by revising existing lending policies and securing affordable land for our residents and veterans."
Other top priorities for the Senate include mental health and homelessness, along with improving local roads and highways, Richards said. The Legislature will also look at developing alternative, reliable transportation routes between the islands, he added. After Monday's meeting, Richards explained that the creation of alternate transportation routes between St. Thomas and St. Croix — which includes new ferry service — is a critical need, in addition to the development of a reliable public-transportation service.
Reforming the Public Services Commission is also on the agenda, he said during the meeting. After the meeting, Richards explained that there are "a couple" of proposals already on the table, which address, among other things, whether commission members should be working full- or part-time.
During the meeting, league members also had a few suggestions for senators, which were presented Monday by Clovis Emmanuel, chairwoman of the league's government structure and operations committee.
The league's recommendations call for senators to:
— only pass appropriations bills backed by "real" revenues;
— use revenues deposited into various government funds for their intended purpose (for example, Emmanuel said that money deposited into the government's Transportation Trust Fund be used for road maintenance and repair); and
— pass legislation to establish a Police civilian-review board.
"These are for starters," Emmanuel said.
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