March 20, 2007 — The controversial Act 6905, which granted hefty pay raises for senators (among other things), has recently been a major source of discussion and protests throughout the community. While a recall effort to oust four St. Croix senators failed, residents have still continued to voice their concerns, prompting at least three senators to try and sponsor legislation to repeal the law.
Besides granting sizable pay raises to the governor, lieutenant governor and senators, the act also made changes to the Government Employees Retirement System and ratified several "illegal" government contracts.
At a recent press conference held at his office on St. Croix, Sen. Terrence "Positive" Nelson said he, along with Sens. Usie R. Richards and Celestino A. White Sr., requested that a bill be drafted to repeal the law.
Since another senator had already put in the same bill request, however, Nelson said he only received authorization to draft an amendment to the law, which proposes to set up a commission tasked with reviewing and recommending pay raises for senators, judges and other administrators.
At the time, Nelson said he hoped his amendment, along with a bill repealing Act 6905, would be placed on the agenda or special-ordered to the floor during the Senate's next full session.
However, no moves were made Tuesday — as senators completed the first of two session days — to bring such a bill, or amendment, up for consideration. Instead, the Earle B. Ottley Legislative Hall on St. Thomas was silent — even when Richards asked senators whether they had any requests for special orders or motions for override.
While senators subsequently proceeded to deal with Tuesday's planned agenda, which included the approval of several nominees to Gov. John deJongh Jr.'s cabinet, the topic of the recall petition and the effect Act 6905 has had on the local community often filtered into the discussions.
"I did nothing wrong," said Sen. Neville James. "And no one's going to force me to do anything I don't want to do. I'm not running away from the issue; I don't like what happened to me. The recall petition was wrong."
James was targeted during the recall drive because he did not attend the session in which the controversial bill was approved. While various media outlets have speculated that James skipped the meeting in order to protest the measure, community members have maintained that James' vote would have tipped the scales against the bill, keeping it from becoming law.
Sen. Juan Figueroa-Serville was less direct in his comments about the bill, but told nominees that while on the job, they will often be approached by "treacherous, divisive people" who have been found "unworthy to serve as a public official."
"But remember as you encounter those people that it is God who appoints his leaders to serve," Figueroa- Serville said. "Our leaders aren't appointed unless it is God's will."
And while senators voiced their opinions on the floor, residents in the legislative chambers were given the opportunity to thumb through a large stack of petitions from residents calling for the act to be repealed. According to a letter circulated by Denise Richards, representing the V.I. ADHOC Committee for the Repeal of Act 6905, the documents had made their way throughout the territory and, to date, contain nearly 4,300 signatures.
Richards presented the documents Monday afternoon to a staff member from the Senate President's office.
No mention was made Tuesday about when a bill to repeal the act will surface on the floor, or whether such a bill has even been drafted.
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