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HomeNewsArchivesGovernor Signs Bills Giving Inspector General More Independence, Police Department More Officers

Governor Signs Bills Giving Inspector General More Independence, Police Department More Officers

June 18, 2007 — After languishing for months in the 26th Legislature, a bill granting more autonomy to the territory's Inspector General finally got signed into law over the weekend by Gov. John deJongh Jr.
DeJongh also signed into law the majority of a comprehensive crime bill designed to add 150 new officers to the ranks of the V.I. Police Department and establish a proper witness-protection program, according to a Government House news release.
However, deJongh applied line-item vetoes to sections of the bill that:
— reprogram $9 million set aside in the fiscal year 2007 budget to cover additional expenses incurred by the V.I. Police Department;
— appropriate money for a new 911 system;
— establish a Cold Case Squad to deal with unsolved criminal cases; and
— appropriate $1 million to beef up the VIPD's K-9 unit.
In a transmittal letter sent to Senate President Usie R. Richards explaining his decisions, deJongh indicated that most of the vetoed sections are included in the fiscal year 2008 executive budget. DeJongh added that he would reconsider approving the funds for the K-9 unit if senators could justify why the money is needed and exactly what it would be used for.
The remaining sections of the bill carry some critical policy changes and appropriations. In addition to creating the witness-protection program, the bill also provides bonus incentives to certain officers eligible for retirement, allows the police commissioner to set standard towing rates for vehicles and increases VIPD's FY 2007 budget allotment to provide for overtime expenditures.
Other appropriations signed into law will also go toward hiring victims' advocates for each district, hiring two new recruiters and purchasing new police equipment.
In his letter to Richards, deJongh says the bill "contains some significant steps toward this administration's stated objective of providing the territory's law-enforcement agencies with additional funds to reduce criminal activity and assist prosecutors in bringing the perpetrators of crimes to justice."
DeJongh made similar comments about another measure that gives the territory's Inspector General the ability to hire and fire his own employees and set salaries outside of those included in the government's standard pay scale.
According to Inspector General Steven van Beverhoudt, who testified in support of the bill during several Senate hearings, these provisions would effectively separate the office's operations from those of the executive branch and allow for the hiring and retention of qualified auditors and investigators.
"My support for this measure is based on this administration's goal of reducing both malfeasance and misfeasance in government spending," deJongh wrote in the letter to Richards, adding that increased autonomy for the Inspector General's office will result in more timely audits and recommendations for civil or criminal proceedings to the Attorney General.
Complete vetoes were also handed down on two other bills, both of which were approved during a legislative session held at the end of last month. While one of the measures focuses on reforms to the territory's Elections System, the other seeks to establish a central grants agency within the governor's office.
Sticking close to his policy on fiscal restraint, deJongh said that there is currently no funding available in FY 2007 to cover the cost of personnel, equipment and other expenses associated with the start up of the central grants agency. Additionally, he said, the bill provides no funding mechanism or revenue stream needed to sustain the agency's operations.
"Second, this is a step which can be implemented by establishing a division administratively, without the need for legislation," deJongh added. "And finally, this measure establishes a director … who may not be removed except for cause. This type of protection has only been extended to directors who require legislative confirmation, and even then only on a sparing basis."
DeJohn cited different reasons for vetoing the election-reform bill, designed to bring the territory's Elections System in compliance with the Help America Vote Act of 2002.
In a majority of the cases, inconsistencies and "sloppy drafting" made the bill confusing, he said. However, since the bill contained no appropriations, deJongh could not line-item veto the sections that needed correcting.
During a Senate hearing Monday, Richards, a primary sponsor of the bill, said he would meet soon with the governor and Elections officials to correct the inconsistencies.
"We will not attempt an override of this bill," Richards said during Monday's meeting. "We will not act hastily. We will sit down and act on the recommendations of the governor and make sure that everything gets worked out."
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