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'Mock Senate' Discusses Real Issues

May 13, 2009 — A mock Senate session on St. Croix Tuesday brought to light real accessibility issues confronting Virgin Islands elderly as seniors debated and passed an ersatz tax incentive to make homes accessible and visitable by those with restricted mobility.
Seniors from all over the Virgin Islands came to the Legislature in Frederiksted, replacing each of the 15 senators and the legislative staff for the annual moot or mock senior session. The hypothetical "Visitable Home Design Act" they debated would offer a 20-percent break on property taxes as an incentive for homeowners to have their properties certified as "visitable." To be certified, homeowners would have to make the residence easy to enter via wheelchair, have an accessible restroom with approved fixtures on the first floor and meet other specific requirements.
The gallery was packed with seniors for the debate, and the substitute senators joked and laughed, while also making serious points about accessibility. The real senators and staff stood nearby, helping their replacements deal with the mechanics of introducing bills and amendments and making motions.
Elmira McIntosh, playing Sen. Nereida “Nellie” Rivera-O’Reilly, offered an amendment requiring at least one bathroom to include a shower stall with a low lip for easy access by a wheelchair, and several "senators" commented on how helpful it is to be able to sit while showering when one’s mobility is somewhat limited.
Dorene James, playing the role of Sen. Usie Richards, said the bill should have more teeth and more incentives to renovate existing buildings.
"The bill seems slanted more toward new construction and I’m more concerned for people who are living in homes that are not very accessible right now," said James. She offered an amendment to entitle any homeowner wanting to make their property "visitable" to an interest free loan up to $30,000 from the V.I. Housing Finance Authority.
The faux bill passed unanimously, after which Alfred Raimer, representing Sen. Louis Patrick Hill, banged the gavel, adjourning the session.
"Our business is finished," Raimer said. "It’s over with. Now it’s chow time."
The seniors adjourned to a buffet put together for them by Unise Tranberg of the Frederiksted restaurant Pier 69.
The annual mock Senate is sponsored by the Department of Human Services in conjunction with the Legislature. It alternates between St. Thomas and St. Croix.
Also participating in Tuesday’s mock session were:
— Miguel Ramos representing Sen. Neville James;
— Elizabeth Tutein representing Sen. Sammuel Sanes;
— Noel Agard representing Sen. Michael Thurland;
— Christina Henry representing Sen. Wayne James;
— Christinita Benjamin representing Sen. Terrence “Positive” Nelson;
— Diane Hampton representing Sen. Adlah “Foncie” Donastorg;
— Ellen Daniel representing Sen. Patrick Simeon-Sprauve;
— Gustavus Connell representing Sen. Celestino White;
— Lillian Todman representing Sen. Alvin Williams;
— Juella Francis representing Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone;
— Juliet Greaux representing Sen. Carlton “Ital” Dowe;
— Jacqueline Jackson representing Sen. Craig Barshinger;
— Earl Daniel was an alternate;
— Joan Prevost acted as chaplain;
— Cynthia Charles was timekeeper;
— Regina Joseph acted in the role of legal counsel and;
— Alpha Stevens replaced Herman Lynch as Sergeant of Arms.

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