The V.I. Legislature passed a bill Friday to make the territory’s unemployment compensation law conform to federal law, allowing the V.I. Department of Labor to get access to extended unemployment compensation funding provided in this year’s federal economic stimulus package. The bill makes technical changes in how an individual employee’s eligibility for unemployment compensation is measured, making it more likely more unemployed workers will fit the federal criteria for the additional funding.
"As we know, the country is in dire economic straits and as a result there is a lot of unemployment at the moment," Sen. Wayne James said. "This will allow us to … receive more unemployment benefits … It’s a no brainer."
That bill, passed by a vote of 15-0, was one of a long slate passed by the Senate Friday.
The Legislature unanimously passed a ban on automatic weapons, semi-automatic weapons and conversion kits to make semi-automatic weapons into automatic weapons. These weapons are regulated under federal law, but the local law gives more teeth to local law enforcement.
Two bills affecting administrative leave were also approved unanimously. One bill changes details of a plan pooling donated, accumulated sick leave and annual leave days that government employees who are suffering from illness, injury, surgery or disability can tap into once their sick and annual leave hours are exhausted, and moves oversight of the program to the Division of Personnel. The other mandates employers give leave to workers to attend meetings of various governing boards.
Governing boards composed of part-time volunteers are a major feature of Virgin Islands’ government, with boards dedicated to oversight of everything from casinos to the Water and Power Authority. But many boards have difficulty making quorums due to a lack of sufficient members and trouble coordinating schedules. Mandating that government employees be given leave will make it easier for boards to schedule meetings.
"Some of these boards are inoperable, some have only one active member, some who might serve understandably do not want to go through the Senate confirmation process," Sen. Michael Thurland said, making a plea to Virgin Islanders to volunteer to serve on some of these boards.
A bill eliminaing the need for Bureau of Motor Vehicles documentation to take a vehicle by ferry between St. Thomas and St. Croix was passed 14-1, with Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg voting nay.
Approved with slightly more dissent was a bill to remove a section of law that gives a Senate subcommittee power to approve Coastal Zone Management permits when the full Senate is not in session. It passed 12-3 with Donastorg, Thurland and Sens. Neville James and Alvin Williams voting nay.
Thurland said he would like to see a comprehensive solution to zoning and permit issues, with district boards making decisions rather than the Senate.
Also approved was a bill appropriating slightly over $2 million, with $1 million for repairs and renovations for the Legislature and about $1 million for an array of capital projects costing from $25,000 to $250,000 throughout the territory. Gov. John deJongh Jr. previously exercised a line-item veto on the particular items.
All members were present.