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Charlotte Amalie
Monday, May 20, 2024
HomeNewsArchivesSenate Funds Luis Hospital ER Improvements, Delays GERS Reform

Senate Funds Luis Hospital ER Improvements, Delays GERS Reform

In a full-day session on St. Thomas Wednesday, senators passed 21 bills, including a $3 million appropriation for improvements to the Gov. Juan F. Luis Hospital Emergency Room and a delay in the reform of Government Employees Retirement System (GERS) benefits.
The Gov. Juan F. Luis Hospital may finally get much-needed improvements to its Emergency Room after senators voted to appropriate $3 million from the Internal Revenue Matching Fund.
However, some senators questioned whether the monies were actually available. “I want to know what’s going to happen when we appropriate $3 million and how they are going to get it,” said Sen. Craig W. Barshinger. “ I’m going to vote for it anyway and let the chips fall where they may.”
Sen. Carlton “Ital” Dowe introduced an amendment to the bill requesting that the same amount be appropriated to the Roy L. Schneider Regional Medical Center using funds from the 1998 series bonds recently approved for refinancing but did not get the necessary votes to attach it to the bill. Some senators—notably Barshinger, Wayne James, and Michael Thurland—felt the measure should go through the appropriate committees and undergo the same scrutiny involved in the Juan Luis appropriation.

<b>Start Date for GERS Reform Delayed</b>
The GERS Reform Act of 2005, signed into law in November 2005 but never implemented, was scheduled to take effect on Jan. 1, 2010. Senators passed an amendment that pushes back the start date to Jan. 1, 2011 and mandates the GERS Board of Trustees to submit a plan to the Legislature detailing implementation of the Reform Act and all recommendations for changes to the GERS by Jan. 31, 2010.
The GERS Reform Act of 2005 created two tiers of government employees, and employees in each tier receive different retirement benefits. Tier I-employees include those employed prior to implementation of the Reform Act, while Tier II-employees are made up of those hired after the Reform Act implementation date.
The amendment also includes an appropriation of $3 million to GERS from the General Fund to cover both the employee and employer contributions to outstanding accrued leave time for members retiring between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31, 2010.
The GERS amendment was added to a bill that grants local business owners
a 10-month amnesty period on interest and penalties for gross receipts taxes owed to the government.
The amnesty period runs from December 1, 2009 through September 30, 2010. Interest and penalties will be waived for any taxpayer who voluntarily pays any owed gross receipts tax.
Thurland, one of the bill’s sponsors, said, “We are not asking that you not pay, but we will give you a break to pay what you can over a period of time.”
Another amendment to this bill, introduced at the last minute by Dowe, requires the V.I. Department of Education to submit an annual plan to the Legislature detailing the coordination and scheduling of all athletic activities in the territory’s public schools, including inter-island travel, off-island travel in conjunction with the Interscholastic Federation, all costs associated with the sports programs, and a detailed accounting of all expenditures.
Also included in the amendment was an appropriation of $1.2 million from the Education Initiative Fund to be divided equally between the districts for the coordination of sports activities in the territory.

Additional bills and amendments passed by the Senate include:
• A bill providing for the expungement of criminal records. Criminal records eligible for expungement include persons whose charges did not result in a conviction, persons who have successfully completed the Pretrial Intervention Program, persons whose cases have been dismissed with prejudice who have no other charges pending, persons who have been arrested but no complaint has been filed and the statute of limitations has expired. In order to have a criminal record expunged, a petition must be filed with the Superior Court of the Virgin Islands.
• A bill authorizing the governor to negotiate with the Veterans Resource and Development, Inc. for the return of unused lands located at the site of the former Virgin Islands Hotel. The bill provides for the land to be used for low-income housing, with a portion of land to be transferred to the V.I. Housing Finance Authority for the development of single-family homes for veterans.
Included with that bill was an amendment introduced by Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone to strike the Department of Housing, Parks, and Recreation from Act No. 6917, Section 23, replacing it with the Housing Finance Authority. This change will enable the Housing Finance Authority to access funds previously appropriated to remove asbestos from one of five homes sold to individuals by Housing, Parks, and Recreation. Said Malone, “ We finally addressed a problem that is over 20 years old.”
A bill establishing the definition of a temporary employee within the Government of the Virgin Islands, mandating that temporary employees be provided a NOPA (Notice of Personnel Action) prior to commencement of employment.
The bill also includes an amendment appropriating $600,000 from the General Fund to the V.I. Housing Authority to pay salaries for one year for 20 employees scheduled for layoffs on November 6, 2009.
A third amendment to the bill redirects monies paid into the Education Initiative Fund from the VI Lottery. Currently 25 percent of Lottery revenues go into the Education Fund. The bill cuts that percentage back to 15 percent, with the other 10 percent to go to GERS to pay annual cost-of-living bonuses to retirees over age 60.
• A bill creating the Virgin Islands Veterans Memorial Cemetery under the supervision of the V.I. Office of Veterans Affairs.
• A bill appropriating $70,865 to the V.I. Public Works Department for flood mitigation projects in Estate Hannah’s Rest on St. Croix.
An amendment appropriates $110,091 from the General Fund to the V.I. Water and Power Authority for extension of the waterline to the Water Bay Village Condominiums on St. Thomas.
• A bill appropriating $107,500 to Our Town Frederiksted for operating expenses.
• A bill appropriating $300,000 from the Internal Revenue Matching Fund for a new mammogram machine at Luis Hospital.
An amendment to this bill appropriates $80,000 each to the Luis Hospital’s Cardiac Center and the Charlotte Kimelman Cancer Institute.
A second amendment makes several appropriations from the General Fund including $150,000 to the Health Department for the Home Health Program, $150,000 to the Human Services Department for medical alert bracelets, $50,000 to Human Services for the Meals on Wheels program, and $150,000 to Human Services for the Homemaker’s program.
• A bill establishing the V.I. Revised Uniform Anatomical Gift Act, which repeals a previous law and updates regulations for the donation of organs.
• A bill establishing the Territorial Active Military Service Revolving Fund in order to pay V.I. National Guard employees for their service.
• A bill enacting the V.I. Uniform Real Property Electronic Recording Act, which allows the Recorder of Deeds to modernize property records by transitioning from a paper system to electronic recording and storage of property records.
• A bill adopting the Secure And Fair Enforcement Mortgage Licensing Act to regulate the mortgage industry and protect homeowners in the territory.
• A bill allowing V.I. Lottery Commission board members to continue to serve after their terms have expired until successors have been confirmed.
• A resolution to honor and commend the Mungo Niles Cultural Dancers for their contributions to V.I. culture.

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