Without any prior committee hearings or any debate, the V.I. Legislature passed a bill Tuesday creating a division of capital improvements within the Public Works Department to administer and coordinate all government capital projects.
Usually bills are presented in whichever committee has jurisdiction over the subject, debated with the input of expert witnesses, forwarded to the Rules and Judiciary Committee, debated again and then sent to the full Legislature for a final vote.
In this case, the bill, sponsored by nine of the senators, was first presented on the floor of the Legislature during Tuesday’s session and voted upon without debate.
Capital projects often take longer than they should, partly because they require numerous meetings and excessive coordination between Public Works and the individual agencies, such as Education, which receive and control the funding for the various projects, said Sen. Louis Hill, speaking briefly in support of the measure.
Putting all the capital projects under one division will give the Public Works commissioner control of the funding and the employees. "And then I can really pressure [the commissioner] if he doesn’t do what he is supposed to," Hill said.
Voting to approve the bill were Sens. Carlton "Ital" Dowe Louis Hill, Shawn-Michael Malone, Nereida "Nellie" Rivera-O’Reilly, Usie Richards, Sammuel Sanes, Patrick Sprauve, Celestino White, Alvin Williams and Janette Millin-Young. Voting nay were: Sens. Craig Barshinger, Alicia "Chucky" Hansen and Terrence "Positive" Nelson.
A measure extending the deadline to Sept. 30 for applying for retirement bonuses this year was introduced and passed during session Tuesday, too.
The Legislature also passed a number of bills previously approved in committee, including measures to:
— establish a 16-member Legislative Youth Advisory Council to advise the Legislature on youth-related matters;
— create an expedited process for the government to settle claims for vehicle damage, increase the maximum amount the government can offer in settlement from $3,000 to $6,000, and allow up to $400 per month for car rentals while their vehicle is unusable;
— mandate the V.I. Internal Revenue Bureau provide direct deposit of tax refunds;
–rename the Dorothea Fire Station "The Emile Berry Fire Station and Multipurpose Center;"
— clarify out-of-date language regarding the role and procedures of the V.I. Bureau of Motor Vehicles; and
— establish several categories of evidentiary privilege in civil suits, protecting communication between spouses, attorneys and clients, doctors and patients, and other commonly recognized types of privileged communication.
Federal rules concerning privilege adopted by the territory speak only to criminal cases, leaving privilege in civil matters up to individual states.
The Legislature also passed several measures honoring notable U.S. Virgin Islanders, including:
— a commendation for highly awarded V.I. tennis player Kristepher Michael Tutein Elien;
— a commendation for calypso songwriter and educator Camille “King Derby” Macedon;
— a resolution to posthumously honor and commend Omar Brown Sr. for his
dedicated service to the V.I. Fire Service and to name the Fort Christian Fire Station after him;
— a resolution honoring Emile Christopher Berry and naming the Dorothea Fire Station in his honor.