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Bath Salt Bill on to Senate Floor

Legislation criminalizing any chemicals manufactured "with the intent to circumvent the criminal penalties for synthetic cannabinoids or other substances banned" was approved by two committees this week and will soon receive a final up or down vote before the full Senate.

The Rules and Judiciary Committee voted without opposition Wednesday to send on the bill [Bill 30-0258]; along with measures transferring the old Massac Nursing Home to the Department of Sports, Parks and Recreation; honoring late boxer Emile Griffith; and in favor of three nominees to boards and commissions.

The drug bill, sponsored by Sen. Sammuel Sanes, amends a law he sponsored in 2013 prohibiting the family of chemicals used to make intoxicants sold over the counter as “bath salts” and so-called "synthetic marijuana." (See Related Links below)

The original law [Act 7472] gives a long list of chemical terms for the intoxicating components that are used in various combinations to create ostensibly legal intoxicants that can be sold without a prescription. The same chemicals are sold as powdered bath salts and as a kind of scented potpourri marketed as "synthetic marijuana."

The bill approved in committee amends that law to include any compounds produced with the intent to evade that law’s reach.

During committee hearings Monday, Police Commissioner Rodney Querrard and Health Commissioner Darice Plaskett testified that some stores and gas stations had previously been selling some of these compounds and that people have smoked them under the mistaken belief they are safe and legal. While no one has died, there have been several hospitalizations and reports of lasting mental effects, Plaskett and police officials testified Monday.

The committee sent on a bill sponsored by Sen. Myron Jackson to transfer the former Massac Nursing Home on St. Thomas from the Department of Human Services to the Department of Sports, Parks and Recreation for conversion to a sports facility, boxing gymnasium and housing for visiting athletes. [Bill 30-0377]

Human Services officials testified during committee hearings the government purchased the facility in 2005 for $1.5 million, turning it over to Human Services to run. It remained vacant for years due to a lack of money, and then in 2009, the Legislature approved $47,640 for repairs, but that was not enough to do the work and the funds were ultimately diverted to Meals on Wheels.

The Massac Nursing Home structure needs extensive renovation, but representatives of the U.S. Virgin Islands Boxing Federation testified they were eager to take on the project and would like to use it as a sports facility.

The committee also sent on another bill [Bill 30-0321] from Jackson that directs the commissioner of Sports, Parks and Recreation and the V.I. Council on the Arts to erect a statue of the boxer Emile Griffith at the ballpark that bears his name. And with the consent of the family, Planning and Natural Resources is to put Griffith’s childhood home – at No. 6 Princesse Gade, Crown Prince Quarter – in the V.I. Registry of Historic Places. It also creates a special fund for donations and government appropriations for the upkeep of the Griffith ballpark. The bill was amended in committee to appropriate $30,000 for the purpose, although with a budget shortfall in the current year and no 2015 budget yet, whether the funding exists is uncertain.

Griffith was the first boxer from the U.S. Virgin Islands to become a world champion. He turned pro in 1958 and retired in 1977 and, over a career of nearly two decades, he won the world welterweight title three times, the middleweight title twice and briefly held the junior middleweight title. Griffith was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990.

He was best known for his 1962 bout against Benny Paret, sadly because Paret died 10 days after Griffith fought him at Madison Square Garden. That fight was the centerpiece for the 2005 documentary "Ring of Fire: The Emile Griffith Story." Griffith passed away in 2013.

The Rules and Judiciary Committee also gave initial approval to three volunteer board and commission nominees. It approved the renominations of Dr. Frank Odlum to the V.I. Board of Medical Examiners, Dr. Susan Anderson to the Board of Dental Examiners and Elizabeth Masiello to the Board of Chiropractic Examiners. It also approved Lawrence Ramdhansingh to the V.I. Taxicab Commission.

Odlum is chief of surgery at Schneider Regional Medical Center, where he has worked since 1996. He has been on the board since 2003. After graduating from Charlotte Amalie High School, Odlum received a bachelor’s degree in microbiology at the University of Oklahoma, and then went on to receive his medical degree from the University of Oklahoma School of Medicine. He is the current chairman of the board.

Odlum told the committee that service on the board has been rewarding as well as demanding.

"Never did I think that being a member of this board would require so many trips to the Legislature, trips to court, trips to hearings, meetings with attorneys and conversations with licensees, my colleagues,” he said.

“I would be lying if I stated that I had the ‘pleasure’ of testifying on issues of physician licensing, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, optometrists, physical therapists, psychologists, chiropractors and prescriptive authority on multiple occasions. I have read more bills and amendments than I ever new existed. I have easy access to the V.I. Code on my iPad at all times and refer to it frequently," he testified.

Giving characteristics it takes for a good board member, Odlum said one must be “the voice for that protection.”

“He or she must be willing to give an unpopular opinion on a bill and must be willing to accept change when the evidence supports it. The board member must be willing to police their own no matter how uncomfortable it may be. I do believe that during my tenure on this board that I have been such a board member," Odlum said.

Anderson received her doctorate of dental medicine from Oregon Health Sciences University in 1991.
She worked at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in New York to help identify the dead from the Sept. 11, 2011, World Trade Center attacks.

In her testimony, Anderson called for the resumption of public funding for dentistry.

"In St. Thomas, while working with the Department of Health, Division of Dental Services, I screened and educated kindergarteners, fifth-graders and ninth-graders in all public, private and parochial schools in the St. Thomas-St. John district, as mandated by law,” Anderson said.

“After three years I was happy that I was making headway in the education of the students and I am saddened that with the closure of the DOH Dental Clinics that this service is not performed."

Anderson said she has served as board secretary for about six years, working on reviewing and revising the V.I. Dental Act, administering licensing exams and reviewing complaints against dentists.

A native of Trinidad, Ramdhansingh has been a V.I. resident for 45 years. He has been self-employed as a taxi driver as president of Singh’s Taxi and Tours since 1987. Ramdhansingh is a member of several community organizations and a past president of the Independent Taxi Association and vice president of the V.I. Taxi Association. He volunteers at Reichhold Center for the Arts and at church.

Masiello received a bachelor’s degree in human anatomy from Logan College of Chiropractic in 1990 and a doctorate of chiropractic in 1992. She has worked as a chiropractor since 1993 and has been at Absolutely Chiropractic in Anna’s Retreat since 2000.

All votes were without opposition. Voting yea on all measures were Jackson, Sanes, Sens. Diane Capehart, Janette Millin Young, Kenneth Gittens and Donald Cole. Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone was absent.

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