Legislature Passes Slew of Legislation without Hearings

The V.I. Legislature established early voting, banned fishing license moratoria, changed V.I. hate crimes law, eliminated the Casino Control Revolving Fund, and approved an array of legislation Monday, bypassing the committee process by attaching them as amendments to an unrelated bill.

It attached legislation from Sen. Nereida "Nellie" Rivera-O’Reilly to eliminate the Casino Control Revolving Fund under the Finance Department, instead putting all casino permit and license fees, fines, penalties and so forth into a “special checking account under the administration of the chairperson of the Casino Control Commission.” Rivera-O’Reilly said the bill requires regular audits and it "gives the Casino Control Commission greater autonomy on the funds they themselves raise."

Another measure from Rivera-O’Reilly raises the cap of 100 kilowatts on commercial solar power net metering to 500 kilowatts. The senator said businesses were hurting, especially on St. Croix, and that 100 kilowatts was not enough to power a large business. Businesses can build larger solar power plants now, but cannot "net-meter," making the V.I. Water and Power Authority purchase that production at full price.

Sen. Craig Barshinger said he appreciated the goal but said net metering is already shut down to new customers because the cap on net-metering wattage, which was put in place to keep the grid stable, have already been "filled on both islands."

"If they think by getting this they are going to be able to march down to DPNR and WAPA they will be sadly deceived," Barshinger said.

A measure from Sen. Clifford Graham allows the Division of Personnel to pay government health insurance premiums directly. Graham said there have been substantial late fees because the volunteer, part-time Government Employees Service Commission that deals with government health insurance has submitted payment late on occasion.

Another measure from Graham reduces the scope of a previous rezoning for senior housing near Schneider Regional Medical Center from five acres to half an acre. Graham said the initial rezoning was inadvertently too large.

A third measure from Graham appropriates $330,000 to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles to complete the Real ID Project so the territory can come into compliance with federal law. Graham said the governor requested the measure. The territory missed a Feb. 14 deadline for compliance but was given an extension. The Real ID act includes an array of anti-forgery measures and electronic information sharing and reciprocity with other jurisdictions. If we do not come into compliance, at some point V.I. drivers licenses would cease to be valid in the states, Graham said.

One amendment from Sen. Kenneth Gittens would establish early voting for any interested voter, starting 14 days before an election, to three days prior to the election.

Another from Gittens devotes some revenue from the government’s $3.75 per car per day rental car fee to a list of road repairs, with instructions that the work be completed before the end of the year.. Of that fee, $1.75 per rental car per day is devoted by existing law to collateral for loans for a different list of road projects.

Rivera-O’Reilly said the Senate should find out how much money would be made available and what the road projects would cost, and asked Legislative Post Auditor Jose George if he had the numbers.

"At this point I do not know how much money is in the fund,” George said. “I just found out about this legislation tonight and have not had a chance to research. Nor do I know the cost of the roads" without extensive research, he added.

All the amendments were attached to a bill from Sen. Sammuel Sanes to give V.I. government retirees the option of having paper pension check stubs as well as digital records.

Voting for the bill, as amended, were Barshinger, Gittens, Graham, Rivera-O’Reilly, Sanes, Sens. Janette Millin Young, Shawn-Michael Malone, Alicia "Chucky" Hansen, Diane Capehart, Donald Cole, Myron Jackson and Tregenza Roach. Terrence "Positive" Nelson voted no. Sens. Judi Buckley and Clarence Payne were absent.

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