The annual mock Senate is sponsored by the Department of Human Services in conjunction with the Legislature. It alternates between St. Thomas and St. Croix. V.I. seniors play the roles of specific senators and debate, amend and vote on legislation.
The gallery was packed with seniors for the debate and, while the substitute senators joked and laughed on occasion, they also made serious points about difficulties senior citizens face in the territory.
The real senators of the 32nd Legislature and their staff stood nearby, helping their replacements deal with the mechanics of procedure: introducing bills and amendments and making motions.
“This is an excellent idea to establish a Senior Citizens Bill of Rights. What will happen if we lose funding? We need to educate the younger generation on the importance of our gems of elders in the community. The message has to get across to the youths so that they can play their role in taking care of the elderly, ” said Maurice Sebastian, who was representing Sen. Jackson.
“We need to maintain a strategy that will encourage the younger generation to care for the elderly. This is important especially if federal funding is cut.” Charlita Schuster who was representing Sen. Positive Nelson said, similarly.
Separately, Maria Santiago Feliciano who was representing Sen. Alicia “Chucky” Hansen said the bill did not address two crucial issues.
“They are the Pharmaceutical Assistant Program and the Senior Citizens ID Card. I am doing a special amendment to add this to the bill,” Feliciano said.
“One thing that must be made clear, the Real ID does not replace the Senior Citizens ID Card,” said Alphonse Stalliard, who was representing Sen. Neville James. He continued, “The funds that the Virgin Islands has must be used for maximum efficiency, whether the funds are federal or local. We also need to address providing appropriate medical services for those who suffer with a mental health condition.”
Angelita Jemmings who was representing Sen. Tregenza Roach said the bill depends on President Donald Trump.
“To my knowledge programs are funded 80/20. If President Trump decided to cut funding for the senior citizen programs, where is the 80 percent going to come from? If that happens, how will the senior citizen program thrive?” Jemmings asked.
“We must get creative and think outside of the box,” said Lydia Hendricks, who was representing Sen. Marvin Blyden.
“For example, we need to consider having a satellite kitchen in which meals can be prepared and delivered to all seniors. We must stop harping on funds that could be potentially cut and focus on the monies that we have and how we can utilize them more efficiently,” she continued.
Ultimately, the senior senators approved the amended bill unanimously.
“It is a tremendous honor to deal with legislation that will improve the life of seniors in the Territory,” Senate President Myron Jackson said at the outset of the mock hearing.
“According to the U.S. Census 2010 there are approximately 14,000 seniors residing in the Territory. This theme encourages seniors to address top priorities that are affecting them in the Territory,” he added.
It would not be the first time the senior session led to real legislation. A 2010 home accessibility bill came out of the 2009 senior mock session and is now law. (See related link below)