After overriding the governor’s attempt to allow burning of hurricane debris, the V.I. Senate in its Thursday session took up a diverse slate of bills and reorganized the majority caucus. (See Related Links, below.)
Sen. Janelle Sarauw joined the caucus and will chair the Committee on Workforce Development.
Two of the measures approved and sent to the governor for his signature concerned how elections are conducted in the Virgin Islands. One proposal gives the supervisor of Elections the authority to set places, days and times for early voting. The other bars the cancellation of voter registration in every instance other than death. Neither passed without some push back.
Sen. Positive Nelson said he thought they may be passing laws where regulations were in order. He said the Legislature should not overreach in trying to run agencies, but should allow the agencies leeway in how they go about their day-to-day business.
On the barring of purging the voter registration rolls, Sen. Tregenza Roach said the law was overbroad, failing to address how residents who moved away from the islands would be taken off the rolls.
The lawmakers approved another bill addressing what Sen. Brian Smith called the “monster in the room” – the Government Employee Retirement System. The bill repeals provisions that allow people who are receiving a government retirement annuity to return to work and no longer make contributions to the GERS. Senators admitted that this was only a small step to help GERS, and many of them, including Sen. Dwayne DeGraff, said the looming bankruptcy of GERS needs to be addressed soon.
An act reprogramming a portion of Matching Fund Revenue Bonds and interest earnings at the Department of Education to finance deferred maintenance projects was tabled because, according to Sen Kurt Vialet, some of the designated projects were at schools closed by the hurricanes.
A bill relating to the rate and computation of franchise taxes passed. The bill increases the minimum franchise taxes for corporations from $150 to $300 for those businesses with capital stock of $250,000 or less. Franchise taxes for foreign corporations was increased from $300 to $500. This bill, more than likely, the last Senate action of 2017, had several amendments attached to it. One was for funds to buy two new vans for the Department of Sports, Parks and Recreation. Another was to increase the distance required for hazardous wastes to be stored from schools.
Other bills moved forward during the session included: a Digital Assets Act; the Hotel
Development Act, and an act approving the lease agreement between the government and Cruzan Group. The latter is to allow a new restaurant, Ay-Ay Palace, to open in the Oscar Henry Custom House in Frederiksted.
All the senators except Janette Millin Young attended the session held on St. Thomas. She was excused because of a prior family engagement. Sen. Alicia “Chucky” Hansen had to leave early to catch a flight back to St. Croix. First, she registered a complaint on the senate floor that other St. Croix senators had chartered a later flight but did not leave room for her.
Esonica Viera, who represented the U.S. Virgin Islands in the Ms. Universe contest in Las Vegas last month, gave the invocation at the beginning of the session.