ST THOMAS, USVI -- Late Tuesday night, US Virgin Islands Governor John de Jongh, Jr. took action on 24 bills and acknowledged three resolutions. In a letter sent to Senate President Ronald Russell, the governor explained his reasons for approving or vetoing the many pieces of legislation.
The territory’s citizens hold dearly the natural marine environment that surrounds the islands. While lawmakers should pursue measures to preserve the precious heritage of the seas, the governor vetoed a proposed bill to establish a native aquatic species protection program because of funding flaws. The bill seeks funding from the Fish and Game Fund. In the opinion of the US Fish and Wildlife Services, such an appropriation would constitute a violation of the “assent legislation” that enables the Virgin Islands to receive federal funding.
“In an abundance of caution, I have determined that the potential cost of this measure’s enactment is simply too high for our Fish and Wildlife program and for us as a people,” the governor wrote, suggesting the simple solution of passing another bill with a modified funding source.
While endorsing the overall objective, the governor vetoed a bill designed to increase government transparency because of several flaws. It may be technically feasible to gather, provide and post the information the law seeks to publicize online, but the proposed law has to short a time period for implementation, an absence of any designated funding to properly plan and execute the task, and only called for increased transparency in one branch of government.
“Such an undertaking as this is so important, and the accuracy and easy interface of the presentation so crucial, the time and resources required to produce the result that our citizens deserve are worthy investments in our future. It is imperative that we first carefully plan the design of an appropriate portal to publish the information that will facilitate the most advantageous use of it by the public,” de Jongh wrote.
The governor did sign into law a bill establishing and convening the Fifth Revision Convention to complete the process of developing a proposal for a Virgin Islands Constitution. He also approved a bill authorizing the Department of Property and Procurement in collaboration with the Economic Development Authority and the Department of Tourism to develop and solicit proposals for the development and construction of a water and adventure park on the island of St Croix.
De Jongh used his veto pen to strike down a bill that would greatly undermine protections in a noise pollution law passed five years ago. The issue has a wide impact on the quality of life for many of the territory’s residents, especially within the limits of the various towns.
If the proposed law were to have contained only exceptions to the reasonable noise pollution restrictions for Carnival, Festival and Celebration, the governor said he might have acceded to it with reluctance. But the actual legislation would constitute “a complete gutting of the noise pollution control effort in the Territory,” the governor wrote, adding, “I will not stand by as neighborhood noise disruptions abound, as quiet evenings under the stars are disturbed.”
De Jongh approved a requirement for the Bureau of Motor Vehicles to assist disabled Virgin Islanders with access to public facilities and other government benefits to which they may be entitled.
He also approved a requirement for all government entities to conduct a review of their voice, data, and Internet connectivity contracts and accounts. Such an initiative was previously recommended in testimony by the Acting Director of the Bureau of Information Technology as a means to cut costs and improve efficiency.
Despite some reservations, the governor signed into law a new tax exemption. He wrote he approved the bill after resolving its inherent problems can be corrected with programmatic and legislative adjustments “to assure the continued health and focus of our business incentive program.”
The governor approved two bills related to keeping out of the territory’s correctional institutions devices that could be dangerous, and assuring that Virgin Islands laws address corruptive institutional influences wherever they may attempt to grow within the Bureau of Corrections.
Another new law expands protection of minors from exposure to the sale and consumption of alcohol. The law also adds an important element to alcohol and controlled substances laws -- parents or guardians will be considered liable for the results of a minor’s alcohol consumption they permit at home.
De Jongh item-vetoed several portions of a multi-faceted bill. The nixed portions pertain to economic hardship loans, the University of Virgin Islands power consumption, and placing the Water and Power Authority under the regulatory jurisdiction of the Public Services Commission, “an idea that some legislators seem determined to enact despite the undisputed objections articulated repeatedly by informed individuals and authorities.”
He also item-vetoed a section that seeks to reduce the number of resident workers an Economic Development Commission beneficiary must employ by half -- from ten to five.
A section of that bill regarding GERS was approved, but with an urging to lawmakers to provide more clarity to various beneficiaries.
“We hope that sharing that information will result in the search for a resolution to this and other problems that should be of prime concern to anyone who holds dearly the goal of maintaining forever the health and longevity of the Government Employees Retirement System,” the governor wrote.
The governor signed a law approving an opinion poll in the 2012 General Election on the issue of industrial hemp in the Virgin Islands.
He approved three bills all ratifying his prior assent to various Coastal Zone Management Permits, and bills granting use variances for a plot in Estate Castle Coakley, St Croix to allow for the construction of a religious bookstore and radio broadcasting studio and a plot in Estate Mt. Pleasant, St Croix to allow for the addition of two residential apartments. He also approved bills amending the official zoning map.
Also approved was a bill increasing the level of the principle amount of working capital indebtedness to finance workers compensation claims and provider services.
The governor approved a bill enacting an apprenticeship program that was originally contained in another piece of legislation the governor vetoed on unrelated grounds. He also approved a bill increasing the allowable Worker’s Compensation Benefits to $750,000 for certain Class III employees.
De Jongh acknowledged the 29th Legislature’s passage of resolutions honoring and commending Edwin “Eddie” Ortiz for his service and loyalty to the community, Vera Magdalena Falu and Otto Tranberg for their services to the Virgin Islands community.