Members of the 34th Legislature took their oaths of office in an outdoor ceremony on Monday, then went into the Earl B. Ottley Legislative Hall on St. Thomas and passed their first measure, Bill No. 34-0001.
The bill organizing the new Senate was sent to Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. for his signature.
V.I. Supreme Court Chief Justice Rhys Hodge administered the oath of office to the legislators.
During the ceremony, Haldane Davies, vice president for business development and innovation at the University of the Virgin Islands, urged the newly formed Legislature to rebuild the U.S. Virgin Islands – “Not back to the glory days, but a new and improved future built on vision, tradition, hard work, planning.”
“You have the opportunity perhaps like no other to be resilient, strategic, prudent and purposeful about the coordinated direction of these Virgin Islands as you work in balance with the other branches of government in the interest of our collective future,” Davies said. “You have the opportunity to make a name for the 34th Legislature and this territory that could stand the test of time for generations to come.”
“Let the best of the two years granted to you by the people of this territory create history, turn the tide. Work like it is your one and only chance to serve this territory and who knows … you could again be standing right here,” Davies said.
The 15 senators comprising the 34th Legislature are Sens. Marvin Blyden, Samuel Carrion, Dwayne DeGraff, Novelle Francis Jr., Alma Francis Heyliger, Donna Frett-Gregory, Kenneth Gittens, Javan James Sr., Franklin Johnson, Carla Joseph, Steven Payne Sr., Milton Potter, Janelle Sarauw, Kurt Vialet and Genevieve Whitaker.
An 11-member majority caucus consists of Sens. Blyden, Carrion, Francis, Frett-Gregory, Gittens, Joseph, Payne, Potter, Sarauw, Vialet and Whitaker.
The lawmakers elected Frett-Gregory as the new Senate president, replacing Francis, who will now serve as Senate vice president and secretary for inside governmental and territorial affairs. Blyden was elected majority leader and liaison to the U.S. Congress; Whitaker was elected as liaison to the U.S. Department of Interior and Office of Insular Affairs as well as Senate secretary; and Gittens was elected as liaison to the White House.
In her first words as Senate president, Frett-Gregory said, “I sit before you today not by happenstance, but because of the strong, dedicated, passionate women who served before me.”
She added, “I will not be the last woman to serve as president of this body.”
Addressing her colleagues, Frett-Gregory said that she would be remiss if she didn’t speak about the events that occurred on Jan. 6 in the nation’s capital, which led to the House of Representatives to call for the impeachment of President Donald Trump.
“The events at the U.S. Capitol is saddening, to say the least,” Frett-Gregory said. “It is a reminder to all of us that as leaders we must not undermine the very institution that we take an oath to protect. We know our words have power so we must use our words wisely and act in the best interest of the people, because we saw on Jan. 6, the words we speak to our electorate can have far-reaching implications.”
Davies also mentioned the events of Jan. 6, calling the present “a time when we see the foundation of our own democracy shaken,” and urged legislators to “traverse the path of recovery and seek to create a resilient and sustainable future for our territory.”
The session was recessed and will reconvene after the governor’s State of the Territory address, scheduled for Jan. 25.