Bill Mandating Speedy Business Licenses Moves Forward

Richard Evangelista (photo by Barry Leerdam for the V.I. Legislature)

Getting a business license in the U.S. Virgin Islands can take a couple of months, compared to a couple of days in some places in the States. The lengthy process has been an ongoing complaint of the territory’s business community. The Committee on Government Operations, Consumer Affairs, Energy, Environment and Planning considered a bill Wednesday to require “that an initial business license be issued within three days of application.”

Richard Evangelista, commissioner of the Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs, said he sees the measure as cutting into his department’s responsibility to safeguard the community. He countered with a proposal to issue not a business license but a “general license” in a quick time frame.

In his testimony Evangelista said, “It is important to point out that while the proposed legislation seeks …. to expedite the licensing process, it should not overlook the fundamental statutory purpose and mandate of the Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs in doing so. This bill entirely wipes out our department’s ability to protect the public at the most critical time, which is before granting a business license, at the time of the filing of an application.”

His proposed general license would allow the applicant to perform some activities associated with a new business but not allow the business to begin operations.

Sen. Alicia Barnes, sponsor of the bill, questioned whether such a license would be recognized by financial institutions where a local entrepreneur might seek funding.

Evangelista’s team could not say for certain that would happen.

Barnes said that unless the Senate received verification that the financial institutions would recognize the general license, “we might be engaged in an exercise in futility.”

Ryan Nelthropp, chairman of the St. Croix Chamber of Commerce Board sent a letter in support of Barnes’ proposed bill. He wrote, “the St. Croix Chamber of Commerce is highly in favor of a quick (three-day) issuance of the initial business license as it will encourage economic growth and entrepreneurship. Many potential business owners have been deterred by the horrific licensing stories and journeys of past applicants.”

He added board members are “cognizant of the need to have strict and thorough guidelines for business owners and expect DLCA to follow through with licensees to ensure they are abiding by all the requirements set forth.”

The bill, which was moved with a favorable recommendation to the Rules and Judiciary Committee, sets forth several situations where the Department of Licensing can revoke the expedited license.

One holdup for those applying for business licenses has been getting tax clearance letters from the Bureau of Internal Revenue. Evangelista testified that the bureau has become much more efficient and quick at getting those to his department.

Another bill the committee voted to move favorably to the Rules and Judiciary Committee would create a process for transferring a vehicle upon the death of an individual, without going through the probate process.

The bill was proposed by Sen. Janelle Sarauw who said such a process would take a burden off probate court which has a back log of cases. She said the probate system has issues, that it was established in the 1950s and modeled on the New York system which has been totally revamped since then.

Richard Bourne-Vanneck, a St. Thomas attorney practicing in the areas of estates and probate law, testified in support of the bill. He said that with a minor modification the bill would be “a positive development in the laws of the Virgin Islands regarding the transfer of property and, as such, is in the public interest.”

Voting to move the bill forward were Sens. Barnes, Marvin Blyden, Athneil Thomas, and Myron Jackson. Absent for the vote were committee members Sens. Alison DeGazon, Javan James and Kenneth Gittens.

Another bill receiving a favorable vote from the committee was one that would include persons who are handicapped within the class of persons exempt from being charged a fee for a handicapped window decal.

Two other bills were discussed and held in committee.

One bill would require that the Waste Management Authority designate disposal sites throughout the territory for waste tires, and creates the Waste Tire Management and Disposal Fund, was held because as the hearing went into the evening hours most of the testifiers were not available.

Another wide-ranging bill introduced by Sarauw which she called the Family Law was also held after testimony from several of the agencies affected by it.

Among other things the bill would provide for maternity, paternity, and adoption leave for government employees; provide for learning evaluation of children, postpartum care and minimum standards of health care for incarcerated women and men; establish a new procedure for obtaining an initial birth certificate; prohibit the use of corporal punishment in schools; and provide for paid time off from work so that parents may visit their children’s schools, and providing that certain health care facilities hire discharge planners not later than January 2020.