Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. has sent a request to the Legislature to extend the territory’s state of emergency order another 60 days, from Aug. 10 to Oct. 9. The state of emergency expands the governor’s powers temporarily and allows the government to bypass normally mandatory spending and procurement procedures.
“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have reported that as of Aug. 3, 2020, the coronavirus disease, the severe acute respiratory illness that can spread among humans through respiratory transmission and presents itself with symptoms similar to those of influenza, has sickened more than 4,649,102 people and killed over 154,471 in the U.S. alone,” Bryan wrote in his transmittal letter to Senate President Novelle Francis Jr.
“Because the USVI is a travel destination it is not immune to COVID-19 and will remain at risk as long as it remains rampant throughout the U.S. and the world,” Bryan wrote. “The threat of COVID-19 is even more impactful to our territory as the 2020 hurricane season is actively upon us, with the early arrival of storms and hurricanes looming out at sea.”
In his letter, Bryan requests that the Legislature suspend the portion of V.I. law that limits declared states of emergency to 30-day renewal periods.
“COVID-19 is unpredictable at this time, but projected to last another several months, up to a year,” Bryan wrote.
Bryan said a 60-day extension is more feasible and avoids having to call a legislative session every month, so as not to expose the Legislature and its staff to COVID-19.
The Legislature last acted to extend the state of emergency at a May 6 legislative session.
Gov. Kenneth Mapp came under some criticism for repeatedly extending the state of emergency after the 2017 hurricanes without meeting the statutory requirements for issuing extensions. At the time, the V.I. statute giving the governor power to declare a state of emergency said “(a)ll proclamations issued under this subsection shall indicate the nature of the emergency or major disaster, the area or areas threatened the conditions which have brought it about or which make possible termination of the state of emergency.”
Mapp’s declarations did not meet those existing legal requirements.
After the controversy, the Legislature enacted a new law that also required the administration to get approval from the Legislature.
None of the governor’s nine renewal proclamations indicate any specific emergencies, any specific areas threatened nor any specific conditions which would “make possible termination of the state of emergency.”
Bryan also came under fire for the looser procurement practices under the state of emergency when the Department of Health tentatively awarded a million dollar COVID-19 contact tracing contract to Avera, a company founded by a campaign aid, who graduated from the University of the Virgin Islands in May, and his own daughter, who graduated from college a year ago.
Bryan has said he had no role in the Health Department’s contract decision. Health Department officials said three companies were contacted before the winner was selected, but the head of one of the other companies has said he was not contacted. The third company has been silent.
Health Department officials testified Wednesday that the Avera contract was disqualified due to Avera not supplying corporate documentation in time. It is pursuing other means of contact tracing.
Editor’s Note: This has been corrected to indicate that while Gov. Kenneth Mapp’s extensions did not meet the statutory requirements at the time, those requirements did not include approval by the Legislature. The Legislature added that additional requirement in 2018 in response to the controversy over the repeated, unexplained extensions.