A bill to close the loophole permitting men to avoid rape charges by marrying their victims appears to be moving on the fast track, passing through the Senate’s Committee on Youth, Sports, Parks and Recreation on Tuesday and through the Rules and Judiciary Committee on Thursday.
On Thursday, Sen. Javan James introduced the bill he is sponsoring with Sen. Athneil Thomas by showing a film clip from the Tuesday hearing. In the clip, Women’s Coalition of St. Croix Executive Director Clema Lewis said she worked on cases where a child of 14 and a child of 16 were forced to get married by their parents. In each case, she recounted the girls were pregnant and the marriages were a way for the men to avoid rape charges. She said neither case worked out well for the females.
“Both cases were brought to our office after the perpetrators refused to support the minors and their babies,” Lewis said.
Sen. Alicia Barnes expressed the sentiment of all committee members Thursday when she said the bill was necessary to address the “dark secret” of what happens sometimes in the territory.
Another bill the committee considered Thursday – requiring that businesses post the necessary labor law posters in a conspicuous place inside their establishments – did not receive the same consensus. Sens. Novelle Francis Jr. and Janelle Sarauw voted against the measure. Francis, a business owner himself, objected to the measure because of all the space the posters could take up and because of the penalties that a business owner could be subjected to if a poster simply falls.
Sen. Myron Jackson tried to address Francis’ concern by amending the measure to allow a handbook outlining employees’ rights to be handed out in place of the posters. The measure still passed out of the committee to the full Senate with a favorable recommendation as Sens. Jackson, James and Steven Payne Sr. voted for it. Sen. Kenneth Gittens was absent from the hearing.
Also moving forward from the committee with a favorable recommendation was a bill mandating that a business license be issued to an applicant with 10 days. The bill as Barnes had originally introduced would have required the issuance of the license within three days. Barnes said the change was made in response to concerns raised by the Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs. An applicant could still guarantee receiving a license within three days if they paid a $200 fee to expedite it.
A bill to start the school year in August and end no later than the last Friday of May found no opposition from Committee members. Francis said “tinkering” with the school calendar was hard and, although this was a good solution, not everyone would be happy.
The committee ended its daylong hearing by forwarding two bills aimed at encouraging economic investment in the territory. One aimed to clarify provisions of the Tax Incremental Financing Program, and the other would extend the time allowed for the Enterprise Zone Commission to confer benefits.