Frett-Gregory Pushes Back on Bryan’s Veto of Bill Reforming Hiring Practices

Sen. Donna Frett-Gregory said she plans to work with her colleagues to override Gov. Albert Bryan Jr.’s veto of a bill that would prevent employers from asking about an job applicant’s criminal history until after they have been interviewed and offered a position.

Sen. Donna Frett Gregory (Photo by Barry Leerdam)

The measure — Bill No. 35-0115, an act repealing title 24 Virgin Islands Code, chapter 17, subchapter II, “Limited Use of Criminal Records in Hiring Practices” — was passed unanimously by the Legislature last month and is aimed at helping people who have previously been incarcerated or arrested have a fair chance at employment.

The governor announced earlier Wednesday that he was vetoing the bill, citing concerns about “overreaching components … particularly the severe criminal penalty for employers and the absence of a cap on damages for job applicants.”

“I applaud the Senate for passing such a forward-thinking measure aimed at advancing employment opportunities for individuals in the Territory,” Bryan wrote. “I respectfully request the Legislature to amend the measure by removing the criminal penalty against employers and imposing a cap on damages for applicants/employees. Additionally, the declaration of policy in section 465(b) should align with the language of the Act for consistency. These adjustments would ensure that the measure achieves its intended goal without unduly burdening employers and will provide clarity. I eagerly anticipate the approval of a revised revision of this bill.”

However, Frett-Gregory said the language that Bryan objected to is already part of existing law. “It’s been on the books for almost six years. I am willing to work with the Governor’s Office, fellow Senators, and stakeholders to rework that language to address any concerns that employers may have,” she said in a press release responding to the veto announcement, “but that revision should be done in separate legislation and not hold up this one.”

According to the senator, Bill No. 35-0115 simply carried over civil and criminal penalties the Legislature approved in 2018 when it passed Act No. 8134. “These penalty provisions were added before I joined the Legislature and are found in Title 24, section 468 of the Virgin Islands Code,” Frett-Gregory said. “So, the rationale for vetoing the Bill because of penalty provisions that are already law is somewhat inaccurate.”

The message seemed to irk Bryan, who “replied all” to the email that delivered the press release to the media and government officials, writing, “After our meeting and you state you understand why it was vetoed you release this? Really?”

Frett-Gregory said she plans to “collaborate with my colleagues to chart a path forward. April is Second Chance Month, and we need to give our neighbors, family, and friends a fighting chance to get their foot in the door to show that they have learned from their mistake,” she said.

The bottom line is that ban the box legislation — so called because it eliminates the criminal history question on an initial job application — works, the senator said, noting that 36 states and many municipalities have similar measures, some of which include penalty provisions like those found in existing Virgin Islands law.

“The bill does not force employers to hire anyone, nor does it prevent them from conducting a criminal background check or setting a probationary period. It only delays that criminal background check until later in the onboarding process — after the employer has vetted the potential applicant based on their qualifications,” Frett-Gregory said.

“Based on the challenges with our workforce in the territory, we can no longer wait to give previously incarcerated or arrested persons a foot in the door — a door that leads to gainful employment, economic stability, and support for children and families. As legislators it is our duty to ensure that legislation opens doors and create opportunities not close them,” she said.

Bryan approved the following bills and resolutions that were passed by the 35th Legislature at its session on March 25:

Bill No. 35-0133 An Act establishing a scholarship program to support individuals interested in pursuing a career in the maritime industry in the Virgin Islands.

Bill No. 35-0172 An Act relating to the adoption of nationally recognized consensus-based building codes and standards.

Bill No. 35-0178 — An Act allowing for the automatic expungement of arrest records upon a finding that the arrest lacked probable cause and relating to public records to designate expunged criminal records as confidential records.

Bill No. 35-0182 — An Act designating the existing provisions and adding a subchapter II relating to the nonconsensual dissemination of sexually explicit images.

Bill No. 35-0196 — An Act establishing a deadline for the Government Employees Retirement System to resume the personal loan program, remove the $10,000,000 annual aggregate amount and the 8 percent interest rate cap, to limit the System’s liability to $75,000, and set a parameter in section 717 that all loans must be structured such that the payoff date occurs before the member reaches age 70.

Bill No. 35-0218 — An Act relating to unemployment benefits by: reducing the number of weeks that unemployment benefits can be received; increasing the statute of limitations for the collection of overpayments of unemployment benefits from claimants and for delinquent employer contribution and implementing a 10-year record retention period for employers.

Bill No. 35-0226 — An Act establishing a minimum default amount for child support.

Bill No. 35-0237 — An Act recognizing the month of March as Girl Scouts Month.

Bill No. 35-0249 — An Act authorizing the reprogramming of the remaining unused proceeds of the Series 2016 Emergency First Responder Line of Credit to assist the Virgin Islands Police Department in offsetting costs associated with hosting the June 2024 National Alliance of State Drug Enforcement Agencies International Symposium.

Additionally, Bryan approved the following zoning measures:

Bill No. 35-0213, Bill No. 35-0233, Bill No. 35-0234, Bill No. 35-0235; and approved the following leases: Bill No. 35-0077, Bill No. 35-0211, Bill No. 35-0225, Bill No. 35-0245 and Bill No.35-0246.

Bryan also approved the following honor bills:

Bill No. 35-0107 — an Act posthumously honoring and commending Dr. Fenella Cooper for her contributions to the field of education, sports and culture and naming the University of the Virgin Islands tennis courts in her honor.

Bill No. 35-0184 — an Act posthumously honoring and commending Private Viggo E. Sewer

Bill No. 35-0208 — an Act honoring and commending Bernice Alma Turnbull for her lifetime of service and dedication to the people of the Virgin Islands and naming the Finance Department’s building located at No. 2314 Kronprindsens Gade, Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, “The Bernice Alma Turnbull Finance Administrative Building.”

Bill No. 35-0223 — an Act to honor and commend Bishop Dr. William Alfred Industrious for his service to the people of the Virgin Islands through his transportation service and designating that a portion of Gamle Gade be renamed “Bishop Dr. William A. Industrious Street.”

Bryan acknowledged the Legislature’s favorable action on the nominations of Harold W.L. Willocks as a Supreme Court justice; Averil George as the commissioner of the Human Services Department; Antonio Stevens as the director of Virgin Islands Fire and Emergency Medical Services; Maurice Muia as board member of the Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority; May Adams Cornwall as a member from the district of St. Croix for the Virgin Islands Coastal Zone Management Commission; and Dr. Nathaniel Olive and Carlos Robles as members of the Board of Supervisors on the Virgin Islands Conservation District

Bryan also acknowledged:

Resolution No. 1910 (Bill No. 35-0116) — A Resolution honoring and commending Honorary Brig. Gen. Leayle Gerard Galiber for his leadership in the Virgin Islands National Guard and his dedication to his country and to the people of the Virgin Islands.

Resolution No. 1911 (Bill No. 35-0247) — A Resolution requiring the Virgin Islands Public Services Commission to file an official complaint on behalf of the people of the Virgin Islands against Liberty Latin America, Liberty Mobile USVI and Liberty Mobile Puerto Rico with the Federal Communications Commission.