Rules and Judiciary Forwards Bills to Full Legislature

Sen. Milton Potter, chair of the Rules and Judiciary Committee, leads Thursday’s session. (Legislature photo.)

After approving board members for several agencies, including the V.I. Housing Authority and the V.I. Pharmacy Board, the Rules and Judiciary Committee discussed and forwarded all five of the presented bills Thursday to the Committee of the Whole.

Bill No. 34-0238 is an act amending title 17 of the Virgin Islands Code, chapter 5, section 41 (c) relating to courses of study in public schools to require that Virgin Islands and Caribbean history be integrated into the curriculum for kindergarten through grade 12 and for other purposes. The bill is sponsored by Sens. Genevieve R. Whitaker and Carla J. Joseph.

Whitaker, who introduced the bill, said that a curriculum for Virgin Islands history was discussed by the Legislature as far back as 1983 and 1986, but not formalized. Virgin Islands children currently learn U.S. and world history but not their own, she added.
“Crime will be reduced because they will understand the value of life.”

Bill No. 34-0243 amends title 27 of the V.I. Code, chapter 4, section 193 to change the composition of the Board of Naturopathic Physicians, sponsored by Whitaker. One goal of the bill, she said, is to add college classes to the University of the Virgin Islands curriculum.

Currently, there are no guidelines or regulations to comprise a naturopathic board, Whitaker said. She added an amendment that specified the number of members and the backgrounds of prospective board members.

Bill No. 34-0271 amends title 10 of the V.I. Code, chapter 5, section 64 of the Civil Rights Act to include discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity as an unlawful discriminatory practice. Sens. Janelle K. Sarauw and Marvin A. Blyden sponsored the bill.

“We’ve had to fight for everything, and we’re not going to discriminate against anyone,” Blyden said when he introduced the bill.

Bill No. 34-0272 amends title 3 of the V.I. Code, chapter 16, section 274 to empower the executive director of the Taxicab Commission to hire the necessary staff to operate and manage the Taxicab Commission office. The bill was sponsored by Sens. Sarauw, Blyden and Franklin D. Johnson.

Several senators spoke in support of the bill including Sen. Novelle Francis. They agreed the executive director needs certain powers to run the office but not to undermine the Taxicab Commission. Taxicabs are an important support to promote tourism, the territory’s number one economic driver, Francis said.

Bill No. 34-0278 is an act approving a lease agreement between the government of the Virgin Islands, acting through the commissioner of the Department of Property and Procurement, and On The Level d/b/a OTL Mechanical for the leasing of Parcel No. 69 Submarine Base, No. 4 Southside Quarter, St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. This bill was sponsored by Sen. Donna A. Frett-Gregory.

Francis introduced the bill, requested by the governor, he said, to approve a 20-year lease to operate OTL Mechanical on less than an acre of land on St. Thomas. The rent will be $1,495.31 per month, and some senators complained there was no built-in rent increase.

Bill No. 34-0236 amends title 17 of the V.I. Code, chapter 15, section 190dd extends the eligibility for the Virgin Islands Higher Education Scholarship Program to part-time students. Sen. Samuel Carrion sponsored the bill, and Sens. Whitaker and Carla J. Joseph were co-sponsors.

Carrion said one purpose of the bill, written with input from the University of the Virgin Islands, is to produce “a more robust workforce.” After a discussion about whether the qualifying grade point average should be higher or lower, the senator added two amendments — to reduce the required grade point average from 2.5 to 2.0 and to require UVI to develop new requirements and procedures for part-time students.

Sen. Milton Potter, chairman, expressed concern that “the material does not exist” now and they will hold “feet to the fire” to develop it.

Most senators supported all bills, especially adding V.I. history to the curriculum. Sen. Angel Bolques said he especially favored that bill, the anti-discrimination bill and said the Taxicab Commission needs “more forward” operations.

All five bills were approved by the committee, including Potter, Whitaker, Bolques, Francis and Joseph. Sens. Franklin Johnson and Kenneth Gittens participated in the discussions but left before the votes were taken.