The territory will join the state of California and several U.S. cities in banning most plastic drinking straws if Gov. Kenneth Mapp signs a bill approved Monday by the full Senate. Senators also voted to raise the Water and Power Authority’s debt ceiling and changed the definition of “behavioral therapy.”
The straw measure, proposed by Sens. Janelle Sarauw (I-STT) and other senators, would expand the territory’s 2017 ban on most plastic grocery bags by including plastic straws. It was first heard in committee in July but was held at that time.
The Government Affairs, Veterans, Energy and Environmental Protection Committee sent on the measure earlier in October after amending it to include plastic stirrers, exclude such items as juice boxes that come with straws attached, and exempt hospitals, nursing homes and medical supply retailers.
“As small as straws may be, they leave a lasting impact on our marine environment. We have already lost 80 percent of our coral reef cover in the Caribbean region,” Sarauw said when it was debated earlier this month in committee.
While they supported expanding the plastic bag ban to include straws, some lawmakers said the original ban needed revision.
“The straw bill is harmless. I voted for the ban on plastic bags. However, it was not as successful. I did not vote for businesses to charge me for a plastic bag. That bill needs amendments,” Sen. Jean Forde (D-STT) said.
The Senate also approved legislation increasing WAPA’s bond debt limit by $250 million, to $750 million. WAPA is near the old limit of $500 million. Federal loans do not count toward the new maximum.
Senators also approved a measure from O’Reilly amending the way “behavioral therapy” is defined in V.I. law so that students with Autism Spectrum Disorder can get behavioral therapy while in the public schools for a longer period of time. While there are federal funds for this sort of student assistance, local law limits the territory’s ability to use that funding. Under current law, students age 13 to 16 can get this care. The bill initially raise the age to 22 but Education Department officials encouraged senators to raise it to 26 to take advantage of the U.S. Affordable Care Act’s provision letting children stay on their parents’ insurance until age 26. Senators amended the bill Monday to raise the age.
Health Department officials recommended a financial analysis be done on government spending before acting on this measure but senators did not agree.
There are roughly 473 special education students in the St. Thomas-St. John District and 574 in the St. Croix District, totaling 1,047 children in all, according to the Department of Education.
One measure approved Monday changes a law approved over the governor’s veto amending the territory’s descriptions of practices and procedures constituting the practice of optometry. The act abolishes certain restrictions such as the exclusion of glaucoma from the scope of optometrists’ practice in the Virgin Islands.
When Mapp vetoed the bill in September, he said language about telemedicine seemed to require two licensed Virgin islands healthcare professionals be present at the same time, which would make it hard to comply with the law and also expand telemedicine. He also objected to amendments allowing physicians and healthcare facilities accepting Medicare and Medicaid to defer payment of gross receipts taxes. The legislation approved Monday eliminates those features which Mapp objected to.
The Senate also approved a resolution commending Judge Eileen Petersen and renaming the Casino Control Commission office on St. Croix in her honor. Petersen was the first female judge on what is now V.I. Superior Court and the first woman on the Casino Control Commission.