ST.THOMAS—The 30th Legislature, chaired by Senate President Shawn-Michael Malone, gathered at the Earle B. Ottley Legislative Hall Thursday for the first day of a two-day session, where lawmakers approved several economic development measures as well as bills  calling for the Governor to pay back public funds expended on his private residence and the decriminalization of marijuana.

Bill Nos. 30-0330, 30-0429, 30-0431, 30-0440 were approved, enacting the Economic Development Program, establishing the Agriculture Business Incubator Center for the farming industry, establishing the Hotel Development Program and renovating the Paul E. Joseph Stadium, respectively.

The Senate President explained that the approval of these bills was just the beginning and said that he would do his part to ensure that the people of the territory be made aware of the beneficial impact the measures would have.

“This is not to be taken lightly, he said. “These bills in particular have far reaching positive impact for the people of our beloved Virgin Islands.”

“[People] can see a way out, a light at the end of the tunnel because of the work of members of this institution and the agencies that we work with to craft these policies, so that they turn into something tangible,” he said. “Good things are happening for the Virgin Islands.”

Sen. Janette Millin Young, Chair of the Committee of Economic Development, Agriculture and Planning shared the Senate President’s enthusiasm – particularly for Bill No. 30-0249, which establishes the Agriculture Business Incubator Center.

“The incubator program offers assistance, guidance, and business management to aid in the operations and increase production of our farmers,” she explained.

The body also approved Bill No. 30-0442, a resolution urging Gov. John P. deJongh Jr., to return government funds that were improperly used by his administration to upgrade his private residence.

The bill’s primary sponsors – Senators Terrence “Positive” Nelson, Kenneth L. Gittens and Shawn-Michael Malone each spoke in favor of the measure.

Sen. Malone said that as a leader who believed in consistency, he encouraged his colleagues to support the bill’s passing.

“I will be voting enthusiastically for Bill No. 30-0442 to further send the message of this body, that the governor shall pay back the taxpayer’s hard earned money used to fix his house,” he said.

Senators Nelson and Gittens shared this sentiment.

“It was wrong for the governor to take money to build his personal home,” said Sen. Nelson.

Sen. Gittens agreed, saying that accountability and oversight were critical.

“We owe it to the people of the Virgin Islands to serve them well,” he said.

Additionally, the body approved Bill No. 30-0018, sponsored by Sen. Terrence “Positive” Nelson, with a vote of 14 yes, 1 absent. The measure reduces the penalties for the possession of small amounts of marijuana to fines rather than imprisonment. Senators agreed that while they may not agree with the legalization of the drug, they were in support of decriminalization.

Senators present Thursday included, Craig W. Barshinger, Judi Buckley, Donald G. Cole, Clifford F. Graham, Kenneth L. Gittens, Alicia “Chucky” Hansen, Myron D. Jackson, Shawn Michael Malone, Janette Millin Young, Terrence “Positive” Nelson, Nereida Rivera O’Reilly, Clarence Payne III, Tregenza A. Roach, and Sammuel Sanes.