If a person thinks because Stacey Plaskett is “just” a delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives or she is not busy, they have not spent time with her in Washington, D.C.
The Source spent this Wednesday with her in the nation’s capital and every minute was hectic – questions squeezed in between votes on amendments and TV interviews.
She was trying to add an amendment to the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2019. The act, first signed into law in 1994, was in response to a perceived crisis of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking. Plaskett ‘s amendment increases the amount available to the Virgin Islands under the Sexual Assault Services Program and the Transitional Housing Assistance Program. She told the Source the funds would land in the hands of non-profit agencies such as the Women’s Coalition. Her amendment would raise the limit of the federal funds from $60,000 to $120,000.
She told fellow House members on the floor, “”My amendment would double the minimum amount made available to the small territories for transitional housing services, including housing for victims such as emergency services and to move individuals into permanent housing. Assistance for emergency housing is important.”
She added that an increase in domestic violence can partially be attributed to the stress of the hurricanes in 2017. She said, “The territories were massively underequipped to protect the victims.”
The measure – with Plaskett’s amendment included – passed Thursday evening by a vote of 263-158, with 33 Republicans joining the Democrats. It now moves on to the Republican-controlled Senate, where its future is not clear.
When Plaskett left House chamber for what would be a couple-hour break, she turned right toward the Capitol Dome that separates the U.S House from the U.S. Senate and was met by a reporter for a CBS affiliate. In that interview she immediately switched to another topic of concern to residents of the territory. She has been dealing with the issue of territorial residents not having the right to vote for president, and their representative to Congress not having the right to vote on legislation. In March, she sent a letter to Senate President Kenneth Gittens to urge the local government to bring potential future political status of the territory to the forefront.
Congress is working on a bill to advance the issue of voting rights of U.S. citizens in the territories, Plaskett said, and Congress understands residents of the territories have played an important part in American democracy for more than 120 years.
The bill would establish a Congressional Task Force on Voting Rights of United States Citizen Residents of Territories of the United States. The task force would gather findings and issue a report to Congress with recommendations to address the disenfranchisement of Americans in the territories.
Plaskett told the CBS reporter she imagined a full-scale education campaign outlining the pro and cons of what the various political relationships, such as status quo or statehood, could mean for residents and then holding a referendum to find what the majority of residents want, which she could then advocate for in Congress.
Asked whether there was any hope the federal government would bail out the Virgin Islands ailing Government Employees Retirement System, Plaskett said Virgin Islanders needed to face reality.
“It is not going to happen,” she said.
According to Plaskett the Northern Mariana Islands had a similar problem in 2012 and the federal government did not help them.
Plaskett said she works to make those on the federal level more “cognizant” of issues facing the territory. During a recent drought in the territory she found the federal government was not even monitoring the situation in the islands.
As for disaster recovery efforts, she said the initial approach with appropriation of recovery funds was good. However, she said the government is “slow walking” the disbursement of those funds and the local government is having problems meeting mandated cost shares for recovery projects. She said her relationship with Gov. Albert Bryan is good.
“We are both committed to transparency in government,” she said.
When asked about the partisan bickering in the capitol, she said it was not always as bad as citizens and the media perceive it. She pointed out that she had recently been able to work with Garret Graves, a Republican from Louisiana, to get disaster relief legislation passed.
The constant back and forth trips between D.C. and the territory can be hard on a family. Plaskett was in the territory at the beginning of the week, in D.C. in the middle of the week, and back in the territory at the end of the week.
However, Plaskett told the Source her family made the commitment to do it and is doing it.