Controversy began to stir during the Committee on Government Operations, Veterans Affairs, and Consumer Protection on Wednesday as Sen. Dwayne M. DeGraff proposed legislation to establish a Veterans Council.
Bill No. 35-0008 is an Act amending the Virgin Islands Code to allow the Office of Veterans Affairs to establish the Veterans Council under the Office of Veterans Affairs to serve as advisor to the Office of Veterans Affairs and as a liaison between the Office of Veterans Affairs and all private entities serving veterans in the territory.
Sen. Ray Fonseca was skeptical about the financial impact the council might have on the Veteran’s budget; however, the bill did not call for any additional funding to implement the council, which raised some concerns.
“The council would need training and travel if they needed to be certified, which would impact the budget,” Fonseca said.
The legislation, as written, does not require or specify to training or certification and Veterans Affairs Director Patrick Farrell made it clear that there are no discretionary funds for the council in the budget at this time.
“The Council as it is right now asked for me not to allow the politic aspect of this to get in between our council that we have right now,” Farrell said.
Vice-Chair of the Committee, Sen. Javan James, made a reference regarding the block plant zoning bill for St. Croix. During the zoning hearing, James stated his colleagues were advocating to listen to subject experts about the placement of the plant. James felt that he “needed to listen to subject experts on this matter” regarding Veterans Affairs and not vote in favor of the measure in an effort not to “over legislate.”
While members of the Senate body were in favor of the intent behind DeGraff’s bill, the measure was unsuccessful in passing the committee.
Sen. Angel Bolques experienced a triumph when he proposed Bill No. 35-0075, an Act to designate the third Monday in February as Virgin Islands Governors Day.
Although, Sen. Alma Francis Heyliger said she “felt the timing for such legislation is off considering the Virgin Islands is still in the spotlight regarding the Jeffery Epstein case, and three of our officials have been named.” Heyliger also stated that such a bill would not be necessary if V.I. History were taught properly with integration.
Despite protest from Francis Heyliger, Bolques’ bill was passed for further consideration from the Senate body.
Sens. Ray Fonseca and Marvin A. Blyden presented Bill No. 35-0033, an Act honoring and commending Mr. Benburin “Benny” Stephens posthumously for his heroism in saving the lives of a mother and her children and renaming the Bovoni Road, specifically from the entrance of the Abattoir to the entrance of the Bertha C. Boschulte Middle School, “The Benburin” Benny” Stephens Drive.” The measure was favorably passed for further consideration.
Chairwoman Carla Joseph thanked Beverly Stephens-Samuel, the daughter of Benburin, who gave testimony and a tribute to her father. “I thank you for keeping that fire burning for assuring your father is recognized for his level of heroism and he is a part of the community.”
Sens. Carla Joseph, Angel Bolques Jr, Ray Fonseca, Alma Francis Heyliger, Milton Potter, Samuel Carrion, Diane Capehart, Kenneth Gittens, Javan James Sr, Dwayne M. DeGraff, Marvin Blyden, and Marise C. James were in attendance at Wednesday’s hearing.