ST. THOMAS — Gov. Kenneth Mapp is now required by law to justify any further extensions to the territory’s state of emergency to the V.I. Legislature.
On Friday, during a legislative session on St. Thomas, lawmakers voted to override Mapp’s veto of Bill 32-0185, a bill that requires a governor — after the first 60 days of a state of emergency — to request further extensions from the Legislature, complete with a progress report.
Sen. Tregenza Roach, who authored the bill, said the measure is effective immediately, meaning Mapp will now have to consult the Legislature if he chooses to extend the state of emergency beyond Nov. 1.
The territory has been under a declared state of emergency since Sept. 5, the day before Hurricane Irma hit on Sept. 6.
For Roach, a primary goal of his bill is to bring more transparency and accountability to the broad scope of powers given to a governor during a state of emergency, including the powers that handle billions of federal recovery dollars.
“The governor should not have the unfettered authority to declare and extend a state of emergency indefinitely,” said Roach at a recent session. “A state of emergency gives the governor the authority to suspend any statute that he so chooses, including the statutes related to procurement of goods and services for the government of the Virgin Islands.”
Indeed, the V.I. Code also allows the governor to establish price freezes and suspend laws, rules, and regulations for virtually any government agency.
Mapp, who vetoed the bill late last month, insisted it “reeks of politics,” and would only result in delaying the executive branch’s immediate response to disasters.
“The Virgin Islands’ state of emergency exists so we can expedite the procurement process and response to federal imposed cost share deadlines,” said Mapp, in a letter penned to Jackson. “While I understand the need of some members of the Legislature to ask for a ‘go slow’ process, this adds no benefit to the recovery of the territory.”
Roach later told The Daily News that Mapp had “misapprehended” the bill.
“The bill is not intended to end the state of emergency — it is intended to provide more transparency in the emergency response process,” he said. “The bill retains the governor’s ability to declare a state of emergency and it allows him to continue that state of emergency for 60 days. But it provides transparency to the public so that we don’t have people routinely coming up one year later and asking why we’re still under a state of emergency other than these really terse statements that the government gives out.”
Roach added that justifying extensions to the Legislature would not “slow down” response efforts.
“The bill already considers that — if there’s inaction on the part of the Legislature, the state of emergency would continue,” Roach said. “So, there would be nothing that would stymie response efforts.”
Voting in favor of the override were: Senators Roach, Dwayne Degraff, Marvin Blyden, Jean Forde, Novelle Francis Jr., Alicia Hansen, Myron Jackson, Janette Millin Young, Positive Nelson, Sammuel Sanes and Brian Smith.
Voting against the override were: Senators Neville James, Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly, Janelle Sarauw and Kurt Vialet.