Senators heard testimony on two bills that aim to alter the V.I. Code to better serve the community and certain public sector employees.
The first bill strengthens cosmetology licensing enforcement, and the other offers career incentives to the territory’s enforcement officers.
The Government Operations and Consumer Protection Committee met Tuesday at the Frits Lawaetz Conference Room at the V.I. Legislature on St. Croix and first considered Bill 34-0081, sponsored by Sen. Novelle Francis Jr. The bill intends to amend the V.I. Code in relation to barbering and cosmetology services to better reflect what is currently being offered.
Nathalie Hodge, assistant commissioner for the Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs, gave testimony on the bill.
“These changes have required — in the interest of protecting Virgin Islanders — the setting of higher standards for these licensees that will better reflect our current times and that is more consistent with the best practices on a national level,” Hodge said. Without proper regulation and licensing in the cosmetology industry, the fear is that individuals may conduct procedures incorrectly that can negatively affect the customer.
“We’ve been working on the legislation to protect the community from fungus, ingrown nails or hair falling out — all those are issues we need to address,” Francis said.
Hodge noted that the rules and regulations for these industries have not been updated in the V.I. Code since 2004, and over the past decade and a half, there have been many changes in practices.
“Lastly and most importantly the amendments have strengthened the Board’s authority to ensure that the licensees are abiding by the ethical and fiduciary standards that have been more clearly stated and are thereby held more accountable,” Hodge said.
Further, she explained that one of the challenges the board faces is administrative enforcement, as it doesn’t have the manpower necessary to investigate individuals or businesses that operate without a license.
Hodge reported that there are 112 manicurists, 160 beauticians, 58 barbers, 38 estheticians and six hair braiders in the territory who are licensed to conduct business.
The second bill, No. 34-0090, sponsored by Sen. Milton Potter, aims to extend the Career Incentive Program to all peace officers. The program is meant as a recruitment and retention tool for the number of government departments that employ peace officers. According to the V.I. Code, under the Career Incentive Program, officers who wish to further their post-secondary education while they are employed will receive an increase in pay based on the number of credits earned or degree pursued.
Currently, the Career Incentive Program is open to officers of all ranks within the V.I. Police Department, the office of the V.I. Marshal, as well as probation officers of the Superior Court, corrections officers with the Bureau of Corrections and Human Services Department’s Youth Rehabilitation Center, the V.I. Fire Service, and the V.I. Port Authority’s firefighters, crew chiefs and police officers.
Cindy Richardson, director-nominee for the V.I. Personnel Division, testified that while she supported revamping the program, there were still a number of factors that should be considered.
“Having dealt with similar situations from a federal perspective, a strong policy outlining approval by the agency head, a clear selection criterion, applicable/eligible degrees pertaining to the individual job description, verification of accredited educational institution, commitment of service by employee to ensure return on investment, and auditing are all needed to ensure a successful program,” Richardson said.
She reported there are currently 725 peace officers in the territory, and of that number, 176 are eligible for the program through the V.I. Police Department. However, the bill would potentially make 549 more individuals eligible.
It was unclear what the economic impact the expansion of the program may have, as the Personnel Division needed to conduct further analysis.
At least one senator was skeptical about the program. “I’m in support of having the incentive, but I need all the facts before I make a decision, so I’m asking for more data,” Sen. Alma Heyliger said.
Both bills were forwarded to the Rules and Judiciary Committee for further consideration.