The Virgin Islands has a fair share of women in leadership roles in the territory, but a controversial bill passed by the 34th Legislature will now require the governor to consider gender when he appoints a nominee to a board or commission.

Under Bill No. 34-0062, sponsored by Sen. Genevieve Whittaker, the V.I. Code would be amended as it relates to filling vacancies on boards and commissions with a subsection requiring membership on boards and commissions to be gender balanced.

The bill will be forwarded to Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. for his signature or veto.

“Leading to the passage of this measure was a lot of support throughout the community and even the world. I’m a woman’s advocate and also an advocate overall for gender,” Whitaker said Thursday during legislative session at the Earl B. Ottley Legislative Hall on St. Thomas, following passage of her bill.

Sen. Franklin Johnson, who opposed the bill, said that requiring a gender-balanced board would open up “Pandora’s box.”

“I don’t see us having a problem when it comes to finding folks that are qualified and capable of doing this job whether they are male, female, or all the other genders that are out there,” he said. Sen. Novelle Francis Jr. noted that the language was not clear, adding that it mandates a “good-faith effort” be made by the governor when appointing nominees to ensure boards or commissions are gender-balanced, but does not elaborate on how this will be measured. Francis, however, eventually voted to pass the bill.

Senate President Donna Frett-Gregory was among those who voiced early support for the bill.

“We’ve had many women that served in the Legislature. However, we’ve only seen two presidents before myself,” Frett-Gregory said.

“It’s time for women to stand up for women.”

Ten senators voted in the affirmative for the bill. In addition to Whitaker, Francis and Frett-Gregory, the others were Marvin Blyden, Samuel Carrion, Alma Francis Heyliger, Carla Joseph, Steven Payne Sr., Milton Potter and Janelle Sarauw.

Johnson voted no, and Sens. Javan James Sr., Kurt Vialet, Dwayne De Graff and Kenneth Gittens, who is on medical leave, were absent for the vote.

Senators also approved a number of bills, resolutions, and rezoning measures that have been in the works since August.

Bill No. 34-0078, received unanimous approval. It seeks to transfer government land that the former Addelita Cancryn Junior High School is located on to the V.I. Port Authority, to expand shipping and storage capabilities at the Crown Bay Fill.

Senators referred to its approval as “game changer.”

“This is going to make us one of the largest transshipment ports within the Leeward Islands,” Joseph said.

In exchange for the land swap, the Port Authority must pay into the Education Maintenance Fund — a sum was not identified — and build a warehouse for the Education Department to utilize for food storage.

Sens. Frett-Gregory, Francis, Blyden, Carrion, Heyliger, James, Johnson, Joseph, Payne, Potter, Sarauw and Vialet voted in approval of the measure, with Sens. Whitaker, DeGraff and Gittens absent.

Other bills approved are:

Bill No. 34-0097, which bans corporal punishment in territory schools.

Bill No. 34-0145, which rezones government farmland on St. Croix for the expansion of the University of the Virgin Islands Research and Technology Park.

“We will do what is necessary for us to ensure that the farmers in this Virgin Islands are not displaced as a result of this particular measure,” Frett-Gregory said, as the tech village will be built on land already being occupied by a farmer.

Bill No. 34-0040, an act establishing the Nurse Licensure Compact to create a multistate nursing license.

Bill No. 34-0047, an act requiring the Agriculture Department and the University of the Virgin Islands to create a plan to develop a community seed banking program to store and preserve seeds.

Bill No. 34-0051, an act to lower the required minimum amount of fluoride in fresh water distributed for public consumption or for consumption in any schools in the Virgin Islands; and relating to the school health program to include a dental program.

Bill No. 34-0053, an act establishing the Emergency Medical Services High School Program Fund and making a $160,000 appropriation from the Centennial Special Fund to the Education Department to fund the basic EMS education program.

Bill No. 34-0069, an act to direct the commissioner of Public Works to maintain a master contract for providing governmental entities with architectural and engineering services for construction, expansion, renovation, major maintenance, rehabilitation, or replacement projects that cost less than $500,000 over the life of the project.

Bill No. 34-0081, an act amending V.I. Code to reflect the barbering and cosmetology services that are being currently offered and to rename the chapter and the Board to reflect the changes.

Bill No. 34-0085, an act to increase the fine for the unauthorized importation of snakes and to extend the Fish and Wildlife Restoration Trust Fund to the regulation of the importation and control of non-indigenous evasive species.

Bill No. 34-0089, an act appropriating $920,000 to VIPA for the construction of an aesthetically pleasing Cruz Bay fish market and to modify the existing concrete boat ramp and bulkhead at the Little Cruz Bay Dock.

Bill No. 34-0099, an act changing the mandatory retirement age of police officers, firefighters and correction officers from 55 to 65.

— Contact Sara Kirkpatrick at 340-714- 9109 or email