V.I. lawmakers approved six bills during a Rules and Judiciary Committee hearing at the Frits Lawaetz Legislative Conference Room Monday, including the ban on corporal punishment in territory schools, as well as requiring boards and commissions to be gender-balanced.
Senators voted favorably for Bill No. 34-0097, an act repealing and reenacting Title 17 V.I. Code, chapter 11, section 130, relating to authority to discipline pupils in schools, and repealing Title 17 V.I. Code, chapter 9, subchapter I, section 87, relating to the punishment of pupils by school officials.
V.I. Board of Education Chairman Kyza Callwood testified that the board was concerned with the bill’s vagueness on implementation of the measure.
“Language in the bill allows school personnel to determine the appropriateness of their own physical contact on a case-by-case basis,” Callwood said. “Student safety is too important a concern to allow this level of influence and authority to be placed in the hands of school personnel without adequate safeguards.”
Senate President Donna Frett-Gregory clarified that under the V.I. Code the board does have oversight over the Education Department, and can write policies that incorporate the ban of corporal punishment in schools.
Callwood mentioned that the board is in the process of revising the discipline policy to restorative justice principles with greater protection for students with disabilities.
Lawmakers also voted favorably for Bill No. 34-0062, an act amending Title 3 V.I. Code, chapter 5, section 65a related to filling vacancies on boards and commissions by adding subsection (g) to require memberships on boards and commissions to be gender-balanced.
The New Horizon Women’s Democratic Club, Inc. President Abelle Bakr stated that the Virgin Islands has more than 100 boards and commissions.
“Having a balance on boards and commissions as well as other major leadership roles is more important than ever. This bill is creating a great opportunity by impacting the landscape of our professional community, therefore impacting our community on a whole,” Bakr said.
The measure, sponsored by Sen. Genevieve R. Whitaker, caused some concern as finding qualified individuals to serve on boards and commissions is already a challenge.
“What this bill does is make a bad situation a bit more challenging by finding a gender-balanced person to complete the board versus selecting a qualified individual. I don’t think we have issues with recognizing strong leadership irrespective of gender,” Senator Milton Potter said.
Senators also voted in the affirmative for the following:
• 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 for preservation against climate change, natural disasters and other situations that could lead to total annihilation of crops, plants and other fauna and flora.
• Bill No. 34-0099: An act amending title 3 V.I. Code, chapter 25, sections 530 (g) and chapter 27, section 705(c), changing the mandatory retirement age of police officers, firefighters and correction officers from 55 to 65.
• Bill No. 34-0089: An act appropriating $920,000 to the V.I. Port Authority 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, Cruz Bay Quarter; and appropriating $580,000 to the Public Works Department for the construction of a boat dock and slipway at Enighed Pond on the island of St. John.
• Bill No. 34-0081: An act amending title 27 V.I. Code, chapter 17 relating to barbering and cosmetology services to reflect the barbering and cosmetology services that are being currently offered and to rename the chapter and the Board to reflect the changes.
However, lawmakers voted to hold in committee Bill No. 34-0072, an act amending Title 23 V.I. Code, chapter 5. providing for the declaration of firearm components upon their entry into the Virgin Islands, and other related purposes.
All items approved will be forwarded to the full body for further consideration.