ST. THOMAS — Senators voted on more than a dozen bills aimed at improving the quality of life for Virgin Islanders during Tuesday’s Senate session, including a measure that requires the V.I. Water and Power Authority to hire a turnaround company.
Bill No. 34-0021, sponsored by Sen. Janelle Sarauw, was initially passed in the 33rd Legislature but vetoed by Gov. Albert Bryan Jr.
The bill grants the V.I. Public Services Commission regulatory oversight of the V.I. Water and Power Authority, and allows consumers to file telecommunications complaints with the PSC. The legislation was previously amended to include the provision for a turnaround company, in the hope that an outside party can help objectively assess and recommend changes to WAPA’s operations.
Senators praised the measure as an effort to help correct the troubled power company’s longstanding financial and service issues, and provide Virgin Islanders with a reliable, affordable source of power for their homes and businesses.
Bryan had also previously vetoed Bill No. 34-0026, which reduces the number of WAPA board members from nine to six, and establishes minimum requirements for membership, saying it violated the separation of powers doctrine.
Senators said the measure is essential to ensure the board comprises knowledgeable members — and the reduction in board members makes it easier to achieve a quorum and hold meetings.
“I’m not sure what Political Science 101 class we sat in, or Civics 101,” but “the separation of powers doctrine does not apply to the composition of a board,” Sarauw said. “The continuous vetoing of a board that we’re trying to get the proper expertise on, is a tacit approval of WAPA’s performance. That’s what it is. Blocking us, or vetoing boards continuously, means that we are OK with the status quo.”
Sen. Kurt Vialet agreed that “we’ve got to respect subject area expertise” and fill the WAPA board with members who can avoid past mistakes, like the $80 million 2014 contract with propane supplier Vitol that ballooned to more than $160 million.
“We cannot continue for every and anybody to determine that they’re an expert, and that they’re going to be at the forefront of making decisions that experts were supposed to be involved in,” Vialet said.
Senators voted unanimously to approve the measures, and all of the following bills:
• Bill No. 34-0003, which sets a time period within which the zoning administrator must act on a building permit application submitted to the Department of Planning and Natural Resources, and mandates that 3% of fines and fees be used to create and maintain an electronic permitting system.
• Bill No. 34-0005 relates to the filling of vacancies on boards and commissions, and authorizes the governor to nominate a replacement member 60 days before a sitting member’s term expires. The legislation also aims to reduce the workload for commissioners mandated to serve on certain boards and commissions, by enabling the governor to appoint another department or agency official in their place.
• Bill No. 34-0023, which establishes the Invasive Species Eradication Community Program, and to appropriate $10,000 into a fund for the payment of bounties on invasive snakes and other nuisance species introduced to the territory.
• Bill No. 34-0025, which establishes minimum criteria for service on the Public Services Commission governing board and reduces the number of voting members from seven to five.
• Bill No. 34-0026, which reduces the number of WAPA board members from nine to six, and establishes minimum requirements for membership. The legislation doubles the stipend for non-government PSC board members from $50 to $100 per day, and increases the WAPA stipend from $50 to $175.
• Bill No. 34-0008 appropriates $272,000 from the St. Croix Capital Improvement Fund for the Police Athletic League Headquarters in Estate Whim.
• Bill No. 34-0013, which appropriates $2.05 million from the St. Croix Capital Improvement Fund for replacement of the existing, deteriorated tender landing pier and repairs at the Ann E. Abramson Marine Terminal in Frederiksted, St. Croix.
• Bill No. 34-0014, an Act appropriating $1,600,000 from the Communities Facilities Trust Account for the four community facilities projects on St. Croix, including the projects at the pier at King’s Alley Hotel in Christiansted, the dock at Gallows Bay Marine Facility and the roll-on roll-off ramp at the Gordon A. Finch Molasses Pier at Krause Lagoon.
• Bill No. 34-0020, which appropriates $675,000 from the Community Facility Trust Fund to the Caribbean Drag Racing Association for restoration of facilities at the St. Croix Motor Sports Complex.
• Bill No. 34-0028 authorizes registered nurses and certified registered nurse practitioners to pronounce death under certain conditions. Senator said the measure was long overdue and would alleviate the often hours-long wait for an authorized health care professional to pronounce a loved one dead.
• Bill No. 34-0041, which relates to continuing medical education requirements for permanent and institutional licensees, a section relating to the Good Samaritan Law, and a section related to requirements for podiatrists.
• Bill No. 34-0042, the members of the Board of Medical Examiners to serve temporarily as de facto board members of boards established under the law, to establish a quorum to conduct the business of the respective board.
• Bill No. 34-0036, appropriating excess debt service reserves to fund urgently needed capital projects throughout the territory, such as road repairs along First Avenue and Hull Bay, among others.
• Bill No. 34-0059, which extends the current state of emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic 60 days, from May 6 to July 5.
• Bill No. 34-0024 appropriated $3.53 million to the Justice Department to pay a settlement agreement to Vanterpool, as well as $2 million to the Labor Department to pay outstanding worker’s compensation payments to medical providers. The bill also included $40,000 for Clean Sweep Frederiksted for its ongoing beautification efforts.