Bill would require V.I. government, agencies to disclose legal settlements


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ST. THOMAS - A bill to make public any settled claims or financial settlements involving the V.I. government was removed from Thursday's Senate agenda but will be rescheduled to be heard in the near future.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Nereida Rivera-O'Reilly, has been assigned to the Rules and Judiciary Committee.

The legislation would prevent non-disclosure agreements from blocking the public's right to know how taxpayer dollars are spent to settle legal claims involving the government.

It would apply to all branches of government, including autonomous and semi-autonomous agencies, forcing them to maintain a record of all settled claims. Under the bill, the public record must include a brief description of the claim, the party or parties involved and the amount of compensation paid by or to the government.

Exemptions under the proposed law include school records; medical records; unpublished academic or scientific research; working documents in preparation for litigation; law enforcement investigative records; property appraisals prior to a sale; an individual's library activity; documents or records regarding performance of senators; the location of protected archaeological or historic sites; private donors of artifacts given to the government; job application material by applicants other than finalists; Social Security numbers; credit card numbers; and local account numbers.

Representatives of The Daily News were present at Thursday's hearing and prepared to testify in favor of the bill's intent.

V.I. Attorney General Vincent Frazer was not present but sent a letter.

He said the bill would conflict with federal income tax law for claims that arise out of tax liabilities, take away the government's negotiating power and discourage settlement agreements.

Frazer said his office should be given the power to determine what settlements would be disclosed for the public's interest and what should be withheld to protect the government's interest.

Sen. Sammuel Sanes, the committee chairman, said the hearing for the bill would be rescheduled.

- Contact reporter Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email alewin@dailynews.vi.

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