DeJongh misses deadline, voiding recent vetoes


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ST. THOMAS - Gov. John deJongh Jr.'s failure to respond within the time period allowed by law has made all of his vetoes of the bills passed by the 30th Legislature at its last session null and void.

Senate President Shawn-Michael Malone issued a statement Tuesday saying he pointed out that the bills were returned to the Legislature two days late, therefore, under the Revised Organic Act, they had already had become law.

The Organic Act gives the governor 10 days - not including Sundays - to act on the bills once he receives them.

The last legislative session took place June 18 and 19. Malone said the bills arrived at Government House on June 27, which required their return no later than July 9.

Instead, the deJongh sent the bills back on Friday, two days late.

Under the V.I. Code, the governor can sign, veto or take no action on bills passed by the Senate. If he chooses to take no action, the bills automatically become law.

Malone said Legislative Secretary Sen. Janette Millin Young sent official notice to the governor Tuesday that his veto of four bills and line-item veto of two sections of another bill became law at midnight, July 9.

Government House acknowledged the error in a statement issued Tuesday, saying that based on advice and guidance from the Governor's Office of Legal Counsel, deJongh returned the bills two days late.

"The effect of such late return of the bills to the Legislature is to nullify the vetoes as all matters became law without the governor's signature on the passing of the 10th day," the Government House statement said.

In the statement, Government House legal counsel Nagesh Tammara said the error was the fault of his office.

"My office made an error in the manner in which the 10 days for the governor's review were calculated," Tammara said. "As a result of the tardy submission, the pieces of legislation the Governor 'vetoed' are instead law."

DeJongh said he regrets the error and again raised the problems he has with the bills he intended to veto.

"While the measures in question are now law, I would like to note that the various bills I intended to veto have issues beyond the administrative oversight," he said.

He said he is hopeful that the Senate will consider his concerns and make the appropriate amendments to address those concerns.

The bills affected involve the University of the Virgin Islands' Research and Technology Park on St. Croix; repurposing the Massac Nursing Home on St. Thomas, a peace officers scholarship fund; a law regarding making false claims against the government; and a bill creating a task force that reports to the Legislature on central government operations.

RT Park

DeJongh said the bill passed by the Senate to offer tax exemptions and benefits to Research and Technology Park tenants - including Innovative, Choice and Broadband VI - is another attempt by the Legislature to pass special interest legislation without the proper deliberative process.

Massac Nursing Home

The governor said he would have vetoed the bill to repurpose the Massac Nursing Home to be used as a boxing facility because the government currently is in negotiations with University Center for Excellence on Developmental Disabilities to use the facility to serve adults with disabilities.

The new law will transfer the property to Sports, Parks and Recreation to be used as a boxing training facility.

DeJongh noted that the department has no available funds to make necessary renovations and maintain the security of the building, which he said would result in a financial burden on Sports, Parks and Recreation that would take away from current programs supporting the territory's youth.

Peace officers

A bill that creates scholarships under the Peace Officer Training Fund is now law. DeJongh said he objected to the bill as it is not the intended purpose of the fund.

False claims

The governor objected to a bill prohibiting contractors from making false claims against the government, on the grounds that it is "legislative deja vu" and identical to a bill passed by the 29th Legislature that he vetoed.

He said the bill is not necessary as other laws already on the books adequately address the issue.

Task force

Based on the doctrine of Separation of Powers, the governor is objecting to two portions of Bill 30-0427, specifically two paragraphs of the section approving the V.I. government to re-issue a working capital loan of $50 million. The governor said paragraph 2, requiring establishment of a nine-member task force to oversee central government functions and report to the Legislature on such things as changes to tax collection, energy consumption, cost-efficiency, cost-reductions and auditing. He also said paragraph 3, which established the makeup of the task force's membership, should be removed from the law.

"The Legislature's repeated attempt at commingling the three branches of government violates the essence of the checks and balances and tripartite system of government embodied within the Revised organic Act of 1954, as established by the U.S. Constitution," he wrote in the transmittal letter he sent on Friday to Malone.

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

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