DeJongh vetoes bill ending pension payments to spouses of deceased governors, calling it an attack on him, his wife


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ST. THOMAS - Gov. John deJongh Jr. took action on a number of bills passed by the 30th Legislature, including vetoing a number of bills and approving a ballot referendum on medical marijuana.

The non-binding ballot referendum will poll the voters on Nov. 4 to see how many are in favor of legalizing medical marijuana in the territory.

The question on the ballot will be: "Should the Legislature of the Virgin Islands consider legislation to allow for the cultivation and use of cannabis (commonly known as marijuana) for medical and research purposes?"

Voters will be able to select "yes" or "no" to answer the question.

Vetoes

The governor struck down a few of the measures passed at the last Senate session in their entirety.

In his transmittal letter to Senate President Shawn-Michael Malone, deJongh was scathing in his reasons for vetoing a bill abolishing pension payments to spouses of deceased governors and lieutenant governors, calling it special interest legislation specifically designed to hurt him and his wife while saving the benefits for at least one former first lady.

"The members of the Legislature are free to attack me as they wish, but to do so by targeting my wife as they have in this bill is both contemptible and cowardly," he wrote. "Those who think that this is proper politics should be ashamed of themselves. This proposal is vetoed for the special legislation it is and the contempt it clearly demonstrates."

DeJongh also said what he believes was an oversight is forcing him to veto a hate crimes bill that seeks to amend the criminal code to remove "intimidate" to avoid any gray area for a judge's discretion in sentencing, leaving the Virgin Islands Hate-Motivates Crimes Act as the sole statute under which hate crimes will be prosecuted.

DeJongh said if he signed the bill, it would repeal a section of the code that has broader implications than just hate crimes.

He also vetoed two bills to honor Virgin Islanders and name things after them on "vagueness grounds."

One measure would have named the sports complex to be built on St. Croix after Horace Clark, but the bill does not specify which sports facility it would be, the governor said.

The second bill was to name the northwest end of Veterans Drive the William Henry Hastie Park, in honor of the territory's only black appointed governor, but again, deJongh said he did not know where exactly the location of the park is supposed to be.

Line-item vetoes

Many of the proposals axed were line-item vetoes of unrelated amendments tacked onto a bill about paper check stubs for government retirees. DeJongh signed the bill, but line-item vetoed the very first section to give government retirees the option of receiving either a paper check stub for their annuity payment or a digital pay stub.

He said the Government Employees' Retirement System already has a system in place for retirees to request a paper pay stub, and switching to digital stubs saved the pension system $270,000 a year.

Senators attached a number of unrelated amendments to the pay stubs bill, some of which were approved by the governor, but the rest of which were struck down by his veto pen including:

- An amendment to increase the generating capacity for commercial facilities under the net-metering program from 100 kilowatts to 500 kilowatts. DeJongh said while the proposal is laudable, it threatens the newly passed feed-in tariff program.

- A measure to waive recreational fishing licenses in the territory and prohibit Department of Planning and Natural Resources from imposing a moratorium on commercial fishing licenses. The governor said the amendment would jeopardize a $1 million federal grant and be a great set back to the hard work local fishermen have put in working with the Caribbean Fisheries Management Council.

- A measure to fix a mistake in the amount earmarked for utilities in the Office of the Governor's Fiscal Year 2014 budget, cutting it down from $7,289,973 to $545,953. DeJongh said the cut would not allow the office to cover its expenditures,

- An amendment to take the surcharge on rental vehicles - which currently goes to Public Works for capital projects - and earmark it for specific St. Croix road projects. DeJongh said the measure fails to specify the use of the funds, and no cost analysis has been done for the named road projects.

Bills signed into law

The measures made law by the governor's signature included:

- A bill to provide a clearer definition for the crime of interfering with an officer discharging his duty.

- A bill amending the Hotel Development Act to allow hotel developments on Water Island and outlying cays to participate in the benefit program. The bill was amended to increase the amount the hotels participating in the program would have to earmark for scholarships from $20,000 to $100,000.

- A bill amending the V.I. Code as it relates to dentistry in the territory.

- A bill to authorize the sale of parcel No. 40 CB Estate Taarenberg, St. Thomas.

- A bill to honor former Sen. John Bell and name the Golden Grove Adult Correctional Facility after him.

- A bill to appropriate $100,000 from the General Fund to the University of the Virgin Islands to create a distinguished professorship in international relations and diplomacy in honor of Ambassador Terence Todman and name the airport access road, Route 302, on St. Thomas after him.

- A measure to abolish the Casino Control Commission Fund under the V.I. Finance Department and replace it with a checking account within the commission. The measure also requires an audit of the account to be reported annually to the Legislature.

- A measure to change the government health insurance statute to allow the Division of Personnel to make direct payments of the government's insurance premiums.

- An amendment to make early voting legal for the November 2014 General Election.

- An amendment to the zoning change recently approved for the V.I. Housing Authority land behind Schneider Hospital, on which the agency plans to build a senior living facility. Only a small piece of the 5-acre property was to be given a new zoning to allow the facility, but the entire parcel ended up with the new zoning. The amendment fixes the mistake.

- An appropriation of $217,500 from the Tourism Advertising Revolving Fund in the current fiscal year to the USVI Little League District.

- An appropriation of $329,780 to the V.I. Bureau of Motor Vehicles to complete the Real ID project, which is mandated by the federal government.

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

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