DeJongh vetoes early voting legislation, signs 'Feed-in Tariff' measure


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The governor signed a number of bills into law Friday evening, but he also vetoed a bill that contained amendments pertaining to tax exemptions and other changes to tenants of the University of the Virgin Islands Research and Technology Park and a bill relating to early voting and voting machines.

Calling the RT Park amendments a "stealth action" undertaken by the Senate and saying it was passed without any public discussion, Gov. John deJongh Jr. vetoed Bill No. 30-0302, which would have changed the name of the Government Development Bank to the Economic Development Bank and merged the GDB with the Small Business Development Agency.

While the governor said he had no issue with the original language of the bill, he took exception to the amendments attached to the bill and said the amendments undermined the foundation upon which the Research and Technology Park ("RT Park") was created.

"Specifically, the amendments are objectionable to the extent that not only do they radically alter the policies and procedures of both the RT Park and the government generally with respect to encouraging economic development through the targeted use of tax incentives, they contain substantial drafting errors that would and should be corrected if an appropriate process is implemented for such revisions of law as may be deemed needed and affordable," the governor wrote in his transmittal letter to Senate President Shawn-Michael Malone, the sponsor of the amendments.

DeJongh also vetoed a bill that would have allowed early voting during elections on the grounds that it violates the V.I. Code, which prohibits changes to election laws within six months of an election.

"Despite being strongly in favor of providing the widest possible capacity for voters to exercise their right to vote, approving Bill No. 30-0357 would violate clearly established law and would be inconsistent with my previous actions on legislation whose enactment would take place within the prohibited time frame," he wrote.

DeJongh also vetoed a bill increasing real property taxes from 4 percent to 6 percent to be diverted into each island's Street Lighting account on the grounds that it is fiscally unwise. "I cannot support a further diversion of General Fund revenues at a time when the Legislature has not yet addressed our current deficit. Moreover, even this increase would be inadequate to completely address fully our street lighting expenses," he wrote.

The governor also used his line-item veto to excise portions of a bill pertaining to the Fiscal Year 2014 budget that redirected funding and amended project codes for accuracy. DeJongh vetoed a section of the bill that changed the amount of funding for expenses related to the sale and closure of HOVENSA from $6 million to $1.5 million.

He also vetoed a section of the bill that reprogrammed $500,000 from the shovel-ready track projects at Central and Educational Complex high schools on St. Croix and diverted them to projects he said are only in the conceptual stages.

The governor also vetoed Bill No. 30-0174, which codifies the Parents-Students School Participation Program on the grounds that the bill repealed the entirety of Act. No. 6246 rather than the part of the act pertaining only to the school participation program. "To approve such repeal would result in eviscerating our scholarship program for graduating valedictorians and salutatorians, and also removing an indispensable program requiring drug testing for all peace officers," deJongh wrote. "Additionally, repeal of Act No. 6246 would eliminate appropriations for numerous important programs, the funding for which currently remains available until expended."

Passed bills

DeJongh signed several bills into law, including:

- Bill No. 30-0004, the "Feed-in Tariff," which is intended to further the use of alternative energy throughout the territory by enabling third party entities to develop small to mid-sized renewable energy generators, which are smaller than utility scale systems but larger than the currently sanctioned net metering systems. "However, implementation of the Feed-in Tariff by both the Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority and the Public Services Commission will come with challenges if additional time for the submission of the power purchase agreements is not granted and funding limitations must be addressed in order for the PSC to properly exercise its oversight," deJongh wrote in his submittal letter.

- Bill No. 30-0013, which establishes Bullying Prevention Education and Gang Resistance Education Training within the territory's public schools.

- Bill No. 30-0023, amending title 33 Virgin Islands Code, chapter 83, to require an assessment of the cadastral and land records housed in the Lt. Governor's Office.

- Bill No. 30-0163, which institutes an Emergency Call Box System in the territory. However, deJongh said the amount appropriated to create the system - $50,000 - is insufficient. "According to the Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency, the $50,000 appropriated is barely enough to purchase the equipment needed, let alone the additional costs that will be necessarily incurred for the installation, operation and maintenance of this system," he wrote. "Until sufficient funding is secured, the appropriation for the equipment should not be expended in order to ensure against the purchase of equipment that may become stale or outdated."

- Bill No. 30-0189, which brings the territory into compliance with the national trend to identify in positive terms individuals with disabilities and mental illnesses.

- Bill No. 30-0202, which requires health insurance providers to provide coverage for the assessment, diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum disorders and coverage for hearing aids for children.

- Bill No. 30-0204, which authorizes certified and trained pharmacists in the Virgin Islands to administer vaccines to the public in accordance with guidelines established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and regulations to be promulgated by the Boards of Pharmacy and Medical Examiners.

- Bill No. 30-0268, which prohibits the sale of electronic cigarettes and alternative nicotine products to minors.

- Bill No. 30-0295, which enables beneficiaries of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to use their EBT cards at local farmers' markets.

- Bill No. 30-0316, which redirects any surplus of funds contained in the Alternative Market and International Reinsurance Revolving Fund to the territory's two hospitals on an annual basis.

Zonings

The governor also signed a number of zoning requests, including:

- Bill No. 30-0353, rezoning Plot Nos. 148 and 149-C Estate Carlton, St. Croix, from R-3 (Residential-Medium Density) to B-3 (Business-Scattered).

- Bill No. 30-0354, rezoning Plot Nos. 293-1, 293-2 and 293-3 Estate Barren Spot, St. Croix, from R-2 (Residential-Low Density-One and Two Family) to B-2 (Business-Secondary/Neighborhood).

- Bill No. 30-0359, granting a zoning use variance for Parcel No. 3 Estate Mafolie, No. 8F Northside Quarter, St. Thomas, to allow for professional offices.

- Bill No. 30-0360, rezoning Parcel No. 43 Second Division Estate Thomas, St. Thomas, from R-2 (Residential-Low Density-One and Two Family) to B-2 (Business-Secondary/Neighborhood).

- Bill No. 30-0361, rezoning Parcel No. 68D, Estate Lindbergh Bay, St. Thomas, from P (Public) to (Business-Secondary/Neighborhood).

- Bill No. 30-0362, granting a zoning use variance for Parcels Nos. 15 and 15B Remainder Estate Smith Bay, Nos. 1, 2 and 3 East End Quarter, St. Thomas, to allow for professional offices and repealing Act No. 7173.

- Bill No. 30-0364, granting a zoning use variance for Parcel No. 41-4-6 Estate Frydenhoj, No. 3 Red Hook Quarter, St. Thomas, to allow for a guesthouse.

- Bill No. 30-0369, rezoning Parcel No. 159A Estate Sub Base, No. 6 South Side Quarter, St. Thomas, from P (Public) to I-1 (Heavy-Industry).

- Bill No. 30-0371, to rezone Plot No. 246-L Estate Glynn, St. Croix, from A-2 (Agriculture Zone) to R-2 (Residential-Low Density-One and Two-Family).

- Bill No. 30-0372, granting a zoning use variance for Plot No. 18-D Estate Plessen, St. Croix, to allow for water distribution and the operation of a small guest house.

- Bill No. 30-0363, rezoning Parcel No. 62-5 Estate Thomas, No. 6A New Quarter, St. Thomas, from R-1 (Residential-Low Density) to R-5 (Residential-High Density).

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