DeJongh yields line-item veto on omnibus bill


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ST. THOMAS - Gov. John deJongh Jr. signed all of the bills passed at last month's Senate session into law and line-item vetoed several sections of the omnibus bill.

Senators passed an omnibus bill full of policy changes and amendments to existing law at a Nov. 19 session.

They had passed a slightly different version of the bill at a session in early October, but the governor vetoed it. In his transmittal letter at the time to Senate President Shawn-Michael Malone, deJongh said he only had a problem with a few provisions included in the bill and recommended senators fix some items and resubmit the bill.

Legislators did that and passed an amended version, along with several new items, at November's session.

Measures vetoed from the bill include sections about the V.I. Water and Power Authority's ability to use appropriated funds; items that the governor said infringe on separation of powers; appropriations for which deJongh said there is no funding available; and other sections that he said were redundant or unnecessary.

WAPA

A measure to restrict WAPA's use of gasoline tax funds by tying it to the implementation of 10,000 BTU power generators was line-item vetoed by the governor. He said it would be extremely difficult to find a generator that meets that threshold, as most of them are diesel and the utility would not be able to obtain permits for such generators.

"Hence, the fact of the matter remains that WAPA was apportioned funds which are needed to upgrade its facilities only to now see a bill limiting the use of those funds to an extent making the initial funding moot and meaningless," deJongh said in his letter to Malone.

Taxes

One provision vetoed from the bill was aimed at expanding enforcement of the 10 percent hotel occupancy tax, particularly for those in the villa rental industry.

DeJongh said the measure, which mandates the hiring of employees to investigate and collect room taxes from hotels, violates the separation of powers doctrine. He said the Senate does not have the right to make administrative decisions for an executive branch department.

Coral Bay Park

Another part of the bill cut by the governor would have amended an existing law that provided a $1 million annual appropriation for four fiscal years for the purchase of 170 acres in Estate Carolina on St. John for the Coral Bay Park.

The legislation would have provided for a phased purchase of the property and authorized additional capital improvements and uses for the property, including the construction by the Waste Management Authority of a convenience center for recycling trash, preserving ruins on the property and establishing the Coral Bay Parcel 7 Remainder Marsh Land Trust.

DeJongh said he struck down the measure because the Waste Management Authority is an autonomous agency that has the authority to buy and sell its assets without the involvement of the central government.

Other line-item vetoes

The governor also vetoed:

- A $150,000 appropriation from the General Fund to the V.I. Education Department's Division of Cultural Education for cultural and historical activities, citing redundancy and violation of separation of powers.

- A measure to implement a fine and imprisonment for people convicted of knowingly assaulting an educator. DeJongh said the measure was a repeat of a bill he previously vetoed as it was vague, unclear and contained possible unconstitutional elements.

- A measure allowing the territory's 911 dispatchers to collect night differential pay, stating that the matter would be better addressed through collective bargaining agreements.

- A $175,000 appropriation from the General Fund to the Department of Planning and Natural Resources, with $125,000 going to the V.I. Cultural Heritage Institute Music Mentorship Program and $50,000 going to Cutting Edge Entertainment, Inc. DeJongh said the General Fund cannot sustain the appropriation.

Approved measures

Omnibus measures signed into law by the governor include:

- Amending the V.I. Code to allow for magistrate judges to collect government retirement benefits. The provision will be retroactive to 2005.

- Repealing a section of V.I. Code that assigns a fine of $25 for the killing or wounding of an agoutis (rodent) or iguana.

- Clarifying the Stamp Tax exemption for nonprofits with language indicating only nonprofit organizations in good standing with the Lt. Governor's Office are eligible.

- Appropriating $150,000 to the Public Finance Authority to conduct a feasibility study for a multipurpose complex and theme park at Green Cay, St. Thomas.

- Appropriating $400,000 from the General Fund to the University of the Virgin Islands Resource and Technology Park for operating expenses.

- Amending the Youth Advisory Council statute to allow the group to meet before its full membership has been appointed.

- Clarifying the definition of government and government building in the renewable energy code.

- Altering the utilities budget line for the Office of the Governor from $446,880 to $545,593.

- Removing the requirement for legislative approval from the process of awarding and reprogramming Community Development Block Grant funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The bill would allow the heads of government departments and agencies to do it.

- Increasing the size of the Centennial Commission of the Virgin Islands - a group that is to formulate plans for the 100th anniversary of Transfer Day - from 10 members to 17.

- Removing the requirement in the law for the Waste Management Authority to inspect septic systems.

- Capping damages in personal injury, death and property loss judgments against the Waste Management Authority, the V.I. Port Authority and the University of the Virgin Islands at $75,000, unless the injury, loss of property or death is caused by an employee's gross negligence while performing his duties.

Other bills signed

DeJongh also signed a number of bills and zoning changes into law Friday, including bills:

- To encourage growth of the captive insurance market.

- Expanding where minors can be treated without parental consent to include federally qualified health centers, including St. Thomas East End Medical Center and Frederiksted Health Center.

- Raising the cap on homestead exemptions in the case of a legal judgement from $30,000 to $300,000.

- Bringing the territory's unemployment benefits program into federal compliance to prevent the loss of federal funding.

DeJongh also signed-off on zoning applications, including:

- A zoning change for Ivy Moses to develop Neptune's Landing, an organic farm and cultural tourist attraction in Estate Susannaberg, St. John.

- A zoning use variance for the V.I. Waste Management Authority to build a solid waste convenience center to replace the bins near the Mahogany Run Golf Course.

- A zoning change for Harthman Leasing III, LLLP from A-1, agricultural to B-2, business-secondary/neighborhood for about 29 acres in Estate Smith Bay and A1, agricultural to R-3, residential medium density, for about 43 acres in Smith Bay.

- A zoning change for property owned by Allie and Beverly Petrus from R-1, residential low density to R-2, residential low density one- and two-family for a 0.8-acre parcel in Estate Misgunst. The property is undeveloped land that the owners want to split into two separate lots to convey to their two daughters.

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

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