Failure to update law has cost V.I. nearly $1 million
Published: August 30, 2012
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ST. THOMAS - During its legislative session this week, the Senate special-ordered and passed a bill to bring the territory's motor carrier inspection laws into federal compliance to avoid losing more federal funding.
The lack of compliance already has cost the V.I. government almost $1 million.
Once the territory is in compliance with federal regulations, the federal government will continue to give the territory $350,000 a year to pay overtime costs and training for the V.I. Police Department and the V.I. Bureau of Motor Vehicles.
For years, the Virgin Islands received annual grants from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, a division of the U.S. Department of Transportation. The federal agency gave the funding to the territory as part of its Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program.
After a review of the assistance program in 2009, the federal agency found the territory had not adopted the federal motor carrier safety regulations and hazardous materials regulations. The annual funding was pulled.
The failure to comply with federal regulations cost the V.I. government $274,260 in Fiscal Year 2010, $350,000 in FY 2011 and $350,000 in FY 2012.
To remedy the situation, the V.I. Legislature passed a bill in September 2011 adopting sections of the federal regulations. However, Gov. John deJongh Jr. line-item vetoed a portion relating to penalties, which also cut out the hazardous materials section of the federal regulations.
In his transmittal letter sent to Senate President Ronald Russell, deJongh said the language was not needed because the territory already has enacted fines and penalties for those purposes.
The legislation passed during Tuesday's session put the hazardous materials section back into the V.I. Code to bring the territory into compliance with the federal regulations.
Unless the new bill is signed into law by Saturday, the territory will lose out on another $350,000 for FY 2013, according to a letter sent by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
The legislation allows agents of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration or the V.I. Police Department to enter and inspect any motor vehicle, cargo or driver for compliance with the federal regulations. The inspections can be conducted only on vehicles used to transport hazardous waste or vehicles designed to transport 16 or more people, including the driver.
Sen. Celestino White Sr. objected to the bill, saying it would run safari drivers out of business.
Meridith Nielsen, who works in the Office of Highway Safety at the V.I. Police Department, said the intention is not to impede safari drivers. He said it is about complying with federal regulations for ensuring the vehicles on the territory's roads are safe.
The bill passed in a 7-4 vote.
Voting for the bill were Senators Carlton Dowe, Shawn-Michael Malone, Usie Richards, Ronald Russell, Sammuel Sanes, Patrick Simeon Sprauve and Janette Millin Young.
Voting against the bill were Senators Alicia Hansen, Terrence Nelson, Nereida Rivera-O'Reilly and White.
Senators Craig Barshinger, Louis Hill and Alvin Williams Jr. were absent from Tuesday's session.
- Contact reporter Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.