Legislature overrides vetoes by Gov. deJongh

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ST. THOMAS - At the start of Tuesday's Senate session, legislators overrode several of Gov. John deJongh Jr.'s vetoes.

All of the measures overridden were part of the same omnibus bill passed at the Legislature's final session of 2013, in November.

Convenience center

Senators voted to override a measure to amend 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 new law will provide for the construction, by the V.I. 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. He also was concerned that the St. John Capital Improvement Fund, which is where the money to purchase the property is supposed to come from, is over-appropriated.

The measure's sponsor, Sen. Craig Barshinger, said the fund is not over-appropriated, and the legislation does not make a new appropriation. It simply updates the land sale and will allow the land owner to pay approximately $350,000 in back taxes, according to Barshinger.

Villa tax

One provision vetoed from the bill but overridden Tuesday is 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.

The sponsor of the legislation, Sen. Janette Millin Young, said the territory may be losing as much as $20 million annually from uncollected hotel occupancy taxes.

Cultural education

A $150,000 appropriation from the General Fund to the V.I. Education Department's Division of Cultural Education for cultural and historical activities was made law through the senators' override Tuesday. The governor had vetoed it citing redundancy and violation of separation of powers.

The measure's sponsor, Sen. Myron Jackson, said the appropriation is needed to continue cultural education in schools.

Assaults on educators

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

The sponsor, Sen. Kenneth Gittens, said it is needed to give teachers added protection.

Night differential

A measure allowing the territory's 911 dispatchers to collect night differential pay was overridden Tuesday. DeJongh had vetoed it stating that the matter would be better addressed through collective bargaining agreements.

Gittens, the measure's author, did not agree.

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

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