Rules Committee moves 6 bills to full Senate

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ST. THOMAS - The Senate Rules and Judiciary Committee passed six bills on to the full body Wednesday, including a bill to create a feed-in tariff program that would allow people to sell excess renewable energy to the V.I. Water and Power Authority.

One bill, to offer tax breaks for people or businesses that install renewable energy systems, was held in committee because a proposed amendment to the bill was not yet ready.

Feed-in tariff bill

Sen. Craig Barshinger has been working on the feed-in tariff legislation for years. The bill will allow a person or entity to produce renewable or alternative energy and sell the excess to WAPA.

A substantial amendment was added to the bill Wednesday, clarifying definitions and language.

Unlike net-metering, in which energy fed into the system earns a one-to-one credit when power must be pulled from the grid, the feed-in tariff would sell power to WAPA at the utility's avoided cost, which is less than customers would spend to purchase power from WAPA.

Under the amended bill, a feed-in tariff system must be bigger than 100 kilowatts but less than 500 kilowatts.

Money for hospitals

The committee approved a bill, sponsored by Sen. Tregenza Roach, that will take all revenue generated by captive insurance companies doing business in the territory and, after administrative expenses are deducted, give the money to V.I. hospitals.

The captive insurance program is new, and has not yet attracted much business. Government officials do not know how much money could be funneled to the hospitals if the legislation is enacted.

Captive insurance essentially is an in-house insurance company with a limited purpose and is not available to the general public. It is an alternative form of risk management, through which a company can protect itself financially while having more control over how it is insured.

Under the new law, a captive insurance company must pay the V.I. government a $5,000 application fee and a licensing fee ranging from $2,000 to $10,000, all of which goes into the government's coffers.

Roach's bill would divert that money to help cover the cost of uncompensated care at Luis and Schneider hospitals.

The money would be split evenly between the two facilities.

Sen. Janette Millin Young said the measure is good as a long-term plan, but the dire financial position of the territory's hospitals must be addressed with more immediate action.

Enterprise Zones

Senators approved an amendment in the nature of a substitute plus several other changes to proposed legislation designed to strengthen the enterprise zones and create a commercial zone, offering incentives for investment in some of the territory's most blighted areas.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Janette Millin Young, originally contained a provision for the government to take blighted properties in the enterprise zones through eminent domain to fix them up and make the areas nicer, but that section of the bill has been removed.

The territory's enterprise zones are Savan and Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas and Christiansted and Frederiksted. The program provides tax incentives to breathe new life into neighborhoods that have declined from once being socially and economically vibrant communities.

In the new version, the bill seeks to codify Gov. John deJongh Jr.'s executive order expanding the enterprise zones in the territory.

The measure also would create a commercial zone, which would offer incentives and tax breaks for people who want to invest and develop the town areas.

Parental involvement

A bill to allow parents to spend time in their child's school with pay from their job advanced to the full Senate for consideration.

The legislation is sponsored by Senators Clarence Payne III and Myron Jackson and entitles parents and guardians with students enrolled in private, public or parochial schools to a maximum of two hours off from their jobs each month without loss of pay to visit their children, teachers, counselors or other school related officials.

Bullying and gang prevention

Rules Committee members voted in favor of a bill to create a bullying prevention and gang resistance education and training program within the V.I. Education Department.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Diane Capehart, appropriates $10,000 from the V.I. Education Initiative Fund in Fiscal Year 2014 to begin the program.

Education officials had urged the Legislature not to implement the measure because if it is included in local law, it must be funded with local money. While that would not result in the loss of federal funds, the department would not be able to use federal funds for bullying or gang prevention programs, according to previous Senate testimony.

Insurance payments

A bill, sponsored by Barshinger, closes a loophole in the V.I. code relating to health insurance payments. Under the proposed legislation, health insurance payments must be made directly to the provider.

All bills were passed unanimously and forwarded to the full body for further consideration. Committee members at Wednesday's hearing were Senators Donald Cole, Jackson, Sammuel Sanes and Young.

Capehart and Senators Kenneth Gittens and Shawn-Michael Malone were absent.

- Contact reporter Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email

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