Sen. Rivera-O'Reilly has spent $24,557 on 14 official V.I. trips
Published: November 1, 2012
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ST. THOMAS - Sen. Nereida Rivera-O'Reilly spent a total of $24,557 on 14 trips between 2009 and 2012.
Of the 14 trips, four were paid for by the organization sponsoring the conference.
Rivera-O'Reilly keeps a spreadsheet of all her travel - and all other expenses - on her website at www.usvisenate.org. She itemizes her trips by date; location; purpose; how much cash she received in advance; how much she spent; how much she returned to the Legislature; how much was reimbursed to her; and, in some cases, provides notes, such as "Did not attend trip and returned money in its entirety."
In an interview Wednesday, Rivera-O'Reilly was able to point out legislative action that resulted from almost all of her trips.
"Every travel that I have done has been accounted for and reconciled," she said. "I have benefited greatly, and my community has as well."
In July 2009, Rivera-O'Reilly traveled to Philadelphia for a week to attend the National Conference of State Legislatures Legislative Summit. She spent $3,181.55.
It was important, she said, as a new senator to learn what other state legislative bodies were doing to address the economic downturn.
She said she learned a lot about borrowing and how to properly evaluate bonding issues.
She said that many states were moving to four-day work weeks to save money on payroll and allowing government workers to take voluntary unpaid leave. She later introduced legislation including both those measures, but it was shot down by the Senate majority.
The Toll Fellowship program is part of the National Conference of State Legislatures. Rivera-O'Reilly was selected to apply for the fellowship, and she was one of 40 picked to attend out of 400 applicants.
She traveled to Lexington, Ky., for 10 days in September 2009. The trip cost $2,298.67.
She said her group included a state Supreme Court judge from Las Vegas, one of the cities hit hardest by the real estate crisis. The judge said that the city had implemented a policy forcing lenders to enter mediation before they foreclosed on someone's home.
"When I got back, I immediately put in a measure," she said.
It passed the Senate, was vetoed by the governor, but the Senate voted to override the veto, and Rivera-O'Reilly's measure became law.
"I just thought, we're going to see an increase in foreclosures, and we need to protect homeowners," she said.
Rivera-O'Reilly spent $468.86 to travel to Miami on Oct. 23-35, 2009, for the National Latino Legislative Summit on Health Disparities. She originally had received a $1,050 cash advance for the trip, but one of the nights was paid for by the conference, and she returned $580.14 to the Legislature.
She said a doctor spoke at the conference about how Latinos as a cultural group take care of the elderly, but with the high prevalence of Alzheimer's, that prospect is becoming a huge burden to young families. He encouraged legislators to create a plan for how their jurisdictions will deal with Alzheimer's patients.
"I got the idea for a comprehensive plan to deal with Alzheimer's," Rivera-O'Reilly said.
The bill was drafted and was passed out of the Rules and Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. It will come before the full Senate for a vote in a few weeks.
From Dec. 2-6, 2009, Rivera-O'Reilly traveled to Miami to attend the National Black Caucus of State Legislators annual conference. She spent $2,085.99.
She said it was eye-opening to see how some long-term politicians behave. A major conflict between the members arose from a resolution condemning several national pharmacy chains for selling expired baby food. She said she was amazed by the fear many legislators had in angering corporate entities that help fund their campaigns.
"For me it was a moment of priority with respect to how power can corrupt the heart of politicians," she said. "I actually left there thinking, wow, I hope I never get like that."
Puerto Rico, 2009
In December 2009 Rivera-O'Reilly spent one night in Puerto Rico for two purposes - she met with the speaker of the Puerto Rico House and she met with the managers of two St. Croix housing communities that had had the water cut off.
"I was trying to establish some relationship with Puerto Rico," Rivera-O'Reilly said.
She met with Jenniffer Gonzalaz, speaker of the House, about working to get some of the excise tax on gasoline returned to the territory.
She also met with DWH, the management company for Estate Profit and Bethlehem housing communities. At the time, the V.I. Water and Power Authority had disconnected the potable water supply because some people were stealing water from the utility. Other residents wanted the cisterns reconnected.
Rivera-O'Reilly said she learned that the managers could not reconnect the cisterns because the cisterns had been contaminated by the "red mud" that plagues the south side of St. Croix.
The problem eventually was solved when WAPA changed its approach and allowed individual units to apply for water service, Rivera-O'Reilly said.
Rivera-O'Reilly went to Jacksonville, Fla. - and made a side trip to Orlando - from Jan. 5-9, 2010, at a cost of $1,843.02.
The purposed of the trip was to tour a petroleum coke and coal burning power plant in Jacksonville. At the time, the Senate was considering the Alpine Energy waste-to-energy plant proposal, which originally planned to supplement solid waste from the territory's landfills with pet coke.
"I was really impressed with how clean the plant was," she said.
As part of the trip, she was able to review the plant's power purchase agreement with the state utility. It was more detailed and provided better protections to the ratepayers compared with the agreements negotiated by the V.I. government with Alpine.
"That's why I didn't support it," she said, referring to the Alpine proposal.
She also visited a solar power plant and learned how many acres are required for a serious solar project.
In the same trip, Rivera-O'Reilly drove to Orlando to meet with the consultant, hired by the V.I. Port Authority, that had done a feasibility study for a water park on St. Croix. That meeting led to legislation authorizing the government to solicit proposals for the park. The bill was passed and signed into law in September.
Washington, D.C., 2010
From April 7-10, 2010, Rivera-O'Reilly attended the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators in Washington, D.C. The trip was completely paid for by the organization.
Rivera-O'Reilly attended the 2010 National Charter School Conference from June 28 to July 1, 2010. The trip cost $2,634.46.
She was inspired to draft legislation - which is still being tweaked and has not yet been given a bill number - to authorize charter schools in the territory. The organization waived the conference fee and has since provided technical assistance to Rivera-O'Reilly as she works on the legislation, she said.
New York, 2010
Rivera-O'Reilly attended the Council of State Governments Economic Summit from May 19-23, 2010, in New York at a cost of $1,928.76.
From Dec. 9-13, 2010, Rivera-O'Reilly attended the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators annual conference in Miami. The trip was completely paid for by the organization.
From June 26 to July 1, 2011, Rivera-O'Reilly attended the Harvard Leadership Program at the John F. Kennedy School of Government. The week-long course cost $7,793.68.
"There were people there from all over the world," she said. "It helped me see that there was a whole lot of work left to do in the territory."
Washington, D.C., 2011
Rivera-O'Reilly joined fellow Senate minority members Terrence Nelson and Neville James in Washington, D.C., to meet with key federal agency heads about a number of different issues. The trip, from Oct. 24-26, 2011, cost $1,590.41.
The senators met with the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Commerce, the Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Justice Department.
Puerto Rico, 2011
From Nov. 16-20, 2011, Rivera-O'Reilly attended the 9th Annual Summit of Hispanic State Legislators in Fajardo, Puerto Rico. The trip was paid for by the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators.
Rivera-O'Reilly, attended a National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators conference in Denver June 13-17, 2012 which was entirely paid for by the organization.
- Contact reporter Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.