Lawmakers pass important legislation, amid personal gripes | News

Senators passed a number of important legislation during Wednesday’s session — which were overshadowed somewhat by Sen. Franklin Johnson’s apparent vendetta against Senate President Donna Frett-Gregory.

Johnson, who serves on the Committee on Rules and Judiciary, said he had already thoroughly vetted the bills on the agenda, and announced that he would instead use all of his debate time to publicly air his grievances with Frett-Gregory.

During the first round of questioning, Johnson waved a paper with lettering too small to be deciphered by the public viewing on a virtual Livestream, and did not explain the basis for his complaint.

But it became apparent that Johnson was angry with Frett-Gregory for posting a meme on Facebook that he said claimed he was disrespectful toward women.

Despite urging from other senators to focus on the business at hand, Johnson persisted in returning to the subject of his ire, angrily lobbing vague threats at the Senate president throughout the hearing.

At times, Johnson made asides to very specific incidents that apparently occurred between senators, leaving the public confused and struggling to comprehend his point.

“There isn’t a person in this body here who you haven’t disrespect, but you turn around and say I have been disrespectful to women. I can tell you in Colorado where your family member was in tears, not from me, from you,” Johnson said, pointing directly at Frett-Gregory and staring her down throughout his statements.

“It’s been a little too long and you have crossed the line with the wrong person, and I assure you this is a battle that will go on to the end,” Johnson said. “It doesn’t matter how much disrespect you herald towards me, I’ve been given this opportunity to have a voice and I will use it.”

Frett-Gregory was unperturbed.

She cited Michelle Obama’s iconic mantra, “when they go low, we go high,” and called the names of two other prominent women in the Virgin Islands who have faced criticism from Johnson — Bureau of Corrections Director Wynnie Testamark and attorney Cherrisse Woods — who Johnson was forced to publicly apologize to last year after he misrepresented her remarks to the Legislature during her confirmation to the V.I. Parole Board.

“To the women called bossy, keep on leading. To the women called difficult, keep telling the truth. To the women called too much, keep taking up your space. We’re more than enough,” Frett-Gregory said at one point during her response. “Women in these U.S. Virgin Islands, don’t let what happened here today shrink yourselves so others can feel good about themselves.”

“Be reminded, men of quality respect women and their equality. Let’s remind ourselves of that. And I’m just falling in line with Wynnie Testamark, Cherrisse Woods. There is a climate of misogyny. There is a climate of misogyny, and I will not allow that climate to place a shadow over me,” Frett-Gregory said, before turning to look directly at Johnson: “So I’m going to say, get over it my brother.”

In terms of the business senators had convened to discuss, Diane Brooks was confirmed to serve on the V.I. Conservation District, and Dr. Bradley Keys was confirmed to the V.I. Chiropractic Board.

Licensing and Consumer Affairs Commissioner Richard Evangelista was confirmed to serve on the V.I. Cannabis Advisory Board after months of delays that left the board without a full quorum, and senators said they hope that medical cannabis legislation might finally be implemented.

Senators also voted in favor of resolutions honoring and commending Kemit-Amon Lewis for his outstanding service and contributions to the Marine Science industry in the Virgin Islands; Eugene “Genix” Thomas posthumously for his outstanding contributions to the Virgin Islands community as a baseball, softball, and life coach; and Alvin Delano Burke, Sr. posthumously for his service and contributions to the sport of basketball, horse racing and to the people of the Virgin Islands.

In addition, senators approved Bill No. 34-0220, a resolution honoring and commending the Agriculture and Food Fair Board of Directors, the University of the Virgin Islands, and the V.I. Department of Agriculture “for 50 years of diligence in coordinating, promoting, and hosting the Virgin Islands Agriculture and Food Fair, known as ‘Agrifest.’”

Senators discussed and voted on numerous zoning matters, before turning to a series of bills previously vetted in committee, all of which were approved:

Bill No. 34-0206 — An act repealing reciprocal recognition of firearm licenses for persons that own firearms outside of the V.I.

Bill No. 34-0207 — An Act repealing and re-enacting title 14 V.I.Code, chapter 41, section 843 relating to fraudulent claims upon the V.I government its officers, department, boards, commissions, or agencies.

Bill No. 34-0212 — An Act amending the V.I. Code to include additional requirements for the notice and publication of lists of abandoned property.

Bill No. 34-0225 — An Act amending the V.I. Code to increase the penalties for failure to report certain crimes against children.

Bill No. 34-0226 — An Act amending Act Nos. 8474, 8479, 8486, 8494, 8496, and 8498 to adjust the fiscal year 2022 budget to appropriate funds to the Casino Control Commission for capital outlay, WTJX for capital outlay and satellite uplink respectively, Elections System of the Virgin Islands for general election, Virgin Islands Cricket Board, Tourism Department for personnel and fringe benefits, V.I. Board of Nurse Licensure for personnel and fringe benefits, and 8% salary restoration Social Security and Medicare taxes reimbursement to the Economic Development Authority, Luis Hospital and the V.I. Waste Management Authority. The bill was amended to include appropriations of $160,000 for a water truck and $400,000 for a drought subsidy, which provides for $2,500 to each livestock farmer and $2,000 to each crop farmer. The amendment also added $16 million to help make overdue payments to trash haulers who recently staged a protest. Sens. Carla Joseph and Alma Francis Heyliger objected and said they wanted more documentation to support an appropriation of that size, but the measure was ultimately approved.

Bill No. 34-0230 – An Act amending title 18 V.I. Code, chapter 5, section 110, relating to registration of electors to require the Supervisor of Elections to compile an active vs. inactive voter’s list within 90 days after each general election starting with Election Day in 2022.

Bill No. 34-0255 — An Act to implement revisions that were made to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners’ Credit for Reinsurance Model Law.

Bill No. 34-0266 — An act relating to early voting, to set the time for early voting and provide for all persons eligible to vote in elections in the Virgin Islands to be entitled to vote in any election by absentee ballot.

Bill No. 34-0267 — An Act relating to the duties of the Department of Sports, Parks and Recreation to include the duty to develop neighborhood parks or recreation areas primarily designed to provide facilities for team, recreational or individual sports.

Bill No. 32-0268 — An Act relating to the Territorial Park Board of Trustees, to increase the membership of the Board, to authorize the Board to appoint two members, to limit service on the Board to two consecutive terms; and providing for other related purposes.

Senators also special ordered several other bills, including an act to appropriate $325,000 for the refurbishment of 40B Company Street in Christiansted and to support the programs of the Collective Collaboration, which will lease the renovated building from the government for $1 a year.

Senators also voted to approve Bill No. 34-0167, a so-called “Christmas-tree bill” that began as a measure to appropriate $2.175 million to the Twin City Cricket Association for the development of a cricket field on St. Croix, and grew to include several other amendments, including a $150,000 appropriation to pay for the funeral of former Gov. Charles Turnbull.

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