Working for Results: 2020 First Quarter April Edition
A Message from the Senator
This year marks my second year in office serving as your senator. I often reflect on all we have accomplished together and when I look ahead I see there is much more to be done. It is this vision that gives me the drive to continue to be a voice for the people of this territory and to craft legislation that will improve quality of life for ALL Virgin Islanders.
Only three months into the new year, the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) spread quickly throughout the world and eventually made its way to the Territory. I paid close attention to the damage caused by the spread of COVID-19 in the U.S. and I knew that leaders in this territory needed to act quickly to minimize the impact of the virus on our public health and economy. Without waiting, I quickly drafted a letter to the Legislature’s Senate President requesting the legislative body meet via teleconference to identify solutions that would protect the people of the Virgin Islands.
Together, my colleagues and I drafted legislation to ensure the Virgin Islands government would withstand any impact from COVID-19. But I didn’t stop there. As Chair of the Committee on Education and Workforce Development, I wrote to the Commissioner of Education to ensure her team had created a safety plan for all students, including those without internet access, students with disabilities and those who speak English as a second language. I want to make sure that all students have access to the resources needed to transition to tele-learning, just as I want to ensure that residents who become unemployed due to the virus pandemic are being served. As such, I've also been in discussions with the Commissioner of Labor to ensure his staff is capable of assisting dislocated employees in the Territory, all the while making sure the health of staff is not compromised. This pandemic affects all of us and there is so much more to do. Together, we will get through it.
While 2020 may have started with a few challenges, I see a bright future for our Virgin Islands. My team and I are working on legislation to support you and I will continue to be your voice when you need it. I am deeply thankful for your continued support.
Legislation Introduced in 2020
Since taking office, Senator Frett-Gregory has successfully moved 20 bills and doesn't plan to slow down any time soon. The senator is working on identifying solutions to address the operational and financial challenges facing the Water and Power Authority (WAPA), ensuring the cleanliness and maintenance of residential and commercial property to promote territory-wide beautification efforts, and continues to champion education reform, pushing legislation to establish a school construction and maintenance office, provide students with access to mental wellness resources and to strengthen both early childhood and vocational education in the territory. Even further, Sen. Frett-Gregory is pushing legislation that will protect and provide meaningful resources for our most vulnerable and marginalized communities. These include measures to prohibit employers from discriminating against qualified job applicants who have a disability and helps those recently incarcerated to successfully reintegrate back into society.
In the midst of working to realize this vision, Sen. Frett-Gregory crafted and voted favorably for a number of bills to help the territory withstand the impact of COVID-19. In the March 27 Emergency Legislative Session, the senator and her colleagues passed three (3) key pieces of legislation to reduce the financial impact of the virus on the territory's economy and its public health.
Bill No. 33-0290 reduces the length of time the Water and Power Authority can back-bill customers from 30 days to 5 days. This measure was proposed in response to the 60-day billing announcement made by the Authority
Bill No. 33-0287 authorizes the Governor to utilize available government resources and to access $120M in working capital to meet Government operating expenses. This funding helps to offset cash flow problems, meet government payroll and ensures Government can continue to provide essential services
Bill No. 33-0288 is a resolution petitioning Congress to include the Territory in all legislation and federal aid packages that provide support during COVID-19 to ensure the Territory is getting its fair share of resources
Sen. Frett-Gregory is committed to the people of this Territory and is working hard to make sure Virgin Islands residents have access to the necessary resources during this challenging time. Most recently, the senator urged the Department of Planning and Natural Resources to release over $10M in funding to the fishing community who faced millions in damages from the 2017 storms and who are currently struggling to withstand the financial impact of COVID-19. Sen. Frett-Gregory wrote to the Department's Commissioner questioning the delay in funding and subsequently issued a press release found here making it clear that providing financial relief to fishermen benefits not only the fishing community, but provides food security for the entire Territory. Sen. Frett-Gregory has also been deeply concerned about housing security as residents territory-wide struggle to afford rent amid this pandemic. In a move to begin exploring ways to protect tenants from evictions, the senator pushed the VI Housing Authority and other housing management companies to offer their tenants rent deferment options. The senator issued a press release detailing why rent deferment is critical during this time.
Currently, Sen. Frett-Gregory has quite a few bills moving through the legislative process:
Mental Health Awareness Month (33-0244)(Committee on Health, Hospitals and Human Services)- Declaring the month of May as Virgin Islands Mental Health Awareness Month to raise public awareness and to reduce the stigma
Medicaid Equity (33-0242)(Committee on Health, Hospitals and Human Services)-To petition Congress to terminate the cap on overall Medicaid funding to the Territory so the Territory can strengthen its Medicaid Program to provide care for all residents who are Medicaid eligible and to become on par with the American states
Career Tech (33-0267)(Committee on Education & Workforce Development)- To provide the Territory's public high school students with the opportunity to explore their desired career path by incentivizing businesses to train students
Honoring Ronaqua Russell (33-0078)(Committee on Culture, Historic Preservation, Aging)- To recognize Lieutenant Ronaqua Russell for her heroic achievements that resulted in her becoming the first African-American female aviator in the Coast Guard to receive the air medal
Gasoline Tax Accountability (33-0002)(Committee on Government Operations, Consumer Affairs, Energy, Environment, and Planning )- To provide a more accurate account of the amount of gas imported by collecting tax immediately upon importation
Timely Board Nominations (33-0144)(Committee on Government Operations, Consumer Affairs, Energy, Environment, and Planning)- To authorize the Governor of the Virgin Islands to nominate a new board member, if necessary, in place of an existing board member of any government board or commission 60 days before the existing board member’s expiration of term to reduce the large number of vacant board positions.
Ban the Box (19-0256)(Under Review in Legal Counsel)- To prohibit employers from refusing to hire qualified applicants because of their criminal record in an effort to provide ex-convicts with stable meaningful employment, further deterring them from a life of crime
Some of the senator's priority bills for 2020 can be found below
WAPA Oversight (19-0551): An Act creating the WAPA Management Oversight Review Committee to help address the Authority's long-standing operational and financial challenges and to provide relief to people of the Virgin Islands
School Construction & Maintenance Authority (19-0683): Establishing an Authority who will be responsible for the building and maintenance of school buildings in place of the Department of Education who will now be able to focus on student academic achievement
Pride Act (19-0007): To promote island beautification efforts and to boost Virgin Islands pride by requiring Virgin Islands citizens to maintain their residential and commercial property, providing for the increased sale of Virgin Islands products in the Vendors Plaza, among other provisions
Victim's Notification (19-0603): To require that victims of sexual assault and domestic violence be notified expeditiously about the release of their perpetrator to protect their safety
****Visit legvi.org/bill-tracker to see a full list of Sen. Frett-Gregory's proposed and signed legislation.
Committee on Education and Workforce Development
As Chair of the Committee on Education and Workforce Development, Sen. Frett-Gregory held 3 meetings in the first quarter of 2020 to hear three pieces of legislation and to receive updates from the Department of Education and the Department of Labor. The three bills heard in committee include Bill No. 33-0005, Bill No. 33-0102 and Bill No. 33-0223. Of those three, two were voted on favorably and sent to the Committee on Rules and Judiciary while one was held in Committee for further vetting.
No stranger to testifying before the Education Committee, the VI Department of Education (DOE) was invited earlier this year to give an update on the US Department of Education Compliance Agreement and the use of all Federal funding. The Office of Management and Budget testified alongside the DOE in this particular meeting and both spoke on the specific methods they were taking to satisfy the requirements of this mandate. The Department continued that discussion by updating the committee members on how they utilize Federal funds and an appropriation of $5M through Act No. 8193 to benefit both students and educators.
The Department of Labor (DOL) also testified before the committee on numerous occasions and most recently gave an update on the status of the One-Stop Operator Program and how program challenges would impact staff and the Territory's residents. The Division of Personnel was also in attendance at this meeting and gave insight into their strategy to provide services to DOL staff who faced unemployment. Senators in attendance took the opportunity to discuss workforce development in the Virgin Islands and ways in which leaders could provide support to help the Territory's youth become career-ready.
Other Legislative Committee Work
In addition to being Chair of the Committee on Education and Workforce Development, Sen. Frett-Gregory is also a member of the Comm. on Finance, Comm. on Health, Hospitals & Human Services, Comm. on Housing, Transportation and Telecommunications and the Comm. on Homeland Security, Justice, Public Safety and Veterans' Affairs. Sen. Frett-Gregory is heavily involved in legislative work for these committees and often partners with her colleagues to work on meaningful measures, especially regarding the growth of the Virgin Islands economy.
In fact, Sen. Frett-Gregory has worked on and supported numerous financial and economic development bills, to include establishing the St. Thomas Capital Improvement Fund to ensure the island receives resources for capital improvement projects, similarly to the St. John and St. Croix Capital Improvement Fund, supporting a White Collar Crime Unit within the Department of Justice to prevent and address corruption in the Territory, and exploring the benefits of expanding the economy to allow for the sustainable use of our marine environment to provide marine-related jobs to residents while protecting the ocean's wildlife.
Even further, Sen. Frett-Gregory is currently pushing for passage of Bill No. 33-0145, a measure she proposed in December of 2019 to require a mid-year review of the Territory's budget in addition to the yearly review. The legislation was favorably voted on by her colleagues but vetoed by the Governor. Sen. Frett-Gregory believes now is the time for leaders to consistently review the Territory's budget, especially in light of the financial impact from COVID-19. The senator plans to do all she can to see the passage of this far-reaching legislation that will bring an added level of transparency to the Territory's finances.
Scroll to see Sen. Frett-Gregory's attendance record.
Collaborating with Community Leaders
Although busy with legislative work, Sen. Frett-Gregory makes sure to solicit feedback from other community leaders in the Territory, especially when proposing new legislation. The senator makes it her mission to consistently dialogue with not only her constituents, but with leaders whose decisions impact the daily lives of Virgin Islanders.
Sen. Frett-Gregory understands many of the vexing issues in the Territory and works hard to identify solutions. In particular, Sen. Frett-Gregory is heavily invested in seeing the Government Employees' Retirement System (GERS) remain solvent and continuously looks for ways to provide the system with funding. The senator has already proposed legislation to pump an additional $3M into the system through Act No. 8171 that is now law and is currently working on additional funding measures with her colleagues.
During the first quarter of 2020, Sen. Frett-Gregory met with leaders from the VI Housing Authority to get a better understanding of the Authority's plan to provide affordable housing to Virgin Islanders. The senator keenly understands the challenges many residents face to find affordable housing and questioned Housing Authority on their strategy to ensure more affordable housing units are available for Virgin Islands residents.
Sen. Frett-Gregory continues to meet with experts across multiple industries to ensure her office is making the right decisions for the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Out in the Community
On January 26, Sen. Frett-Gregory served as a presiding officer at the SPARKS Induction Ceremony. Students Promoting Awareness, Responsibility, Knowledge and Service, better known as SPARKS, is a student-led organization that provides high school students with the opportunity to build communication and career-readiness skills, participate in community service and engage in healthy social interactions.
In celebration of Go Red Day, staff at the Legislature of the Virgin Islands brought awareness to heart health by wearing red and learning more about ways to prevent cardiovascular disease.
Later that month, Sen. Frett-Gregory teamed up with Department of Human Services Senior Citizen Affairs Division to host a Valentine’s Day Senior Citizen Lunch on St. John. Ms. Johnson’s first grade class from the Julius E. Sprauve School joined in the festivities to perform a musical selection for the seniors.
Senator Frett-Gregory continues to remain active in the Virgin Islands community and makes sure to participate in cultural events. The senator attended the 49th Annual Agriculture & Food Fair Agrifest 2020 on the island of St. Croix to savor local delicacies, enjoy local bands and to support the thriving agricultural community.
On February 19, the senator spoke to students at the Ivanna Eudora Kean High School about the importance of having a voice and charting your own course. Senator Frett-Gregory challenged the students to be life-long learners and encouraged them to push for what they wanted even when faced with adversity. Sen. Frett-Gregory too graduated from a public high school and empowered the students to never let their situations define them, but to let their imagination and determination guide them towards success
Sen. Frett-Gregory is indeed a proud Virgin Islander and takes every opportunity to recognize Virgin Islanders who make their mark in V.I. history. Keeping true to her commitment, Sen. Frett-Gregory sponsored legislation to honor and commend Mr. Robert “Bob” O’Connor for his many contributions to the Virgin Islands by naming the new Port Authority Maintenance Building in his honor.
Mr. O’Connor was recognized for his commitment to the people of the Virgin Islands through his work as a former senator, civic leader and public servant.
On February 27, Sen. Donna Frett-Gregory, in conjunction with the Office of Senator Athneil “Bobby' Thomas, held a town hall meeting in the Paul M. Pearson "PMP" Gardens Community. Community members, as well as leaders from various Government agencies like the VIPD, came out to discuss ways to improve quality of life for PMP residents.
In early March, Senator Frett-Gregory hosted the Yale Undergraduate Gospel Choir to kick-off their annual spring tour. The University of the Virgin Islands and the Virgin Islands Department of Education partnered with the Yale Gospel Group to perform at schools and churches together with local students.
The Senator's supporters held its first Community Fish Fry earlier this year. Sen. Frett-Gregory used this time to meet with community members and to listen to concerns and ideas. The crowd was steady and the love and support from community members were endless.
Sen. Frett-Gregory is grateful for your support. She hears your concerns and will always fight to make sure your voice is heard.
Please feel free to reach out to the Office of Sen. Frett-Gregory with any questions, ideas or concerns by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 340-693-3686.
Visit Senator Frett-Gregory's official website for more information on what she has been up to since being elected into the 33rd Legislature of the Virgin Islands: www.donnafrettgregory.com
The next "Working for Results" newsletter issue- July 2020