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Addressing the Stagnation in the Virgin Islands’ Taxi Sector: A Call for Renewed Certification and Reform

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At a recent townhall meeting in St. Croix, key stakeholders within the taxi industry voiced their concerns over the stagnation caused by a hiatus in certifying new taxi operators. The absence of testing for over five years has emerged as a critical barrier, preventing potential drivers from joining the ranks and contributing to the industry’s growth on the Big Island.

Edwin Stephen, a seasoned taxi operator, articulated the community’s frustration to the Senate Committee on Government Operations, Veteran Affairs, and Consumer Protection. He highlighted the adverse effects of the government’s inaction, particularly in relation to servicing the cruise line sector. The lack of communication on when tests and examinations will resume has left many aspiring drivers in limbo.

Echoing Stephen’s concerns, fellow taxi operator Samuel Ferdinand pointed out the high interest among individuals wanting to join the sector, only to be met with obstacles due to the absence of certification exams. Despite recent training initiatives by the V.I. Port Authority, operators like Ferdinand find themselves without formal recognition, further exemplifying the inefficiencies within the system.

The Taxicab Commission’s Executive Director, Vernice Gumbs, acknowledged the issue, noting efforts to collaborate with the University of the Virgin Islands to restart the certification program, aiming for a hopeful resumption in May. However, the delay in resuming taxi classes and exams has been partly attributed to the absence of updated rules and regulations, a situation further complicated by fiscal challenges affecting the commission’s operations.

Senator Carla Joseph’s inquiries revealed that the halt in policy revision was due to unpaid legal services, although Gumbs suggested that existing regulations from 2014 could potentially be utilized to recommence classes. Nevertheless, Gumbs expressed concerns over the outdated framework’s inability to address contemporary industry needs, such as electronic payments, underscoring the necessity for an updated regulatory approach.

The discourse also shed light on the Taxicab Commission board’s dysfunctionality, with Senator Kenneth Gittens calling for a comprehensive overhaul to address the issue of members serving beyond their terms. Additionally, Gumbs cited previous audits and investigations as impediments to resuming classes, a stance challenged by Sen. Joseph, who urged immediate action regardless of ongoing probes.

The meeting concluded with a rallying call to industry stakeholders from Sen. Joseph, encouraging the submission of nominations for the Taxicab Commission board to ensure representation that truly reflects the industry’s interests. This plea resonates with previous efforts by lawmakers urging Governor Albert Bryan Jr. to appoint new board members, highlighting a collective desire to revitalize the taxi sector through effective governance and operational reforms.

As the Virgin Islands taxi industry stands at a crossroads, the unified voices of operators, legislators, and regulatory bodies underscore the urgent need for actionable solutions. The path forward requires not only the resumption of certification exams but also a reevaluation of regulatory frameworks and board structures to foster a more dynamic and inclusive taxi sector.

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Government

Marijuana Regulations Approved in the U.S. Virgin Islands

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The U.S. Virgin Islands has taken a significant leap forward in its cannabis program with Governor Albert Bryan Jr.’s approval of comprehensive rules and regulations governing marijuana use and distribution. The announcement was made during a press briefing on Tuesday by Government House Communications Director Richard Motta.

The newly sanctioned regulations establish a structured framework for both medicinal and adult use of cannabis. This dual approach aims to facilitate recreational cannabis use under regulated conditions while ensuring its availability for therapeutic purposes. According to Mr. Motta, the regulatory environment “provides special protections and benefits to medicinal cannabis users.”

Previously available in draft form for public comment, the regulations detail the process for obtaining various licenses and certifications necessary for participating in the cannabis industry. These roles include designated caregivers, prescribing physicians, licensees, third-party vendors, and consultants. Mr. Motta emphasized the importance of contacting the Office of Cannabis Regulation for those interested in getting involved.

Governor Bryan has expressed pride in the legislative and executive efforts that led to these comprehensive regulations. Notably, the Virgin Islands is the first U.S. jurisdiction to allow for the sacramental use of cannabis, recognizing its cultural significance. “With a closed economy such as ours, the governor believes it is important to provide opportunities for residents to participate in the program, whether as business owners, partners, employees, or patients,” added Motta.

In addition to facilitating legal cannabis use, the regulations address past injustices related to cannabis convictions. The new rules include provisions for the automatic expungement of certain cannabis-related crimes, enabling individuals previously marginalized due to past convictions to participate in the legal cannabis market. This initiative is part of a broader effort to promote social equity within the industry.

The governor’s approval marks the culmination of a long process of drafting and vetting. The regulations have been reviewed for legal sufficiency and are now ready for implementation. “For those of you who have been eagerly anticipating the rules and regulations for the adult use and medicinal cannabis rollout in the territory, they have officially been completed,” announced Motta.

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Bryan Names Kevin Rodriguez as Interim Island Administrator for St. Thomas/Water Island District

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Governor Albert Bryan Jr. has appointed Kevin Rodriguez, his former deputy chief of staff, as the Interim Island Administrator for the St. Thomas/Water Island District. This change follows Administrator Avery Lewis’s decision to pursue a seat in the 36th Legislature of the Virgin Islands.

Under Virgin Islands law (Title 18, Chapter 1, Subsection 2 of the Virgin Islands Code), candidates for the Virgin Islands Legislature must take a leave of absence from their government positions from the date they file their nomination petition until the general election concludes. Lewis filed his nomination papers on May 22, prompting the need for this interim leadership adjustment.

“Avery Lewis has been a dedicated and committed servant to the St. Thomas/Water Island district. Although we will miss his contributions in his current role, we support his decision to run for the Legislature and wish him success in his future endeavors,” Governor Bryan said.

Rodriguez’s appointment as Interim Island Administrator is backed by his extensive experience in public administration and his deep understanding of the community’s needs and challenges. Gov’t House officials believe his leadership will ensure a smooth continuation of services during this transitional period.

“I am confident that Kevin Rodriguez will effectively assist the residents of St. Thomas and Water Island during this time of transition. His proven record of effective management and community engagement makes him well-suited to advance our progress,” Governor Bryan added.

The governor expressed his gratitude to both Lewis for his service and Rodriguez for stepping into this vital role at a significant time for the islands.

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Central Government Staff Honored at Employee of the Year Ceremony

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The Government of the Virgin Islands recently celebrated its most outstanding employees in a series of ceremonies on St. Croix and St. Thomas. More than 6,000 government employees were eligible, but only a select few were honored for their exceptional service and contributions to their divisions and the community.

At the ceremony in St. Croix, Division of Personnel Director Cindy Richardson highlighted the critical role these employees play in enhancing the operations of their agencies and improving the quality of life across the territory. She lauded the honorees for their exemplary service and professionalism.

Governor Albert Bryan Jr. dispelled the notion that government workers are lackadaisical, instead praising the honorees for their dedication and impact. “You are pretty special,” he affirmed, acknowledging their positive influence within the community and among their colleagues.

Senate President Novelle Francis identified the honorees as the “cream of the crop,” and spotlighted Alfred Donowa, the employee of the year from the facilities management division in St. Croix. Donowa was praised for setting a high standard for his team. In St. Thomas, Adele Thomas was recognized as the employee of the year for her role as a receptionist in the Legislature’s offices.

The Lieutenant Governor Tregenza Roach also took part in the celebrations, commending employees like Carmen Francis from the Real Property Tax Division for her exceptional customer service, and Chris George from the Geographic Information Systems Division for his leadership.

The ceremonies not only recognized the honorees’ professional excellence but also their passion for their roles within the government. Lieutenant Governor Roach emphasized the importance of ongoing professional development to maintain job satisfaction and retain valuable staff.

The list of honorees included individuals from various departments such as Rachel Haverkorn of the Office of the Governor and Marianne Navarro from the Virgin Islands Lottery. From the Department of Agriculture, Maxine Richards was honored, and from the Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs, Diana Gumbs took the title. Belgrave Stedman was recognized from the Water and Power Authority, celebrated for his achievements despite public skepticism about the utility’s successes.

These ceremonies serve as a vital reminder of the dedicated individuals who contribute significantly to the functioning and improvement of government services in the Virgin Islands.

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