Senator Alma Francis Heyliger vowed to fight a stipulation included within the newly readopted Rules of the 35th Legislature, which deliberately erased the previously established four-member minority caucus. In addition to Sen. Francis Heyliger, the Senate’s minority includes Senators Samuel Carrión, Dwayne M. DeGraff and Franklin D. Johnson.
On January 9th, the 35th Legislature held its first Regular Session, during which it established the 11-member majority caucus and appointed members of the Democratic majority caucus to leadership roles within the Senate. The formation of the 35th Legislature’s majority caucus and leadership structure passed even though the institution had not yet established nor adopted a set of rules allowing it to do so. During her allotted five minutes of personal privilege, Sen. Francis Heyliger urged her colleagues in the Legislature to correct the malpractice of bucking the Senate’s internal policies and procedures.
Immediately following her remarks, the Legislature’s newly appointed majority leader, Senator Kenneth L. Gittens, motioned for lawmakers to adopt the rules that were previously established in the 34th Legislature. The motion ultimately passed with 10 of the 15 lawmakers voting in the affirmative. Based on the rules that were established on January 9, and had governed the Legislature since that time, Sen. Francis Heyliger and her minority colleagues the formally established their own caucus in the 35th Legislature.
Sen. Francis Heyliger said that majority members undermined their good faith effort and adherence to procedure when lawmakers introduced and adopted a new set of rules during its Regular Session held on January 23rd. The rules adopted during the January 23rd session conveniently included one change, which required a minimum of five members to form a minority caucus.
“Regardless of party affiliation, Virgin Islanders elected each member of this institution to represent their best interests,” said Sen. Francis Heyliger. “As it stands, it appears that we have a majority of 11 lawmakers from the Democratic party attempting to suppress the voices of four members who represent Virgin Islanders as independent voices.”
To correct what she called a “grave injustice,” Sen. Francis Heyliger introduced a technical amendment on January 23rd in order to alter that single clause and preserve the established minority caucus. Unfortunately, the amendment failed, but Sen. Francis Heyliger reiterated her commitment to re-form the minority caucus through forthcoming legislation. Members of both the majority and minority have already expressed support. In fact, one majority member, Senator Donna Frett-Gregory voted in favor of Sen. Francis Heyliger’s amendment.
“In addition to forming a necessary mechanism of checks and balances within the Legislature, the minority members of this first branch of government represent the voices of a significant number of proud Virgin Islanders,” said Sen. Francis Heyliger. “In the previous Legislature, the minority caucus demonstrated a willingness to collaborate with majority members to best serve the Virgin Islands. I find it disappointing that we need to even address such an injustice when so many other pressing issues require our attention as representatives of the people, but I look forward to rectifying this politicized, deliberate and divisive maneuver so that we, as a body, can focus solely on the important work we were elected to do.”