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Senators Expel Steven Payne from 34th Legislature

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Photos by Barry Leerdam, Legislature of the Virgin Islands.

Fourteen senators voted Wednesday to oust Democratic Senator Steven Payne Sr. from 34th Legislature for violating ethics rules after serious accusations of sexual misconduct.  

In a Senate legislative hearing, senators voted 14-1 to expel Payne, with only Payne voting nay.

Three women accused Payne of sexual misconduct, including sexual harassment and sexual assault in a series of reports released by journalists from the online publication, The Virgin Islands Consortium. The most recent report published on May 25, where 21-year-old Steffi Emilien alleged she was a minor when she was assaulted by Payne on multiple instances. Payne denied the allegations. 

Lawmakers felt intense pressure to address the allegations following the results of the Committee on Ethical Conduct’s investigation, before proceeding to read out an amendment to a bill that had called for Payne’s expulsion.  

“It’s not a win win for any of us today,” said Ms. Frett-Gregory, President of the 34th Legislature. 

“I continue to remind myself that we did not create this. It’s a situation that I never expected to encounter… but with leadership comes tough responsibilities and tough decision-making, and we had to do what we had to do.”

Senator Francis Heyliger and Senator Carla J. Joseph both  addressed the chamber in a point of personal privilege to share their remarks and thank their colleagues for their support. 

“I had to make a choice in regards to what is best not only for the institution, but for the trust of the people of this territory, '' said Heyliger.

Governor Albert Bryan Jr. issued a statement in the previous month and called on Attorney general Denise George to open an investigation.

Supervisor of Elections Caroline F. Fawkes said the Democratic lawmaker is to be replaced by the Democratic Party, in accordance to the removal taking place less than one year before the the next election cycle, according to Virgin Islands Code Title 2, Chapter 8.

The law reads, "If prior to the one year immediately preceding the date of the next general election, a vacancy occurs in the office of a member of the Legislature, the Governor shall call a special election in said district, or at-large, as the case may be, within thirty days following the day on which the vacancy occurs."

In a statement to WTJX Thursday, Chairman of the Democratic Party Cecil R. Benjamin, said the party is in the process of appointing a successor to replace Senator Payne as early as this weekend, with a St. John candidate expressing interest as the Democratic appointee.

"We're going to open it up to Democrats in St. John to give it up to Democrats in St. John, to give them equal opportunity to let us know if they're willing to serve and then we're going to make a recommendation... hopefully by the weekend," said Cecil.