Yesterday, during the first House of Assembly sitting since Hurricane Irma, lawmakers passed a bill designed to allow the curfew to continue after the territory lifts its state of emergency. 

Governor Gus Jaspert declared a public period of emergency on Sept. 7, the day after Hurricane Irma made landfall and devastated large swaths of the Virgin Islands.

Government said the state of emergency was designed primarily to allow for the rapid introduction of a curfew, according to Mr. Jaspert. Under the 2007 VI Constitution, a state of emergency equips the governor with the means to bypass normal legislative routes through the House of Assembly and pass regulations for “securing the public safety, the defence of the Virgin Islands or the maintenance of public order, or for maintaining supplies and services essential to the life of the community.”

Such regulations are designed to expire when the state of emergency is lifted.

That stipulation is why lawmakers rushed passage of the 2017 Curfew Act yesterday.

“My intention is to end the state of emergency as soon as possible,” Mr. Jaspert said in a press conference earlier that day, adding that he hoped to do so later this week. “To do this, Cabinet agreed that we needed a separate Curfew Act to enable the curfew to continue as we restore vital services.”

After the press conference, HOA members met at Save the Seed Energy Centre — the usual HOA chambers were heavily damaged during Hurricane Irma — and suspended normal standing orders to allow for three readings and a debate of the bill in a matter of hours.

Though their enthusiasm varied, each lawmaker who rose to debate the legislation expressed some degree of support, and the House unanimously passed it after going into committee stage.

Bill details

Lawmakers did provide some details about the bill during the debate, though these were subject to alteration when HOA members broke for committee, which is not open to the public. The legislation as it passed has not yet been Gazetted.

Though the governor will be able to call the curfew, he must do so after consulting the National Security Council, explained Education and Culture Minister Myron Walwyn (R-at large).

The bill doesn’t allow for single curfews longer than 14 days, though subsequent curfews can be ordered if necessary, the minister added.

Mr. Walwyn explained that the punishment for being convicted of breaking the curfew will be $1,000 and/or up to three months in prison, though people will have defence from conviction if they are travelling from work directly to home or with written permission from the governor.

The bill also allowed curfews to be localised in certain areas of the territory, the minister added.

Mr. Walwyn explained that though the freedom to move around the territory was a constitutional right, it was not an absolute right. Movement, he said, was a qualified right that could be infringed when absolutely necessary for the protection of the territory, something the Curfew Act was doing.