Premier Ralph O’Neal announced in the House of Assembly Tuesday that he has asked the governor to dissolve the House next Tuesday in preparation for the elections.

Mr. O’Neal did not disclose the date of the coming election, but the law requires it to follow between 21 days and two months from the date the House is dissolved. This means residents can expect to go to the polls sometime between Oct. 4 and Nov. 13.

It also means that eligible voters will have until next Thursday to register to vote if they want to participate in this year’s elections.

“Once the House of Assembly has been dissolved, persons will only have two days to register to be eligible to vote in the upcoming general election,” Supervisor of Elections Juliette Penn said in a statement issued Monday.

Ms. Penn urged voters to register early to “ensure that if any problems are found with applications — for example, the wrong documentation was submitted — we would have enough time to contact those individuals and have them submit the correct documents to complete the registration process.”

Curfew law

At Tuesday’s HOA meeting, a long public debate and longer closed-door committee session kept legislators from finishing their agenda items. They are to return to the House today to complete the sitting.

Also on Tuesday, Education and Culture Minister Andrew Fahie introduced a bill called the Curfew (Minors) Act and told the House that he would explain the bill at its second reading, which is expected next Tuesday.

Mr. Fahie said in January 2010 that the legislation was expected sometime that year. Then this April, Mr. Fahie announced that the legislation was still in the works, attributing a delay to the need for public meetings.

At that time, Mr. Fahie said it was “time for government to step in” with a law to put “children back in the hands of their parents.”

“The curfew won’t solve all our problems,” he said at the time, “but it will put children back with parents.”

Health insurance

Deputy Premier Dancia Penn, the minister of health and social development, said public consultations are coming soon regarding the National Health Insurance System.

“Proposed features will be discussed with the public,” she told the House Tuesday.

Ms. Penn said details of the plan are under review by a Ministry of Health project steering committee, which is considering how the system will be funded, which benefits will be offered, and regulations and laws related to the system.

The minister reminded the House that every resident of the territory will have basic health coverage, and that the system will be run by a new division of the Social Security Board, although funds will be kept and managed separately.

Recently, the ministry finalised a request for proposals for the software that will be “required for the efficient operation” of the system and the new Peebles Hospital, Ms. Penn said.

Delayed debates

Legislators delayed debates on three items: a Road Act amendment, the Justice Protection Act and the Attorney General’s Reference Act. They’re expected to consider all three today.

The 46-page Justice Protection Act is designed “to give protection to witnesses and certain other persons,” according to the draft legislation published in the BVI Gazette.

It calls for creating three new government units: the Justice Protection Administrative Centre, the Justice Protection Investigative Agency and the Justice Protection Protective Agency.

The bill also provides for memos of understanding between cooperating countries and territories for the relocation of witnesses and for regulating which witnesses should be given legal protection.

The Attorney General’s Reference Act allows the AG to take questions about whether new legislation is constitutional to the Court of Appeal, if he or she has the approval of Cabinet. According to the bill, other “important questions” can also be taken to the Court of Appeal.

The roads measure increases the maximum penalty that can be issued under the act to $5,000 or one year in prison, according to the BVI Gazette.

Documents disclosed

Several documents were laid on the table of the House Tuesday, making them public reports. Among them were a new schedule of regulations for Accident and Health Insurance contracts; the 2009 annual report from the Department of Trade and Consumer Affairs; the 2010 annual report from the Survey Department; the Ministry of Health’s official strategy to prevent chronic non-communicable diseases; a health policy intended to “guide the wider health sector;” a final version of the BVI Social Sector Report and Implementation Plan; the Sandy Lane Centre’s 2010 annual report; and the Complaints Commission’s 2010 annual report.