The House of Assembly has been busy passing more than a dozen bills in a recent marathon of sittings.

Seven of them, which were Gazetted on July 28, have now become law after receiving assent from Governor Gus Jaspert.

They include the Stamp Amendment Act, 2020, which temporarily suspends the stamp duty for Virgin Islanders and other belongers buying property.

Other laws Gazetted July 28 are the Immigration and Passport Amendment Act, 2020; the Arbitration Amendment Act, 2020; the Supplementary Appropriations (2014) Act, 2020; the Supplementary Appropriations (2015) Act, 2020; the Virgin Islands Red Cross Act, 2020; and the Asset Seizure and Forfeiture Act, 2020.

Proposed laws that still await the governor’s assent include a controversial bill that would legalise gambling and another that would allow for the production and use of medical marijuana in the territory.

Stamp duty

In May, as part of government’s Covid-19 economic stimulus efforts, Premier Andrew Fahie announced the waiving of stamp duty for belongers purchasing land. He said at the time that government “recognised the need to ease some of the financial burden of residents who would be in a position to purchase property” during the pandemic in a “manner that encourages the property to remain in local hands.”

The initiative waives stamp duty on the sale or transfer of property to a belonger from May 7, 2020 to May 31, 2021. Any belonger who paid stamp duty after May 7 is to be reimbursed, the law states.

However, if a belonger sells the land that was purchased or transferred to a non-belonger within seven years, the stamp duty fees would need to be paid, the premier has said.

The bill was introduced and passed during the 10th sitting of the House in June.

Appropriations

The two supplementary appropriations acts are part of government’s efforts to address bookkeeping discrepancies of the past, tackle $1.5 million in outstanding bills, and bring the territory in line with best financial practices, Mr. Fahie said when he presented the bills in June.

The acts explain how government shuffled funds for various projects, using budget surpluses from some projects for other underfunded efforts.

Typically, such appropriation acts are meant to come within six months of the end of the year, Mr. Fahie said.

He added that he planned to bring the 2019 supplementary appropriations act to the HOA before the end of this year, in addition to bringing other delayed appropriations acts up to date in an upcoming sitting.

Immigration

The immigration bill, which is brief, is designed to bring the original legislation in line with provisions in companion legislation, Natural Resources, Labour and Immigration Minister Vincent Wheatley said during a June 16 HOA session.

Seeing no public debate, the bill went to committee and passed with amendments.

The minister concluded at the time that reform is needed for the territory’s immigration laws.

“We know the Immigration Act is very, very old, and there are plans to go through and do a whole rehash of both the labour and immigration acts,” he said.

Red Cross

Also in June, HOA members also passed the Red Cross bill, which establishes the humanitarian organisation as a belonger corporate body with autonomous status. With this status, the BVI Red Cross can hold property in the territory.

Deputy Premier Carvin Malone commended the society for providing skilled and impartial care to those in need in the territory, as well as financial and other assistance to sister organisations in the region. The act passed with minor amendments.

Arbitration, assets

In July the House also approved the asset seizure bill, which details what happens to certain property seized while investigating criminal offences, and the arbitration bill, which differentiates between costs awarded through an arbitration tribunal and the costs of civil proceedings in the High Court in order to clear up any grey areas, as Mr. Fahie put it.

Mr. Jaspert also recently assented to the Consumer Protection Act, 2020 and Labour Code Amendment Act, 2020, which were Gazetted on July 13.


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