CHARLOTTE AMALIE — Senator Alma Francis Heyliger thanks her colleagues in the 34th Legislature for their unanimous support in advancing to the full Senate Bill No. 34-0212, which will amend Title 28, chapter 29, section 660 of the Virgin Islands Code to require the Office of the Lieutenant Governor to establish an online, searchable database of abandoned property.
The legislation, which Senator Francis Heyliger sponsored, ensures public transparency and access for the rightful property owners to reclaim millions of dollars in assets that have been declared abandoned and turned over to the Office of the Lieutenant Governor. It should be noted that the legislation does not apply to real property such as parcels of land.
While the V.I. Code requires the Lt. Governor’s office, as administrator of the unclaimed funds, to publish an updated listing in a locally-circulated publication on a yearly basis, Sen. Francis Heyliger said she discovered through her research that it had not done so in 10 years.
This prompted Sen. Francis Heyliger to embark on a year-long series of inquiries with the Office of the Lieutenant Governor in search of further information regarding its handling of unclaimed funds.
“This legislation will provide a tool and a mechanism that is necessary in order enable the public to get access to their funds, which has grown into a significant sum of money, but has collected dust in a government account when there are citizens in this territory who quite possibly could’ve made good use of that money sometime over the past
ten years,” said Senator Francis Heyliger, who has crafted several pieces of legislation during her term that address transparency in governmental affairs and accountability.
As Bill No. 34-0212 makes its way through the Senate, Senator Francis Heyliger said she still hopes to delineate how much in unclaimed funds the Lt. Governor’s office has contributed to the general fund, since the Virgin islands Code the trust fund maintain at least $100,000 while dumping the bulk of the funds into the general fund. That trust
fund alone currently holds an estimated $15.9 million, according to the Office of the Lieutenant Governor.
“This bill speaks to providing the territory’s citizens with easier access to search and reclaim property that legally belongs to them,” said Senator Francis Heyliger. “But it also speaks to how significant portions of money move within our government without the proper oversight and public feedback. As lawmakers, it is our responsibility to modernize aspects of the law that promote the fullest engagement of the people we represent. And I sincerely appreciate my colleagues in the Senate for supporting that effort.”
Over the course of two Senate committee meetings, Bill No. 34-0212 has drawn strong support and praise from Senator Francis Heyliger’s colleagues, who expressed her gratitude for the unanimous approval and encouraged her fellow lawmakers to continue the enthusiasm and momentum when it appears before the full body of the 34th Legislature.