INITIATIVE, NOT REFERENDUM, IS BINDING

June 6, 2001 – Supervisor of Elections John Abramson Jr. said Tuesday night an initiative expresses the people's will and is binding under V.I. law. A referendum, in contrast, is not.
"A referendum comes from the Legislature, an initiative comes from the people," he said.
But an initiative is not easy to implement, he added.
It's a two-tier process.
In response to questioning by Sen. Lorraine L. Berry at a hearing on the so-called Senate Reduction bill, which has been undergoing a series of public hearings this week, Abramson explained that unlike a referendum, which is no more than an "opinion poll," an initiative could lead to a law passed solely by "the people."
In the first "go round," a petition must be drawn and signed by 1 percent of the registered voters if it's a district question, or 4 percent of the voters if it's a territorial issue, Abramson said.
"I then have 15 days to review" the signatures. "Then I get together with the attorney general and the Legislature's chief legal counsel to determine the exact question that will be placed on the ballot."
Then comes the second tier.
The petition must now be signed by 10 percent of the registered voters if the issue is a district question or 41 percent if it affects the entire territory.
The petition is then submitted to the Legislature. If the Legislature votes "yea," it becomes law and cannot be repealed for three years. If senators vote no or don't vote at all, the initiative then goes to the ballot where it must receive 50 percent plus one vote of the total number of persons voting in that election. If it gets those votes, it automatically becomes law, and cannot be repealed for three years, Abramson said.
"The requirement of 50 percent plus one is tougher than in any other jurisdictions," Abramson said. "It should be a simple majority" of those who vote on the initiative.
"The first tier is hard enough," he said. "Once you get through that, it should be made a little easier."
At the hearing on the bill to reduce the Senate to nine members from the current 15, Abramson, along with Attorney General Iver Stridiron, said last November's referendum, which spawned the bill, was moot and non-binding.
See previous story, "Stridiron: referendum moot," for details.

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