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Constitutional Convention Waits on Funding

May 22, 2008 — The Fifth Constitutional Convention is out of money until the V.I. government releases $200,000 that was recently appropriated, but progress is being made on drafting a constitution, Constitutional Convention delegate Eugene "Doc" Petersen told Rotary Club of St. Croix Thursday.
"We had to cancel all meetings this week because we did not receive the most recent appropriation yet, and we decided we will not incur any expenses without having the money to pay them," he said. "We are down to eight or nine thousand dollars."
The funds should be released in the next few days, at which point meetings will resume with a little rescheduling, he said.
Petersen, who chairs the Constitutional Convention committee charged with provisions for the Legislature, and the convention's spokesman, said there had been much progress made and they would be able to produce a document by the legislative deadline of July 27. He and his fellow convention members would like to have more time in order to be more thorough and do more research, he said.
"As you know, the election (of delegates to the Fifth Constitutional Convention) was challenged, taking two months to settle and longer before we were sworn in," he said. "So we lost about six months. … We will have a document by July 27, though."
Petersen shared some details of where the convention is going with some of the major constitutional issues.
Regarding the Legislature, "Many people talk about reducing the size to reduce the cost," he said. "But when you think that the budget they oversee is in the $1 billion range, the $15 million they spend is not a large percentage. And in order to give St. John proper representation based on its population you might need an increase in the size."
He said there is also talk of increasing the senators' terms to four years.
"Most senators say with two year terms, they spend too much time campaigning," he said.
However the Legislature is restructured, the role of the single at-large delegate is likely to change.
"St. John residents don’t feel they get enough representation from the at-large delegate because (at-large delegates) have to seek votes from all over," he said
There is probably going to be a lower threshold for referendums and for recall of elected officials, he said.
The convention has arrived at a consensus that an independent commission should determine the salaries of elected officials, but the details are still being worked out.
"We are trying to figure out how members of the commission would be selected," he said.
A definition of a native Virgin Islander may be in the final document.
"I for one, my vote will be for everyone to have a place in that definition if they are born in the Virgin Islands," he said.
"Personally, I would like to divide the definition into three categories," he added after his prepared remarks. "There are residential Virgin Islanders, or everyone who lives, works and votes in the Virgin Islands; native Virgin Islanders would be anyone born in the Virgin Islands and then there are what I would term ancestral Virgin Islanders: people who can trace their roots to before the treaty of accession in 1917."
While definitions of some kind are likely to be a part of the document, most of the convention delegates do not support attempting to tie voting rights or other civil rights to those definitions, Petersen said after the talk. The Fifth Constitutional Convention has a website with historical and legal background as well as some of the convention's working notes. There have been four previous conventions.
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May 22, 2008 -- The Fifth Constitutional Convention is out of money until the V.I. government releases $200,000 that was recently appropriated, but progress is being made on drafting a constitution, Constitutional Convention delegate Eugene "Doc" Petersen told Rotary Club of St. Croix Thursday.
"We had to cancel all meetings this week because we did not receive the most recent appropriation yet, and we decided we will not incur any expenses without having the money to pay them," he said. "We are down to eight or nine thousand dollars."
The funds should be released in the next few days, at which point meetings will resume with a little rescheduling, he said.
Petersen, who chairs the Constitutional Convention committee charged with provisions for the Legislature, and the convention's spokesman, said there had been much progress made and they would be able to produce a document by the legislative deadline of July 27. He and his fellow convention members would like to have more time in order to be more thorough and do more research, he said.
"As you know, the election (of delegates to the Fifth Constitutional Convention) was challenged, taking two months to settle and longer before we were sworn in," he said. "So we lost about six months. … We will have a document by July 27, though."
Petersen shared some details of where the convention is going with some of the major constitutional issues.
Regarding the Legislature, "Many people talk about reducing the size to reduce the cost," he said. "But when you think that the budget they oversee is in the $1 billion range, the $15 million they spend is not a large percentage. And in order to give St. John proper representation based on its population you might need an increase in the size."
He said there is also talk of increasing the senators' terms to four years.
"Most senators say with two year terms, they spend too much time campaigning," he said.
However the Legislature is restructured, the role of the single at-large delegate is likely to change.
"St. John residents don’t feel they get enough representation from the at-large delegate because (at-large delegates) have to seek votes from all over," he said
There is probably going to be a lower threshold for referendums and for recall of elected officials, he said.
The convention has arrived at a consensus that an independent commission should determine the salaries of elected officials, but the details are still being worked out.
"We are trying to figure out how members of the commission would be selected," he said.
A definition of a native Virgin Islander may be in the final document.
"I for one, my vote will be for everyone to have a place in that definition if they are born in the Virgin Islands," he said.
"Personally, I would like to divide the definition into three categories," he added after his prepared remarks. "There are residential Virgin Islanders, or everyone who lives, works and votes in the Virgin Islands; native Virgin Islanders would be anyone born in the Virgin Islands and then there are what I would term ancestral Virgin Islanders: people who can trace their roots to before the treaty of accession in 1917."
While definitions of some kind are likely to be a part of the document, most of the convention delegates do not support attempting to tie voting rights or other civil rights to those definitions, Petersen said after the talk. The Fifth Constitutional Convention has a website with historical and legal background as well as some of the convention's working notes. There have been four previous conventions.
Back Talk


Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name and city and state/country or island where you reside.