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Constitutional Convention Delegates Ponder Local and Territorial Government Issues

July 18, 2008 — Will there be local government? Will the Senate be part time? How many senators should there be? How should representatives be spread through the three islands?
These were a few of the questions the Constitutional Convention Committee on Legislature struggled with Thursday during a teleconference meeting.
As in the previous two meetings this week, members communicated by speaker phone between computer rooms at the University of Virgin Islands' St. Croix and St. Thomas campuses — the video link was not working. Although institutional technology failed, personal technology did work, with delegates using emails to send relevant documents back and forth.
Still, Delegate Doug Brady on St. Croix said that he felt at times that the committee was working in a "vacuum" because each committee did not know what other committees were doing officially.
The committee was discussing whether senators should be required to give up their full-time jobs. Delegate Michael Thurland on St. Thomas indicated he wanted the whole section struck from the document because he plans to introduce sections relating to the Senate becoming part time.
Delegate Craig Barshinger, a former senator, said the delegates should be cautious about introducing something in the document that would cause elected officials to be against it. But many delegates agreed when Thurland countered, "We have a job to do — we can't let the senators dictate what we do."
What delegates were actually discussing was a "when and if"-type clause concerning local government. Delegates had heard the Constitutional Convention Committee on Government was going to set a date for local districting government, but no official document on such an effort has appeared yet. The Constitutional Convention Committee on Government meeting Wednesday was canceled after the Constitutional Convention Committee on Suffrage ran much longer than expected.
The other section that gave birth to exceptionally diverse proposals and back and forth bantering was the section on composition of the Senate. Brady and Thurland both introduced plans that sharply diverged from the draft presented by Chair Eugene "Doc" Petersen.
According to the draft presented, the Senate would consist of 13 members serving four-year terms, with six each from St. Thomas and St. Croix and one from St. John.
"We should reduce the Senate a little to gain public support and help the budget," Barshinger said. "We must make a decision on this. We have spent many hours on this, repeated over and over at three or four meetings."
Discussion on this section was eventually tabled.
Petersen agreed with Barshinger about the committee spending hour after hour of discussion on the proposed draft.
"We could find something wrong with each section and table everything," Petersen said.
Some sections of the draft were actually adopted as written — with other sections amended, to be rewritten or tabled.
Gerard Emanuel, secretary of the Constitutional Convention, reminded members that they need to have the drafts to a consultant, Dorothea Beane, as soon as possible.
Beane is a professor at the Stetson University College of Law. She heads Stetson's Institute for Caribbean Law and Policy in Gulfport, Fla., and is helping with Constitutional Convention issues. Her services and that of other Institute members and students come at no charge to the territory.
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July 18, 2008 -- Will there be local government? Will the Senate be part time? How many senators should there be? How should representatives be spread through the three islands?
These were a few of the questions the Constitutional Convention Committee on Legislature struggled with Thursday during a teleconference meeting.
As in the previous two meetings this week, members communicated by speaker phone between computer rooms at the University of Virgin Islands' St. Croix and St. Thomas campuses -- the video link was not working. Although institutional technology failed, personal technology did work, with delegates using emails to send relevant documents back and forth.
Still, Delegate Doug Brady on St. Croix said that he felt at times that the committee was working in a "vacuum" because each committee did not know what other committees were doing officially.
The committee was discussing whether senators should be required to give up their full-time jobs. Delegate Michael Thurland on St. Thomas indicated he wanted the whole section struck from the document because he plans to introduce sections relating to the Senate becoming part time.
Delegate Craig Barshinger, a former senator, said the delegates should be cautious about introducing something in the document that would cause elected officials to be against it. But many delegates agreed when Thurland countered, "We have a job to do -- we can't let the senators dictate what we do."
What delegates were actually discussing was a "when and if"-type clause concerning local government. Delegates had heard the Constitutional Convention Committee on Government was going to set a date for local districting government, but no official document on such an effort has appeared yet. The Constitutional Convention Committee on Government meeting Wednesday was canceled after the Constitutional Convention Committee on Suffrage ran much longer than expected.
The other section that gave birth to exceptionally diverse proposals and back and forth bantering was the section on composition of the Senate. Brady and Thurland both introduced plans that sharply diverged from the draft presented by Chair Eugene "Doc" Petersen.
According to the draft presented, the Senate would consist of 13 members serving four-year terms, with six each from St. Thomas and St. Croix and one from St. John.
"We should reduce the Senate a little to gain public support and help the budget," Barshinger said. "We must make a decision on this. We have spent many hours on this, repeated over and over at three or four meetings."
Discussion on this section was eventually tabled.
Petersen agreed with Barshinger about the committee spending hour after hour of discussion on the proposed draft.
"We could find something wrong with each section and table everything," Petersen said.
Some sections of the draft were actually adopted as written -- with other sections amended, to be rewritten or tabled.
Gerard Emanuel, secretary of the Constitutional Convention, reminded members that they need to have the drafts to a consultant, Dorothea Beane, as soon as possible.
Beane is a professor at the Stetson University College of Law. She heads Stetson's Institute for Caribbean Law and Policy in Gulfport, Fla., and is helping with Constitutional Convention issues. Her services and that of other Institute members and students come at no charge to the territory.
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.