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Constitutional Convention Delegates Spend Hours Reviewing Proposals

Aug. 22, 2008 — The second of two day-long sessions to review language proposed for a V.I. constitution saw delegates to the Fifth Constitutional Convention tackle matters of worker and employer rights, human services and executive powers.
Despite hours of work and largely fruitless attempts to limit comments to two minutes, delegates acknowledged Friday that they were behind in their review and approved four dates in early September for additional review.
Unless a deadline extension is granted by the Legislature, the 30 elected delegates to the convention have until Oct. 6 to craft a document that passes U.S. constitutional muster. This is the fifth time the territory has attempted such a document.
Delegate attendance diminished to 22 after lunch and the session closed 30 minutes early as additional delegates departed, but 25 delegates were on hand at the start of Friday's session.
Trying Too Hard
Review of one committee report was concluded, and two other committee reports were presented Friday, both of which were taken to task for offering too many specific provisions — language that attorneys warned is either redundant under the U.S. Constitution or likely to attract legal challenges.
Stedmann Hodge Jr., chairman of the Economic Development/Labor/Energy/Technology Committee, prompted cautionary responses after reading his committee's proposed language outlining an assortment of workers' rights.
"A constitution is a framework," Delegate Robert Schuster said. "If we create a constitution that is so rigid it can only be amended through constitutional referendum, you could create economic chaos in the territory."
Delegate and attorney Douglas Capdeville added, "This could be a very well-meaning article, but very dangerous, and you could find people saying, 'You know what? We gotta campaign against this thing.'"
Delegates Violet Anne Golden and Michael Thurland expressed concern about the constitution taking an anti-business tone — the latter firing a passionate response to a question from Delegate Kendall Petersen.
"Any way we can set up laws where companies coming here have to give us the privilege of employee ownership and shareholder ownership?" Petersen inquired.
"You think I want anybody kicking down my door telling me, 'You gotta give me a share of your business for the masses?' I pay taxes!" Thurland exclaimed.
Golden chimed in, "We have to be careful about the message we send to the private sector — not all businesses mistreat people." He continued, "We cannot continue to demonize business as if it's the only perpetrator of wrong."
The Ecomonic Development Committee's language also raised the issue of what is and is not regarded as a holiday in the Virgin Islands.
"You got these guys moving in and wanting to force their culture on you," said Delegate Adelbert Bryan, who supports recognition of African-related holidays in the territory. "George Washington and Lincoln ain't got nothing to do with me down here."
Delegate Craig Barshinger said he respected the need to honor African tradition, but insisted that holidays are about freedom of choice.
"I think we should create a framework, make the holidays real, recommend they be followed," Barshinger said. "But I would be uncomfortable putting something in the constitution that forced people to shut down a private business."
Delegate Elsie Thomas-Trotman unveiled language from her Public Safety/Homeland Security/Health and Human Services Committee, with references to services to be provided to low-income families, the elderly and the disabled. The convention's legal counsel, Lisa Moorhead, said the language would never survive.
"It's commentary," she said. "It's editorial. It's not constitutional."
A reference to cooperating with the federal government on issues of illegal aliens prompted Bryan to suggest the territory form its own laws surrounding who is and who is not illegal.
"We have to define what is an illegal alien to us as a people," he said. "Columbus is illegal to me."
Executive Branch Review
After making partial headway Thursday through the proposed language from the committee on the executive branch, delegates resumed their scrutiny, focusing on the succession of power and whether to elect or appoint government officials.
The committee suggested that, should a governor-elect die immediately before being sworn in, another election be held. That prompted a challenge from former governor and Delegate Charles Turnbull.
"My feeling is that the lieutenant governor-elect should become governor if the governor-elect died the day before election," Turnbull said. "If he died the next day, he would become governor. What difference does a day or two make?"
Turnbull entertained the convention, recalling a day soon after he had been elected that a plane he was on caught fire. His then lieutenant governor-elect, Gerard Luz James II, is the current president of the convention. Pointing at James, Turnbull recounted, "We had to run out fast … because the lieutenant governor-elect was going to become governor!"
Delegates, including James, erupted in laughter.
Petersen suggested that when a lieutenant governor-elect ascends to the position of governor, whoever had just lost the governor's race should assume the lieutenant governor position.
Turnbull chuckled: "That would encourage assassination, you know!"
Again — laughter throughout the auditorium at the Charlotte Kimelman Cancer Center, where the delegates convened.
As to the question of whether top government officials should be appointed or elected, delegates differed strongly. Currently, the attorney general and inspector general are appointed by the governor, a system supported by Delegate Douglas Brady.
"You can have an excellent campaigner who is a flop as a legal mind," Brady warned. "Theoretically you're going to have a chief executive who is going to look for the best legal mind … that dull person could be the most effective attorney general, but we're losing that person because you're making him be a pretty face on a campaign poster."
Bryan shot back that in his opinion, the appointed officials do nothing because they're beholden to the governor.
"That's why the attorney general and inspector general need to be elected by the people," Bryan declared. "If you're electing them, you can put criteria and requirements [for the positions in the constitution]. You could be ugly with the best criteria and I vote you, because I ain't voting for no face."
More Meetings Ahead
Several committees have yet to present their draft language to the entire convention, so delegates plan to reconvene Sept. 3 and 4 on St. Croix and Sept. 9 and 10 on St. Thomas. The locations have yet to be determined.
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Aug. 22, 2008 -- The second of two day-long sessions to review language proposed for a V.I. constitution saw delegates to the Fifth Constitutional Convention tackle matters of worker and employer rights, human services and executive powers.
Despite hours of work and largely fruitless attempts to limit comments to two minutes, delegates acknowledged Friday that they were behind in their review and approved four dates in early September for additional review.
Unless a deadline extension is granted by the Legislature, the 30 elected delegates to the convention have until Oct. 6 to craft a document that passes U.S. constitutional muster. This is the fifth time the territory has attempted such a document.
Delegate attendance diminished to 22 after lunch and the session closed 30 minutes early as additional delegates departed, but 25 delegates were on hand at the start of Friday's session.
Trying Too Hard
Review of one committee report was concluded, and two other committee reports were presented Friday, both of which were taken to task for offering too many specific provisions -- language that attorneys warned is either redundant under the U.S. Constitution or likely to attract legal challenges.
Stedmann Hodge Jr., chairman of the Economic Development/Labor/Energy/Technology Committee, prompted cautionary responses after reading his committee's proposed language outlining an assortment of workers' rights.
"A constitution is a framework," Delegate Robert Schuster said. "If we create a constitution that is so rigid it can only be amended through constitutional referendum, you could create economic chaos in the territory."
Delegate and attorney Douglas Capdeville added, "This could be a very well-meaning article, but very dangerous, and you could find people saying, 'You know what? We gotta campaign against this thing.'"
Delegates Violet Anne Golden and Michael Thurland expressed concern about the constitution taking an anti-business tone -- the latter firing a passionate response to a question from Delegate Kendall Petersen.
"Any way we can set up laws where companies coming here have to give us the privilege of employee ownership and shareholder ownership?" Petersen inquired.
"You think I want anybody kicking down my door telling me, 'You gotta give me a share of your business for the masses?' I pay taxes!" Thurland exclaimed.
Golden chimed in, "We have to be careful about the message we send to the private sector -- not all businesses mistreat people." He continued, "We cannot continue to demonize business as if it's the only perpetrator of wrong."
The Ecomonic Development Committee's language also raised the issue of what is and is not regarded as a holiday in the Virgin Islands.
"You got these guys moving in and wanting to force their culture on you," said Delegate Adelbert Bryan, who supports recognition of African-related holidays in the territory. "George Washington and Lincoln ain't got nothing to do with me down here."
Delegate Craig Barshinger said he respected the need to honor African tradition, but insisted that holidays are about freedom of choice.
"I think we should create a framework, make the holidays real, recommend they be followed," Barshinger said. "But I would be uncomfortable putting something in the constitution that forced people to shut down a private business."
Delegate Elsie Thomas-Trotman unveiled language from her Public Safety/Homeland Security/Health and Human Services Committee, with references to services to be provided to low-income families, the elderly and the disabled. The convention's legal counsel, Lisa Moorhead, said the language would never survive.
"It's commentary," she said. "It's editorial. It's not constitutional."
A reference to cooperating with the federal government on issues of illegal aliens prompted Bryan to suggest the territory form its own laws surrounding who is and who is not illegal.
"We have to define what is an illegal alien to us as a people," he said. "Columbus is illegal to me."
Executive Branch Review
After making partial headway Thursday through the proposed language from the committee on the executive branch, delegates resumed their scrutiny, focusing on the succession of power and whether to elect or appoint government officials.
The committee suggested that, should a governor-elect die immediately before being sworn in, another election be held. That prompted a challenge from former governor and Delegate Charles Turnbull.
"My feeling is that the lieutenant governor-elect should become governor if the governor-elect died the day before election," Turnbull said. "If he died the next day, he would become governor. What difference does a day or two make?"
Turnbull entertained the convention, recalling a day soon after he had been elected that a plane he was on caught fire. His then lieutenant governor-elect, Gerard Luz James II, is the current president of the convention. Pointing at James, Turnbull recounted, "We had to run out fast ... because the lieutenant governor-elect was going to become governor!"
Delegates, including James, erupted in laughter.
Petersen suggested that when a lieutenant governor-elect ascends to the position of governor, whoever had just lost the governor's race should assume the lieutenant governor position.
Turnbull chuckled: "That would encourage assassination, you know!"
Again -- laughter throughout the auditorium at the Charlotte Kimelman Cancer Center, where the delegates convened.
As to the question of whether top government officials should be appointed or elected, delegates differed strongly. Currently, the attorney general and inspector general are appointed by the governor, a system supported by Delegate Douglas Brady.
"You can have an excellent campaigner who is a flop as a legal mind," Brady warned. "Theoretically you're going to have a chief executive who is going to look for the best legal mind ... that dull person could be the most effective attorney general, but we're losing that person because you're making him be a pretty face on a campaign poster."
Bryan shot back that in his opinion, the appointed officials do nothing because they're beholden to the governor.
"That's why the attorney general and inspector general need to be elected by the people," Bryan declared. "If you're electing them, you can put criteria and requirements [for the positions in the constitution]. You could be ugly with the best criteria and I vote you, because I ain't voting for no face."
More Meetings Ahead
Several committees have yet to present their draft language to the entire convention, so delegates plan to reconvene Sept. 3 and 4 on St. Croix and Sept. 9 and 10 on St. Thomas. The locations have yet to be determined.
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.