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Constitutional Convention Hammers Out Final Draft

May 27, 2009 — A Virgin Islands constitution emerged from the Fifth Virgin Islands Constitutional Convention late Tuesday evening, just a few days from the ultimate deadline of May 31.
The final draft contains the controversial requirement that the governor and lieutenant governor be native-born or ancestral Virgin Islanders, as well as substantial property tax exemptions for native and ancestral Virgin Islanders. An ancestral native Virgin Islander is a person born or living in the Virgin Islands before 1932, the date a federal law passed conferring U.S. citizenship on people living in the territory, as well as any direct descendants of someone who meets that criteria, wherever they were born or reside.
After hours of heated debate, dozens of amendments, amendments to amendments, points of order, information and occasional disorder, a final vote on the amended document was taken after 9 p.m., sending it to the governor’s desk. Gov. John deJongh Jr. has 60 days to add his comments and forward it to the U.S. Congress, which has 60 days to look it over.
Delegate Donna Christensen and others may testify, and Congress has the power to add or delete by amendment. If passed, the constitution will go to President Barack Obama for signing, like any U.S. law. Then it comes back to the territory to be voted up or down in a referendum.
A motion by Delegate Eugene "Doc" Petersen to remove the native requirement for the governor's mansion failed.
The provision may raise problems when the document goes before the U.S. Congress. "As I've said again and again, it's not even close — this is clearly illegal," said convention attorney Lloyd Jordan, eliciting murmurs of protest from pro-native-rights Virgin Islanders in the audience.
"The case law is very long on it, it is settled law," Jordan said. "I'm not arguing the merits of your position at all, but the law isn't at all ambiguous and this will not go anywhere."
Jordan said that Hawaii had similar provisions which were struck down as an illegal proxy for racially based discrimination.
Adelbert Bryan proposed an amendment exempting native and ancestral Virgin Islanders from real property tax on their primary residence. Wilma Marsh-Monsanto offered an amendment to the amendment exempting undeveloped property as well.
"I am concerned because on St. John we have a major, major problem now," Monsanto said. "Our taxes were raised 300 percent, beyond the breaking point, and it is very unfair. The battle to hold onto a parcel of land on St. John is difficult and if we don't have some form of protection in this constitution, everything will be gone."
The property tax exemptions passed 13 yea to seven nay votes.
Lawrence Sewer proposed a measure prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, gender or sexual orientation, which passed, 12 to six, while another provision passed earlier prohibits same sex marriage.
"We already have a provision that can be construed as discriminatory against sexual orientation, so how do we reconcile them?" asked Gerard Emanuel, who ultimately supported the measure.
Before the final vote, former governor Charles Turnbull urged for passage despite opposing parts of the document. "Back in 1964 I was the youngest delegate to the first constitutional convention," Turnbull said. "Now it's 2009 and I am the oldest member of the latest. There are controversial items I don't like. … I don't believe in them but I have to stand for something positive, not negative.
"We have to give the people something to vote up or down. I don’t think it is acceptable for us to say to the people who elected us we don't have anything for you after two years."
Several delegates were contacted by telephone so they could participate in the final vote, including Kendall Petersen, who is incarcerated pending trial for conspiracy to distribute marijuana.
Voting yea on the document were: Bryan, Emanuel, Douglas Capdeville, Mario Francis, Lois Hassel-Habtes, Stedman Hodge, Jr., Myron Jackson, Gerard Luz James, Mary Moorhead, Monsanto, Kendall Petersen, Claire Roker, Robert Schuster, Richard Schrader, Lawrence Sewer, Michael Thurland, Elsie Thomas-Trotman, Charles Turnbull, Alecia Wells and Lisa Williams.
Voting nay were Douglas Brady, Violet Anne Golden, Frank Jackson, Thomas Moore and Eugene Petersen. Arnold Golden abstained. Absent were Craig Barshinger, Rena Brodhurst, Clement Magras and Arturo Watlington Jr.
The full document will be published in the next day or two as the last amendments are edited into the final text.
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May 27, 2009 -- A Virgin Islands constitution emerged from the Fifth Virgin Islands Constitutional Convention late Tuesday evening, just a few days from the ultimate deadline of May 31.
The final draft contains the controversial requirement that the governor and lieutenant governor be native-born or ancestral Virgin Islanders, as well as substantial property tax exemptions for native and ancestral Virgin Islanders. An ancestral native Virgin Islander is a person born or living in the Virgin Islands before 1932, the date a federal law passed conferring U.S. citizenship on people living in the territory, as well as any direct descendants of someone who meets that criteria, wherever they were born or reside.
After hours of heated debate, dozens of amendments, amendments to amendments, points of order, information and occasional disorder, a final vote on the amended document was taken after 9 p.m., sending it to the governor’s desk. Gov. John deJongh Jr. has 60 days to add his comments and forward it to the U.S. Congress, which has 60 days to look it over.
Delegate Donna Christensen and others may testify, and Congress has the power to add or delete by amendment. If passed, the constitution will go to President Barack Obama for signing, like any U.S. law. Then it comes back to the territory to be voted up or down in a referendum.
A motion by Delegate Eugene "Doc" Petersen to remove the native requirement for the governor's mansion failed.
The provision may raise problems when the document goes before the U.S. Congress. "As I've said again and again, it's not even close -- this is clearly illegal," said convention attorney Lloyd Jordan, eliciting murmurs of protest from pro-native-rights Virgin Islanders in the audience.
"The case law is very long on it, it is settled law," Jordan said. "I'm not arguing the merits of your position at all, but the law isn't at all ambiguous and this will not go anywhere."
Jordan said that Hawaii had similar provisions which were struck down as an illegal proxy for racially based discrimination.
Adelbert Bryan proposed an amendment exempting native and ancestral Virgin Islanders from real property tax on their primary residence. Wilma Marsh-Monsanto offered an amendment to the amendment exempting undeveloped property as well.
"I am concerned because on St. John we have a major, major problem now," Monsanto said. "Our taxes were raised 300 percent, beyond the breaking point, and it is very unfair. The battle to hold onto a parcel of land on St. John is difficult and if we don't have some form of protection in this constitution, everything will be gone."
The property tax exemptions passed 13 yea to seven nay votes.
Lawrence Sewer proposed a measure prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, gender or sexual orientation, which passed, 12 to six, while another provision passed earlier prohibits same sex marriage.
"We already have a provision that can be construed as discriminatory against sexual orientation, so how do we reconcile them?" asked Gerard Emanuel, who ultimately supported the measure.
Before the final vote, former governor Charles Turnbull urged for passage despite opposing parts of the document. "Back in 1964 I was the youngest delegate to the first constitutional convention," Turnbull said. "Now it's 2009 and I am the oldest member of the latest. There are controversial items I don't like. … I don't believe in them but I have to stand for something positive, not negative.
"We have to give the people something to vote up or down. I don’t think it is acceptable for us to say to the people who elected us we don't have anything for you after two years."
Several delegates were contacted by telephone so they could participate in the final vote, including Kendall Petersen, who is incarcerated pending trial for conspiracy to distribute marijuana.
Voting yea on the document were: Bryan, Emanuel, Douglas Capdeville, Mario Francis, Lois Hassel-Habtes, Stedman Hodge, Jr., Myron Jackson, Gerard Luz James, Mary Moorhead, Monsanto, Kendall Petersen, Claire Roker, Robert Schuster, Richard Schrader, Lawrence Sewer, Michael Thurland, Elsie Thomas-Trotman, Charles Turnbull, Alecia Wells and Lisa Williams.
Voting nay were Douglas Brady, Violet Anne Golden, Frank Jackson, Thomas Moore and Eugene Petersen. Arnold Golden abstained. Absent were Craig Barshinger, Rena Brodhurst, Clement Magras and Arturo Watlington Jr.
The full document will be published in the next day or two as the last amendments are edited into the final text.
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.