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V.I. Officials to Testify Before Congress on Territorial Constitution

The U.S. Congress has invited delegates to the Fifth Constitutional Convention of the Virgin Islands and members of the V.I. Legislature to testify on the proposed constitution developed last year by the convention. The House Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife will hear testimony this Wednesday.
“The document will get its first hearing before the Congress with local witnesses invited to give a five-minute testimony,” said Delegate Donna Christensen in a statement from her office. The hearing will take place in the Natural Resources Committee hearing room and will be webcast to the public at http://resourcescommittee.house.gov, according to the statement.
President Barack Obama sent the proposed draft constitution to Congress March 1, with comments questioning some provisions, including those granting property tax exemptions to ancestral Virgin Islanders.
"In submitting the proposed constitution, [Gov. John deJongh Jr.] expressed his concerns about several provisions of the proposed constitution," Obama wrote in his letter to Congress accompanying the constitution. "(B)ut he also expressed his hope that the people of the United States Virgin Islands continue to ‘`move ahead towards (their) goal of increased local governmental autonomy.”’
Obama said he had the Department of Justice and Department of Interior analyze the document and they “concluded that several features of the proposed constitution warranted analysis and comment.” Areas of concern include: the absence of an express recognition of U.S. sovereignty, provisions conferring legal advantages on certain groups defined by place and timing of birth, residence requirements for certain offices, and imprecise language in certain provisions of the proposed constitution’s bill of rights, among others.
The Justice Department report recommends loosening the residency requirements and eliminating legal advantages such as tax exemptions for certain groups.
"Because we find it difficult to discern a legitimate governmental purpose that would be rationally advanced by the provisions conferring legal status on certain groups defined by place and timing of birth, timing of residency or ancestry, we recommend that those provisions be removed from the proposed constitution," said the Justice Department report, in part.
When the document was approved by the convention last May, Gov. John deJongh Jr. initially declined to forward the document, raising several of the same issues. In December, the V.I. Superior Court concluded deJongh did not have the latitude to decide whether or not to send the document on and ordered him to forward the draft.
When Obama sent the document to Congress, deJongh said in a statement he was pleased Obama agreed with his concerns about the proposed constitution. DeJongh said it was his "firm belief" that "equal rights and equal protections under the law" must be guaranteed for all who live in the territory and that he would oppose any constitution which did not achieve this result.
Witnesses invited to the March 17 hearing include Gov. deJongh, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder Jr., V.I. Senate President Louis Hill, V.I. Senate Majority Leader Neville James, and V.I. Senate Minority Leader Usie Richards.
Also invited are 5th Constitutional Convention Delegates Gerard Luz James, Lois Hassell-Habtes, Dr. Eugene A. Petersen, Adelbert Bryan, Douglas Brady and Gerard Emanuel.

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The U.S. Congress has invited delegates to the Fifth Constitutional Convention of the Virgin Islands and members of the V.I. Legislature to testify on the proposed constitution developed last year by the convention. The House Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife will hear testimony this Wednesday.
“The document will get its first hearing before the Congress with local witnesses invited to give a five-minute testimony,” said Delegate Donna Christensen in a statement from her office. The hearing will take place in the Natural Resources Committee hearing room and will be webcast to the public at http://resourcescommittee.house.gov, according to the statement.
President Barack Obama sent the proposed draft constitution to Congress March 1, with comments questioning some provisions, including those granting property tax exemptions to ancestral Virgin Islanders.
"In submitting the proposed constitution, [Gov. John deJongh Jr.] expressed his concerns about several provisions of the proposed constitution," Obama wrote in his letter to Congress accompanying the constitution. "(B)ut he also expressed his hope that the people of the United States Virgin Islands continue to '`move ahead towards (their) goal of increased local governmental autonomy.'''
Obama said he had the Department of Justice and Department of Interior analyze the document and they “concluded that several features of the proposed constitution warranted analysis and comment.” Areas of concern include: the absence of an express recognition of U.S. sovereignty, provisions conferring legal advantages on certain groups defined by place and timing of birth, residence requirements for certain offices, and imprecise language in certain provisions of the proposed constitution’s bill of rights, among others.
The Justice Department report recommends loosening the residency requirements and eliminating legal advantages such as tax exemptions for certain groups.
"Because we find it difficult to discern a legitimate governmental purpose that would be rationally advanced by the provisions conferring legal status on certain groups defined by place and timing of birth, timing of residency or ancestry, we recommend that those provisions be removed from the proposed constitution," said the Justice Department report, in part.
When the document was approved by the convention last May, Gov. John deJongh Jr. initially declined to forward the document, raising several of the same issues. In December, the V.I. Superior Court concluded deJongh did not have the latitude to decide whether or not to send the document on and ordered him to forward the draft.
When Obama sent the document to Congress, deJongh said in a statement he was pleased Obama agreed with his concerns about the proposed constitution. DeJongh said it was his "firm belief" that "equal rights and equal protections under the law" must be guaranteed for all who live in the territory and that he would oppose any constitution which did not achieve this result.
Witnesses invited to the March 17 hearing include Gov. deJongh, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder Jr., V.I. Senate President Louis Hill, V.I. Senate Majority Leader Neville James, and V.I. Senate Minority Leader Usie Richards.
Also invited are 5th Constitutional Convention Delegates Gerard Luz James, Lois Hassell-Habtes, Dr. Eugene A. Petersen, Adelbert Bryan, Douglas Brady and Gerard Emanuel.