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Charlotte Amalie
Friday, August 19, 2022
HomeNewsArchivesMore Transparency Needed on Authorship of Senate Bills

More Transparency Needed on Authorship of Senate Bills

Dear Source:
While there is a degree of online transparency maintained in the progress of bills as they emerge from the committee process via
www.legvi.org, there does not appear to be a similar degree of transparency in the progress of bills before they arrive in the committee or in the process of the drafting of those bills by the Office of the Legal Counsel at the Legislature. As I understand it, there is an unwritten practice or tradition that is followed by the Legislature called legislative pre-emption. If a Senator asks the Office of Legal Counsel to draft a piece of legislation on a particular topic, that Senator gains “authorship” of the bill. Subsequent drafting requests for bills on the same topic (even if intended to reach the opposite goal) are then denied by the Office of Legal Counsel. In addition, the name of the Senator with authorship rights is withheld from the public and from others members of the Legislature.
While this practice might have been initiated with the best of intentions, it has clearly been used exclusively for improper purposes. This practice creates a mad rush by some Senators to get to the Office of the Legal Counsel to gain authorship to as many bill requests as possible. Without the approval of the Senator with authorship rights, a bill (or, more significantly, an entire legislative topic) can be held up indefinitely. If another Senator would like to know who has authorship of the bill request he or she is out of luck. Even if the Senator obstructing a bill is voted out of office, he or she can secretly hand those authorship rights to another Senator to maintain the block on that bill or that legislative topic.
Many times a constituent will ask when a bill will go forward, but all or one of the Senators might say I do not have authorship rights nor do I know who has those rights so “my hands are tied.” Therefore it could be reasoned that all the members of the VI legislature and citizens, are denied the right to advocate for various issues because we do not know who has authorship of a bill and we cannot advocate for the bills introduction by the unknown Senator. In addition no other member of the body can submit similar legislation to move the issue forward.
This must come to an end. While the public awaits the formation of the 29th Legislature, we must ask ourselves, shouldn’t a time limit by resolution be placed on the exclusive authorship rights of bill requests to the Office of Legal Counsel?
I would request that this practice of pre-emption and authorship rules be reviewed in the waning days of the 28th Legislature or at the very beginning of the 29th Legislature on a specific time limit for exclusive authorship rights. A reasonable time might be 6 months of invoking this practice or there will be a loss of authorship. In addition passing on authorship rights from an outgoing senator to an incoming senator without transparency should come to an end. Most important of all, no Senator should be permitted to lay claim to an entire legislative topic in secret. Bill requests should be part of the public record.
We urgently need reform to this practice with a resolution as soon as possible. Thank you,
Jason Budsan, St. Thomas

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Dear Source:
While there is a degree of online transparency maintained in the progress of bills as they emerge from the committee process via
www.legvi.org, there does not appear to be a similar degree of transparency in the progress of bills before they arrive in the committee or in the process of the drafting of those bills by the Office of the Legal Counsel at the Legislature. As I understand it, there is an unwritten practice or tradition that is followed by the Legislature called legislative pre-emption. If a Senator asks the Office of Legal Counsel to draft a piece of legislation on a particular topic, that Senator gains “authorship” of the bill. Subsequent drafting requests for bills on the same topic (even if intended to reach the opposite goal) are then denied by the Office of Legal Counsel. In addition, the name of the Senator with authorship rights is withheld from the public and from others members of the Legislature.
While this practice might have been initiated with the best of intentions, it has clearly been used exclusively for improper purposes. This practice creates a mad rush by some Senators to get to the Office of the Legal Counsel to gain authorship to as many bill requests as possible. Without the approval of the Senator with authorship rights, a bill (or, more significantly, an entire legislative topic) can be held up indefinitely. If another Senator would like to know who has authorship of the bill request he or she is out of luck. Even if the Senator obstructing a bill is voted out of office, he or she can secretly hand those authorship rights to another Senator to maintain the block on that bill or that legislative topic.
Many times a constituent will ask when a bill will go forward, but all or one of the Senators might say I do not have authorship rights nor do I know who has those rights so “my hands are tied.” Therefore it could be reasoned that all the members of the VI legislature and citizens, are denied the right to advocate for various issues because we do not know who has authorship of a bill and we cannot advocate for the bills introduction by the unknown Senator. In addition no other member of the body can submit similar legislation to move the issue forward.
This must come to an end. While the public awaits the formation of the 29th Legislature, we must ask ourselves, shouldn't a time limit by resolution be placed on the exclusive authorship rights of bill requests to the Office of Legal Counsel?
I would request that this practice of pre-emption and authorship rules be reviewed in the waning days of the 28th Legislature or at the very beginning of the 29th Legislature on a specific time limit for exclusive authorship rights. A reasonable time might be 6 months of invoking this practice or there will be a loss of authorship. In addition passing on authorship rights from an outgoing senator to an incoming senator without transparency should come to an end. Most important of all, no Senator should be permitted to lay claim to an entire legislative topic in secret. Bill requests should be part of the public record.
We urgently need reform to this practice with a resolution as soon as possible. Thank you,
Jason Budsan, St. Thomas