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HomeNewsArchivesV.I. Answer Desk: What Is the Status of a V.I. Constitution?

V.I. Answer Desk: What Is the Status of a V.I. Constitution?

Source reader Rudy Edwards asks: “What has happened to the Proposed Fifth USVI Constitution, which was to be finalized by a team of appointed lawyers?”

That proposed V.I. constitution died in October 2012, when the Fifth V.I. Constitutional Convention voted 13 to 13 to approve the document, failing to muster a majority in favor. While that process has ended, the V.I. Legislature has wide latitude to act on the matter and can design and start a new process at its discretion, and some senators have submitted legislation to do so.

The Fifth V.I. Constitutional Convention was elected in 2007 to write a constitution, pursuant to V.I. legislation approved under provisions of the Revised Organic Act of 1954, the federal law which acts as a de facto constitution until such time as the territory produces its own. The convention completed the draft constitution in 2009. President Barack Obama forwarded it to Congress, along with a Department of Justice analysis raising questions about maritime boundaries, tax breaks aimed at native Virgin Islanders and other provisions.

The most controversial sections said only native-born Virgin Islanders can run for governor or lieutenant governor and that “ancestral Virgin Islanders” (those who had family in the territory in or prior to 1932) would be exempt from property tax.

In 2010, the U.S. Senate passed a joint resolution calling for the Fifth V.I. Constitutional Convention to reconvene and change its draft constitution to address concerns raised by the U.S Department of Justice. The Department of the Interior promised some funding for the process, but not as much as some on the convention want. The convention did not act over the intervening two years.

In September of 2012, the Senate passed legislation to reconvene the elected convention as the Revision Convention.

That legislation also created the team of appointed lawyers Edwards refers to, who drafted proposed changes to make the document legally sufficient.

With that document dead, it falls onto the V.I. Legislature to decide what to do next. At the time, then-Senate President Ronald Russell said the Legislature could either establish a Sixth V.I. Constitutional Convention or go a different route altogether and perhaps appoint a constitutional writing body directly, or potentially it “could make the changes” itself.

The 30th Legislature has not scheduled any hearings on the topic to date. However, Sens. Shawn-Michael Malone and Craig Barshinger have both submitted legislative proposals.

On Jan. 29, Barshinger, who was an elected delegate to the Fifth V.I. Constitutional Convention, submitted a draft bill to “offer voters a V.I. Constitution to replace the Organic Act with a constitution written by Virgin Islanders.” On Feb. 6, Barshinger proposed legislation to “put into bill format the draft constitution prepared by the Fifth Constitutional Convention, which now addresses the nine points raised by the president of the United States and Congress.”

On June 26, Malone entered draft legislation to add a referendum to the 2014 ballot asking “Do you believe that the Revised Organic Act of 1954 should be adopted as our Constitution?”

According to the Legislature’s website, none of these measures has been assigned to committee or scheduled for debate as of Aug. 28.

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