April 17, 2001 The 24th Legislature is unmoved by the attorney general's suggestion that the body has acted contrary to law by overriding vetoes of legislation approved by the 23rd Legislature.
In its first full session since taking office Jan. 8, the Legislature voted last week to override five of six of Gov. Charles W. Turnbull's vetoes of bills that were passed by the 23rd Legislature. One was the controversial measure to return vendors to Drake's Seat.
Senate President Almando "Rocky" Liburd said this week that while the matter will be researched, the Legislature believes its overrides have precedent and are supported by the Organic Act. "I want to state for the record that this is not the first time that this type of override has been done," he said.
Liburd read from the Organic Act to support his claim. He said that the Senate's legal counsel has already been instructed to prepare an analysis and opinion on whether the Senate acted properly.
Liburd said his initial review of the Organic Act, the federal law that governs the organization of the territory's government, reveals nothing that would prevent one Legislature from overriding vetoes of bills approved by an earlier Legislature. "There is no section that addresses past Legislature's actions being restricted from override motions."
Attorney General Iver Stridiron said earlier this week that the Senate acted improperly in overriding the vetoes. Virgin Islands law prohibits a sitting Legislature from reversing actions taken in previous Senate bodies, specifically as it relates to overrides, he said.
The difference of opinion in the matter of veto overrides is the latest indication that the Turnbull administration and the 24th Legislature have trouble finding common ground.
Liburd said the situation should be regarded as a sign of a more independent Legislature. "What you are seeing is a body that has not gone along. We are now a proactive body."
He lamented the fact that no one criticized the administration when it hired Winston and Strawn. "But all criticism was on the Legislature for hiring the Dutco Group," a Washington, D.C., lobbying group hired early this year by the Legislature.
Despite the government now spending money on lobbying services from two Washington firms, one hired by the administration and the other by the Legislature, Liburd said the hiring did not imply a lack of confidence in the delegate to Congress, Donna Christian-Christensen.
"We have a responsibility as a branch of government to go out and try to find ways to keep our economy going," he said. Liburd said the Senate is looking at lobbying Congress to allow revenue streams to be tapped that may not be priority areas for the delegate.
He was not specific about what those revenue sources might be. However, one undoubtedly is the return of federal excise taxes on gasoline produced in St. Croix. Christensen has said the chance of winning over Congress on that issue is slim, and thus she is concentrating her efforts elsewhere.