May 5, 2003 – The governor has called for it. A number of senators have called for it. And on Wednesday, the Senate Government Operations Committee will take up a bill calling for it: the convening of a fifth convention aimed at drafting a Virgin Islands constitution acceptable to the electorate to replace the Revised Organic Act of 1954 that now governs the territory.
The bill, which also would appropriate $100,000 in the Fiscal Year 2004 budget for the convention, calls for the gathering to be held in March 2004, and, if preliminary conditions are met, for the proposed constitution to be put to the electorate for ratification in November 2004.
Sponsored by all 10 majority senators, the bill specifies a convention of 30 delegates, to be elected next February, whose mandate would be to produce a draft constitution by July 2004. It would be forwarded for approval to the governor, the president of the United States and Congress; after that, if approved on all levels, it would be put to the voters.
The bill is one of six before the committee for its session starting at 10 a.m. Wednesday in the St. Thomas Senate chambers, according to the Senate calendar. The calendar shows that Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone, the chair, has invited a "Who's Who" of political faction representatives and others to testify on the measure:
– The heads of the three V.I. political parties — James O'Bryan Jr., Democrats chair; James Oliver, Republicans chair; and Virdin C. Brown, Independent Citizens Movement president.
– UVI President LaVerne Ragster.
– Paul Leary, retired UVI professor, who has compiled documentation of the preceding constitutional conventions — held in 1965, 1972, 1978 and 1980.
– Rosalie Simmonds-Ballantine, League of Women Voters president.
– Zysca Williams, Association of Concerned Native Virgin Islanders president.
– The following organization presidents: Richard Lloyd, Association of Caribbean Organizations; Alice Tuitt, The Montserrat Association of the Virgin Islands; Wycherly Gumbs, Anguilla Virgin Islands Society; Paul Alexander, Waseen Dominic Association; Anthia Buncome, Barbados Association of St. Thomas-St. John; Anthony Francis, Grenada Cultural and Civic Association; Franklyn Carty, Antigua and Barbuda Heritage Link Association; George Newton, Nevis Benevolent Society; Stanley Dawson, The League of British Virgin Islanders; and Mulu Alwani, India Association of the Virgin Islands.
– The territory's chamber of commerce presidents — Cassan Pancham of St. Thomas-St. John Chamber and Frank Fox of St. Croix.
– Vincent Clendinen and Rupert Ross.
In addition, according to a release last Wednesday from Malone's office, "the heads of the executive and judicial branches" and Delegate Donna M. Christensen, former Delegate Ron de Lugo and retired Territorial Court Presiding Judge Verne Hodge have been invited to testify. The release from Malone's office also stated that only one other bill would be heard at the committee meeting — having to do with regulation of bicycles, skateboards, and other non-motorized conveyances.
Malone said in the release regarding the convention bill that "public input into this very important legislation is necessary because of the positive transformational effects a well-developed constitution can have on the territory."
The bill before the committee calls for voters in each district to elect 13 delegates to the convention, with at least two for St. Thomas-St. John being St. John residents. The other four delegates would be elected territorywide.
It has been a quarter of a century since the 4th Constitutional Convention produced a document that was approved in Washington, then rejected by the public. The Young Turks from that gathering are the old pols of today, and most of the old pols — movers and shakers including Alexander A. Farrelly — are dead or no longer active on the political scene. That means that, to a great degree, the leadership of a constitutional convention now will know of what has gone before only from secondary sources.
Gov. Charles W. Turnbull, one of the few participants in the earlier conventions still active in government, said in his 2003 State of the Territory address that a V.I. constitution is necessary to foster "local autonomy for the islands of St. Croix, St. John and St. Thomas through municipal government." He also advocates a constitution as a vehicle for creating a territorial appellate court, although federal jurists have said that such a court could be created under the Revised Organic Act.
Malone, the youngest senator in the 25th Legislature, said that "we cannot begin talking about drafting another constitution without the full involvement and participation of all the people."
Stating that the Virgin Islands is "the only territory of the United States without a constitution," he said that in many respects "our present legal foundations are outdated and, in my opinion, place us in a very insecure position in an already very insecure world. Essentially, we are operating on 19th and 20th century foundations in the 21st century."
He said that "like the fiscal problems we now face, and the difficult decisions that will have to be made to remedy them," a constitution "is a necessary requirement we no longer can avoid."
Anyone wishing to testify at Wednesday's hearing is asked to call Malone's office at 693-3529 to have their names placed on the witness list prior to the start of the meeting.
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