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A Different Way to Represent

Dear Source:
Of the many issues the Constitutional delegates will be discussing, there are some that need public input and discussion. The following is just one of my many concerns as it should be for all Virgin Islanders: Reform of the Senate
The Virgin Islands does not need a full-time Senate. The entire population of the VI is no greater than a small city in the USA. We also need a more proportional and responsible way to represent this small population. At present, we are forced to have "At-Large" representation because of federal laws. We need to re-organize but because of the federal "one-man, one-vote" laws, we must be careful as to how we re-organize. St Johnians want a representative that is not At-Large and it is clear that Virgin Islanders want "numbered seat" representation. To do this, the entire senatorial structure would have to be revamped. And if would mean MORE senators.
St John has a population of about 5500. If St John had its own representative, then that person would be representing the entire population of St John. On St Thomas and St Croix, the populations are about 56,000 (and growing). This means is that those islands would have to have 10 senators each (could be 11), if St John is to have its own representative. The islands would have to be broken into sub-districts and a Senator would have to reside in that district he or she is representing. That is how the "one-man, one-vote" federal law works.
This is "district" representation that the majority of Virgin Islanders have been wanting for years. On the surface, it appears that we would now need 21 to 23 Senators (and pay them) and this is true but a constitutional change to where we have a part-time Senate for say, ninety days a year, who only receive a stipend per day (if they attend), could serve to REDUCE the cost of having a Legislature at the same time giving more representation to the people. The monies needed to fund the Legislature would be vastly reduced. Retirement benefits for a Senator should only be on par with any typical government employee. If the Constitutional Convention could mandate legislative re-organization, then only dedicated, non-self-serving persons would want to be Senators. Unfortunately, the "lifetime" benefits of being a Senator previous to any Constitutional change would have to remain but we have a chance to never allow that to happen again.
Another reason we do not need a full-time Senate is because municipal government may become a reality. If that happens, then we would have local representation in the form of a Mayor and Council who would make local by-laws and control local spending, so the Senate's role would be reduced to approving budgets and making laws that affect only a limited central government. The time for reform is now and we must let our Constitutional delegates just how we feel on the many issues they have to consider.

Paul Devine
St. John

Editor's note: We welcome and encourage readers to keep the dialogue going by responding to Source commentary. Letters should be e-mailed with name and place of residence to source@viaccess.net.

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