Reader Karen wrote to ask about the difference between a law and an act of the Legislature, after reading an article citing an act.
Karen said she read a recent article on a company suing the V.I. Water and Power Authority (See: Fuel Supplier Takes WAPA to Court for $24.6 Million in Overdue Bills in Related Links below) that says the company “cited a law, Act 7028, that states, ‘The governor of the Virgin Islands … may take any action necessary to assist [WAPA], including without limitation, executing appropriate documents necessary for the government to provide a guarantee to support a line of credit for the authority in meeting its fuel costs.’”
“Where are the Virgin Islands Acts published?” Karen wrote the Source. I see the V.I. Code on Lexis/Nexis, but not the Acts. Thank you.”
Everything that is voted upon and passed by the Legislature that has some effect on something is an act of the Legislature. But not all acts are part of the V.I. Code. The V.I. Code, which is searchable online (See: VI Code Online in Related Links), is the territory’s set of general laws, starting with the federal Revised Organic Act of 1954, which sets up the territory’s system of government, then including all general statutes passed by the Legislature.
The V.I. Code includes criminal and traffic laws, statutes setting up boards and agencies, regulating government salaries and pensions and so forth. It does not include legislation that serves temporary, specific or limited circumstances, like budget bills, borrowing bills or resolutions honoring specific individuals.
Act 7028, for example, is a budget bill that was passed and signed by the governor. As a budget bill, it serves a specific, nongeneral purpose, and is not part of the permanent V.I. Code of general laws. It still has the force of law.
Some acts change the V.I. Code. Then the act will be a document, with an act number, but its text will say it “amends V.I. code” and list the specific title and section and the changes to be made to the code.
After they are enacted, the Legislature’s Office of the Code Revisor produces updates to the V.I. Code based upon the text of the specific act. For example, the Legislature recently passed new laws about criminals wearing body armor. The V.I. Code was then updated to reflect those changes.
Footnotes in the code say what acts have updated that section and when the changes were enacted. But the acts are separate documents from the V.I. Code.
Acts passed in recent years are searchable online through the V.I. Legislature’s website’s bill tracking system. (See: V.I. Legislature’s Bill Tracking System in Related Links below.) If you know the act number, say, Act 7028, you can plug it into the search window and download a digital copy.
If you know the subject matter, you can try a subject matter search, but it can be difficult to narrow the search down to only what you need, while still capturing what you want.
For older material, a good law library, such as those at the territory’s V.I. Superior Court courthouses and the two U.S. District Court courthouses, will have bound volumes of the Acts of the Legislature. Also the overworked staff of the V.I. Legislature may be able to help track down a specific request concerning older legislation, if you ask nicely and not too often.
People normally pay lawyers to do legal research and the Legislature’s staff do not have the resources to be a free legal research service for the public, so please do not abuse their time and work. Again recent acts are searchable online.
Court decisions, particularly those of the V.I. Supreme Court, can also have the force of law, although those decisions or court opinions are also not part of the V.I. Code. V.I. Supreme Court decisions can be searched at the V.I. Supreme Court website.