Oct. 30, 2004 Once again, the territory will attempt to establish a Constitutional Convention. Perhaps this time will be the charm. Virgin Islands residents have made four previous attempts in 1965, 1972, 1978 and 1980 to write their own constitution. All have failed.
Gov. Charles W. Turnbull signed into law Friday legislation calling for a fifth Constitutional Convention to convene in 2006. It would create a document to replace the Revised Organic Act of 1954. Interestingly, Turnbull has been a delegate at all four conventions.
At its completion, the constitution 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. Past conventions have failed to get the approval of voters (although Congress has acted on a few reforms proposed in the constitution drafts, such as the1965 proposal resulting in an elected governor). For a detailed history of previous conventions, see "Constitutional Conventions: Whats Gone Before".
The current legislation is an amendment of a bill sponsored by Sen. David Jones last year. It changed the convention date from 2004 to 2006. The original legislation with the 2004 date was accidentally sent to Turnbull earlier this week.
Turnbull sent that legislation back to Jones, saying he could not sign it in its current form because it was problematic and filled with errors. That bill was first introduced last year on May 7 at a Senate Government Operations Committee hearing. At that meeting, Delegate Donna M. Christensen and Edward Phillips, parliamentarian for the Association of Concerned Native Virgin Islanders, suggested that the territory adopt the 1954 Revised Organic Act as its constitution with the provision that the territory could then amend it. Christensen said this procedure would avoid the gridlock that occurred in previous attempts to forge an original constitution. (See "Constitutional Convention Bill Raises Questions").
Over the past four decades, there has been much debate over the merits of a constitution as opposed to the Organic Act. A teaching text written by Virgin Islands educator Ruth Moolenaar gives several reason for the constitution:
"- A constitution is written by delegates elected by the people who will live under the constitution; organic acts were written by a small number of people with little, if any, input from the affected public.
– A constitutional convention strengthens the principle of 'government of the people and by the people' by providing public hearings to allow opinions to be expressed.
– Final approval of a constitution rests with the voting public; approval of the Organic Act lay with Congress.
– The people have the power to amend a constitution whenever the need and will arises."
That bill lingered in committee until Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone special-ordered an amended verison of the bill to the floor in a Sept. 30 budget session. It was not on the agenda. Malone said at the time that it wasn't something he had "hastily" done. He noted it would not convene for two years. All nine of his majority colleagues co-sponsored the bill.
The bill calls for a March 2006 convention to meet on St. Thomas. It calls for 30 delegates 13 from each district and four elected at large — who would be chosen in a February 2006 special election.
The delegates would be required to produce and adopt a draft of the constitution by July 27, 2006. It will be then sent to the governor who will send it to the president, who will submit it to the U.S. Congress. If it makes it through all those approvals, it will face its toughest hurdle the V. I. voters who would have to ratify it in a November 2006 election.
The legislation appropriates $100,000 from the General Fund to finance the convention.
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