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Law Professor Makes Suggestions for Defining a Native in Territorial Constitution

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March 19, 2008 — Define a native Virgin Islander only in regard to voting rights, not for special privileges, a law professor advised the Constitutional Convention's Committee on the Judicial Branch Wednesday evening.
"I say it in terms of voting rights, I don't say it for discrimination," said Dorothea Beane, a professor at the Stetson University College of Law. The meeting at the Legislature Building on St. John drew fewer than 10 residents.
Douglas Capdeville, who heads the Committee on the Judicial Branch, asked Beane if the constitution should also address United Nations treaties and reparations. But Beane said addressing the treaty issue would replicate federal law. Reparations are political matters, she said.
Beane, who heads Stetson's Institute for Caribbean Law and Policy in Gulfport, Fla., is in the Virgin Islands to consult on Constitutional Convention issues. Her services and that of other institute members and students come at no charge to the territory.
"We provide technical assistance," she said.
Beane said she understands the tight time frame required to get the work done. The committee has to "report out" its work by May 1, with the entire constitution to be completed by July, Capdeville said.
Committee member Frank Jackson said he and Beane have known each other since grade school in Westfield, N.J.
"She taught me to play chess in the third grade," he said.
Beane stressed the importance of involving the public in the Constitutional Convention.
"People are very important to the process," she said.
The Constitutional Convention's mandate is to provide a document consistent with federal law but that also meets the needs of the Virgin Islands, Beane said. States and territories often have unique regional issues.
"If you live in Michigan, you might be concerned about fishing rights," she said.
Beane gave high marks to the end product of the previous Constitutional Convention in 1980.
"About 70 percent of the document is non-controversial," she said.
The committee members should include a section that deals with public referendums, Beane suggested. The institute will research ways for St. John to get its own senator, she told committee member Elsie Thomas-Trotman, who said St. John's small population poses political difficulties in relationship to the rest of the territory when it comes to representation.
"Is there anything we can put in the constitution to address the one man, one vote issue?" Thomas-Trotman asked.
Beane also advised the constitution writers keep the document simple and direct, and suggested that the Constitutional Convention needs to do more public education.
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