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Charlotte Amalie
Tuesday, July 16, 2024


An amendment to a bill approved by the Senate Government Operations Committee on Wednesday would again establish a constitutional convention. Also passed in legislative chambers on St. Thomas were bills to stiffen penalties for animal cruelty and an amendment to a bill creating a peace officer standards and training council. Both bills were heard earlier this year.
Four previous attempts to create a Virgin Islands constitution all ended in failure. The constitutional convention measure was introduced by Sen. David Jones and would create a body to convene in March 2001. The convention would be the first step in a long process that would involve a territorial referendum and ultimate approval by the U.S. Congress and president.
If the legislation is approved, the convention will adopt provisions approved by the Constitutional Convention of April 1979. Jones said those provisions are noncontroversial and will eliminate the necessity of lengthy public hearings and additional consultants' fees.
The convention will comprise 30 members, or delegates, from all three islands. Delegates will draft a constitution to include a bill of rights, a republican form of government including legislative, executive and judicial branches, a system of local courts consistent with provisions of the Revised Organic Act, and a procedure for amending the constitution.
Senators took issue with many parts of the amendment, but finally agreed to move forward. Sen. Donald "Ducks" Cole said Virgin Islanders are living "under colonial law in the 21st century."
Sen. Allie-Allison Petrus said people in the territory suffer from a "lingering personality dysfunction." They want V.I. rule but don't want to be involved in the process, he said, which derails any progress. He was strongly in favor of the measure.
The committee passed the bill 6-1 with Sen. Adelbert "Bert" Bryan casting the only dissenting vote.
Getting the animal cruelty bill passed wasn't easy for sponsor Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg. "This bill has been held in committee four times," he said.
Bryan and Sen. Judy Gomez commented at length, none of which was germane to the bill. Donastorg pleaded with senators for their attention and asked that they drop what he called their "way-out" arguments. He noted that a petition had been signed by 3,000 island residents in support of the measure.
In a June committee meeting, Humane Society and Department of Agriculture officials, as well as radio host Dr. Iris Kern, had testified in support of the bill, but it was held up pending recommendations from the Attorney General's office, which are incorporated in the present bill.
The bill would make animal cruelty a felony instead of a misdemeanor and would substantially increase fines for animal abuse. It also establishes a $100,000 Animal Abuse Fund to be taken annually out of the General Fund. The bill passed 6-1 with Bryan casting the dissenting vote.
A bill proposed by committee Chairman Gregory Bennerson to create a peace officer standards and training council passed unanimously in less than five minutes. The bill, which had come up previously in committee, includes establishing standards of training at the Police and Correction Training Academy, determining qualifications for acceptance to the Territorial Peace Officers Standardized Training School and certifying all peace officers within the territory.
At one point in the proceedings, a group of about 10 Danish tourists dropped in to the chambers to view the proceedings.
The bills will be forwarded to the Rules Committee and then to the full Senate for a vote.

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