With an Oct. 31 deadline looming to revise its draft V.I. Constitution to comport with the U.S. Constitution, the Fifth Constitutional Convention met Saturday by teleconference and deadlocked on a vote to approve changes recommended by a special legal team.
The "motion lost" because the "vote tied 13 to 13," Convention Delegate Violet Ann Golden confirmed after the meeting, which was held via teleconference at Government Employees Retirement System offices on St. Thomas and St. Croix.
That means the constitution is "essentially dead unless we meet again," before Oct. 31, she said. It was unclear Saturday whether a meeting would or could be arranged in time. If one is approved, it will then go before the territory’s voters for approval. If not, the current, fifth attempt to produce a territorial constitution will be deemed dead, according to the terms of recent legislation giving the convention a last bite of the apple.
The Fifth V.I. Constitutional Convention was elected and convened in 2007, pursuant to V.I. legislation approved under provisions of the Revised Organic Act of 1954, the federal law which acts as a de facto constitution until such time as the territory produces its own. The Convention completed the draft constitution in 2009. President Barack Obama forwarded it to Congress, along with a Department of Justice analysis raising questions about maritime boundaries, tax breaks aimed at native Virgin Islanders and other provisions.
The most controversial sections said only native-born Virgin Islanders can run for governor or lieutenant governor and that “ancestral Virgin Islanders” (those who had family in the territory in or prior to 1932) would be exempt from property tax.
In 2010, the U.S. Senate passed a joint resolution calling for the Fifth Virgin Islands Constitutional Convention to reconvene and change its draft constitution to address concerns raised by the U.S Department of Justice. The Department of the Interior has promised some funding for the process, but not as much as some on the convention want. The Fifth V.I. Constitutional Convention did not act over the intervening two years.
The revision legislation approved in August, which was proposed by Sen. President Ronald Russell, reconvenes the elected convention as the “Revision Convention,” and establishes a quorum requirement of 21 of the 30 elected delegates. It also gives the Convention a panel of five attorneys to give legal advice, including the Legislature’s chief legal counsel, a V.I. Bar Association appointee, an attorney appointed by the governor, one appointed by the chief justice of the V.I. Supreme Court and one appointed by the Legislature.