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Does Pre-emption Still Serve the Public’s Interest in the Virgin Islands?

The Virgin Islands Legislature is intended to be a body of individuals whose role is to represent the interests of the citizens of the Virgin Islands. Duly elected, these men and women are supposed to act on behalf of the voters who put them in office. Their job is to develop laws that fairly govern our society.

Unfortunately, there is a legislative policy known as “pre-emption” that has become a major impediment to bringing issues forward for public debate and ultimately legislative action.

Although conceived as a way to streamline the legislative process, pre-emption has become a tactic for stalling, withholding or completely blocking legislation from ever becoming introduced for public debate on the floor of the VI Legislature.

Simply put, if a Senator asks the Office of Legal Council to draft a piece of legislation on a particular topic, that Senator gains “authorship” of the bill. All subsequent requests for a bill to be drafted on the same topic are summarily denied by the Legislature’s Office of Legal Council and the name of the original Senator who has authorship rights is withheld from both the public and other members of the Legislature.

The original intent was to have one public discussion on the issue which could take into account all possible amendments and changes related to the topic. It was intended to be a way for the best-of-the-best to be formulated into one all encompassing bill, rather than have two very similar bills presented and endlessly debated by two or more Senators at the same time.

Given the policies of the VI Legislature, the same voters who put the 15 members of the VI Legislature are denied their rights as citizens to advocate for various issues because: 1) they aren’t permitted knowledge of who has authorship of a bill so they can’t approach that individual and advocate for the bill’s introduction; and 2) no other Senator can submit similar legislation to move the issue forward.

In the very recent past, members of a coalition waited more than a year for one senator to admit that they had authorship and were holding an important bill. Once the admission was made, it took another year before the individual saw fit to bring it to the floor for public discussion. In another case, a bill was held by one Senator that failed to get re-elected. No action could be taken on this bill in the last two years because another Senator recognized its pre-emptive potential. This bill has been held by a sitting Senator even though citizens have clamored for information and action. And, every day more and more residents are providing examples of yet other pieces of legislation being kept from becoming law due to the Legislature’s pre-emption policy.

The policy of ‘pre-emption’ no longer serves the interests of the people. It’s time for this policy to be re-visited so that Virgin Islands citizens can bring issues to the Legislature for resolution in a fair and timely manner. Simply adding the requirement of action within 6 months of invoking legislative pre-emption or loss of authorship will do much to ensure that the people’s business can no longer be held hostage. It’s time for voters to ask, does the current pre-emption policy still serve the public’s interest?

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