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New Legislative Pre-emption Rules Helps Improve VI Government Transparency

Virgin Islands AARP members achieved a major “win” during the swearing in of the new Legislature earlier this year. As the new VI policymakers began their Senatorial tenures, they announced that they had developed new rules for the 29th Legislature.

Driven largely by the tremendous amount of attention volunteers placed on the issue of “legislative pre-emption” during their election forums and debates, the new legislative body realized pre-emption was an issue for which voters’ were willing to fight. In response, they proactively established new rules that removed the offensive clauses which some policymakers used to their own advantage.

In the VI the pre-emption practice was an administrative control that required all proposed legislation to be registered with the Legislative’s Legal Services office. Once registered, the proposing senator was granted “authorship” over both the specific language in the bill and over the issue.

Authorship also gave the Senator the ability to determine when, if ever, the bill would get introduced to the Legislature. Since authorship was highly confidential, no one, not even other senators, knew who had authorship over a bill until it was introduced. If an attempt to register a new bill on a related topic occurred, the requesting senator simply received a denial indicating that similar legislation had already been registered. This gave policymakers no way to negotiate or lobby their colleagues until the bill was officially introduced. Unfortunately, in some cases it created a scenario where senators could submit legislation in an effort to ensure that no action on an issue would ever reach the floor of the legislature on specific topics.

Thanks to AARP VI members and volunteers, ending the practice of pre-emptive secrecy is a major step toward improving public involvement in the issues and transparency in government.