Job description of a V.I. senator

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The Virgin Islands Legislature and its 15 members, called senators, have duties and powers that are either specifically stated or implied in the Revised Organic Act of 1954 and the V.I. Code.

The Legislature can

Pass laws: The Organic Act gives the Legislature the authority and power to pass laws that are not inconsistent with federal law. Override the governor's veto: If the governor vetoes a bill that the Legislature has passed, the Legislature can still make it law by a two-thirds vote, which is 10 senators.

Amend and repeal laws: The Organic Act also authorizes the Legislature to amend or repeal any local law and pass new laws. But Congress reserved the power to annul any act of the Legislature.

Issue bonds: One of the important specific powers given the Legislature by the Organic Act is the ability to issue bonds for public improvements or public "undertakings" authorized by the Legislature.

Set the voting age: The Organic Act set the minimum age for voting at 21 but gave the Legislature authority to change it. In 1971, the Legislature lowered the voting age to 18.

Apportion the Legislature: In 1966, the Organic Act set the num-ber of legislative seats at 15 but gave the territory the power to apportion those 15 seats. In 1972, the Legislature used that power to cre-ate the current alignment of 7 senators from St. Croix, 7 from St. Thomas-St. John and 1 at-large, who must be a resident of St. John. A bill to allow the Virgin Islands to decide on the size of its Legislature was approved by Congress in 2000. In the same year, voters overwhelmingly approved a non-binding referendum to reduce the number of senators, but the 24th Legislature defeated a bill to carry out the intent of that referendum. Another bill to elect all senators at large was approved by the Senate's nine-member majority caucus but met stiff public opposition and was vetoed by Gov. Charles Turnbull. Since then, the senators have not taken any action to cut the number of senators or change the apportionment.

Conduct investigations and issue subpoenas: The V.I. Code gives the Legislature the power to conduct investigations into matters of territorial interest and to subpoena witnesses, information, records and documents, The Legislature can order the arrest of anyone who does not honor a subpoena.

Levy Customs duties: The Legislature can set the duty on goods imported for consumption locally, but the Organic Act limits the tax rate to 6 percent. The Legislature also can allow the duty-free importation of any article.

Adopt a government budget: The Legislature must review, consider and adopt the governor's annual spending and revenue proposals and financial plan - or adopt their own alternatives. The law requires the governor to send his proposed budget to the Legislature by May 30 each year.

Provide a Post Audit: The law requires the Legislature to produce a post audit of financial transactions, program accomplishments and execution of legislative policy direction. The Office of Legislative Post Auditor is attached to the Legislature's Finance Committee.

Approve executive officers: The law requires legislative "advice and consent" to the governor's nominations for boards and commissions and for high-level positions in the executive branch of government.

Certify senators: The Organic Act directs the Legislature to act as the sole judge of the valid election and qualification of its members.

Fill a Senate vacancy: When a vacancy occurs within a year before a general election, the Code directs that the Senate president appoint a new member recommended by the political party of which the previous senator was a member. If the senator did not belong to a political party, the Legislature elects a new member from the same district or at-large by a two-thirds majority, which is 10 senators.

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