Legislature puts issue of doubling length of senators' terms to voters
Published: September 27, 2013
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ST. THOMAS - By a narrow margin, the 30th Legislature on Thursday passed an amended resolution that would place a referendum on the 2014 General Election ballot, asking voters whether they are in favor of increasing the term of office for local senators.
The vote on the resolution was taken twice, after the count became unclear as several senators changed their minds - and their votes - in the moments after the initial poll was taken.
Ultimately, the proposal to ask voters whether they would like senators' terms to be four years instead of two passed by a 7-6 vote, with Sen. Diane Capehart not voting and Sen. Donald Cole absent.
There was significant discussion on the measure, with some senators saying they thought the voters should choose, while others opposed the longer terms.
Sen. Nereida Rivera-O'Reilly raised the question of whether voters should be given other options as well - options like setting term limits or having a part-time Senate. Others raised the question of staggering senators' terms.
The territory cannot change the terms of office for senators, because those terms are spelled out in the Revised Organic Act, which functions as the territory's constitution. Such a change would require an act of Congress.
However, the referendum is a means of polling voters.
Under the resolution passed Thursday, the Legislature "would not be required to take any action to petition the U.S. Congress to increase senators' terms unless a majority of persons casting a ballot during the 2014 General Election voted on the referendum and a majority of those persons who vote on the referendum vote yes."
In the final tally on Thursday, Senators Judi Buckley, Kenneth Gittens, Clifford Graham, Myron Jackson, Terrence Nelson, Rivera-O'Reilly and Janette Millin Young voted for the resolution. Voting against were Senators Craig Barshinger, Alicia Hansen, Shawn-Michael Malone, Clarence Payne, Tregenza Roach and Sammuel Sanes. Capehart did not vote.
Other resolutions the Senate passed included:
- A resolution to recognize the Virgin Islands as the "Bush Tea Capital of the Caribbean."
- A resolution to declare an energy crisis in the territory and to provide relief to the residents of the Virgin Islands.
- A resolution to recognize, honor and commend James Alexander Johnson for his many years of dedicated service and contributions to the Virgin Islands community.
- A resolution to posthumously honor and commend Sidney Lee and to name Route 80 on St. Croix the "Sidney Lee Road."
- A resolution honoring and commending posthumously the late Emile Griffith, for his "formidable" contributions to the Virgin Islands.