Senators want to ask voters to back 4-year terms
Published: September 24, 2013
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ST. CROIX - If a resolution out of the Senate Government Affairs and Housing Committee continues to progress favorably, voters may soon be deciding on a referendum to increase the number of years a Virgin Islands' senator sits in office from two to four.
The committee on Monday unanimously approved a resolution sponsored by Sen. Terrence Nelson that seeks to put a referendum on the 2014 General Election ballot asking voters whether they want to increase the term of office for local senators.
Under the bill as initially written, the question asked about increasing the term from two years to three years, but it was amended to four years after testimony by Supervisor of Elections Caroline Fawkes.
Fawkes said the 2012 election cycle cost the system $350,000, and having an additional election cycle for the Senate would cause an additional financial burden that the Elections System would not be able to support.
She said the change to three-year terms for senators would mean an election for delegate to Congress every two years, an election for senators every three years and an election for governor every four years.
The territory cannot change the terms of 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.
Under the amended bill, the referendum would ask V.I. voters if they are in favor of the U.S. Congress amending the Revised Organic Act to increase the term of office of local senators from two years to four years.
The bill says that the Legislature would not be required to petition Congress to increase the term unless a majority of the persons casting a ballot during the election vote on the referendum and a majority of those voting on the issue vote yes.
Democratic State Chairman Cecil Benjamin said the resolution is not coming at the right time.
"We are in economic crisis and we have had several discussions on this issue and it involved election reform. We need to go back and look at what was produced."
Benjamin said he agrees that a change should be made, because two years restricts the effectiveness of a senator. The people want to see a four-year term and comprehensive election reform, he said.
Nelson said that although people are saying this is not a good time for a change because of the economic issues, the distractions of moving from election to election prevent some senators from coming up with more complex solutions to economic issues.
Sen. Clifford Graham said he would support the resolution and move for four-year terms with staggered terms for election.
Sen. Alicia Hansen said she has been confronted by the legislation a few times and has always voted against it.
"If the people vote and end up with a bad senator, they need to be able to realize their mistake and get rid of them in two years, not have to wait three and four years," she said.
The committee unanimously voted to forward the resolution to the Rules and Judiciary Committee with Hansen, Graham, Nelson and Senators Judi Buckley and Diane Capehart voting, and Senators Donald Cole and Craig Barshinger absent from the meeting.
- Contact reporter Fiona Stokes at 714-9149 or email email@example.com.