ST. THOMAS - Members of the 32nd Legislature, led by the Senate President Myron Jackson, at the request of Governor Kenneth Mapp, convened in Legislative Session on Tuesday, to consider and vote on two measures including Bill No. 32-0017 as it relates to reinstating two boards of elections.
Rising out of Legislative Session and into the Committee of the Whole, senators received testimony from Attorney General Claude Walker concerning Bill No. 32-0017-An Act amending Title 18, V.I.C., Chapter 3, Section 41 repealing Act. No. 7892.
“The Department believes that would create inconsistencies in rules and regulation between the two boards. The purpose of having a unified board is to help resolve some of those inconsistences and to eliminate contradictions between the two boards,” said Attorney Walker.
Sen. Tregenza Roach said, “I listened to the Attorney General and the results of the inconsistent language of Act 7892. However, Attorney Arturo Watlington stated that the bill does not allow time for a transitional period for the Board of Elections.” Sen. Roach asked, “Do you agree with that statement?” In response, Attorney General Walker said, “I don’t believe that this measure lacks transition. Currently, there is a unified board and Watlington is a part of it.”
Sen. Brian Smith asked, “What are the benefits of a unified board?” Attorney General Walker said, “The benefits are consistency and uniformity of the overall process of conducting business.” Sen. Smith asked, “Is there a cost difference with having one board oppose to having two?” Attorney General Walker stated that ultimately the government will save money because services will not be duplicated.
However, Sen. Marvin Blyden asked, “Do you believe the board will be saving money?” Arturo Watlington, Chairman for the Board of Elections said, “No, sir because there will still be fourteen members. Therefore, the expenses will remain the same.”
“Will there be liabilities with having two boards?” asked Sen. Dwayne DeGraff. Attorney General Walker, said, “There are no liabilities because currently the Board of Elections is a single unified board. The Act states that effective January 1, 2017, there is a single Board of Elections that governs both district.”
Sen. Positive Nelson asked “If the Act is repealed, will this add confusion or clarity to the bill?” Attorney Walker said, “The law wants to go back to old laws. However, we disagree because the Board needs uniformity. Minor changes on the statue needs to be done opposed to major changes.” Sen. Nelson inquired, “What are some of the minor changes that needs to be done?” Attorney General Walker specifically said, “One of the changes will be the language that states that in the 2018 election, electors will be electing members for an already established single board and not separate boards.”
Separately, Sen. Jackson asked, “Can you speak to the Special Election on April 8th?” Caroline Fawkes, Supervisor of the Election System of the Virgin Islands said, “There will be no primary elections because of the limited time leading up to the Special Election. The electoral process will remain the same and the election process is open to all candidates who meets the requirements.”
“What authority does the 32nd Legislature has to fill the seat?” inquired Sen. Jackson. “The court has jurisdiction on the matter,” said Attorney General Walker. He continued, “If the Legislature fills the seat in spite of the decision of the courts, it can cause a conflict between the two branches of government.” Sen. Jackson inquired, “Who can execute the oath of office for the senator elect?” Attorney General Walker said, “The Chief Judge for the Supreme Court.”
Eventually, lawmakers rose out of Committee of the Whole and went back into Legislative Session and voted favorably for Bill No. 32-0017.
Similarly, senators also voted and approved Bill No. 32-0022- An Act appropriating $140,000 to fund a special election to elect the fifteenth member of the Thirty-Second Legislature of the Virgin Islands. All bills approved will be forwarded to the governor for further consideration.