Tom Bolt, Managing Attorney of BoltNagi PC on St. Thomas; Yvonne Tharpes, Counsel to the 28th Legislature, of St. John, and Lisa Harris Moorhead, Virgin Islands Code Revisor, of St. Croix, were among the 260 practicing lawyers, governmental lawyers, judges, law professors, and lawyer-legislators participating in the 2010 Annual Meeting of the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws (NCCUSL), which recently concluded in Chicago Illinois.
NCCUSL, now in its 119th year, comprises more than 350 Commissioners appointed by every state, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands to draft and promote the enactment of uniform laws that are designed to solve problems common to all jurisdictions.
Commissioners donate their time as a pro bono public service. American Bar Association President Carolynn Lamm, International Bar Association President Fernando Pelaez Pier of Venezuela and Illinois Governor Pat Quinn all addressed the Conference. Each commended the Uniform Law Conference for their work in advancing the rule of law.
The U.S. Virgin Islands delegation was honored by the Legislative Council of the National Conference for its legislative work. The 28th Legislature of the Virgin Islands has adopted 18 uniform acts over the past year which is the largest number of uniform acts ever adopted by any jurisdiction in a single year.
The Territory’s enactments this past year included a major overhaul of the probate laws in the Territory. "The Territory should be thankful for the hard work and foresight of Senate President Louis Patrick Hill for his efforts with regard to the Uniform Probate Code," said senior Virgin Islands Commissioner Tom Bolt. "Our Virgin Islands probate law impeded families ability to transfer property. In testimony before the Legislature, legal experts cited that some of the existing probate laws in the Territory could be traced back to the 1670’s.’
Commissioners come together as the National Conference once a year to study and consider drafts of specific statutes in areas of the law where uniformity between the states is desirable. Among the ten legislative drafts approved for state and territorial enactment were acts dealing with issues ranging from a new law that assists military and overseas voters to another addressing the issue of videotaping of law enforcement officers’ interviews with criminal suspects.
The ten acts recently approved by the ULC and now available for state and territorial enactment include:
- The Uniform Military and Overseas Voters Act will simplify the process of absentee voting for United States military and overseas civilians by making the process more uniform, convenient, secure and efficient. The Act covers all military personnel or their dependents, as well as U.S. citizens residing outside the United States who are unable to vote in-person. This latter category includes a class of voters not covered by the federal law in this area: U.S. citizens born overseas who have reached voting age without having resided in the United States. The Act applies to all statewide and local elections, as well as to all federal elections, both primary and general (and also special and run-off elections).
- The Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) Article 9 governs secured transactions in personal property. UCC9 was substantially revised in 1999 and adopted in all states. The 2010 Amendments to UCC9 modify the existing statute to respond to filing issues and address other matters that have arisen in practice following a decade of experience with the 1998 version of UCC9. Of most importance, the 2010 Amendments provide greater guidance as to the name of an individual debtor to be provided on a financing statement.
- The Uniform Electronic Recordation of Custodial Interrogations Act addresses the use of audio and/or videotaping to record law enforcement officers’ interviews of criminal suspects who are in custody. As drafted, the Act mandates audio recordings of interrogations only, leaving to the discretion of the various states and law enforcement agencies to require both audio and video recording of custodial interrogations.
- The Uniform Collateral Consequences of Conviction Act addresses the various penalties and disqualifications that individuals face incidental to criminal sentencing, including disqualification from voting, prohibitions from running for office, exclusion from certain types of employment, etc. The provisions in the act are largely procedural, and designed to rationalize and clarify policies and provisions which are already widely accepted by the states. The Act includes provisions to ensure that defendants are aware of the existence of collateral sanctions before sentencing. Amendments to the Act will be considered addressing the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in Padilla vs. Kentucky.
- The Uniform Faithful Presidential Electors Act provides a statutory remedy in the event a state presidential elector fails to vote in accordance with the voters of his or her state. The Act has a state-administered pledge of faithfulness, with any attempt by an elector to submit a vote in violation of that pledge, effectively constituting resignation from the office of elector. The Act provides a mechanism for filling a vacancy created for that reason or any other.
- The Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act addresses the issue of tenancy-in-common land ownership. Tenancy-in-common is a type of joint ownership without right of survivorship. When there is no right of survivorship, the death of a tenant-in-common can trigger an action to partition the land to satisfy the deceased tenant’s heirs. In a partition, the land is sold to satisfy tenant-in-common interests, often in a sale that does not meet market value. This Act protects vulnerable landowners by providing a buy-out option; balancing factors for judges on partition of real property; sale price minimums if dispossession occurs; and a waiting period of up to three years for strangers to title.
- The Uniform Protection of Genetic Information in Employment Act comprehensively regulates acquisition, use, retention, and disclosure of genetic information in the context of employment. The Act allows individuals to control the privacy of their genetic information, preventing the misuse of that information.
- The Revised Uniform Law on Notarial Acts is an update of the 1982 act of the same name. The revision updates the provisions on notary responsibilities, electronic recording, interstate recognition, and remedies. The revision adapts the prior law to accommodate the societal and technological changes that have occurred in the past 30 years and is designed to make the Act more responsive to current transactions and continuing technological change.
- The Revised Model State Administrative Procedure Act is an update of the 1980 act of the same name. The 1980 Act provided procedures for promulgating administrative regulations and for adjudicating disputes before administrative bodies. The Revision updates the act to recognize electronic communications and other state procedural innovations since the Act was originally promulgated.
- The Insurable Interests Amendment to the Uniform Trust Code has been drafted to address concerns regarding the purchase of life insurance trusts by trustees as it relates to insurable interest law. Life insurance trusts are a standard estate planning tool because proceeds of an irrevocable life insurance trust are not subject to estate taxes.
Since its inception in 1892, the organization has promulgated more than 275 acts of which 60 have been adopted by the U.S. Virgin Islands, among them such bulwarks of state statutory law as the Uniform Commercial Code, Uniform Probate Code, Uniform Partnership Act, Uniform Securities Act, Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act and the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act.