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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Call To Action: Strengthen RI's Ethics Commission
Did you read the editorial in the April 23 edition of the Providence Journal (see our posting below)?  I hope you did. The ProJo editors concluded that “Citizens should urge their representatives to support reform. Ethics Commission oversight of lawmakers should be put to the voters of Rhode Island.” This editorial was just one of many requests calling for the public to take action on the important issue of ethics in politics in Rhode Island.

The League of Women Voters agrees that the Ethics Commission must once again have oversight and jurisdiction over the General Assembly.  At this time our legislators are policing themselves. Since 2009 when the state courts weakened the Commission, the League of Women Voters of RI has testified on the necessity of passing legislation that would allow Rhode Island voters to decide this Issue.  

Representative Marcello’s House Resolution No. 5374 and Senator O’Neill’s Senate Resolution No. 56 are being considered at this moment on Smith Hill.  The League’s Advocacy team has given written and oral testimony in support of both bills.   If the legislation passes, voters will decide whether or not to amend the RI Constitution, restoring the jurisdiction of the Ethics Commission over the General Assembly.

There are other bills that have been introduced, but the League feels these bills are the strongest.  Why? Senate No. 56 and House No. 5374 include jurisdiction during  “speech in debate” when representatives are on the floor debating or advocating for a bill.  If there appears to be a conflict of interest the Ethics Commission would be able to examine and investigate and rule on the legislator’s action. Other bills being considered would greatly reduce the power of the Ethics Commission.  These bills would allow legislators to seek a jury trial in court completely ignoring the Commission’s findings and decision.   The bills we oppose would also allow thousands of public officials to go beyond administrative oversight and seek a decision in the courts, thereby causing possible lengthy trials and great costs to the public.  Separation of powers is also weakened when one branch of government (the court) oversees another (the legislature), which could be problematic in Rhode Island where many lawmakers move from the legislature into positions in the courts as judges and magistrates.

House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello was quoted in a Providence Journal article in early March saying that to gain the public’s trust he will “make sure that the House serves the interests of the public.  Each and every day that I am here, we will serve the public’s interest and we will earn the public’s trust.”  He was also quoted in Thursday’s editorial as saying that  “We pass bills that are in the citizen’s best interest.”    The public needs assurance that this happens.  Let’s “make sure,” as Speaker Mattiello says, that the legislature will indeed serve the public interest with proper oversight.

What can you do to have this happen?  Contact your representatives and senators and ask them to support these two bills.  If they do not support these two bills, ask why.  These are the two bills that will actually restore the full jurisdiction of the Ethics Commission over our legislators and hold them responsible to the public.

And please forward this message to your friends and family members in RI and go to the LWVRI  Facebook page and share the League’s posting about this action.

Be in League!  Take Action Now.

Jane Koster
President, LWVRI

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