Is it time for a constitutional convention in Rhode Island?

Written by John Marion, John Marion on January 28, 0013

On Saturday, the Providence Journal published an article about the possibility of a constitutional convention in Rhode Island.   In 2014 there will be a question on the ballot asking the voters of Rhode Island whether they want there to be a constitutional convention.  It's a very important question, and Common Cause Rhode Island will spend a lot of time in the next year considering our position on the issue. 

Historically we have opposed these questions, for a variety of reasons.  Foremost, we worry that opening up our basic governing document will lead to mischief.  Many of our most important reforms, including the Ethics Commission, public financing of elections, and merit selection of judges, might be put at risk.  Likewise, civil rights issues might be put up for a popular vote as a result of a convention and that is a dangerous proposition.  For these, and other reasons, a constitutional convention is potentially problematic. 

On the other hand in 2009 the Rhode Island Supreme Court declared that two different sections of our Constitution, the speech in debate clause and the ethics amendment, are in conflict.  As a result, the Court stripped the state Ethics Commission of jurisdiction over the General Assembly.  The only way to remedy this conflict is through a constitutional change.  Until this point the Rhode Island Senate has stood as a barrier to the people of our state fixing our Constitution.  Unless the Senate sees fit to put a question on the ballot a constitutional convention may be the only way for the people to exercise their right on this matter. 

Furthermore, there are other reforms, important ones, the might be achieved at a convention.  At the top of that list is redistricting reform.  Over the decades we have seen ample examples of why the General Assembly cannot be trusted to draw its own boundaries.  Taking that power away from the legislature is not going to be easy, and a constitutional convention is the most likely scenario for achieving real change. 

As you can see, we've been thinking a lot about this question.  As supporters of Common Cause Rhode Island we want to know what you think as we deliberate.  Please feel free to leave comments here or reach out and email us, call us, or stop on by.

Office: Common Cause Rhode Island

Issues: Ethics, Ethics

Tags: State Ethics, Ethics for Everyone

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