Good government groups call on Rhode Island Senate to withdraw ethics resolution

Common Cause Rhode Island, along with the Rhode Island Taxpayers, and the League of Women Voters of Rhode, ask the Rhode Island Senate to withdraw Senate resolution 2824 Sub A as amended. This resolution, which would put a constitutional amendment regarding the jurisdiction of the Ethics Commission over the General Assembly on November’s ballot, has been hopelessly compromised. The groups remain committed to future efforts to fix the loophole created in 2009 by the Rhode Island Supreme Court’s decision in Irons v. Rhode Island Ethics Commission’

“The changes made to this important constitutional amendment last week do not serve the interest of the public,” says John Marion, Executive Director of Common Cause Rhode Island. “It is too late in the legislative session to attempt a hasty fix for such an important issue,” he continues. Last week, the Senate Judiciary Committee made significant changes that would fundamentally alter the Ethics Commission process for all public officials and employees, not just legislators. The original purpose of the resolution–fixing the loophole that allows for legislators to be immune from most of the Code of Ethics–has been hijacked to create, among other changes, a whole new appeal process that applies to everyone covered by the Code of Ethics, and not just lawmakers. That appeal process would mean anyone found in violation of an ethics violation could wipe the slate clean with a de novo trial; allowing for another bite at the apple.

“The amendments made last week go far beyond what is necessary to fix this problem, and could potentially make the process of enforcing our ethics laws more complicated, more costly, and more drawn out” says Larry Girouard, President of the Rhode Island Taxpayers. Continues Girouard, “By putting an effective date of January 7, 2015 in this amendment it would provide a ‘get out of jail’ card for past unethical conduct of legislators; surely something no citizen wants.”

“As an Amicus on behalf of the Ethics Commission in the case that made this necessary, the League of Women Voters is deeply committed to closing the loophole, but these amendments go beyond what was at stake in that case,”says Jane Koster, President of the League of Women Voters of Rhode Island. While lawyers for Senator Irons asserted the right to a jury trial they did not do so for all public officials for all portions of the Code of Ethics.

Because this resolution goes far beyond simply reversing Irons, we stand united in asking the bill’s sponsor, Senator James Sheehan, Judiciary Committee Chair Michael McCaffrey, and Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed, to withdraw the bill.

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