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Forum on Corruption 2008

Read the 2010 Legislative Wrap Up

This bill will allow citizens to vote on a Constitutional Amendment to restore jurisdiction over the General Assembly to the state’s Ethics Commission.

2010-S 2391
Sen. J. Michael Lenihan

2010-H 7357
House Speaker Gordon Fox (Click here for the 67-5 vote on H 7357)

Click here for more info (fix link to etichsamend2010)

Inspector General

2010-S 2041
Sen. Lou Raptakis

2010-H 7371
Rep. Larry Ehrhardt

Click here for more info

Voter Handbook

Allow pro and con arguments in the Voter Information Handbook on Referendum questions

2010-S 2456Aaa
Sen. Ed O’Neill

2010-H 7815
Rep. Michael Marcello

Click here for more info

Publish legislator roll call committee votes

Roll call committee votes are not published anywhere on the General Assembly website. It would not cost additional tax payer dollars to scan the documents containing the vote.

2010-S 2434
Sen. Lou DiPalma

2010-H 7202
Rep. Deborah Ruggiero

Eliminate straight-ticket voting

This is a question at the top of the ballot asking the voter if he/she wants to vote for all members of a particular party with one vote. This does not allow the voter to choose their candidates, abortion one at a time, or to not vote for a candidate he/she may not know. Only 14 states have straight-party voting, including Rhode Island.

2010-S 2310
Sen. David Bates

2010-H 7482
Rep. Brian Newberry

Voter Initiative

2010-S 2097
2010-S 2103
Sen. Marc Cote

2010-H 7212
2010-H 7210
Rep. Rod Driver

Click here for more info

Public financing of elections

To allow public financing of General Assembly and General Office candidates.

2010-S 2454
Sen. Rhoda Perry

2010-H 7446
Rep. Christopher Fierro

Click here for more info

Deepwater Wind Project

OCG opposed this legislation for the end-run around the Public Utilities Commission

2010-S 2819Aaa
Sen. Susan Sosnowski

2010-H 8083Aaa
Rep. Patrick O’Neill

Click here for more info

OCG LEGISLATIVE WRAP-UP, JUNE 2010

As the French said years ago: The more things change, the more they stay the same. That applies to the 2009-2010 Rhode Island General Assembly. Even though Senate President Montalbano left, and Speaker Murphy stepped down, the new leaders replacing them gave OCG the same result: none of OCG’s legislative priorities passed.

The new leadership, just like the old, also presided over a mad rush to adjourn during the last days of the session, amending and passing many bills with minimal opportunity for the public, or even rank and file legislators, to review or provide input.

The biggest disappointment was the Ethics reform bills (S2391 Lenihan, H7357 Fox) to allow voters to re-establish Ethics Commission conflict of interest oversight over the General Assembly. Though H7357 passed the House overwhelmingly, 67–5, it, and S2391, both died in the Senate Committee on Constitutional & Regulatory Issues, chaired by Senator Goodwin.

The opposite happened with our bills to put pro and con statements in the Voter Handbook. The Senate bill (S2456 O’Neill) passed the Senate, but it, and the companion House bill (H7815 Marcello) died in the House Judiciary Committee, chaired by Rep. Caprio.

Something similar happened to our bills requiring posting Assembly roll-call votes where (S2434 DiPalma) passed the Senate, but died, along with its companion bill (H7202 Ruggiero) in House Finance chaired by Rep. Costantino.

Other bills OCG was interested in never made it out of Committee. They included:

  • Bills for Inspector General (S2041 Raptakis, H7371 Ehrhardt);
  • Abolishing the Master “Lever” (S2310 Bates, H7482 Newberry);
  • Voter initiative and referendum (S2097 & 2103 Cote, H7210 & 7212 Driver); and
  • Campaign finance reform (S2454 Perry, H7446 Fierro)

We also note that the “Deepwater” bills (S2819 Sosnowski, H8083 O’Neill,P.) to facilitate a demonstration off-shore wind farm passed even though OCG and many other good government and environmental organizations testified against it due to its end-run around a decision by the Public Utilities Commission (PUC), an established regulatory agency. As a result of many groups testifying against the bill, a new bill was introduced and passed that would send it back to the PUC on an expedited basis with a new set of guidelines that pretty much guarantees passage by the PUC; therefore, it is still not acceptable to OCG.

OCG thanks all the above sponsors. We will try again, perhaps with new leaders and committee chairs in the next Assembly. OCG members with questions or concerns about the legislative agenda are welcome to contact the OCG Legislative Committee at info@ocrgi.org.

  1. A better-informed electorate — An issue would be discussed over at least an 18-month period as signatures are being collected over a nine month period followed by the legislative review process, pilule
    which begins by March 1. As a result, site there will be more public debate on an initiative than on most bills that pass through the General Assembly.
  2. Higher voter turnout — The New York Public Interest Group did a 20-year study of voter turnout in states with Initiative comparing it with states not having Initiative and found that states with I&R have a considerably higher voter turnout.
  3. A more accountable and responsive legislature — Initiative has put elected officials on notice that they must be responsive to issues of importance, side effects
    or the people will take the appropriate action. Many times, laws are passed by the legislature in response to the filing of an initiative.
  4. A safeguard against the concentration of power – Even under an honest government, political power can fall into the hands of a small group or a single party. With I & R, the people can retain the ultimate authority, thus preventing any monopoly of political power.
  5. Neutralize the abuse of the General Assembly committee process — We’ve witnessed the committee process and the various means to kill a bill or avoid taking a position on an issue. By allowing the people to take an issue to the voters, this power of the general Assembly is eliminated.
  6. Secure or expand civil rights — minorities can propose legislation to extend rights that cannot otherwise be attained through the General Assembly.
  1. A better-informed electorate — An issue would be discussed over at least an 18-month period as signatures are being collected over a nine month period followed by the legislative review process, advice
    which begins by March 1. As a result, there will be more public debate on an initiative than on most bills that pass through the General Assembly.
  2. Higher voter turnout — The New York Public Interest Group did a 20-year study of voter turnout in states with Initiative comparing it with states not having Initiative and found that states with I&R have a considerably higher voter turnout.
  3. A more accountable and responsive legislature — Initiative has put elected officials on notice that they must be responsive to issues of importance, or the people will take the appropriate action. Many times, laws are passed by the legislature in response to the filing of an initiative.
  4. A safeguard against the concentration of power – Even under an honest government, political power can fall into the hands of a small group or a single party. With I & R, the people can retain the ultimate authority, thus preventing any monopoly of political power.
  5. Neutralize the abuse of the General Assembly committee process — We’ve witnessed the committee process and the various means to kill a bill or avoid taking a position on an issue. By allowing the people to take an issue to the voters, this power of the general Assembly is eliminated.
  6. Secure or expand civil rights — minorities can propose legislation to extend rights that cannot otherwise be attained through the General Assembly.

RI’s proposed Voter Initiative legislation
addresses problems with the process in other states.

No state has all of these features and some states have a few, what is ed
as listed below:

  1. This legislation is for an indirect initiative, which means there is a legislative review process with hearings on any proposed initiative. After 7 months of collecting the required
    signatures, the initiative must be submitted to the general assembly by March 1 of a general
    election year. The signature collection process, the verification of signatures and the
    legislative review process guarantees at least 18 months of public discussion and debate on
    the issue. (This is more time than given to most bills that pass through the General
    Assembly.) If the general assembly passes a statutory initiative, then it need not go on the
    ballot. If the general assembly does not pass the initiative, then it will go on the ballot and
    each legislator’s vote will go into the voter information handbook that is mailed to all
    households. An initiative for a constitutional amendment would need to be ratified by the
    voters, even if the general assembly approves the initiative. (Only MA and MS require the
    indirect process for a constitutional amendment and ME, MA, MI, NE, and OH require
    the indirect process for a statutory initiative.)
  2. Language in the constitutional amendment protects the civil rights and liberties of
    individuals and groups of individuals. “No initiative shall be permitted which shall abridge
    the civil rights or liberties, including those guaranteed by Article I of the Rhode Island
    Constitution or attempt to preclude the expansion of civil rights of any individual or group of
    individuals, and no initiative shall be permitted which would repeal or amend this sentence.”
    The secretary of State shall deny any petition that he/she thinks will violate civil rights. The
    legislation further provides for an expedited Superior Court review for any person or group
    that thinks a proposed initiative will violate their civil rights. (Only MA has similar
    protections.)
  3. Any Initiative affecting the state budget will not be effective until the fiscal year following
    the election. Additionally, if an initiative proposes to increase expenditures by more than
    $500,000, the proponents must identify a source of state revenue, taxes or other cuts that
    would balance the effect of the initiative on the budget.
  4. A fiscal impact statement will be prepared by the secretary of state, the treasurer, and the
    director of administration in consultation with the senate and house fiscal advisors. Any
    fiscal impact over $200,000 will appear in the voter information handbook and on the ballot.
    (Only CA, ME, NV, OR and UT mandate that a fiscal impact statement be printed in
    the voter pamphlet.)
  5. The signatures gathered on a petition for a statutory initiative must equal 5 percent of the
    total number of votes cast for governor in the last gubernatorial election (about 20,000
    signatures) and 10 percent for an amendment to the Constitution. (MA requires only 3 %,
    CA requires 5 % and 8%, CO 5% and 5%.)
  6. This required percentage of signatures must be gathered from 50% of the cities and towns,
    four of which must be cities. (From the Initiative and Referendum Institute, “Over 60%
    of all initiative activity has taken place in just six states; AZ, CA, CO, ND, OR, WA, all
    without a geographic distribution requirement. States with severe distribution
    requirements like ID, MS, UT, WY rarely have initiatives on their ballot.) Only 13
    states have any geographic requirement and most requirements are much less rigid
    than in RI.
  7. An initiative that has a singular or exclusive impact on any city or town must also be
    approved by the voters of that city or town.
  8. An initiative can only take place at a general election. (Maine, California, Colorado and 6
    other states have initiatives at off-year elections, or primary elections, with low voter
    turnout.)
  9. This legislation includes comprehensive campaign finance disclosure requirements
    throughout the entire initiative process. When gathering petition signatures, each “circulator”
    must have a detailed campaign finance report on hand for anyone to review prior to signing
    the petition documents. Voters would be able to determine the source of campaign
    contributions, and also, the parties of interest that are sponsoring the initiative.
  10. If the general assembly determines that a mistake has been made with an initiative, (even
    legislators make mistakes with bills they pass), the general assembly can override any
    initiative approved by the voters with a three-fourths vote during the first four years
    following the vote. After 4 years, a simple majority of legislators can override an initiative.
    (CA is the only state where the legislature may not repeal or amend a statutory
    initiative. Other states have a designated number of years before they can repeal an
    initiative or a super majority vote to do so.)

For all of the above reasons, the California Commission on Campaign Financing in 1998, judged RI’s proposed legislation to be model voter initiative legislation.
24 States with Voter Initiative and year adopted

Alaska 1959
*Arizona 1912
Arkansas 1909
*California 1911
*Colorado 1912
Florida 1972
Idaho 1912
Illinois 1970
Maine 1908
Massachusetts 1918
Michigan 1908
Mississippi 1992
Missouri 1906
Montana 1904
Nebraska 1912
Nevada 1904
*North Dakota 1914
Ohio 1912
Oklahoma 1907
*Oregon 1902
South Dakota 1898
Utah 1900
*Washington 1912
Wyoming 1968
*combined, viagra dosage
these 6 states have over 60% of all initiative activity

Left to right: Moderator Dave Layman; Chuck Barton, physician
OCG president; Kenneth Payne, buy more about
former State Senate advisor and URI adjunct professor; Ed Achorn, prostate
Providence Journal Deputy Editorial Editor; Bill Rappleye, NBC 10 News; Arlene Violet, former Rhode Island Attorney General; Ross Cheit, Brown University professor and Ethics Commission member; John DePetro, WPRO Talk Show Host.

Following a critically acclaimed, standing-room only forum in 2007 on Rhode Island corruption, OCG presented its Second Annual Corruption Forum on May 10, 2008, focusing on the General Assembly:

The General Assembly: Private Deal$ and Public Corruption

The lively discussion included:

  • A review of legislative corruption and high profile violators.
  • Is our Legislature worse than those in other states?
  • How corruption affects you.
  • Causes of corruption at the Legislature.
  • How effective are the existing tools to battle legislative corruption?
  • What else needs to be done to reduce legislative corruption?

The forum featured a dynamic “Q&A” session between the audience and the panelists.

The Panel

Moderator: Dave Layman, former award-winning Providence news anchor and political commentator.

Edward Achorn: The Providence Journal’s Deputy Editorial Page Editor and frequent critic of the state legislature.

Arthur “Chuck” Barton: President of Operation Clean Government.

Ross Cheit, JD, PhD: Associate Professor of Political Science and Public Policy at Brown University and a member of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission.

John DePetro: WPRO talk show host, and winner of the 2008 Associated Press Award for Best Talk Show. He is known for investigating corruption and scandals in Rhode Island and consistently breaking news involving high ranking public officials.

Kenneth Payne: Former Senior Policy Advisor to the Rhode Island State Senate and a former Director of the League of Cities and Towns. He recently authored a comprehensive five-part series in the Providence Sunday Journal examining the history and operations of the state legislature.

Bill Rappleye: Long-time legislative and political reporter for NBC10 News.

Arlene Violet: Veteran radio talk show host, political columnist and TV commentator. She is a former R.I. Attorney General and long time advocate for good government.

 

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