In 1996, voters approved an advisory ballot question for Initiative and Referendum. But for eleven years, the General Assembly has ignored the will of the people. Every year since 1994, Senator Marc Cote (D-21) has introduced Voter Initiative legislation in the Rhode Island General Assembly.
Governor Lincoln Almond placed an advisory question for Voter Initiative on the ballot in 1996 that was approved by 52% of the voters. The full Senate and House has never had an opportunity to vote on this legislation, since it has been killed year after year in Senate and House Committees.
Voter Initiative is a process that empowers citizens with the right to formally petition their government to place laws or constitutional amendments on the ballot for voter approval. Over the years, Senator Cote’s legislation has been continually improved and is now considered model legislation, addressing many problems encountered in other states.
Twenty four states already have Voter Initiative as well as hundreds of cities and towns. Twenty four Rhode Island cities and towns also have Voter Initiative.
In 2006, the legislation died in committee again, after the Voter Initiative Alliance presented the General Assembly with more than 21,000 signatures asking that they vote to place the question on the November 2006 ballot.
To further deny the right of citizens to vote on questions about their government, the General Assembly voted in 2006 to take away the right of the Governor to place nonbinding questions on the ballot. Prior to that vote the governor had submitted two advisory questions to the Secretary of State, one asking if citizens want Voter Initiative. The Secretary of State has requested an expedited court decision as to whether the two questions can go on the ballot since they were submitted before the General Assembly voted to take away that right. Judge Fortunato, in Superior Court, ruled that the questions could go on the ballot. However, the RI Supreme Court reversed that decision.