Approve RI Question #2
When it comes to overseeing the ethics of its General Assembly, Rhode Island is unique — and not in a good way.
Unlike Massachusetts, unlike every other state, Rhode Island now has no mechanism in place to police conflict of interest by its lawmakers. And those lawmakers show, again and again, that they are ready and willing to take full advantage of that loose leash.
Question 2 on the Nov. 28 ballot would set things right again. It asks voters to restore the state Ethics Commission’s jurisdiction over General Assembly members.
Recent behavior by some of those lawmakers, including one close to home, indicates that Question 2 deserves resounding support.
The odd thing is that the question even needs asking. The Ethics Commission used to have authority to watch over legislators and their penchant for crossing the conflict of interest line but that ended in 2009 when the state Supreme Court ruled that the state constitution’s “speech in debate clause” granted legislative immunity to lawmakers. The judges noted, though, that a constitutional amendment could change things.
Left to their own devices, some took full advantage and in most blatant ways. There are too many examples to note in this short space but the East Bay is watching one case with particular interest. State Rep. Raymond Gallison is accused (among other things apparently) of profiting personally from money granted by the House Finance Committee he chaired to a non-profit he controlled.
Question 2 won’t cure all that ails the legislature but it puts them on notice that they should not vote on matters from which they stand to profit —the same standard every local town councilor and zoning board member must meet.
Because this question involves a change to the state constitution, a two-thirds majority is needed tor passage.
It is difficult to imagine this one not being near-unanimous.