Denying Separation

No doubt, many of us find ourselves impeded by the finer points of legalistic legerdemain, but is it possible to see the argument put forward by the RI House of Representative’s lawyer on the matter of Separation of Powers and the Coastal Resources Management Council as anything other than specious?

Lawyer Sandra Lanni, representing House leaders, argued that the coastal council is not a core part of the executive branch, as for instance, is the Department of Administration.
Rather, she said, it is special and independent, a creation of the legislature to fulfill its responsibilities to protect and regulate the coastal areas.
“There is a difference between a body that exercises some executive functions and one that has executive powers,” Lanni said. “As government has become more complex, we have all of these boards and agencies to help the legislature do its job.
“This is a case where the legislature has taken some of its powers and delegated them to an independent agency which operates in a nonpartisan way,” Lanni said. “This creates an independent regulatory agency which clearly crosses boundaries.”

Helping the legislature do its job means helping it to reshape the laws to the benefit of Rhode Island. Putting those laws into action by forming specific policies and applying regulations is an executive function. It would be different if, for example, the CRMC were charged by the legislature to review the effects of policies and regulations and recommend changes to the law. But that is not its role; its role is so clearly a function that the Separation of Powers amendment removed from the grip of the General Assembly that only Rhode Island’s leaders could make it seem opaque.

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