Amdending the Ethics Amendment
Rhode Island Governor Donald Carcieri (via Edward Fitzpatrick‘s column in Sunday’s Projo), Woonsocket Call columnist Jim Baron, and Operation Clean Government Vice-President Robert Benson, amongst many others, support amending the State Constitution to restore the jurisdiction of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission to its intended scope, which would include the official acts of state legislators.
State Representatives David Segal (D-Providence), Edith Ajello (D-Providence), Rod Driver (D-Charlestown/Exeter/Richmond), Chris Fierro (D-Woonsocket), and Brian Newberry (R-Burrillville/North Smithfield) already have a proposal for such an Amendment pending in the current legislative session, which would add (after voter approval) the bolded text to Article III, section 8 of the Rhode Island Constitution…
The general assembly shall establish an independent non-partisan ethics commission which shall adopt a code of ethics including, but not limited to, provisions on conflicts of interest, confidential information, use of position, contracts with government agencies and financial disclosure. Notwithstanding the provisions of Article VI, Section 5 of this Constitution, all elected and appointed officials and employees of state and local government, of boards, commissions and agencies shall be subject to the code of ethics. The ethics commission shall have the authority to investigate violations of the code of ethics and to impose penalties, as provided by law; and the commission shall have the power to remove from office officials who are not subject to impeachment.Article VI, section 5 contains the Rhode Island Constitution’s speech-in-debate immunity clause.
Baron and Benson both endorse this amendment specifically, though Fitzpatrick’s column cites one expert who is concerned that the proposed language still might not be strong enough to allow the Ethics Amdenment’s original scope and intent to survive another post-ratification judicial veto. However, at first glace, the language does seem to address the Court’s stated reasons for narrowing the Ethics Commission’s reach to less than what it was understood to be at the time it was created. The amendment specifically mentions the section of the Constitution containing the speech-in-debate clause that is supposedly being modified, addressing the concern that Constitutional protections cannot be repealed, unless it is directly stated that they are. Also, the new amendment would be approved without the rest of the Constitution being re-approved at the same time, doing away with the Court’s concern that when separate constitutional provisions undergo simultaneous approval, speech-in-debate immunity obviously trumps all other considerations (hey, it’s the state Supreme Court’s reasoning, not mine).
Speaker of the House William Murphy, according to Fitzpatrick’s column, has so-far been cool to the idea of letting this amendment work its way through the process — raising the question of what the Speaker thinks the function of the legislature is, if it is not to create a system of laws that express the will of the people.