Re: A Constitutional Glitch in the Ciccone Consolidation Bill?
Monique points out that the state Constitution has to be considered in any plans to “consolidate” or “regionalize” Rhode Island’s cities and towns. And a direct reading of the first 4 sections of Article XIII of the Rhode Island Constitution certainly seems to rule out the top-down pile-driver consolidation recently proposed by Senator Frank Ciccone, unless a major set of Amendments are first approved by the voters…
Section 1: Intent of article. — It is the intention of this article to grant and confirm to the people of every city and town in this state the right of self government in all local matters.Section 2 quite clearly denies the General Assembly the power to eliminate home-rule charters. Section 3 says every city or town gets to have a city or town council of its own. Then — most importantly for this discussion — the final clause of the first sentence of Section 4 says the General Assembly can’t act to change the form of government in any city or town, preventing (among other things) any end-runs around Sections 2 & 3 by changing the definition of city and town through statute alone.
Section 2: Local legislative powers. — Every city and town shall have the power at any time to adopt a charter, amend its charter, enact and amend local laws relating to its property, affairs and government not inconsistent with this constitution and laws enacted by the general assembly in conformity with the powers reserved to the general assembly.
Section 3: Local legislative bodies. — Notwithstanding anything contained in this article, every city and town shall have a legislative body composed of one or two branches elected by vote of its qualified electors.
Section 4: Powers of general assembly over cities and towns. — The general assembly shall have the power to act in relation to the property, affairs and government of any city or town by general laws which shall apply alike to all cities and towns, but which shall not affect the form of government of any city or town. The general assembly shall also have the power to act in relation to the property, affairs and government of a particular city or town provided that such legislative action shall become effective only upon approval by a majority of the qualified electors of the said city or town voting at a general or special election, except that in the case of acts involving the imposition of a tax or the expenditure of money by a town the same shall provide for the submission thereof to those electors in said town qualified to vote upon a proposition to impose a tax or for the expenditure of money.
However, there’s nothing in the state constitution regarding cities and towns, similar to the provision in the Federal Constitution that says “equal representation in the Senate cannot be changed, even through an amendment”, that prevents Amendments being adopted that would allow for county-level governance. Perhaps an Amendment to the state Constitution that says no regionalizing a city or town, without the consent of “a majority of the qualified electors of the said city or town voting at a general or special election” should be considered. Nick Gorham could make such an Amendment the centerpiece of a campaign for the statehouse in 2010, depending on the position of the current state Rep in his district on the Ciccone plan…