Rhode Island Question 5, the Co-Equal Branches of Government Act (2002)

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Rhode Island Question 5, also known as the Co-Equal Branches of Government Act, was on the November 5, 2002 election ballot in Rhode Island as an advisory question. It passed, with 75.8% of voters in favor.

Text of measure

The language that appeared on the ballot:

Non-binding advisory referendum proposed by the governor.

PURPOSE AND EXPLANATION: What would Approval of this Question do?

The Governor has proposed the following question to the State's electors: Should the Rhode Island Constitution be changed to eliminate Article 6, Section 10, which preserves to the General Assembly today broad powers granted to it by King Charles II of England in 1663 and also be changed to expressly provide that the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of Rhode Island government are to be separate and co-equal consistent with the American system of government?

A vote to "Approve" means you would like to see the Rhode Island Constitution changed to delete Article 6, Section 10 and also to see the Constitution changed to expressly provide for separate and co-equal legislative, executive and judicial branches of State government. A vote to "Reject" means that you are opposed to the constitutional changes proposed.

The Governor offers the following explanation of his question: The text of Article 6, Section 10 of the Rhode Island Constitution reads as follows: "The general assembly shall continue to exercise the powers it has heretofore exercised, unless prohibited in this Constitution." The Rhode Island Supreme Court has held that this section preserves to the General Assembly broad powers granted to it by King Charles II of England in the Royal Charter of 1663 and creates in Rhode Island "a quintessential system of parliamentary supremacy," rather than the traditional American system of separate and coequal branches of government.

Along with the elimination of this section, my question also asks whether the Constitution should be changed to expressly provide that the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of Rhode Island government are to be separate and co-equal consistent with the American system of government.

This referendum is advisory only. A favorable vote will not necessarily result in constitutional change. The constitutional changes proposed can be accomplished only by direct amendment of the State Constitution - proposed by the General Assembly and ratified by voters - or through a Constitutional Convention. An amendment to the Constitution accomplishing the proposed changes can be adopted by the General Assembly at any time and presented to the voters at any general election. The State Constitution requires that the Secretary of State place a binding question of whether a Constitutional Convention should be called before the voters at the general election in 2004. No change to the Rhode Island Constitution can take effect until it has been submitted to and approved by the voters as a result of a proposed amendment or as recommended by a Constitutional Convention.

This question has been proposed by Governor Lincoln Almond pursuant to Rhode Island General Laws Section 17-5-2, which gives the Governor the power to order the Secretary of State to submit to the electors at any election such questions as the Governor shall deem necessary.

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