Rhode Island Ethics Law Change (2012)

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The Rhode Island Ethics Law Change did not make the 2012 ballot in the state of Rhode Island as a legislatively-referred constitutional amendment. The measure would have asked voters if there should be a change in ethics law that gave partial immunity to state lawmakers from the Rhode Island Ethics Commission. The proposal was introduced by Rhode Island State Senate Edward O'Neill. The measure's formal title is Senate Bill 634. Specifically, it would have made members of the General Assembly subject to the jurisdiction of the state Ethics Commission.[1]

A similar bill for the 2010 ballot was introduced by Gordon Fox, but failed. Fox had stated that the voters of Rhode Island "approved the creation of the Ethics Commission to give the commission power over all government officials in the state, without an exception for legislators.” In June 2009, the Rhode Island Supreme Court decided that lawmakers should be removed from Ethics Commission jurisdiction.[2]



Supporters of the measure include:[3]

  • Smithfield Councilman Stephen R. Archambault is also a supporter of the effects of the measure.


  • Peter Kilmartin argued that legislators who were corrupt needed to be prosecuted, and the proposed measure would allow that. Kilmartin stated, "Legislators working honestly on behalf of Rhode Islanders do not need a legal loophole to act as a shield. The proposed constitutional amendment will rightfully allow those who do not act honorably, ethically and legally to be prosecuted.”[3]
  • State Senator Edward O'Neill, sponsor of the measure, stated, "This bill, we introduced to help restore public confidence in the members of the legislature, the General Assembly. It would go a long way down that road.”[1]



Opponents of the measure include:[3]

  • Scott Pollard stated an opposition to the measure, claiming, "I’ve been here a year and a half now. There aren’t any corrupt people in the building … And if you do know them to be corrupt, then I suggest that you call the attorney general’s office and seek [to have] them prosecuted."
  • Steven Brown, director of the ACLU-Rhode Island claimed that the measure would give the Ethics Commission a high amount of power. The measure, according to Brown would give the commission "virtually limitless authority to decide what constitutes a conflict of interest or ethical misconduct when it comes to both legislators’ votes and their participation in the legislative process."


  • Many lawmakers had made arguments against having an "unelected body" watching their every moves and looking over their shoulders.[3]

Path to the ballot

On May 26, 2010, the House Judiciary Committee approved the 2010 version of the measure, sending the bill to the Rhode Island House of Representatives for a vote. The measure was approved by the House on June 2, 2010 with a vote of 67-5, sending the measure to the Rhode Island State Senate for a vote. Section 1 of Article 14 of the Rhode Island Constitution says that the Rhode Island General Assembly can initiate the process of amendment "by a roll call vote of a majority of the members elected to each house." Legislative session ended without the measure being sent to the 2010 ballot.[3][4][5]

The 2012 version of the measure was introduced during 2011 state legislative session.

The House Judiciary Committee had planned to consider the measure on April 3, 2012.[6]

See also

External links

Additional reading