Guest commentary: Restore ethics at Statehouse, vote yes on Question 2

Guest commentary: Restore ethics at Statehouse, vote yes on Question 2

Record-Journal
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The people of the state of Rhode Island have a unique opportunity this election season. In addition to casting your vote for president and various other public offices, you will be asked whether to amend our state constitution to definitively give the Ethics Commission jurisdiction over the Rhode Island General Assembly.

The Ethics Commission was originally created to be the citizens’ watchdog over public officials and their actions, with specific authority over the General Assembly. But as a result of a 2009 ruling, in a case involving former Senate President William V. Irons, the Ethics Commission’s oversight over the General Assembly was struck a severe blow. The ruling effectively exempted state lawmakers from scrutiny and prosecution by the state Ethics Commission for violations relating to their core legislative acts such as introducing and voting on legislation.

The late Sen. J. Michael Lenihan took up the effort to restore the jurisdiction of the Ethics Commission following the 2009 decision. I proudly took up the banner of ethics reform after Sen. Lenihan retired in 2010.

Rhode Island citizens do not trust their government, especially the General Assembly. In a Fleming and Associates 2016 poll of what issues Rhode Island voters want the General Assembly to address this year, “government corruption” was ranked second, behind creating jobs. Restoring the jurisdiction of the Ethics Commission over the General Assembly would represent a great step forward in rebuilding the people’s trust in government by deterring future instances of public corruption.

We all need rules to check our behavior as well as a mechanism to hold persons accountable for unethical behavior. Re-instituting the Ethics Commission’s oversight over members of the General Assembly will encourage members to listen to the better angels of their nature, whose voices remind us all that the nobility of public service resides in placing the common good above self-interest. When lawmakers do this, we are at our best in making a real difference in the lives of others.

This ethics amendment is a good and sound measure. I firmly believe that it will help us restore a modicum of the peoples’ trust in their elected assemblymen and women.

After years of hard work, the ball is now in your court. This election year, you can not only choose individuals to represent you in government, but actually play a constructive role in making a positive change. Help us to do that. Please vote yes on Question 2.

The writer is a Democratic senator representing District 36, which includes Narragansett and North Kingstown. He is chairman of the Senate Government Oversight Committee. He resides in North Kingstown.


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