Portsmouth Rep. Dennis Canario has co-sponsored legislation (H8189) sponsored by House Speaker Nick Mattiello (D-15, Cranston) to broaden the powers of the state’s Ethics Commission by eliminating legislative immunity from Ethics Commission oversight through a constitutional amendment.
“Accountability has been absent for far too long within the walls of the State House and I considered it my duty to the residents of District 71 to co-sponsor and support this important piece of legislation that states unequivocally that no legislator is above the law,” said Canario (D-71, Portsmouth, Little Compton, Tiverton). “The Ethics Commission was created to ensure that no one within the State House breached the sacred line of public trust and I am pleased to say that this legislation once again reaffirms the powers of the Ethics Commission to protect the best interests of Rhode Island’s taxpayers.”
If passed by the House Committee on Judiciary and the House of Representatives, the proposal would place a referendum on the November ballot to remove legislative immunity from the state’s constitution. The proposal also includes additional changes to the Ethics Commission and Ethics Code. The legislation requires two-thirds of the commission members to change any rule or regulation of the commission. Individuals will also be prohibited from filing a complaint with the commission once the filing period begins for a given election in order to prevent frivolous complaints and the politicization of the Ethics Commission.
The Ethics Commission legislation is the latest of several reforms calling for more transparency at the legislature. Last year, the House of Representatives approved sweeping campaign finance reforms to increase disclosure of campaign account activity. Candidates and office holders are now required to file annual bank statements, maintain separate campaign accounts, and appoint a treasurer if annual account activity exceeds $10,000.
In 2014, the House of Representatives unanimously approved the removal of the “master lever,” which abolished the practice of one-line straight-party voting.
“The taxpayers of this state deserve nothing less than total accountability and transparency within their government and elected officials. The recent reforms passed by the House are a clear statement that we as legislators serve the people of Rhode Island and not the agendas of special interests,” added Canario.
Editorial note: Written from a state house news release.