Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Common Cause to Host Panel on Ethics Commission’s Future

By Katherine Gregg
Journal State House Bureau

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- The Common Cause chapter in Rhode Island is holding panel discussion on the ramifications of the Rhode Island Supreme Court decision in the case of former Senate President William V. Irons, and what it means for the future of the state's Ethics Commission.

In a 3-to-1 ruling, the court said Rhode Island Constitution's "speech-in-debate" clause gives legislators immunity from prosecution by the Ethics Commission for "core legislative functions" such as voting and speaking. The decision marked a victory for Irons, who had been accused of voting on legislation in a way beneficial to pharmacy giant CVS while collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars in insurance commissions from Blue Cross on a health-insurance policy for CVS employees in Rhode Island.

The panel will be moderated by Brown professor and ethics commission member Ross Cheit. Panelists will include Ethics Commission chairwoman Barbara Binder, lawyers Mark Freel and Tom Bender, the author of the ACLU and Common Cause briefs filed in the case; Ethics Commission lawyer and education coordinator Jason Gramitt; Common Cause executive director John Marion; and former Senate parliamentarian John Roney, the former Senator who championed a famously controversial law.

The so-called Roney Amendment, passed in 1998, allows the Ethics Commission to slap citizens with fines of up to $5,000 for filing "frivolous, unreasonable or groundless'' ethics complaints against a public official.

The Sept. 16 discussion will be held at Smith Buonanno Hall on the Brown University campus. More information about the panel discussion is available from

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