Friday, June 18, 2010

Common Cause: Assembly should reconvene on ethics reform

11:20 AM Fri, Jun 18, 2010

Amanda Milkovits

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- In the wake of a state senator's indictment, Common Cause Rhode Island called Friday for the General Assembly to reconvene immediately and pass a resolution to put a constitutional amendment on the November ballot asking voters to restore the jurisdiction of the state's Ethics Commission.

Now, there's a loophole that gives state legislators immunity from civil prosecution for their "core legislative acts." The Rhode Island Supreme Court ruled 3 to 1 last June that members of the General Assembly were immune from prosecution by the Ethics Commission because of the state Constitution's "speech in debate" clause.

Sen. Christopher Maselli, D-Johnston, who was indicted on seven counts of bank fraud on Thursday, had proposed having the Senate police itself on ethics. The bill never made it out of the Senate Rules Committee, which Maselli chairs.

Sen. J. Michael Lenihan, D-East Greenwich, had sponsored legislation to put the ethics question to voters in November, asking whether legislators should have immunity.

The legislation overwhelmingly passed in the House, 67-5, but found no traction in the Senate.

John Marion, the executive director of Common Cause, said Maselli's indictment shows the need for ethics reform. "Without passing this now," Marion said in a news release, "Rhode Island will go until at least 2012 without oversight of the legislature by the state's main ethics watchdog."

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