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Measure Details

Restoration of Ethics Commission Jurisdiction Over General Assembly Members

Rhode Island Ballot Measure - Question 2

Election: Nov. 8, 2016 (General)
Outcome: Passed

Legislative Branch




This Constitutional Amendment would restore the Rhode Island Ethics Commission’s power to hear ethics complaints concerning members of the Rhode Island General Assembly (State Senators and State Representatives). The new text to be added to the amendment is underlined in the ballot question. Text that will be deleted is crossed out.

The Ethics Commission is an independent, non-partisan body created in 1986 by Rhode Island voters to investigate the actions of Rhode Island officials accused of violating the Code of Ethics, and punish those found guilty of violating the Code of Ethics. In 2009, the Rhode Island Supreme Court ruled that the “speech in debate” clause of the Rhode Island Constitution in Article VI, Section 5, gave lawmakers immunity from Ethics Commission prosecution in cases involving their “core legislative functions.” Approval of this question would restore the Ethics Commission’s constitutional authority to police ethics violations by members of the General Assembly. It would also require the Commission to approve new rules by a two-thirds (2/3) majority.

Measure Text

Section 8 of Article III of the Constitution shall be amended to read as follows:

Section 8. Ethics commission – Code of ethics. – The general assembly shall establish an independent non-partisan ethics commission which shall adopt a code of ethics including, but not limited to, provisions on conflicts of interest, confidential information, use of position, contracts with government agencies and financial disclosure. The assent of two-thirds (2/3) of the members appointed shall be required for the adoption for every rule or regulation. All elected and appointed officials and employees of state and local government, of boards, commissions and agencies shall be subject to the code of ethics. The ethics commission shall have the authority to investigate alleged violations of the code of ethics, including acts otherwise protected by Article VI, Section 5, and to impose penalties, as provided by law. Any sanction issued against any party by the ethics commission shall be appealable to the judicial branch as provided by law. The commission shall have the power to remove from office officials who are not otherwise subject to impeachment, or expulsion as provided by Article VI, Section 7.

Section 5 of Article VI of the Constitution shall be amended to read as follows:

Section 5. Immunities of general assembly members. – The persons of all members of the general assembly shall be exempt from arrest and their estates from attachment in any civil action, during the session of the general assembly, and two days before the commencement and two days after the termination thereof, and all process served contrary hereto shall be void. For any speech in debate in either house, no member shall be questioned in any other place, except by the ethics commission as set forth in Article III, Section 8.

Approval of the amendments to Section 8 of Article III and Section 5 of Article VI of the Rhode Island Constitution set forth above will restore the jurisdiction of the ethics commission over members of the General Assembly.


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