Ethics commission now ready to fight conflicts of interest

Rhode Island Statehouse

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Tuesday morning, the Rhode Island Ethics Commission met for the first time since November 8, 2016, when voters approved Question 2, reinstating the commission’s lawmaker oversight authority. And members of the commission are pleased with the decision.

“Right as our new assembly comes into office, they will be subject to the jurisdiction of the ethics commission over everything,” said Jason Gramitt, the commission’s staff attorney.

Ballot Question 2 asked Rhode Island voters to approve a constitutional amendment giving the Rhode Island Ethics Commission the power to investigate state lawmakers and sanction them when they act improperly. It restores an oversight the commission once had over lawmakers, but which was lost in a 2009 court ruling.

“I think with a part-time legislature there’s always issues with conflicts of interest because every legislator has an outside job,” said commission chair Ross Cheit. “I think people will want to know what it means for their own circumstances and we welcome that.”

The commission will get to work in the coming weeks, designing a plan to train and educate the General Assembly on what constitutes conflicts of interest when the amendment takes effect on January 3.

Since many lawmakers will have experiences that will raise questions, “I think the question of what the code does and doesn’t regulate will be important for many legislators,” Cheit said.

In addition to cracking down on conflicts of interest within legislation, Question 2 also requires a two-thirds majority vote on Ethics Commission decisions.

In a Fleming and Associates poll of 400 Rhode Island voters this fall, 78 percent were in favor of Question 2.