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PROVIDENCE – Voters may be asked to restore the R.I. Ethics Commission’s power to investigate lawmakers for their everyday, legislative work, The Associated press reported last week.
A Senate panel this month reviewed a proposed state constitutional amendment that would close a loophole in state ethics law that leaves lawmakers immune to ethics complaints prompted by their votes and work on legislation. However, the proposed amendment might get left off the ballot if lawmakers decide increased ethics scrutiny could hamper free debate in the General Assembly.
According to the AP, the amendment was prompted by a 2009 Supreme Court ruling that lawmakers can’t face ethics investigations for their legislative work. The ruling was based on debate-speech provisions in the state constitution that aims to protect lawmakers from possible harassment for what they say and how they vote in the legislature.
The AP said that despite the 2009 ruling the commission still has the power to investigate and discipline lawmakers for violating rules on financial disclosures or nepotism. But the decision has hindered the board’s ability to investigate alleged conflicts of interest by lawmakers. •