April 4, 2013

The Ethics Bill

Patrick Laverty

In today's Providence Journal, Common Cause's John Marion wrote a letter to the editor about the lack of leadership and democracy shown at the Statehouse by Speaker Gordon Fox. After State Rep. J. Patrick O'Neill made a motion to pass House Bill H 5498, got it seconded, and then got it passed, the Speaker and his Chairwoman Edith Ajello nullified the vote. The explanation is that rules were not followed and as Chairwoman Ajello noted in her comments while she was nullifying the vote, the House has rules and the rules need to be followed. I'm not sure how that jibes with the last couple nights at the Statehouse when the body votes to suspend the rules, but I guess that's a fight for a different day.

As for the bill being debated itself, we were told that the bill needs to be studied further. Speaker Fox and others have said they need more time to consider the bill and its merits.

That may strike some as interesting as the exact same bill passed the House just three years prior. If that's not enough, the primary sponsor on the 2010 version was Speaker Gordon Fox! Why does he need more time to consider a bill that he sponsored and passed just three years ago? Does the Speaker no longer agree with the bill that he himself crafted just 36 months prior? How much confidence would that instill in his lawmaking abilities?

I decided to check for myself just how "exact" the two bills are. The only differences I see are the date submitted, the bill number and the sponsors. The language in the bill? Exactly the same, word for word, zero differences whatsoever.

See for yourself:
2010 H 7357 Sponsors: Fox, Fierro, Hearn, Marcello, Walsh
2013 H 5498 Sponsors: Marcello, Costantino, Valencia, Hearn, Edwards

I still haven't heard any explanation for this yet. Why can't this bill get out of committee? Is there any bill more important than the ethics of our government? If we can't trust our legislature to act in an ethical way and be held accountable, our government becomes the professional wrestling world of sports. What is going on here? Why is the Speaker effectively shutting down his own bill that he wrote himself? Is it any wonder that people don't trust the government?

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My guess:

He already 'traded' that bill for another that he promised some else he would get through.

So if this bill, which he well may 'like', gets passed, it might lost him crucial votes on ANOTHER bill that he wants passed even more.

I'll bet there are tons of 'perennially held-for-review' bills that are just used as 'currency' in the legislature.

Posted by: mangeek at April 4, 2013 5:20 PM

What is going on is lying. Most elected officials lie: they lie to us, they lie to each other. They are in office not to do right or do good, they are there for power and money. Most are neither honest nor honorable. They do and say whatever it takes to get power and money. They do the bidding of whoever pays them the most. Some might call most politicians whores. But that would be disparaging of whores.

Posted by: riborn at April 4, 2013 7:58 PM

Why can't this bill get out of committee? Because it's a bargaining chip for gay marriage.

Is there any bill more important than the ethics of our government? Yes, the gay marriage bill.

What is going on here? Negotiating the end game in June.

Why is the Speaker effectively shutting down his own bill that he wrote himself? Because it becomes a huge chip in the last hand of showdown in June.

Is it any wonder that people don't trust the government? Hahahahahahahahaha, of course not silly!

Posted by: John at April 4, 2013 10:32 PM

When the people fear their government there is tyranny;
when the government fears the people, there is liberty.
- Thomas Jefferson

Posted by: Warrington Faust at April 4, 2013 10:52 PM

I would just like to remind everyone that these vile backroom power plays aren't endemic in American government. They are business as usual in Rhode Island - so it may seem that they are normal to those who have known nothing else - but there are many other states that do not tolerate this type of self-serving, contemptuous behavior from state legislators. You have 50 states to choose from. Choose wisely.

Posted by: Dan at April 5, 2013 8:09 AM

Dan, I wouldn't be surprised if RI politics is more vile than many other states. However, sometimes you sound a little naive about the politics in your own state. I'm guessing this sort of thing happens absolutely everywhere, though in other states, the legislators believe it won't be tolerated quite as well and hide it better.

However, I will stick with Ben Kenobi's description of Mos Eisley and apply it to the RI Statehouse: "Mos Eisley Spaceport. You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. We must be cautious."

Posted by: Patrick at April 5, 2013 8:34 AM

I have to agree that Dan seems a bit naive, certainly nearby Massachusetts is no better. I admit there seems to be a willingness to flaunt it in Rhode Island.

Howie Carr (Boston Herald) has three columns a week exposing the government, no one seems to care. It is popular to deride Howie Carr as a "muckraker".

Posted by: Warrington Faust at April 5, 2013 9:48 AM

Warrington - Massachusetts is every bit as corrupt as Rhode Island, but the difference is they can afford to be. There are something like 117 colleges in the Boston area - those aren't going anywhere and they bring in big Federal money through grants and Stafford loans. Lots of professors earning big bucks and rich college students with cash to burn. The regulations and taxes aren't as bad as RI either. To their credit, they've come a long way from the Taxachussets moniker.

There is a certain pettiness to RI politics that is particularly distasteful. Massachusetts is like big-time organized crime looking out for the neighborhood, while Rhode Island is a two-bit street dealer focused solely on thug life and the easy money.

Posted by: Dan at April 5, 2013 10:07 AM

RI's corrupt and unethical pols are in our faces every day, but there are MANY states that are just as bad. It is the geographic smallness of RI that makes it seem worse - our state government is for all intents and purposes "local" to each of us. In most states people are familiar with the corrupt local pols of their cities and counties. RI's state political circus amounts to the size of many county circuses across the US.

Posted by: riborn at April 5, 2013 2:31 PM

Dan, not to be argumentative, but you seem to be saying corruption is OK if you can afford it.

People in Mass seem to be aware of it, but unconcerned. Attitudes range from "that's the way it is, and there is nothing we can do about it", to "I got mine, Jack". The latter meaning they are not interested in rocking the boat.

Another nice thing about the 117 colleges and universities is that neither the faculty, nor the students,tend to vote.

Posted by: Warrington Faust at April 5, 2013 2:49 PM

"Is there any bill more important than the ethics of our government? Yes, the gay marriage bill."

John is presumably being ironic. Unfortunately, our legislature is not.

Posted by: Monique at April 5, 2013 5:53 PM
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