Public Policy

Common Cause gives Assembly lowest marks ever

COURTESY COMMON CAUSE / RHODE ISLAND
BOARD MEMBERS AND STAFF of Common Cause / Rhode Island wait to testify at a state Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Separation of Powers, a top priority for the policy group since 1994.
Posted 8/12/08

PROVIDENCE – In the eighth annual Common Cause / Rhode Island Legislative Scorecard, released today, the General Assembly received its lowest grade ever. The previous low score was in 2006, the group said.

“During the 2007-2008 legislative session, state officials were focused on addressing the budget crisis yet still passed legislation that thwarts the voters’ will on two major Constitutional reforms: Separation of Powers (SOP) and Judicial Merit Selection,” the nonprofit group said today.

Failure to act on legislation relating to the SOP amendment was a target of particular criticism by Common Cause, meriting a full page of discussion in the Summer 2008 Common Cause Rhode Island Report.

“Four legislative sessions after voters approved the SOP [constitutional] amendment, the R.I. House of Representatives continues to fight full implementation … by pushing the state Supreme Court for an advisory opinion that would preserve its leverage on the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC),” Common Cause wrote, adding that the group and its allies “are awaiting a decision on the House of Representatives advisory question before the R.I. Supreme Court.”

The group also took aim at “the tsunami of last-night bills,” in which “some well-intentioned lawmakers unintentionally may have cast harmful votes,” urging the Assembly to revise its rules to avert such problems in the future.

“On the positive side, the General Assembly passed the first significant Open Records bill since 1998,” Common Cause / Rhode Island said. But that legislation was one of many vetoed last month by Gov. Donald L. Carcieri. (READ MORE)

“We were disappointed that Governor Carcieri vetoed this important legislation, claiming it might compromise public safety,” the group said in a statement today. “Common Cause hopes the General Assembly will override this veto and improve access to public records in Rhode Island.”

Overall, members of the state House of Representatives backed Common Cause positions at an average rate of 56 percent during the 2007-2008 legislative session, while state senators backed Common Cause positions at an average rate of 64 percent, the nonprofit group said today.

Sixteen measures were considered in this year’s Scorecard, the group said. It awarded 1 point for “routine” votes for or against a position supported by Common Cause; 2 for “votes that uphold or attack long-standing, clearly enunciated common cause principles”; and 3 points for “votes that uphold or attack principles of great public interest, adopted as constitutional amendments.”

Scoring also took into account each lawmaker’s absence or failure to vote on key measures, although legislators who recused themselves to avoid a conflict of interest were not penalized, Common Cause said. And this year, “in recognition that the legislature and Governor attempted to make significant headway on Rhode Island’s structural deficit, the Common Cause RI Governing Board credited each legislator with bonus points,” Common Cause wrote.

“Overall the legislative scores are very disappointing in the 2007-2008 scorecard,” Executive Director Christine Lopes said in a statement this afternoon. “Although Common Cause testified on a variety of bills over the two-year session, only a few actually made it to the House and Senate floors, and those were the bills that we evaluated.

“Unfortunately, some of the bills that did make it to the floor thwarted the voter’s will on Constitutional reforms that Common Cause strongly supports, and those votes were given additional weight. We did recognize that these were tough budget years, and the General Assembly was focused on those issues, but the will of the voters should always be honored.”

Common Cause / Rhode Island, founded in 1970 is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting open, ethical, accountable and effective government. It is the state chapter of the national Common Cause. Additional information – including the group’s 2008 Rhode Island Legislative Scorecard, with a complete list of votes evaluated – is available at www.CommonCauseRI.org.

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