Making Democracy Work

Public Policy

Where the League stands on government issues

The League of Women Voters promotes an open governmental system that is representative, accountable and responsive.

Code of Ethics/Conflict of Interest

Review Committee recommendations adopted at State Council, April 25, 1998; adopted 1976

The League of Women Voters of Rhode Island supports a code of ethics law including the following provisions:

1. state and municipal elected officials

2. state and municipal appointed officials, and

3. employees of state and local government, of boards, commissions and agencies.

Financial Disclosure Required of all elected and appointed officials and those employees whose position involves significant phases of bid specifications or the selection process once bids have been submitted with the following requirements:

1. All sources of income, not simply those affiliations that have done business with the state.

2. Assets (excluding personal property), real estate (excluding principal residence), debts.

3. Disclosure to be either by exact amount or by financial categories.

4. Records to be open to the public.

Restricted Activities As a conflict occurs whenever a public official has a private interest, which interferes with the ability of the official to carry out the public duty objectively and impartially, therefore those activities are restricted as follows:

1. Officials may not vote on matters that will benefit them personally more than other members of their professions.

2. In votes that may concern officials professionally, they should disclose for the record their professional involvement.

3. Officials may do business with the state, but only where competitive bidding is required.

4. Officials may sit on committees concerned with their professional fields.

Enforcement and Education
1. A non-partisan independent commission, with representation from citizens not working in the public sector.

2. Criminal penalties with fines mandated
3. Investigation of complaints:

a. State 1 - Any citizen, without a sworn statement, may make a complaint to the commission. Within a stated period of time, the commission confidentially would investigate the complaint to ascertain whether the accusation warranted further investigation.
b. State 2 - Prior to a public investigation, the initial complainant would be required to file a sworn statement with the ensuing investigation is public.

4. Continuing ethics education for public officials, employees and the general public.

Update The League urged prompt enforcement and compliance with the 1976 law. In addition, the League supported inclusion of debts as well as quantitative measurement of income under the financial disclosure statement.

In 1986 Rhode Island voters went to the polls and passed the Ballot Resolution "Ethics in Government," which came out of the 1986 Constitutional Convention. As a result of the new law, the independent RI Ethics Commission had the power to prosecute RI lawmakers as well as all elected and appointed officials, but that changed in 2009 when the Rhode Island Supreme Court ruled in Irons v. Rhode Island Ethics Commission that legislators are immune from the Code of Ethics for their "core legislative acts," including voting and speaking on bills.

After seven years of debate and lobbying, the issue was again placed on the ballot and the voters again approved the Ethics Commission's jurisdiction over legislators.

More information on the history of the Ethics Commission is available in the LWVRI Archives.

Initiative and Referendum

Newport Review recommendations adopted at State Council, April 25, 1998; 1978

The League of Women Voters of Rhode Island supports the representative government concept of our Untied States democracy. It also recognizes. as has the United States Supreme Court. the rights of the people to initiate their own laws and approve or reject measures passed by their legislatures.

The League believes in order to guarantee the people of Rhode Island a direct voice in their government, it is necessary to grant them the power to amend their constitution and initiate legislation they feel will be beneficial to their way of life. It is equally essential for the citizenry to have the power of referendum to approve or reject laws passed by their legislature. which are not in the best interest of the people. Therefore, the League supports direct/indirect initiative and referendum

The direct initiative is a process whereby after a specified number of signatures are gathered; a question posed by the people will be placed on the ballot for their approval or reflection. If there is not sufficient time allotted for public debate, discussion and understanding of the issue before an election, the league favors the indirect initiative method, which requires the question to be presented to the legislature for action. If the legislature falls to act within a set time. the question is then placed on the ballot.

The League supports referendum, a process that allows the people to accept or reject a statute passed by the legislature.

The league believes any measure dealing with an individual person, town, city, or corporation should be excluded from the initiative process. as should any question, which conflicts with the United States Constitution (such as: religion, religious practices, or religious institutions).

Further, any "emergency" measure for the immediate preservation of the people's peace, health, and safety passed by the legislature should take effect promptly and not delayed by the referendum process provided "emergency" labeling was acquired by a 2/3 vote of each legislative house.

Initiative legislation pertaining to a constitutional amendment should require the greatest number of signatures. Fewer signatures should be required for initiatives regulating statues. A referendum should require the least number of signatures because of the limited time available for this procedure. A 90-day period is usually allotted by the General Assembly for the gathering of signatures in states with referendum.

No geographic distribution of signatures should be required to place a question on the ballot.

No one collecting signatures for a petition should be paid per signature. The circulator of the petition should be a registered Rhode Island voter.

In order for the voter to understand the cost of the legislation involved, all measures requiring funding should have a fiscal note attached. Provide full and timely disclosure of amounts and sources of contributions and expenditures in ballot campaigns.

Only after a law has been in effect for at least two years may a legislature have the power to amend or repeal, by 2/3 vote of each house, an initiative referendum. Require a waiting period before a failed proposition can be reintroduced.

The governor shall not have the power to veto legislation passed by the initiative or referendum process.

The League shall support procedures, which make the initiative and referendum process efficient, and free from corruption and fraud.

Initiative and referendum questions should not be placed on the ballot during special elections, only on the ballot of a General election.

Terms of Office and Compensation for State Legislators

February 3, 1990; Revised May 17, 2003

Position in Brief The League of Women Voters of Rhode Island believes that the terms of office for the general officers of the state should be four years. Senatorial terms should be increased to four years. However, the representatives' terms should stay at two years.

The election of four-year term officials should be held in off-presidential years. There should be recall for officials with four-year terms.

Bracketing of the candidates for governor and lieutenant governor of the same party is not favored by the League.

Legislators Compensation The pension system for state legislators should be similar to state employees retirement system and be actuarially sound. The amount of the legislative pay should not be in the Constitution. The League does favor a constitutional amendment that would outline a per diem formula based on the average Rhode Island earned income.

The mileage allowance should be commensurate with that allowed to federal employees. The cost of health insurance plans should be paid by legislators at the group rate available through the state. There should be no life insurance benefit. Vouchered expenses should continue to be allowed, but the League does not favor any unvouchered allowance for expenses.

The League favors an impartial commission to make recommendations to the General Assembly on those matters of compensation not in the Constitution. The Legislature could accept, refuse or reject the recommendations. This commission would be appointed by the governor and would not include legislators. These benefits would be reviewed by the commission at regular intervals.

Judicial System

Adopted 1975

The League supports:

  • A single trial court, a statewide probate court, and improved criminal prosecution at the local level;

  • More adequate funding, initiation of new programs, funding and continuation of proven programs, and improvement of court facilities;

  • A non-partisan commission of non-professionals and lawyers named by the Governor to nominate a panel of candidates for a given bench vacancy, from which the Governor must make his appointment;

  • Procedures to help reduce the unjustified disparity of sentences and to ensure fairness and purposefulness;

  • A continuing study of Family Court.