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NEW: Campaign Launched Against RI Constitutional Convention

Wednesday, April 30, 2014


Citizens for Responsible Government, a coalition of Rhode Island individuals and organizations including the AFL-CIO, has launched a campaign to defeat a potential Constitutional Convention in the Ocean State.

“A Constitutional Convention is a significant threat to our civil rights,” stated coalition spokesman Pablo Rodriguez, who is also President of Latino Public Radio. “Across the country, issues like affirmative action, reproductive rights, gay rights, worker rights, senior citizen rights, and immigrant rights, have become fodder for expensive statewide campaigns mounted by well-funded, out-of-state special interests.”

George Nee, President of the Rhode Island AFL-CIO, said, “We cannot let wealthy individuals and corporations buy our Constitution. A Constitutional Convention, for all intents and purposes, puts our Constitution up for sale. In states across the country with voter initiative, deep-pocketed special interest groups and wealthy individuals are distorting issues and hijacking local campaigns. Rhode Island does not need a constitutional convention to change our governance. Constitutional changes may be done, and have been done in the past, by questions placed on the ballot by the General Assembly. A Constitutional Convention is expensive, and our money can be better spent elsewhere.”

The coalition also announced the launch of their website, which is www.RICFRG.org.

Broad-Based Coalition

Coalition members include RI ACLU, RI AFL-CIO, RI Alliance for Retired Americans, AFSCME, Central Falls Teachers Union, RI Commission for Human Rights, RI Commission on Occupational Safety and Health, RI Economic Progress Institute, Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals, Fuerza Laboral, Humanists of RI, IATSE Local 23, Jobs With Justice, National Association of Letter Carriers, National Council of Jewish Women RI, Providence Central Labor Council, Providence NAACP, Planned Parenthood Southern New England, RI National Association of Social Workers, RI NOW, RI Pride, RI Progressive Democrats, Secular Coalition for Rhode Island, UAW Local 7770, USW Local 16031, UWUA Local 310, UFCW Local 328, UNITE HERE, United Nurses and Allied Professionals, Warwick Teachers Union Local 915, and the Women’s Health and Education Fund.

Paula Hodges, Director of Planned Parenthood Southern New England, stated, “Women should be very concerned about a Constitutional Convention because ballot measures have been used disproportionately across the country to impact and restrict reproductive rights. The 1986 Constitutional Convention in Rhode Island quickly spiraled from ‘good government’ to abortion politics. This is not the way to debate and decide these issues.”

Jen Stevens, of Rhode Island PRIDE, stated, “One year after winning equal marriage rights through our state legislature we remember our long struggle and recognize that the same groups and individuals who opposed gay rights, and funded our opposition, will wish to play a role in a constitutional convention. Every Rhode Islander should be concerned about attempts by these same organizations to leverage a Constitutional Convention in order to roll back or stifle LGBTQ and other minority rights. A Constitutional Convention cannot provide a better alternative to our current state legislature's ability to ensure LGBTQ rights. We are gravely concerned that those who would be elected in a small turn-out, special election will not reflect the wishes or diversity of the LGBTQ community. That is why Rhode Island Pride stands in solidarity with this coalition.”

Rodriguez stated, “While our opponents claim a constitutional convention could improve our governmental structure, we believe this is a red herring that will certainly serve as a vehicle for socially divisive amendments. Passage of a constitutional convention will lead to disastrous results for Rhode Islanders.”



Related Slideshow: The Ten Biggest Issues Facing the RI General Assembly in 2014

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The Budget

The latest report by the House Finance Committee illustrates that Rhode Island will start the next fiscal year, which starts in July 2014, with an estimated deficit of $149 million. The report shows the FY 2014 Budget contains numerous overspending problems—meaning that the General Assembly will have to cut costs somewhere.

So where will the cuts come from? Lawmakers will have to examine the state's costliest programs. According to the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council, the most expensive government programs in Rhode Island are Elementary and Secondary Education, Public Welfare, Pensions, Higher Education, and Interest on Debt. Click here to view a comprehensive list of the state's costliest government programs.

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Bankrupt Communities

The state may be two years removed from Central Falls filing for bankruptcy, but 2014 could be the year that other financially strapped Rhode Island communities follow suit—most notably Woonsocket and West Warwick.

With bankruptcy on the table in both 2012 and 2013, this year poses more financial uncertainty for the cash-strapped city of Woonsocket. Earlier this year, the city's bond rating was downgraded due to the city's numerous financial issues—including a growing deficit, increasing unfunded pension liability, and a severe cash crunch.

Similarly, the embattled town of West Warwick faces a variety of financial questions in 2014. With its pension fund set to run out by 2017, the town must address its unfunded liabilities this year if it hopes to regain financial stability. That, coupled with an increasing school department deficit, make West Warwick a contender for bankruptcy.

Look for Woonsocket and West Warwick's elected state officials to address their respective cities' financial issues in the upcoming legislative session.

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Sales Tax

With the Special Joint Legislative Commission to Study the Sales Tax Repeal set to report their findings to the General Assembly in February, the possibility of sales tax repeal in Rhode Island could become a reality in 2014.

"Our sales tax is killing small businesses, especially those in border communities," said Rep. Jan P. Malik (D-Dist. 67, Barrington, Warren), the commission's chair. "How can Rhode Island continue to compete at 7 percent, with Massachusetts already lower than us and considering reducing its sales tax even farther? How can Rhode Island restaurants compete at 8 percent? They can’t. We need to find a way to fix this, and a serious discussion of our sales tax is a discussion we need to have, now, before more small stores close their doors."

In addition to Malik, proponents of sales tax elimination include the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity and Forbes Magazine.

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EDC Reorganization to Commerce Corporation

On January 1, 2014, the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation will be replaced with the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation—a move which has the potential to impact to adversely affect recipients of federal funding contracts made possible currently through the EDC.

This could include the state's Broadband Initiative, Brownfields program, and other contracts made through the EDC. As a result, recipients will now be required to re-apply for federal funding as of January 1st.

The massive overhaul of the EDC was prompted by the 38 Studios debacle, which is projected to cost Rhode Island taxpayers $102 million. 38 Studios, the now defunct video game company, filed bankruptcy in May 2012 just months after securing a $75 million loan from the EDC.

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Marijuana Legalization

With the state's marijuana decriminalization law going into effect this past April, Rhode Island may be a candidate for marijuana legalization in 2014.

Legislation to legalize marijuana has been introduced in each of the last three years, but has never been voted on. Earlier this year, Rep. Edith Ajello (D-Dist. 3, Providence), who is chair of the Judiciary Committee, introduced the bill in the House. Roughly half of the Judiciary Committee supports the measure.

The bill also has the support of the Marijuana Policy Project, an organization focusing on drug policy reform, which hopes to legalize marijuana in ten states, including Rhode Island.

Approximately 52 percent of Rhode Island voters support legalizing marijuana for recreational use, according to a Public Policy Polling survey conducted in January.

Marijuana is currently legal in Colorado and Washington.

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Constitutional Convention

Come November 2014, Rhode Island voters will likely be asked whether they wish to convene a constitutional convention, which involves individuals gathering for the purpose of writing a new constitution or revising the existing one.

Every 10 years, Rhode Island voters are asked whether they wish to amend or revise the constitution. Voters rejected this opportunity in 1994 and 2004. Although rare, Rhode Islanders can vote to hold a constitutional convention and in effect, take control over the state government.

If approved, a special election is held to elect 75 delegates, who then convene to propose amendments to the Rhode Island Constitution. These amendments are then voted on in the next general election.

The likelihood of this occurring highly depends on if the General Assembly does its job to ensure residents that the state is heading in the right direction financially and structurally.

Rhode Island’s last constitutional convention took place in 1986. It proposed 14 amendments—eight of which were adopted by voters.

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Education Board Structure

Less than a year after the General Assembly created the 11-member Rhode Island Board of Education to replace the Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education and the Board of Governors for Higher Education, there are multiple questions surrounding the structure of this newly consolidated agency.

Although lawmakers voted to merge the state's two education boards in June, the Board of Education now wants to split its agency to create two separate councils—one with the statutory authority over kindergarten to grade 12 and another governing higher education.

The Board of Education will present its proposal to the General Assembly during its next legislative session and lawmakers will once again determine how the agency should be structured.

The Board of Education currently governs all public education in Rhode Island.

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Sakonnet Bridge Tolls

Rhode Island may have implemented tolls on the Sakonnet River Bridge this past year, but they could be gone by 2014.

On January 15, the East Bay Bridge Commission—which was established to allow lawmakers and officials investigate various funding plans, potentially eliminating the need for tolls on the Sakonnet River Bridge—will report its findings to the General Assembly. The General Assembly is then required to vote on the issue by April 1.

The commission was established in July following the General Assembly's approval of the 10-cent toll.

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Superman Building

Located on Westminster Street in Downtown Providence, the former Bank of America Building (commonly referred to as the Superman Building) may be the tallest building in the state, but as of right now, it's just a vacant piece of property.

The building's current owner, High Rock Westminster LLC, was most recently looking for a total of $75 million to rehabilitate the skyscraper—$39 million of which would come from the state.

With the sting of the 38 Studios deal still fresh in the minds of lawmakers, a $39 million tax credit appears unlikely.

The question of what will become of the Superman Building remains to be seen. 

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Master Lever

Championed by Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Block (while head of the RI Moderate Party), the movement to eliminate the Master Level, which allows voters to vote for all candidates of one political party with a stroke of the pen, is poised to heat up in 2014.

Despite Block's strong push to repeal the 1939 law, the measure did not get a vote in the General Assembly last session.

In October, Block told GoLocal that he believes that House Speaker Gordon Fox is responsible for the General Assembly not voting on the proposal.

“Despite the support of a majority of 42 state Representatives, thousands of emails from concerned RI voters and unanimous testimony of more than 100 people who came to the State House in person to testify that the Master Lever had to go, the Speaker personally killed the bill in the most unaccountable way possible—he did not allow the House Judiciary Committee to vote on the bill,” Block told GoLocal.

Speaker Fox has stated on multiple occasions that he believes the Master Level is a legitimate tool that many voters use.


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This "Broad-Based Coalition" is nothing more than branches of the Democratic version of H.Y.D.R.A. = Union leadership. Wonder why unions would be against a convention that could very well wipe out their power within the state....way to play along GOLOCALPROV

Comment #1 by Silence Dogood on 2014 04 30

Communists and socialists don't want to lose the gravy train their riding. We have the highest unemployment in the country. You would think the progressives would want change.

Comment #2 by Redd Ratt on 2014 04 30

Unemployment doesn't concern those who would rather stay home and collect... and Nee has a lot of nerve talking about buying or hijacking anything - especially campaigns!!

Of course the citizens of the State will fall to the self desires of the special interests... What would we expect? We have an entire population to worry about and the one-trick ponies [LGBTQ, etc...] are only concerned about themselves.

Comment #3 by David Allen on 2014 04 30

Only people who want RI to maintain the "crap-hole" status is currently has (supporting only unions, special interest groups and lining politicians' pockets) don't want this convention to happen.

The convention is critical to making this state viable again (including strengthening the governor's office and potentially joining Governor and the current (useless) Lt Governor positions together); and the special interests will say anything to scare people into thinking otherwise. We could also see the long-overdue "Right-to-work" come via convention, and finally term limits for our legislators!

You'd have to be a complete idiot to think we don't need to change things in RI - things that our legislature just doesn't have the willpower or the cajones to get done)!

Comment #4 by Russ Hryzan on 2014 04 30

Imagine this bull shirt! All the special interests who want to hold RI hostage, are scared to death of the "people" holding a Constitutional Convention. I've witnessed a lot of nonsense in this state during the past few decades but this is an all time low, even for Mr. Nee and his socialist crew.

These myopic, self centered zealots, have finally come out from the shadows to show the people how dangerous they truly are. Disgusting doesn't even begin to explain their action.

Ladies and gents, it's waaayyyy past time that we took our state back from the entitlement experts who permeate our society. Now's the time, if ever there will be a time!

Comment #5 by Walter Miller on 2014 04 30

Unfortunately, with a small little "article" as this, which explains nothing to the average voter as to what a constitutional convention would mean, and as with all things "liberal and progressive" they choose to be divisive and state that the big bad out of state and wealthy people want to ruin our good little state. Walter you said it so well, this money grubbing miscreants who run unions don't want change, unless it means more money to them. How the he$$ can we keep on running a state like this. A joke, that's what we are, and while I know all those with their hands in each others pockets think they are smarter than the average bear, I hope and pray that my fellow RI voters wake up from the dream they are in and start paying attention. Nothing is free, and we need jobs, and we need people in our government who want to work for the people and not for themselves.

Comment #6 by sasc voter on 2014 04 30

I second the notion that the usual group of special interest back slappers don't want their circle jerk interupted by input directly from the voters, who as a group may turn out to be pretty disgusted at the carryings on. Let's be sure that in THIS little "democracy certain incorrectly thinking groups don't get a voice. Besides, they're too hard to BUY.

Comment #7 by G Godot on 2014 04 30

The no coalition (Citizens for Responsible Government)should specifically and openly address the fact that a constitutional convention can only propose reforms for the public to consider and that the public can vote against any proposal it doesn't like. It must also address the democratic theory behind this type of institution and explain why the Framers and others were incorrect in developing this type of institution for specific purposes. For a brief discussion of such issues, see the FAQ at RhodeIslandConCon.info.

Comment #8 by J.H. Snider on 2014 05 01

Well sated "J.H.". That's why the whole anti-coalition is a joke.
First representatives need to be elected (no doubt the unions will try to manipulate this as well). If a Convention is held, then proposals are made to the delegates and approved/disapproved. All approved changes would then be sent to the voters for ratification at the next General Election. Seems like a very deliberative and open process. Oops, just want Mr. Nee and his liberal thinkers, don't want.

Comment #9 by Walter Miller on 2014 05 01

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