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RI State Report: Speaker Fox’s Home, Office Raided + Reaction

Saturday, March 22, 2014

 

This week’s State Report centers on the FBI and State Police raid conducted on House Speaker Gordon Fox’s home and State House office Friday morning. In addition to the developing Fox story, we’ll also take a look at several new pieces of legislation introduced this week that tackle a variety of issues—including sex trafficking, gun violence, and ethics. Additionally, we’ll also examine legislation approved by the Senate that looks to consider funding elementary and secondary education through the state income tax.

Speaker Fox's Home and Office Raided

Law enforcement officials raided the office and home of Speaker of the House Gordon Fox on Friday morning as part of a joint investigation by the U.S. attorney's office, the FBI, IRS and Rhode Island State Police.

Following the raid, the United States Attorney's Office for the District of Rhode Island confirmed that there was an ongoing law enforcement matter, but did not confirm an investigation into Fox.

"I'm not going to offer any comment at all, but to confirm the obvious, that there is a federal and state law enforcement presence at the State House in an ongoing law enforcement matter," said Jim Martin with the Office.

Larry Berman, spokesman for the Speaker of the House gave a brief statement to the media regarding the raid on Friday, which can be viewed here.

Political Fallout

Following news of the raid, several Rhode Island politicians issued statements calling on Fox, a Democrat, to resign.

Fellow House member Rep. John Lombardi told GoLocal on Friday that a change in House leadership was necessary. "I think he's got to go," said Lombardi. "How can he not?" As for who should replace Speaker Fox, Rep. Lombardi stated, “"It's time to bring in people not associated with leadership."

In addition to Rep. Lombardi, Rhode Island’s Republican Candidates for Governor also called on Fox to resign on Friday.

“It’s a sad day when Rhode Island State Police and Federal Law Enforcement have to raid state offices,” said Republican Candidate Ken Block in a statement issued Friday. “The events of today serve as a strong reminder that the next Governor must reform Rhode Island's system of government and end the culture of back office deal making and one-party rule. Rhode Islanders deserve politicians focused on doing the right thing, not worrying about personal gain or the next election.”

Cranston Mayor Allan Fung also called for Fox to step down stating, “I am calling on Speaker Fox to resign from the speakership while this investigation is pending. It would be impossible for him to govern while being investigated by the F.B.I., the I.R.S., the U.S. Attorney, and the Rhode Island State Police.”

Fung added, “This situation shines light on the fact that too much power rests in the speakership. This is just one example of why it is necessary for Rhode Island to hold a constitutional convention and put more power into the hands of the Governor and the citizens of Rhode Island."

Ethics Violations

In January, the Rhode Island Ethics Commission fined Speaker Fox $1500 for violating the state's code of ethics. The Speaker was fined $500 for each of the three years between 2007 and 2009 he did not report income for legal work with the Providence Economic Development Partnership, the quasi-public agency under the Department of Planning and Development for the City of Providence.

In 2004, Speaker Fox was fined $10,000 by the Ethics Commission while House Majority leader for voting on a no-bid deal for GTECH in which his law firm was involved.

Fox was first elected to the legislature in 1992 and was elected Speaker of the House in February 2010.

 

For more legislative news from the past week, check out the slideshow below.

 

Related Slideshow: RI State Report: More News of the Week - 3/22/14

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Costa bill increases penalties for sex trafficking

Stating that sex trafficking is more prevalent than the public realizes, Rep. Doreen Costa (R-District 31 – North Kingstown, Exeter) has introduced legislation to increase the penalties for sex trafficking a minor as well as for obstruction or interference with enforcement of sex trafficking laws.

The representative’s bill would increase the penalties for sex trafficking of a minor from 40 years imprisonment to 50 years imprisonment and increase the penalties for obstruction or interference with enforcement of sex trafficking laws from 20 years to 35 years imprisonment. It would also increase the fine from $20,000 to $40,000.

“This bill is supported by 61 representatives who have signed on to co-sponsor it. In addition it has the support of State Police Superintendent Col. Stephen G. O’Donnell and Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin as well as the Rhode Island Brotherhood of Correctional Officers,” said Rep. Costa. “Those who choose to commit and aid others in committing this horrible crime must be punished.”

The House Judiciary Committee will hear this bill during its regularly scheduled meeting scheduled on Tuesday, March 25 after the House session concludes. The meeting will take place in Room 101 of the State House.

Click here to read the bill in its entirety.

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Assembly passes Commerce Corp. bills making technical changes to 2013 law

The General Assembly this week approved and will send to the governor legislation amending a law enacted last year that improved the transparency and accountability of the Economic Development Corporation and re-branded it as the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation, moving the agency under an Executive Office of Commerce in 2015.

The bills correct some technical issues with the new law, specifically clarifying that the EDC is changing its name to, but not being replaced by, the Commerce Corporation. To that end, the legislation deletes language that implies the contrary, adds additional language which extends the name change to important documents such as bylaws and regulations, and updates the statutory section relating to the board’s membership, which has been amended several times in recent years. 

“With these technical changes completed, the General Assembly looks forward to a new and reinvigorated partnership with Commerce RI, an agency of government fully committed to creating jobs and helping put our citizens to work,” said Senator Sheehan.

As part of the changes made by last year’s legislation, the executive board of the newly-named Commerce Corporation is required to create clear performance measures and statements of purpose for its programs and adhere to a number of transparency requirements. The new law mandates the creation of guidelines, principals and processes for all loans, loan guarantees and financing programs, including risk assessments and metrics – items that will help deter future actions like the approval of the 38 Studios loan.

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Satchell calls for study of funding education with income tax

On Thursday, the Senate approved legislation introduced by Sen. Adam J. Satchell to establish a legislative commission to examine funding elementary and secondary education through the state income tax.

The joint resolution, 2014-S 2432aa, would create a 17-member study commission that would report its findings and recommendations to the General Assembly next January. The commission would be composed of four members of the Senate and four members of the House of Representatives, the president of the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns, the president of the Rhode Island Association of School Committees, the president of the Rhode Island School Superintendents Association, the president of the RI Chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, the president of the RI chapter of the National Education Association, the president of the Rhode Island Independent School Association, and two members of the public.

In some states, said Sen. Satchell, sales and income taxes are the chief sources of funding for education. But on a local level, these funds usually come from property taxes.

“There is also little argument that property taxes are high in Rhode Island, that our citizens need some tax relief,” said Sen. Satchell. “Considering the amount of money spent on education, I think we owe it to the citizens to determine if a different funding approach – through the income tax – would be more equitable and dependable.”

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Behavioral Health and Firearms Safety Task Force legislation

The co-chairwomen of the task force that studied the nexus of mental health laws and gun rights have introduced legislation recommended by the panel to submit more data to the national database used to screen gun purchasers.

The legislation (2014-H 79392014-S 2774), submitted in the House Thursday by Representative Ruggiero and today in the Senate by Senator Cool Rumsey, would enact one of the task force’s major recommendation: that Rhode Island begin submitting limited additional information to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) about people who are involuntarily committed in court for mental health treatment and pose a threat of violence to themselves or others. Rhode Island already submits relevant criminal records to NICS, and requires all gun purchasers to submit to a NICS check to ensure they are not disqualified from owning a gun.

“We’ve worked hard to find the delicate balance between protecting public safety and not unnecessarily treading on people’s individual rights. This legislation is a good step for Rhode Island, helping us to keep guns out of the hands of people who have been adjudicated and found to have a very serious problem and to be dangerous, without violating their privacy. I’m proud to submit this legislation,” said Rep. Ruggiero (D-Dist. 74, Jamestown, Middletown.)

Under the legislation District Court, which adjudicates involuntary commitment of individuals to mental health care, would submit limited information to NICS about commitment. Only those who are adjudicated in court, involuntarily committed as a result, and also deemed a danger to themselves or others would be included, and only enough information to identify the individual would be submitted, not any information about the nature of the person’s mental health issue. Those who seek mental health treatment on their own would not be affected.

The legislation also establishes a panel of mental health and law enforcement professionals to which a person who is disqualified from owning a gun under this legislation may seek to have the disqualification lifted.

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Sheehan proposes constitutional amendment on ethics to go before state voters

Sen. James C. Sheehan (D-Dist. 36, Narragansett, North Kingstown) has introduced legislation that would ask Rhode Island voters to decide – through a constitutional amendment – the makeup and powers of the Ethics Commission and specifically its authority over members of the General Assembly.

The language proposed in the constitutional amendment that would go before voters, said Sen. Sheehan, is “the result of years of working with various parties to find a compromise resolution that preserves free speech while restoring the Ethics Commission’s jurisdiction over core legislative duties.”       

One proposed constitutional change would clarify language in the much-debated “speech in debate” clause of the constitution that shields lawmakers from prosecution or civil suits based on their actions as legislators, such as proposing or voting on a bill.

As proposed in the Sheehan resolution, the language of that article of the constitution would specify that “for any speech in debate in either house, no member shall be questioned in any other place except by the Ethics Commission, provided that members of the General Assembly shall be free, without question to penalty, to express an opinion or engage in debate, verbally or in writing, relative to any matter within their core legislative duties.”

“When voters approved the establishment of the Ethics Commission more than two decades ago, the assumption was that ethical behavior would be expected of all elected officials,” said Sen. Sheehan. “However, the mere existence of the Ethics Commission was never intended to stifle debate or keep legislators from carrying out their duties. The language I propose should make that abundantly clear.”

 
 

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