2014-09-04 / Opinion

Late Night Decisions Cost Voters

To the Editor:

The midnight mechanizations of the Rhode Island legislature that changed the casino ballot questions smacks of insider dealing and backroom politics. The final amended version of House Bill 8294 (related to the approval of table games at Newport Grand) resulted in a change which calls for having a single statewide vote on the casino ballot question instead of one question statewide and one for Newport. And these final amendments to H.B. 8294 were made so late in the day that Newporters had no opportunity to comment on them.

After the legislation passed in this late-night session, the change was mentioned in the press, but it was not covered extensively. The Newport City Council was not officially notified of these changes in the ballot questions. The Newport Board of Canvassers was not notified of the change until Aug. 21, when the Secretary of State’s office called to say the Newport ballot could not be certified because it contained both the local and state casino question.

The League of Women Voters believes that governmental bodies must protect the citizen’s right to know by giving adequate notice of proposed changes, holding open meetings, and making public records accessible. Transparency in the legislative process is essential. This change in the casino referendum question was neither transparent nor informative.

Sen. Leonidas Raptakis, D-Coventry, one of two who voted against the legislation, explained his no vote to the Providence Journal saying, “To read a 15-page bill at 2:30 in the morning is … a dangerous precedent,” he said. “That’s why I can’t support the bill.”

We agree. Too many late night or rushed deals, like 38 Studios, have cost Rhode Island voters dearly.

Our elected representatives bear the responsibility to understand legislation that is passed and to account for their votes, especially when they sponsor the legislation. This late-night legislating does not serve citizens well nor does it serve the legislative process in the state.

We urge Newport County citizens to contact their representatives and express outrage at this broken system.

Susan Wells

President, League of Women Voters

Newport County

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