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Question 2 would give RI Ethics Commission authority to investigate lawmakers

Ballot Question 2 would restore Ethics Commission jurisdiction over Rhode Island General Assembly members. (WJAR)

Rhode Island voters will be asked Nov. 8 if they want to give the state Ethics Commission the power to investigate legislators.

Government watchdog group Common Cause is leading the charge to get it approved.

"The General Assembly is the most powerful branch of government in Rhode Island and right now, there's no police on the beat making sure they don't engage in conflicts of interest," said John Marion of Common Cause.

Conflicts like voting for bills that steer money for a lawmaker's own benefit -- or that of a relative or friend.

A "yes" vote would restore the power to the Ethics Commission that the state's high court took away seven years ago.

"When this was in place prior to 2009, it was very effective at identifying lawmakers who didn't know where the boundaries of good behavior were." Marion said.

Both chambers of the legislature unanimously voted earlier this year to send the question to voters.

That includes House Republican leader Brian Newberry, even though he opposes it.

"I knew my constituents wanted to see it on the ballot, but I personally, as a private citizen, will be voting against it at the ballot box. I think it's a bad idea," Newberry said.

Newberry said he thinks the wording of the proposal is too broad and lawmakers could face complaints for what they say, not just votes or conflicts.

"I think it's window dressing. I don't think it's going to solve the ethical problems in the state. If you want better politicians and better ethics in state government, I think people need to elect better people to the state government," Newberry said.

But Newberry concedes the ethics measure will likely pass.

The specific language of all the Rhode Island ballot questions can be found in the Voter Information Handbook.

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