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Monday, August 18, 2014

“No business wants to come to a place where the government can’t be trusted”

Rep. Frank Ferri testifies on his bill that would reform pay day loans
in RI. In the background is Bill Murphy, former House
speaker, a lobbyist opposed to the reform
Frank Ferri, who bills himself as a “progressive Democrat for Lt. Governor,” released a plan today that would distance legislators from lobbyists during the session, and double the time retired legislators have to wait to become paid lobbyists.

“No business wants to come to a place where the government can’t be trusted,” according to his plan, which you can read here.

Ferri, a state representative from Warwick running for lt. governor against Ralph Mollis and Dan McKee, said:

“The system is broken, and to make matters worse, those tasked with oversight and compliance responsibility have not done their jobs. It’s no wonder Rhode Islanders have lost trust in government. Public service should be about advancing and protecting the interests of a legislator’s constituents, not building relationships that the legislator can use later to pad his or her wallet.”
Ferri’s proposal would double the amount of time – from one year to two – that a former legislator would have to wait to become a lobbyist. A committee chair would have to wait for years under the proposal and the House speaker and Senate president would have to wait six years. It would also ban lobbyists from loaning legislators money.

It would also prohibit lobbyists and political action committees from donating to legislators during the session. In explaining why, he lifts the veil a bit on how the sausage is actually made on Smith Hill.
“In a practice that has become so ingrained within our state’s political culture, legislators typically hold fundraisers every week during the legislative session,” according to the proposal. “It is so commonplace, that committee hearings are often scheduled around these events.”
These social hours are, on the surface, harmless opportunities for legislators to mingle with constituents and each other. However, for professional lobbyists, they provide unmatched hours of special access to Assembly leadership and committee chairs – access that the average constituent can’t afford. These fundraisers have replaced the smoke-filled back rooms of years past to become the modern day place where legislation is really won and lost.”

The plan would also make available online the names of lobbyists who testify on legislation.
“The committees already collect this information in the form of sign-in sheets. Instead of these sheets being quietly filed away, they should be posted online so that the public can see for themselves who is speaking for or against a particular bill. The House and Senate could adopt this policy immediately, and Ferri has written to the House Speaker and the Senate President to ask them to adopt the policy in their respective 2015 rules.”
Bob Plain is the editor/publisher of Rhode Island's Future. Previously, he's worked as a reporter for several different news organizations both in Rhode Island and across the country.