Just when you think you’re getting a handle on the issue of how to reconfigure the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) so that the council can become more responsive to issues of systemic and environmental racism, along comes Common Cause Rhode Island to spin the conversation in a different direction.
“The Senate has been very active on this issue of attempting to restructure the CRMC dating back to 2007,” said Senate Environment and Agriculture Committee Chair Susan Sosnowski (Democrat, District 37, Block Island, South Kingstown). The reason the Senate took up this task is because of the separation of powers legislation and subsequent court decisions that ruled that the legislature cannot put limits on the executive branch (the Governor of Rhode Island) as to the qualifications of members chosen for boards and councils, beyond the function of “advice and consent.”
Under consideration in the Senate Committee was Senate Bill 2955 that “would amend the composition, size, and requirements of memberships on the Coastal Resources Management Council.” There is currently no version of the bill in the House. The bill was submitted through Sosnowski by Governor Gina Raimondo.
As I understand it, a council such as the CRMC can be legally structured to have ten members, but no limits can be legislatively placed on the board’s make-up. That is, the legislature cannot require the Governor to select members of the council to have particular educational backgrounds, have particular expertise in special subject areas, require a balance of people from different parts of the state, or require nominees to have different socio-economic backgrounds or racial diversity. All those decisions are up to the Governor.
What the legislature can do is operate in an advice and consent capacity, that is, tell the Governor what they would like to see in potential board or council members, suggest people they would like to see appointed, and vote down nominees they find unacceptable.
John Marion, executive director of Common Cause Rhode Island, explains some of it in the video below.
“During that 2005-2006 period there was a compromise reached that recognized that Article 9 Section 5 gives the Governor absolute appointing authority to choose who they may,” said Marion. “The legislature can’t, through statute, impinge on that authority. So many, not all but many, or maybe even most of the reconstituted boards included compromise language that said the Governor shall give ‘due consideration,'” to legislative qualifications.
“We believe constitutionally the Senate’s role comes in the ‘advice and consent,'” said Marion. “So your time to say, ‘We think someone sensitive to these issues’ or ‘someone from this community’ should be on this board if you think the Governor isn’t giving due consideration to those factors, you reject that nominee, through the advice and consent process. We think constitutionally that’s where your role comes in.”
On the day before this hearing, the Senate confirmed three of Governor Raimondo’s re-appointments to the CRMC, despite a large turnout off people calling for greater racial and economic diversity on the Council. Members of the Senate Committee expressly said that proper time to reform the nomination process would be at the hearing the next day, when consideration of Senate bill 2955 would be held.
But in fact, this was a lie. The proper time to insist on better, more diverse members for the CRMC was at the hearing for the three reappointments. The Senate Committee, rather than do their duty to the people from No LNG in PVD! and other groups who asked for greater racial and socio-economic representation on the council, rubber stamped the Governor’s appointments (under the watchful eye of Senate President Dominick Ruggerio), all the while making facile arguments about the difference between systemic and personal racism.
The Senate Committee paid lip service to greater representation on the CRMC, but not only failed in their duty, they structured the conversation to ensure an outcome that maintained a racist status quo.
Here’s the rest of the video:
Joshua Butera, Special Counsel for Rhode Island Governor Raimondo:
Paul Roselli, of the Burrillville Land Trust and the Rhode Island Association of Conservation Commissions:
Kristen Ivy Moses, executive director of Rhode Island Interfaith Power and Light:
Topher Hamblett of Save The Bay supports the legislation, but then again his group helped to craft it:
Anthony DeSisto, legal counsel for the CRMC:
The Senate Committee discusses:
The committee voted to pass the legislation onto the Senate floor. Senator Dawn Euer (Democrat, District 13, Newport, Jamestown) voted in opposition. Senator Jeanine Calkin (Democrat, District 30, Warwick) abstained.
Senator William Conley Jr (Democrat, District 18, East Providence) did not attend the meeting.
Here’s some of my coverage:
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