Governor signs bill that fixes longstanding conflict in law establishing Coastal Resources Management Council
STATE HOUSE – The governor has signed legislation to restructure the Coastal Resources Management Council to reflect separation of powers.
The legislation (2018-S 2955A , 2018-H 8319A) was sponsored by Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski and Rep. Kenneth A. Marshall.
Rhode Island voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2004 that established that the powers of the three branches of state government must be separate and distinct. That amendment meant that legislators could no longer serve on boards with administrative functions or directly appoint people to them.
Subsequent to the approval of the amendment, legislators approved many laws reconstituting state boards and commissions to remove legislators or members appointed by them. But until now, the Assembly had never passed one to address CRMC, which is charged with the primary responsibility for the continued planning and management of the resources of the state’s coastal region. The Assembly simply stopped appointing the two representatives, two senators specified by the law, as well as public members that the law says are to be appointed by the speaker of the House.
The result essentially complied with separation of powers, but left the council with 10 members instead of 16, and a law that requires seven of them for a quorum.
Senator Sosnowski, who served as a Senate member of the CRMC years ago, introduced similar legislation for CRMC for a number of years following adoption of the separation of powers amendment. She called the legislation “long overdue.”
“I’m elated that this bill has now passed. While legislators brought a lot to CRMC in terms of accountability and representation of our communities, the voters spoke clearly on separation of powers. CRMC is a hardworking council with vital responsibilities, and it’s done very well operating for many years under an outdated, unconstitutional law that doesn’t reflect its actual membership. Finally addressing this situation will help CRMC carry out the important work it does balancing coastal preservation and development,” said Senator Sosnowski (D-Dist. 37, South Kingstown, New Shoreham), who chairs the Senate Committee on Environment and Agriculture.
The legislation eliminates the two representatives, two senators and the four public members appointed by the House speaker, and increases the number of municipal officials appointed by the governor from four to six, at least five of whom must be from coastal communities. The bill leaves the three members of the public already appointed by the governor, as well as the director of the Department of Environmental Management, or her designee, who serves in an ex-officio capacity. It also changes the quorum from seven to six members, and gives the council more flexibility in bringing in outside experts in nonvoting, advisory roles when needed.
“CRMC, as the agency that manages coastal development, has a tremendously important role in a state whose identity is so closely linked to our coastline. Addressing this longstanding issue with its establishing legislation will help the council function efficiently, and will help ensure it has members with expertise in all the areas pertaining to its responsibilities. This is more than a symbolic gesture; it will actually give CRMC greater flexibility and help it fulfill its duties of protecting and enhance the Ocean State’s coastal areas,” said Representative Marshall (D-Dist. 68, Bristol, Warren).
For more information, contact:
Meredyth R. Whitty, Publicist
State House Room 20
Providence, RI 02903