Gov. Donald Carcieri '65 made prodigious use of his veto powers last week. Carcieri nixed more than two dozen of the 243 bills that the General Assembly passed during the recent special session. Some of these vetoes were reasonable, some were questionable and a few were downright wrong. Particularly blameworthy were Carcieri's attempts to delay important reforms of state policy on probation violations, domestic partnership benefits and the replacement of U.S. senators.
Under existing state law, convicts released on probation can be sent back to prison to serve the rest of their sentence if they are charged with a parole violation — even if a jury finds them not guilty or the charges are dropped or dismissed. The Assembly passed a bill that would mandate the release of convicts imprisoned on parole violations for which they were subsequently acquitted, unless they had already been charged with a new offense. This is an eminently sound measure that will curb an ongoing injustice, increase Rhode Islanders' respect for the law and reduce the strain on the prison system during a time of staggering state budget deficits. The chief reason that some oppose the bill is that it may prompt prosecutors to seek unduly long sentences, but this rings hollow given the low likelihood of the mandatory re-imprisonment provision applying to a given suspended sentence.
Another hard-hearted and wrong-headed Carcieri veto denied domestic partners the right to claim the remains of their deceased loved ones and make their funeral arrangements. Though current state law does not have a unitary definition of domestic partnership, the legislation the governor vetoed would use the solid standard of "an exclusive, intimate and committed relationship" existing for at least a year prior to the death of the departed. Carcieri inadvertently revealed that his decision amounted to little more than callous political grandstanding when he claimed that the bill represents "the incremental erosion of the principles surrounding traditional marriage" and demanded that the Assembly put domestic partnerships on the ballot instead. In reality, the bill is narrowly tailored to mitigate the grief of unmarried partners, gay and straight, and preserve them from pointless bureaucratic hurdles placed in their way at the worst possible time. Playing politics with this measure is nothing short of despicable.
The third ill-advised veto wasn't as obviously reprehensible, but it constituted a disservice to the people of Rhode Island nonetheless. Carcieri acted to preserve the power of his office by rejecting a bill that would have stripped the governor of the ability to fill unexpected vacancies in the U.S. Senate. Under the proposed legislation, senators would be replaced by special elections or a question on the regular ballot, depending on the timing of the vacancy. The addition of emergency provisions would significantly improve the bill, but even in its current form, it would help to restore Rhode Islanders' trust in their government — and more importantly, their control over it — in the wake of the Blagojevich scandal and the context of this state's history of public corruption.
The good news is that all three bills were widely supported in the Assembly and are very likely to receive the three-fifths vote from each chamber needed to override the vetoes once the legislature reconvenes in January. Nonetheless, the delay in the enactment of these positive reforms could have serious consequences for Rhode Islanders, individually and generally. Carcieri has added three regrettable items to his legacy.
Editorials are written by The Herald's editorial page board. Send comments to editorials-at-browndailyherald.com.