AP News

RI moves to rein in quasi-public agencies

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Quasi-public agencies in Rhode Island like the Turnpike and Bridge Authority and Airport Corp. would get new rules on accountability and ethics under legislation passed by state lawmakers and now awaiting action by Gov. Lincoln Chafee.

The new rules would also require such agencies and commissions to conduct performance reviews every three years so lawmakers and the public can see how they're carrying out their missions. Lawmakers approved the changes before adjourning for the year last week.

"These agencies are empowered to collect fees and generate revenue and to manage significant public resources, but the majority are exempt from many kinds of public oversight," said Sen. James Sheehan, D-North Kingstown and the sponsor of the legislation in the Senate.

Chafee, a Democrat, has not signaled what he plans to do with the legislation. He must act on it this week or it will take effect without his signature.

The state has more than a dozen quasi-public agencies, which were established under state law and are typically led by government-appointed board members, but which can operate independently of the state' General Assembly or governor. Their budgets are often not subject to legislative oversight, and many lawmakers have argued they should be reined in.

The new rules would require quasi-public agencies to document their marketing, lobbying and compensation costs.

The proposed changes to the way quasi-public boards and agencies operate comes as Rhode Island wrestles with the fallout from its failed gamble on 38 Studios, the now-bankrupt video game company started by former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling. The $75 million loan guarantee give to Schilling's company was approved by the state's Economic Development Corp., one of the state's most powerful quasi-public agencies.

The EDC was the subject of separate legislation this year that would rename the agency the Rhode Island Commerce Corp. and commission a new mission statement and code of ethics for board members.

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