A Reminder of the Simple Rules Reform Needed at the RI Legislature

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With the removal of Representatives Raymond Hull, Raymond Phillips and Joseph Solomon from major committee assignments, apparently for voting against the truck-toll bill (though we cannot only be 99.9% sure of the reason, since the single individual with absolute control over all committee assignments under current House rules, Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, has not said why they occurred), this is a good time to re-up the 3 rules reforms that are absolutely necessary to set the Rhode Island House of Representatives on the path of becoming a legitimate democratic body once again, with special emphasis on the first…

  • A prohibition on members being removed from a committee, without their consent, after they’ve received their initial committee assignment from the Speaker (this is so non-radical a proposal, the Rhode Island Senate already does it).
     
  • Creation of a clear procedure — that everybody understands exists — for rank-and-file members to use to recall bills “held for further study” and place them on committee agendas for up-or-down votes.
     
  • Tidying-up the discharge petition procedure for freeing bills from committee, removing the current rule preventing their use until 50 days into the session, and removing any ambiguity about the “only one petition to be presented for a public bill or resolution during the course of a session” clause in the rules meaning one petition per bill, as opposed to one petition per year.

Bear in mind that leadership can only be partly blamed for the fact that committee reassignment can be used as punishment, as the total control that the House speaker has over committee assignments is not something that is etched in stone, but is a rule that the members of the Rhode Island House of Representatives themselves vote for, every session.

House and Senate rules however can be amended at any time, just like regular laws. And think of the interesting debate we might witness as part of a rules-reform bill — which Rhode Island representative do you think would make the dimmest-bulb statement of “We need to be controlled by the Speaker, because if you let committee members like me have actual freedom to decide on legislation, there will be chaos”.

One other note: It looks like Speaker Mattiello’s promise that “this House will be run by the Representatives themselves” has expired. Plan accordingly.



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