Binding and Bound by Legislation

Interesting things happen when news producers order wall-to-wall coverage of a storm set to arrive in a day or two and visibility of anything but snow moves toward zero. Over the last twelve hours, two such things came flashing out of the blizzard of pre-blizzard forecasting and caught in my eye via email.

The first was in the humdrum yet esoteric area of legislative rules for the Rhode Island House of Representatives. H5350 — courtesy of Majority Whip Stephen Ucci (D, Johnston, Cranston) and Deputy Majority Leader Arthur Corvese (D, North Providence) — would change the rules for lesser representatives to make changes to the proposed budget.

Currently, the only limitation on amendments proposed from the floor is that they must be submitted to Legislative Council and available for other legislators to review at least two days before the budget vote.  The proposed change would, in essence, prevent legislators from putting forward amendments at all.  They’ll be able to suggest them to the Finance Committee, but that’s about as far as their ability to represent the Rhode Islanders who elected them will go.

It may or may not be related, but I was just thinking, yesterday, what a large number of bills are being assigned to the Finance Committee even though they don’t seem to have much to do with the state government’s finances.

The other bit of legislative shrapnel to pierce the snow coverage is the annual bid to give union employees of public schools (teachers and others) access to binding arbitration in matters of money. According to a prescribed schedule, contract disputes between the local school committee and the union will make their way to three unelected arbitrators who will pick and choose from the “last best offers” of each side and whose decisions will be final.

The law would require the arbitrators to consider such things as the town’s “ability to pay,” the pay in other Rhode Island districts, and the pay available through other professions with similar “education qualification and professional development requirements.”

H5340 carries the names of Anastasia Williams (D, Providence), Scott Guthrie (D, Coventry), Spencer Dickinson (D, South Kingstown), Deborah Fellela (D, Johnston), and Mary Duffy Messier (D, Pawtucket, East Providence).  For those keeping score, Fellela is a school secretary in Providence, Messier is a retired Cumberland teacher, and Guthrie is a retired North Kingstown fireman.

Both bill are already on the calendar to be heard this coming Tuesday, the 12th — H5350 by the Rules Committee and H5340 by the Labor Committee.


Of the following two issues related to Rhode Island’s public schools, which one is a greater concern?

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