How Senate Judiciary Distorted the Rules on the Master Lever

John Marion, of Common Cause, pointed out in the Capitol TV video of the Master Lever hearing (go here and click on the 4-8-14 thumbnail) that you can see Sen. Leonidas Raptakis (D, Coventry, East/West Greenwich) second the motion by Sen. Dawson Hodgson (R, East Greewich, Narragansett, North/South Kingstown) to pass the bill to eliminate the master lever onto the floor of the Senate for a vote (around time marker 84:50).  I’d add that you can actually hear Raptakis call out his second of the motion.

I agree with John that the hearing was an illustration of the fraud that is the General Assembly’s adherence to parliamentary procedure, but I think he’s incorrect on the specifics.

Under Robert’s Rules, which the Senate follows whenever its own rules aren’t explicit, members need no permission from the chairperson to present a motion (so I’d urge elected officials to stop with the niceties like “with the chairman’s permission” that serve only to confuse what the rules are).  The time for Hodgson’s point of order was when the chairman rebuffed the motion.

In that point of order, Hodgson should have stated that there is no reason that the members couldn’t have continued to discuss the matter; an motion to vote on passing a bill is not a motion to end discussion. Rather than simply having an open hearing they would specifically be discussing whether to pass the bill out of committee.

The problem is that acting  Chairman Paul Jabour (D, Providence)  asked Hodgson to hold his motion for the (probably incorrect) reason that he wanted debate to continue, and Hodgson agreed to the request.  He should have asserted that the motion had been made and seconded, so the motion was before the committee and must be voted on at the end of the discussion.

Having not done that, when Sen. Harold Metts (D, Providence) made his motion to hold the bill for further study, Hodgson should have objected on the grounds that he’d presented his motion first.  I don’t think he would have been correct on the rules of order, there, but (1) nobody would have known that, and (2) it would have served to illustrate the unfairness.

Having not done that, Hodgson should have made a point of order to prevent the other senators from making their weaselly speeches that they weren’t voting to kill the bill, but  really, honestly, truly wanted more time to study the issue (which has come up every year, at least for the last several, with copious public debate).  After all, if the grounds for Jabour’s request to withdraw the motion to pass the bill were that discussion would have to stop, it’s clearly inconsistent to allow discussion to continue on Metts’s motion.

Moving forward, I’d encourage any representatives or senators who intend to buck the system to keep a notepad handy and to write down specifically what the committee is doing and what motion is in effect at that moment.



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