Providence — The Reform Caucus, made up of conservative, moderate, and progressive Democrats, announced their push for changes in the House Rules for a more open and transparent legislative process. The Reform Caucus is committed to changing the way business is conducted and after years of careful observation and first-hand experience, we are working to make it happen.
“There is a groundswell of interest from constituents for reform at the State House and the public’s advocacy is what will make this happen,” says Rep. Deborah Ruggiero – Jamestown and Middletown, “people are very aware that legislators are rushed into last minute votes on the final days of session without ample time to read legislation. That’s why we are recommending bills be posted for 48 hours so the public knows what their government is doing. We are also recommending good government bills like creating the Office of the Inspector General and enacting line-item veto.”
“My Newport voters want government transparency, public accountability and above all, they want to be part of the Rhode Island public policy conversation, says Rep. Lauren Carson – Newport, “the current condition of the House rules does not provide enough public transparency or participation. I want a clearer process for bringing bills to the floor for a vote and I want to be sure that Newport voters can review all legislative proposals before I am asked to vote on them. I stand firmly behind these efforts to reform the Rules of the Rhode Island House of Representatives.”
“Having served on the school committees for so many years I am very aware that we were subject to the strictest rules regarding our agendas, says Rep. Terri Cortvriend – Portsmouth /Middletown, “RIGL 42-46-6 requires 48 hours of public notice to make any amendments to a school committee agenda the same should be applied to state legislation. Our constituents are entitled to know what we are voting on and a minimum amount of time should be provided to allow them to share their opinions with us.”
1. Suspension of Rules for the final days of session hinders the public and legislators ability to read bills, process changes, and make thoughtful decisions. Bills need to come to the floor earlier in the legislative session. Recommendation: Rules may be suspended only by 2/3 majority of vote in the House.
2. Sub A to any bill made public for 48 hours. Legislators need to be thoughtful and deliberative and not rushed into last minute votes to end session. The public and advocates deserve the same time to review and understand what their government is doing. As legislators, we have a duty to ensure there are no unintended consequences. Recommendation: Proposed Substitute Amendments shall be posted online, and made available to the public for 48 hours prior to any vote in committee, or on the floor.
3. Bills submitted will stay alive for the entire two year term. This would provide greater efficiency for the committee process and not force the public to return each year to testify on perennial bills. This would free up time for committees to work more in depth on legislation and have substantive hearings to debate Sub A proposals Recommendation: Every bill introduced during year one of legislative term shall remain before the body for consideration in the second and final year of term.
4. Discharge Petition Whenever a bill has the support of the majority of the representatives (38 or more House Members); the bill clearly has enough support to pass the House and deserves a vote Recommendation: Any prime sponsor of a bill would be allowed to circulate a separate discharge petition. If the sponsor gathered 38 or more signatures on the petition, then the bill would be brought up through the regular committee hearing process. The committee would vote to either recommend that the full house pass or send to the floor without recommendation. The committee would not be able to hold the bill for further study. Then the bill would proceed to the floor for a vote. Importantly, the sponsor of the bill could obtain signatures for the discharge petition in the normal course of business. The petition would not have to “sit on the desk” which is the current rule.
The Reform Caucus also recommends passage of ‘Good Government’ bills such as creating an Office of Inspector General, and enacting a Line-Item Veto.
The House Rules are adopted in the initial weeks of the legislative session every two years after anelection. Currently, House Rules give broad powers to the Speaker of the House in appointing committee members, committee chairs, controlling the flow of bills and the passage of all legislation in the House Chamber.
Editorial note: written from a press release.