Speaking to me on the floor of the Rhode Island House of Representatives ahead of the House Committee on Rules vote on 5037A, the chair of the committee, Representative Arthur Corvese (Democrat, District 55, North Providence), told me that “I’m comfortable with [the changes to the bill].” He added, “Small steps.”
The bill that the public testified on before the House Committee on Rules on Tuesday, 5037, had been changed. No one from the public, and most members of the Rhode Island House of Representatives, had any idea what changes had been made. The new bill 5037A, would have substantial changes, or maybe not. No one not in the loop would see the bill before 5pm, when the committee was to vote.
House Minority Leader, Representative Blake Filippi (Republican, District 36, Charlestown, New Shoreham, South Kingstown, Westerly), also on the House floor, had not seen the bill yet. “The need for 24 hour notice on Sub As is going to be proven today,” said Filippi.
Entering the hearing room, ten minutes before the start of the House Committee on Rules, Representative Jason Knight (Democrat, District 67, Barrington, Warren) was overheard saying that “The irony of this is just over the top.” He was right. It turns out that one of the changes to the Rules in the new 5037A was a section that reads, “Any proposed committee amendment to a bill, in a substitute amended bill format, shall be posted in print and electronically by the chair of the committee hearing the bill at least 24 hours prior to its committee consideration.”
In other words, the way this bill was passed out of committee will be illegal when and if this bill passes the House.
The idea of a delay between the introduction of a Sub A and voting that Sub A out of committee was suggested this year by The Reform Caucus, a group of 19 House members, all Democrats, who are opposed to the power weilded by the Speaker of the House, Speaker Nicholas Mattiello (Democrat, District 15, Cranston). The Reform Caucus suggested 48 hours. A compromise of sorts was presented by Representative Robert Jacquard (Democrat, District 17, Cranston), who suggested 24 hours.
John Marion, executive director of Common Cause Rhode Island, told me that now, “many amendments to bills will be made publicly available 24 hours in advance of a committee vote on those amendments. That will make it easier for citizens to follow the legislative process, and will allow legislators time to know exactly what they’re being asked to vote on. There are two huge caveats to this new rule on amendments; it doesn’t apply to the most important bill of the year–the state budget, and it can be waived for a variety of reasons by a committee chair. It would be nice to see the Rhode Island Senate adopt a similar rule.”
The other change to the House Rules passed by the committee is in the new section entitled “Sexual Harassment and Discrimination Prohibited.” The two most obvious changes are:
- The “gag rule” that would have prevented victims of sexual harassment from speaking about their experiences publicly has been removed.
- The newly formed “Office on Compliance” has been empowered to come up with an official sexual harassment policy. The exact nature and makeup of the Office of Compliance is still not public. Representative Corvese, toward the end of the hearing, said that future bills would be considered by the House Committee on Rules in the coming weeks.
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“While there were also significant improvements made to the proposed process for handling sexual harassment, we still feel it needs far more work,” said John Marion of Common Cause. “The rules are also not the correct place to put such a process.
“We hope when the rules reach the floor both Democrats and Republicans will offer further amendments.”
The House Committee on Rules voted to send 5037A to the floor of the House for a full vote, 15-3, along party lines. The three Republicans on the Committee, Representatives Filippi, Brian Newberry (Republican, District 48, North Smithfield) and Michael Chippendale (Republican, District 40, Coventry, Foster Glocester) voted against the rules, though Filippi did say that he liked the piece about the 24 hour notice on Sub As.
The Reform Caucus consists of Representatives Edith Ajello (Democrat, District 1, Providence), Moira Walsh (Democrat, District 3, Providence), Rebecca Kislak (Democrat, District 4, Providence), Raymond Hull (Democrat, District 6, Providence), John Lombardi (Democrat, District 8, Providence), Joseph Almeida (Democrat, District 12, Providence), Arthur Handy (Democrat, District 18, Cranston), Justine Caldwell (Democrat, District 30, East Greenwich), Teresa Tanzi (Democrat, District 34, Narragansett, South Kingstown), Kathleen Fogarty (Democrat, District 35, South Kingstown), Mary Messier (Democrat, District 62, Pawtucket), Katherine Kazarian (Democrat, District 63, East Providence), Liana Cassar (Democrat, District 66, Barrington, East Providence), Jason Knight (Democrat, District 67, Barrington, Warren), Susan Donovan (Democrat, District 69, Bristol), Terri-Denise Cortvriend (Democrat, District 72, Portsmouth), Deborah Ruggiero (Democrat, District 74, Jamestown) and Lauren Carson (Democrat, District 75, Newport).
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