Senator Erin Lynch Prata (Democrat, District 31, Warwick, Cranston), who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, today surprised everyone by transferring the Reproductive Privacy Act (RPA) (H5125B) to the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services, chaired by Senator Joshua Miller (Democrat, District 28, Cranston). The RPA seeks to codify the human rights protections of Roe v Wade into Rhode Island State Law. The House passed the RPA months ago. The Senate has been taking more time.
Lynch Prata transferred the bill to prevent Senators Elaine Morgan (Republican, District 34, Exeter Hopkinton, Richmond, West Greenwich) and Dennis Algiere (Republican, District 38, Westerly, Charlestown) from voting against the bill in their capacity as ex officio members. The bill was expected to pass out of the committee on a close 5-4 vote, but the ex officio members would have scored the vote 6-5 against.
“There are ex officio members of the committee that are appearing here today,” said Lynch Prata, to the members of the public and the press in the room. “That is something that is not the normal and usual course for votes. So while that has happened in the past, with respect to advice and consent, and other tasks that are usually somewhat celebratory, in this instance it is not something that is the norm.
“I think that it does a disservice to this committee and to the members of this committee, and to the people who sat here for twelve hours and listened to testimony, who have received all of the written testimony, who have absorbed that, who have discussed with one another where we could go with this bill, to come in in an attempt to then change that vote, after changes to the bill have been made to satisfy the standing committee,” continued Lynch Prata.
“For that reason, under my authority as Chair of the Judiciary Committee, I am acting, pursuant to rule 6.14, and I am transferring this bill to the Committee on Health and Human Services.”
Lynch Prata then tried to move onto the next piece of legislation on the Committee agenda.
“Objection!” said Elaine Morgan, standing beside the Committee.
“That’s the ruling of this Chair, pursuant to the rule,” said Lynch Prata. “There’s no motion and no objections appropriate at this point.”
There were rumblings and murmurs in the audience. Morgan repeated her objection.
“Just to be clear,” said Lynch Prata, “the transfer is for House Bill 5125B, which is Representative Williams’ bill. And again, pursuant to my authority under rule 6.14, as the Chair of this standing committee, I am transferring this bill to the Committee on Health and Human Services.”
“Objection,” said Morgan for perhaps the third time.
“There is no appropriate objection, Senator, as it is pursuant to the rule and I have the absolute authority to do that,” said Lynch Prata.
“May I ask a question?” asked Senator Jessica de la Cruz (Republican, District 23, Burrillville, Glocester). de la Cruz is the sole Republican member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. de la Cruz voted against similar legislation that would have codified Roe v Wade into State law.
“We’ve moved on to the next bill,” said Lynch Prata.
“This is not Health and Human Services,” objected Morgan.
“In the rules,” said de la Cruz, “rule 6, chapter 10…”
“This is a legal murder issue!” Morgan exclaimed.
“Senator!” said Lynch Prata, as Morgan shrugged. “This is my committee and I am the chair. I have made a ruling, pursuant to the [rules] that I am transferring the bill. If there is any objection it is properly taken up on the floor. Feel free to do so.”
de la Cruz thumped her hand on her desk in frustration as Morgan stewed silently for 40 seconds before leaving the committee room.
Lynch Prata had opened the Committee hearing asking “that everybody refrain from reacting, from making comments, from making faces, from making gestures.”
The only people in the room who didn’t follow these directions from the Committee Chair were Senators Morgan and de la Cruz.
Here’s the Capitol TV version, which mostly stays on Lynch Prata, and makes it hard to hear Morgan or de la Cruz:
Shortly after the initial failure of the Senate Judiciary Committee to pass a bill that would codify Roe v Wade into Rhode Island State Law, the idea was floated that the bill might be moved to the Senate Health and Human Services committee, chaired by Senator Miller.
That idea was shot down a day later in a joint statement from Lynch Prata and Miller
“We believe that members of the Judiciary Committee have given the issue full attention, and we have no intention of transferring the Reproductive Privacy Act from the Judiciary Committee to the Health & Human Services Committee. Judiciary Committee members heard from all sides of the public during a lengthy hearing that stretched until 6am, and have spent countless hours behind the scenes researching, working with legal staff, and reading correspondence from everyday Rhode Islanders.
“The appropriate path forward is for all parties who support protecting reproductive health care to continue working together to develop revised language that fully codifies the status quo and can win the support of the Judiciary Committee. As co-sponsors of the bill, we will continue to work tirelessly toward that goal.”
I caught up to Senator Morgan as she was finishing a quick interview with television crews.
“I listened to all the testimony on TV,” said Morgan. “I listened to hours and hours of testimony.”
“So you came here to vote, use your ex officio authority to vote against the bill?” asked the television reporter.
“To vote,” repeated Morgan. “And I did listen to all the testimony. And obviously they did not because there were more testimony against this bill than there was for it. There are more people here against this bill than there are for it.
“They had to bus people in. Planned Parenthood had to bus people in because they didn’t have enough Rhode Islanders to take this bill on,” said Morgan, inaccurately. “So, this is wrong. That’s it, that’s my [garbled.]”
I next tracked down Senate Health and Human Services Committee Chair Joshua Miller, who was holding a hearing in room 212. I asked Miller about the status of the RPA in his committee.
“As far as I know, and I haven’t been out of the room since we started the hearing, it has been transferred to Health. In order to post it properly, it would come here Thursday at some point,” said Miller.
“I’ve been hearing 6:15, Thursday, your Committee’s hearing it,” I said.
“That sounds about right,” said Miller.
“And do you think you have the votes to make it happen?” I asked.
“I haven’t asked anybody because it’s been a Judiciary bill,” said Miller. “I don’t know at this point.”
“Is it going to be fully vetted, with public testimony and everything?” I asked.
“No, it’s a consideration bill because it’s already been fully vetted,” said Miller.
“So you just have to pass it out of committee?”
Below is a statement from enate President Dominick Ruggerio (Democrat, District 4, Providence) on the transfer of the RPA from the Senate Committee on Judiciary to the Senate Committee on Health & Human Services:
“I have been clear that this critical piece of legislation should follow the normal committee process, whereby it would reach the Senate floor upon wining the support of a majority of the committee members. Last month, a version of an abortion rights bill failed to meet that threshold. At the time, I encouraged all parties to work together to craft a bill that would garner a majority of the committee members’ support.”
“A majority of committee members reached a consensus last week. I commend Chairwoman Lynch Prata for her strong and steady leadership and her passion, Sen. Archambault for continuing the dialogue and hard work, and all the members of the committee for their efforts regarding this matter.”
“This morning, I learned that Republican members sitting in an ex-officio capacity planned to launch an unprecedented last minute political stunt to torpedo this bill.
“Throughout the day, I implored Republican leadership not to undermine the hard work of the Senate Judiciary Committee by abusing their powers as ex-officio members. In fact, Democratic and Republican leadership held several discussions this session where we agreed that we would not vote in committee on the bill because we wanted the committee process to take its normal course.”
“The transfer of the bill to our Health and Human Services Committee ensures a path forward.”
“Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Erin Lynch Prata has shown true leadership today by transferring The Reproductive Privacy Act (H5125B) to the Health and Human Services Committee due to the attempt by Minority Leadership to try and circumvent the legislative process and decide the fate of this bill on their own,” writes the Rhode Island Coalition for Reproductive Freedom in a statement.
“The Rhode Island Coalition for Reproductive Freedom is grateful to the members of the Judiciary Committee, Chair Lynch Prata, Vice Chair Stephen Archambault, Senators Cynthia Coyne, Dawn Euer and Mark McKenney who have publicly supported the bill and would have voted in favor. We are also grateful to Senate President Dominick Ruggerio for standing behind Chair Lynch Prata and finding a path that will allow every member of the Senate to weigh in and have their voices heard.
“We call on the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services to vote this bill out of committee and to the Senate floor for a full debate and vote by the entire membership.”
“We are disappointed political games continue to be played with our health, rights and lives,” writes The Womxn Project. “We appreciate the leadership of Senate Judiciary Chair Erin Lynch Prata. A lot of work has gone into coming up with a thoughtful set of amendment to balance interests.
“Activists from across the state have given so much of themselves to continue to speak up and show up to move this bill forward. This legislation deserve to get a vote on the Senate floor.
“We are hopeful that the Health and Human Services Committee will put agendas aside and move this bill forward. After all, abortion is healthcare and we all deserve to have the ability and the right to manage our health and make decisions about our own bodies. We will continue to organize and mobilize to get this bill to the governor’s desk. There is too much at stake to give up. We are going to get this done and protect our rights this year.”
“Planned Parenthood Votes! Rhode Island (PPV!RI) is disappointed that the Senate Judiciary Committee did not vote on the Reproductive Privacy Act of 2019 (H5125B) today,” writes Amanda Skinner, President and CEO, Planned Parenthood Votes! Rhode Island. “We thank Senate Judiciary Chairwoman Erin Lynch Prata and our champions for reproductive rights, including Senator Gayle Goldin and the sponsors of the RPA, for continuing to fight for reproductive freedom.
“We look forward to Thursday’s vote in the Senate Health and Human Services. We thank Chairman Josh Miller for his enduring commitment to reproductive freedom. The people of Rhode Island deserve a vote by the full Senate and to know where their own elected officials stand on this critically important issue.
“This year, countless Rhode Islanders have shown up at the State House and at events across the state demanding action to protect access to safe, legal abortion in. Listening to the people, the House of Representatives, led by Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, passed the RPA on March 7th with a vote of 44-30.
“It is more urgent than ever for Rhode Island to act. Across the country, states like Georgia and Louisiana are enacting unconstitutional bans on abortion as part of a coordinated effort to bring cases to Trump’s Supreme Court. Their intention is clear: to overturn Roe v Wade and four decades of precedent protecting the right abortion. We cannot afford to wait.
“Let’s be clear: abortion is health care, reproductive care is health care, and health care is a human right.
“Planned Parenthood will be back every day this session to continue the fight for the basic right to make decisions about one’s own body and control one’s own future.”
“This is disgraceful,” said Rhode Island Republican Party Chairwoman Sue Cienki in a press release, “Senator Lynch Prata broke the Senate Rules. Senate Rule 6.14 only permits bills to be transferred ‘during the reports of committees.’ Senate Rule 3.3 makes it clear that the ‘reports of committees’ only occurs on the Senate floor. It does not occur within committee. Chairwoman Lynch Prata’s refusal to recognize Senator Morgan for a debate and vote on the abortion bill because she was transferring the bill violated the Senate Rules. She should have recognized Senator Morgan or any other member of the Senate Judiciary Committee for a motion on the bill. Because the Democratic Senate leadership didn’t have the votes, they broke the rules.
“This abortion bill is terrible, and breaking the rules to get it passed is reprehensible,” continued Cienki. “This is just another example of how the so-called pro-life Democratic leadership of the General Assembly will do whatever it takes to get an abortion bill passed. These politicians care more about power for themselves than any issue, even the lives of the unborn. If this bill had been allowed to go to vote in committee yesterday, it would have died. Instead by breaking the rules, this abortion bill lives on and if it becomes law, unborn children will die.”
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