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House voting record on civil liberties negatively impacted by leadership

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“Our top performers in the rankings were those most likely to go against the grain and vote ‘no’ on bills that seemed well-meaning on their face, but contained serious civil liberties concerns.”


RI Rank has published their Civil Liberties Voting Rankings for members of the Rhode Island House, placing each member’s voting record against an ACLU yardstick, and all of them fall short. Like the Senate Rankings two weeks ago, the best elected officials don’t do well enough to get an “excellent” grade on civil liberties.

See: RI House Civil Liberties Voting Rankings

As is pointed out in the introduction to this week’s Rankings, “A large percentage of bills were commonly voted for/against by the same groups of Representatives, indicating a case of ‘group think’ in which leadership directs its members how to vote. Our top performers in the rankings were those most likely to go against the grain and vote ‘no’ on bills that seemed well-meaning on their face, but contained serious civil liberties concerns.”

What this ranking shows is that our current top-down “group think” legislative mentality does not serve democracy or civil liberties. But group think is only one tool in the arsenal of House leadership. RI Rank attempts to enumerate the impact of “holding bills for further study,” a way of killing bills without having the committee vote on them. Because this process, in the House, makes it difficult to know who voted to hold which bills for further study, all the bills held for further study were counted for or against the Speaker of the House, Nicholas Mattiello. He is, after all, the one person ultimately responsible for any legislation that leaves the General Assembly to be considered by the Governor.

Remember, the rules that govern the way bills are processed through our legislature are debated on and voted on by the legislator’s themselves, every two years. Legislators should call for a more open and honest process. Quantifying the effects of their own rules, and assigning a numerical grade to each legislator depending on their actions within these rules, seems more than fair, even if otherwise strong civil libertarian members of the House received lower than expected scores.


Can we please ask a favor?

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One additional and very disappointing note:

Every House legislator received an N/A (not applicable) voting score for First Amendment issues because “virtually every bill was blocked” by House committees backed by Leadership.

Ouch.


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Steve Ahlquist is a frontline reporter in Rhode Island. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for half a decade. Uprise RI is his new project, and he's doing all he can to make it essential reading. atomicsteve@gmail.com