“Now is not the time to eliminate legislative participation. Rather, Rhode Island will benefit with the inclusion of more voices and ideas as we navigate these uncharted waters.“
Rhode Island House and Senate Republicans are calling for an immediate continuity of legislative operations plan from Governor Gina Raimondo, Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio. The letter, signed unanimously by both House and Senate Minority Caucuses was sent electronically to all General Assembly members on Sunday, March 29, 2020.
“Today, our People are governed by Executive Order and debt-financing through the four members of the Disaster Emergency Funding Board (DEFB). This form of government must only exist if time or circumstances do not permit otherwise,” say General Assembly Republicans. “Now is not the time to eliminate legislative participation. Rather, Rhode Island will benefit with the inclusion of more voices and ideas as we navigate these uncharted waters.”
The letter outlines steps that the General Assembly Republicans say must take place:
- Legislative Leadership should immediately establish and communicate a plan of action that will enable the General Assembly to meet and take necessary action on the critical issues we face.
- The Rhode Island General Assembly must meet its constitutional obligation to pass a balanced budget… and approve all local and private appropriations… We must reconcile the loss of gambling and other revenues, and craft emergency relief for small businesses and families.
- [O]ur municipalities, which are now meeting to craft their own budgets, and successfully utilizing alternative venues such as video conferencing to do so, all require clarity about the level of municipal and school aid they should expect to receive from the state.
- Laws governing this year’s elections will likely need to be revisited in response to this pandemic. Candidate declaration and nomination periods and processes may have to be changed, and the Board of Elections and the local boards of canvassers may require reforms and additional resources to respond to the anticipated mail ballot onslaught. Our duty is to vet any proposed changes to our electoral system before the election season begins at the end of June.
The last action demanded was considered most important:
“[T]he Rhode Island General Assembly must be able to meet in response to this declared state of emergency. The Governor’s March 10, 2020 Executive Order 20-02, declaring a state of emergency, imbues the Office of the Governor with immense power to restrict the freedoms of Rhode Islanders,” reads the letter.
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“While Governor Raimondo’s performance thus far has been exemplary, our General Assembly is the necessary check and balance on this nearly unbridled authority. Specifically, the General Assembly is empowered… to end or modify this declared state of emergency. We must ensure the People’s representatives in the House and Senate are able to meet to analyze, and perhaps curb, the Governor’s authority under this state of emergency, in the unlikely event that need ever arises – as is the General Assembly’s solemn obligation.”
In response to indications from House and Senate leadership that the General Assembly may not meet again until January 2021, the Republican members write, “This is unacceptable if the General Assembly can safely meet. Thankfully, the General Assembly is able to safely convene for limited business…”
The letter then presents two options for meeting: meeting remotely via telephonic or Internet, and utilization of the Dunkin Donuts Center. If the social distance provided by this large space isn’t enough, it is suggested in the letter that PPE could be purchased for legislators.
The letter is signed by every Republican member of the General Assembly.