A Theory on How the Leadership Controls the RI Legislature
I have always been curious as to how the leadership of the Rhode Island General Assembly actually wields power over the lawmaking process. Yet you may remember, for example, that last year’s e-verify bill basically disappeared, because the leadership in the RI Senate wanted it to.
Yet according to a direct reading of both House and Senate rules, no single individual in either chamber has the power to kill a piece of legislation; every bill is entitled to a committee hearing and vote should its primary sponsor request one. Here is the Senate rule on the subject…
30(a) Upon a written request by the prime sponsor of any public bill received by the secretary of the senate before the closing of the next legislative day after the deadline for introduction as specified in section 4.6 that a committee hearing be held with respect to such bill, the committee chair shall schedule a committee hearing within eight (8) days of such request unless a later date is agreed to by the prime sponsor. “Received” as used herein shall mean receipt in hand by the secretary of the senate or his/her designee. The secretary shall note the date and time of receipt on the request and such notation shall be dispositive. The committee chair may consider hearings on related matters. The committee shall consider said bill not more than eight (8) days after the committee hearing, unless a later date is agreed to by the prime sponsor. If the committee does not consider the bill then the committee shall be discharged of its responsibility to consider such bill and such bill shall be placed on the senate calendar pursuant to section hereof. Consideration by a committee shall be interpreted to mean any one of the following actions: recommendation of passage, recommendation of passage as amended, transfer to another committee, indefinite postponement, hold for further study or defeat of the bill.So where exactly does this “power” of the House Speaker and the Senate President to kill legislation derive from?
A clue to the answer may lie in an interesting comment left by State Representative Brian Newberry (R — North Smithfield/Burrilville) in response to Monique’s post on voter-ID legislation, describing the customary process used in at least one RI House committee…
Every bill heard before House Judiciary is “held for further study” as a matter of course at its first hearing. The vote is pro forma and taken at the beginning of each hearing. I personally think that it is kind of silly, but at the same time, there are times when holding a bill “for further study” is appropriate.If the rules are interpreted as meaning that a bill is entitled to one and only one hearing, could it be that these “initial” votes are being used to satisfy the formal requirements of the House and Senate rules, while leaving the list of bills that actually get deliberated under firm control of the leadership?
Is, perhaps, a rules-amendment requiring hearings upon sponsor request for bills “held for further study” for 15 days or more in order, as a way of improving the democratization of the Rhode Island General Assembly?