Bringing the Anti-Prostitution Bill to the House Floor
I’m not sure if the leadership of the state House of Representatives intends to take action on the bill submitted by Representative Joanne Giannini (D – Providence) and others that would make indoor prostitution illegal in Rhode Island; the last action on the bill listed on the RI Legislature’s website is “held for further study” dated April 8. One question worth asking, however, is whether supporters of this particular bill really need to wait for the leadership to act.
The rules of the Rhode Island House of Representatives provide a time-honored American legislative process, called a “discharge petition”, for bringing bills stuck in committee directly to the House floor without the approval of a committee, a committee chair, or the House Speaker. Rule #22 lays out the relevant procedures for the RI House…
(22) On any day the prime sponsor of a bill or resolution may present a petition in writing to discharge a committee from further consideration of a public bill or resolution which has been referred to a committee, and by no other procedure, but only one petition may be presented for a public bill or resolution during the course of a session. The petition shall be placed in the custody of the recording clerk of the House who shall arrange some convenient place for the signatures of the members to be placed thereon in the presence of said clerk. A signature may be withdrawn by a member at any time before the petition receives sufficient signatures to become effective, and such petitions shall become effective, and shall serve to discharge a committee from further consideration of the public bill or resolution and shall cause said public bill or resolution to be placed upon the calendar for action, when any thirty-eight (38) representatives shall have affixed their signatures thereto, provided, however, that if, after the bill or resolution is calendared but before it is taken up, enough signatures are withdrawn so that the number of effective signatures falls below thirty-eight (38), the bill or resolution shall pass off the calendar. No such petition shall be presented for signatures to discharge a public bill or resolution unless the same shall have been in the possession of the committee for no less than sixteen (16) legislative days, and in no event until after the fiftieth (50th) legislative day. During House consideration of any discharged public bill or resolution, no motion to recommit or lay on the table shall be entertained by the Speaker until every member desiring to be heard has been recognized.According to the RI legislature’s official site, the prostitution bill was referred to House Judiciary on January 8, so the 16-day requirement is easily met. We are currently on day 39 of the legislative session, so we’ll hit day 50 sometime in early May.
The only thing somewhat ambiguous about Rule 22 is the meaning of “and by no other procedure” in this context — does that possibly create some limitation on the bills that are eligible for discharge? Perhaps the best way to find out — especially if there are 38 members of the Rhode Island House who believe that the anti-prostitution bill should be moved from House Judiciary committee to the House Floor — is to have Rep. Giannini exercise her right to begin a discharge procedure.