Re: The Legislative Leadership Is Not Nearly As Powerful as our Rank and File Legislators Let Them Be
[Senator Marc Cote] said he felt so strongly about, and had such support for his bill (19 co-sponsors) that he decided to invoke a parliamentary procedure apparently last used in 1995. That rule, 6.5, allowed him to put the bill on the calendar without committee deliberations, circumventing years of resistance to a floor vote.A few Senators were absent from the floor session last evening, so we don’t know if supporters of the bill comprised a majority of those present and voting, but we do know that a roll-call vote should be used when the numbers are this close. The question is, besides waiting for the Peter Palumbos and the Marc Cotes to wait too long to take action yet again next year, can anything be done now?
Here are a few suggestions:
- The antidote to politics is often politics. If the 19 co-sponsors are serious about their responsibilities as elected members of a legislature which is supposed to be engaged in deliberative decision making, they should announce publicly that they can no longer support current Senate President Teresa Paiva-Weed in any future Senate leadership election, on the grounds that she is unable to carry out the basic responsibilities of her position in a manner consistent with the principles of majority rule.
Of course, this will not occur if we have a bunch of Senators who are happy to give away to someone else the legislative responsibilities that they have been entrusted with by their constituents, in which case the willingness of legislative candidates to support leaders who will not allow their votes to be counted becomes a legitimate campaign issue, i.e. a vote for Christopher Maselli is a vote for Teresa Paiva-Weed, and a vote to let Teresa Paiva-Weed make all of the important decisions that Christopher Maselli should be making.
- However, Senator Marc Cote and the other primary sponsors of this year’s e-verify bill (including Republicans Leo Blais and David Bates) need to be asked why they were unprepared to exercise their rights to have their votes included as part of the record, and specifically, if they really had a majority, why they did not bring the e-verify bill out of committee via the procedure specified in Senate rule 6.10, which would have required that every Senator wanting to speak on the subject to be heard at least once, before a vote on a motion to recommit could be taken.
- Finally, it is worth making a note of a quirk of the Senate rules, which Senators who are serious about the principle that votes need be counted when a legislative body makes a decision (if there are any) could use today. RI Senate rules allow for a motion to reconsider a bill. However, the rules are explicit that a motion to reconsider must be offered on the same legislative day that the original vote was taken, so this is not what I am suggesting. There is also a provision in the Senate rules allowing a Senator to change his or her vote (with permission of the majority of the Senate) again provided that the request for a change is made on the same day as the original vote. And there is also a provision in the Senate rules that allows any Senator to have his vote recorded in the Senate Journal on matters where the roll was not called but without any expressed time-limit on when this right can be invoked. So if there are a majority of Rhode Island State Senators who wanted to pass the e-verify bill that was killed by the leadership last night, they should at the earliest available opportunity exercise their right to enter into the Senate Journal how they voted, and make the Senate leadership’s undemocratic action a part of the official public record.
This assumes, of course, that we have Senators who are more interested in good government than in obedience to Senate leadership. But if nothing else, wouldn’t you like to see Democratic Majority Leader Daniel Connors respond to Senators asking to have their votes recorded by hopping out of his seat and shouting that counting votes is out of order in the Rhode Island legislature; individual votes don’t matter here.