Don’t Believe Senate President Paiva-Weed; the Judiciary Committee Was Not Circumvented, It Chose Not to Act on the E-Verify Bill
On Wednesday morning’s John DePetro Show (WPRO 630AM), Senate President Teresa Paiva-Weed described Senator Marc Cote’s efforts to bring the E-verify bill to the Senate floor as being a circumvention of the hearing process in the Senate Judiciary Committee — meaning either that Senator Paiva-Weed is unfamiliar with Senate procedures or that she is intentionally attempting to mislead the public.
Senate rule 6.5, utilized by Senator Cote to advance the e-verify bill, did not prevent committee action. Once the Senator notified the Senate Secretary that he was invoking his right to have the e-verify bill follow the process laid out in 6.5, Judiciary Chairman Michael McCaffrey had eight legislative days to schedule a hearing, then another eight legislative days following the hearing to act on the bill. If the hearing had been held and the committee had voted to defeat or table the bill (i.e. “to hold it for further study”), it would have been done for the session. Instead, the bill moved directly to the Senate floor, only because the Committee chairman failed to schedule a hearing for it.
Ultimately, the final decision not to go through the regular committee process was made not by Senator Cote, but by Chairman McCaffrey (or by whoever gives Chairman McCaffrey his orders). All Senator Cote did was trigger a safety-valve built into the Senate rules that is intended to prevent the leadership from being able to make a bill disappear through inaction, without any record of who was for or against it ever being reported to the public.
Senate Rule 6.5. is a more-than-reasonable check on the formal power of a small number of legislative leaders to control the entire legislative agenda, but a check that has been rarely used in the State Senate, because in the Bizarro World of the Rhode Island Democratic Party’s political leadership, giving one or two people the power to make a bill disappear is the preferred way of doing things, while involving everyone in decision making and putting their votes into the public record is considered a parliamentary trick. Rhode Island Senators and Representatives — and the voters who give them their jobs — need to make a decision on how much undemocratic behavior from the Bizarro World they are willing to tolerate, especially given that they have the power to change things by choosing different leaders.