Palumbo’s 180 is Only the Latest Ominous Development on Smith Hill Pertaining to the Discharge Petition
[Newly appointed Rules Committee Chairman Rep. Peter] Palumbo [D, Cranston] said he has just started poring through all the rules, but he already has some ideas about what he would like to see changed. For one, he’d like to tweak a rule that allows a state rep to yank a bill that is blocked in committee as long as he or she gets enough of their fellow reps to sign a petition. Palumbo, who at first liked the rule as a freshman lawmaker, said it is better for bills to go through the thorough vetting process of committees before making it to the House floor.
Staying for a moment on Rep Palumbo’s volte face and its stated reasons:
1.) contrary to his assertion, the problem with the vast majority of bills which do not leave committee is an excess rather than a lack of vetting; having served 15+ years in the General Assembly, the good rep must surely be aware that “Held for further study” is not a means of examining a bill but of killing it;
2.) if, however, the rep truly believes that most bills stay in committee only for due research and consideration, does he also believe that e-verify and other anti illegal immigration bills – to take an issue completely at random – have stayed in Senate committees year after year because they needed additional studying?
This morning, I e-mailed former Rep John Loughlin, an invaluable resource on legislative procedure, to confirm that the term is, indeed, “discharge petition”. His reply included unexpected bonus material:
Correct. In my time in the assembly they kept raising the number of signatures and even added a provision for people to remove thier signature (at the intimidation of the Speaker) so that if it ever fell below the required number the bill went immediately back to committee. Further, the actual petition was to be kept in the Speaker’s office and not be available for other members to inspect – talk about a stacked deck!
So the document reflecting the will of the membership is kept under the leader’s blotter as s/he repeatedly changes the rules to thwart it. How charmingly … iron-fisted.
Speaking of the will of the membership, in testifying against separation of powers several years ago (if anyone can find his testimony on line, I would be glad to link to it), Dr. Patrick Conley said the reason that, in Rhode Island, so much power was vested in the legislature and in the leadership is because, paraphrasing: the people tell their elected representatives what they want and the representatives tell leadership, who then carries it out.
Setting aside the reality that the G.A. actually operates top down, the condition of the state alone places this theory on pretty shaky grounds. The elimination of the discharge petition, one of the last procedural tools for the membership to assert its will against an undemocratic leader, would definitively expose Dr. Conley’s theory as pure fantasy.