Free Care and Process

Although his bill has entered the limbo of “held for further study,” state Representative Brian Newberry (R, North Smithfield) deserves recognition for submitting it. An article about the bill’s hearing raises two points that merit comment:

The committee ultimately held the bill for further study, a move that Committee Chairman Helio Melo said will allow members to do their homework and hear testimony on similar bills before making a decision.

That sounds reasonable enough, but one has to wonder: Shouldn’t committee members, in general, do their homework before the public hearing? Presumably interested stakeholders and informed members of the public will appear before committees for hearings; how are legislators going to ask them intelligent, productive questions if they do not address their ignorance beforehand? And, more to the specific point, what homework could there possibly remain to be done on such a simple — and long-mentioned — change of policy?
The second point addresses the other side:

The other speaker, Deloris Issler, representing the Cranston Tea Party, said her local group opposes the bill, not because a 20-percent co-share “would be bad, but it stops way short of what it needs to do” at a time when many small-business owners can’t afford health insurance, yet are expected to subsidize plans for part-time lawmakers.
“We would call on all of you to end the benefits,” she said.

I’ve said it before: Representatives and Senators put in a fair bit of time, over the course of the year, much of it at inconvenient hours, and it’s reasonable to compensate them. My fellow Tea Party types rightly make much of the fact that, for example, the unions were able to rally during the workday in Wisconsin, while the taxpayer groups had to wait until the weekend because they had to work. The same applies to government office.
If we rely purely on civic responsibility to draw citizens to public office, we’ll wind up with leaders who have some method of profiting from their offices in some indirect way. That tends to be an insidious species of corruption.

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Dan
Dan
10 years ago

“If we rely purely on civic responsibility to draw citizens to public office, we’ll wind up with leaders who have some method of profiting from their offices in some indirect way. That tends to be an insidious species of corruption.”
In theory. In practice, the opposite is demonstrably true. In Masssachuessets, the full-time, fully-compensated state legislature has achieved a deeply entrenched political machine of bribery, insider-dealing, and all-around corruption that part-time RI legislators can only dream about. In New Hampshire, their essentially volunteer state legislature experiences a healthy amount of turnover each election cycle and stays accountable to the people, with corruption practically unheard of.
For a Justin Katz of Rhode Island, of course a full-time state legislature would make holding office a more workable option. The problem is that it wouldn’t BE Justin Katz in the state legislature under that scenario, it would be a former speaker’s 2nd cousin running for reelection on the taxpayer’s dime for the 10th time. When you have full-time lawmakers, two things happen. First, you get a lot more reactionary laws. Second, the people already in office are much better able to ensure that they stay in office. And the salary doesn’t prevent corruption. Full-time MA state senator Diane Wilkerson stuffing bribe money into her bra on FBI camera and full-time Boston City Councilman Chuck Turner’s “preacher handshake” that landed him in jail this year make it abundantly clear that for the types of people we’re talking about, the compensation is never enough.

Patrick
Patrick
10 years ago

I’m on board with Dan. 100% volunteer Assembly and go one further, add the Texas model, the meet once every two years. They can have the other year to campaign.

BobN
BobN
10 years ago

Having spent several evenings watching the GA and testifying at committee hearings, I no longer believe it should be entirely uncompensated and that the present nominal stipend is not unreasonable to the taxpayer for the time and effort expended by members.
I don’t even object to the idea of feeding them. The catering bill was what, $250K per year for the whole GA? When I worked long hours into the night for corporations we ordered (non-extravagant) dinner on the company’s dime.
However, the provision of free healthcare makes no sense. Pensions have already been eliminated.
Of course, they wouldn’t have to work such long hours if they didn’t introduce so many garbage bills, so it’s somewhat self-inflicted. This mitigates my empathy.

Patrick
Patrick
10 years ago

“they wouldn’t have to work such long hours if they didn’t introduce so many garbage bills”
Exactly. If they knew they weren’t being compensated in any way for being there, wouldn’t that really cut down on a lot of the silliness? Just get down to business and do what is important.
If we really wanted to, we could cut out all the compensation but let them use that time as a tax deduction in RI.

Dan
Dan
10 years ago

The problem with making state legislator a full-time job is just that. It turns a noble civil service volunteer activity into just another sweetheart “hack” job for the machine to fill with its human cogs and use the time and resources it frees up to entrench itself further. Occupants of these highly sought after seats of nobility quickly become intoxicated with their own title and power, and use every scraped knee in the state as an excuse to forward nanny-state legislation with their name on it.
Take the prestige out of the job and you will stop attracting the prestige-whores.
Take the money out of the job and you will stop attracting the money-grubbers.
Minimize the time spent legislating and you will minimize the nanny-state legislation.
NH is the model, people. It works.

BobN
BobN
10 years ago

I certainly did not advocate making state legislator a full-time job. I am 100% opposed to that.

Dan
Dan
10 years ago

My apologies, Bob. I was responding generally to Justin and Andrew, who have floated the idea of full-time legislature here before.

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