Representatives Karen MacBeth and Dan Gordon Prove the Unthinkable — Bills Don’t Have to be Held for Further Study!
While the story of legislators looking for ways to advance a bill that apparently cannot get committee approval on its own merits was playing out at the RI Statehouse last week, in another part of the building, according to accounts that have been provided to me from several sources, a group of Representatives was working in the sunshine of an open-to-the-public committee process to bring a bill to a vote, in spite of the General Assembly’s usual practices intended to obstruct legislators not aligned with leadership from having a say on the agenda.
Last Thursday, the agenda of the RI House of Representatives Veterans’ Affairs Committee included bills that would establish an official memorial flag for members of the Armed Forces who lose their lives in the line of duty (H5890), and that would create a legislative commission to study locating a center to assist veterans at one or more of Rhode Island’s public colleges (H5724). Representative Karen MacBeth (D-Cumberland) — who is not a favorite of the House Democratic leadership (I don’t think I’m giving away any secrets by writing that) — had been working to have these bills given real consideration as soon as possible in the legislative session. She had agreed to withdraw a version of the memorial flag bill where she was the primary sponsor (H5892) and to support a version with Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Raymond Gallison (D-Bristol/Portsmouth) as primary sponsor, as long as the substance from her original bills would get a real vote in committee. At the Thursday meeting, the Veterans’ Affairs Committee deliberated H5890 and sent it to the House Floor with a recommendation for passage.
But based on the flow of the committee meeting, Rep. MacBeth sensed that the veterans’ center study-commission bill was not going to get the substantive consideration she had sought, so she quickly made a motion that it be considered for passage. Representative Dan Gordon (R-Portsmouth/Tiverton/Little Compton) seconded. A short debate ensued. Chairman Gallison tried to talk Rep. MacBeth out of pressing for a vote for passage at this hearing; there were issues around Federal dollars that would take some time to consider, etc. Rep. MacBeth responded that H5724 was only a resolution for a study commission and there was nothing about the bill that couldn’t be decided by the committee right away.
Seeing Rep. MacBeth unwilling to relent, Chairman Gallison called for a vote on the bill — to hold it for further study. Rep. Gordon raised a point-of-order: there was already a motion before the committee to send H5724 to the House floor with a recommendation for passage, and that motion had to be disposed of before a new main motion could be introduced. The Chair recognized that Rep. Gordon was correct, and then called for a vote of everyone opposed to passage of H5724. The committee was silent. Then the chairman called for votes in favor of passage, and the bill was passed by the Veterans’ Affairs Committee by a majority vote.
And that, citizens of Rhode Island, is all it really takes to end the “held for further study” madness at the Statehouse — not major rules reform or arcane parliamentary trickery, but legislators who ask for their bills to be considered and voted on by the appropriate committees, and committees who make decisions on the merits of a bill without waiting for leadership to grant them permission to vote in favor of the bills they support (even though, in the short term, it might mean an extra walk from a faraway parking space or other such inconveniences for legislators who choose to place a higher priority on representing their constituents than following partisan marching orders when considering bills).
According to this year’s House rules, beginning on May 1, Rhode Island House committees are supposed to begin posting their roll call votes publicly. My suspicion is that, once committee-level information becomes part of an easily accessible public-record, explanations to constituents that “I voted for further study on every bill that came before me because the leadership told me I had to” are not going to win over many undecided voters during election campaigns. Add to this the fact that, over the last two or three election cycles, a group of legislators have been elected who are unwilling to accept the go-along-to-get-along top-down discipline model for running a legislature that has quiescently been accepted by older generations of RI legislators, and the result is that a new way of doing business at the Rhode Island Statehouse is going to be defined very soon — and is maybe already starting in the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee.
Wow! Love it!
See if you can find H5724 in the House Journal for the 24th:
Reps. Gordon and MacBeth tried to challenge the entry of the Journal yesterday on the House floor and was railroaded by Fox and Mattiello.
Representative Gordon is a good man and we need more Republican legislators like him!
Oh yeah, Gordon doesn’t need to study anything!
Great to see him on golocalprov who’s hot who’s not list, under “not” of course.