Passing Bills On Their Own Merit?
In Sunday’s Nesi’s Notes, Ted has a story about Speaker of the House, Gordon Fox trying to make what would actually be a major change in how the House operates. Fox is looking to change an old practice of holding the vast majority of the bills for a floor vote until the final days of the legislative session.
“I strongly believe that if bills, particularly non-budgetary items, are introduced earlier in the session it helps the House of Representatives to vet and consider the information in an orderly manner,” Fox wrote in a Dec. 1 letter to Governor Chafee obtained by WPRI.com. “It also prevents or lessens the chances of bills not being given the due consideration that they deserve before the General Assembly session ends.”
It often seemed in the past that all bills were being held for reasons of political power. Horse trading. When it comes down to some of the bigger bills that need to pass at the end of a session, such as the budget, a Speaker could hold other bills over legislators’ heads. It’s a way of keeping others in line.
Amazingly, it’s looking like Fox is willing to hand over some of this power. What he’s risking is letting some legislator’s bill come up for a floor vote when it’s ready, whether that’s in February or May, and not having that carrot to dangle later when the Speaker needs help in getting a bill passed. I believe this is an example of better government that Fox should be given credit for.
Those of us who have watched some of those contentious final nights of the legislative session have seen tempers grow hotter than the inside of the building in late June. We hear calls for debate to be cut off because of things like having been at the State House for ten or more hours that day or it’s 2 am and time to go home and everyone’s tired. I never seem to have much sympathy for them, they create that problem by holding all the bills to the end. This move by the Speaker seems as though it will lessen that burden and let the legislators have the appropriate amount of time to review the proposals in front of them.
The article has one other point of interest to me that I’ve had a hard time understanding.
The General Assembly frequently suspended its own rules and violated the state’s open meetings law during the last two weeks of its half-year sessions over the past decade, according to a Common Cause Rhode Island study
I think logically, one could say that they really have no rules if they can simply vote to suspend the rules. That just seems wrong. If you’re going to have a rule, keep it in effect at all times. The same with the open meetings rules and with the amount of time that a bill must be posted before it can be voted on.
These actions just seem to lead to mistakes and bad government. One thing they can do to make their rules “real” would be to pass a new law that says the only way to change the rules after they are approved for the current session is by a vote of the electorate. That sets things in stone. Then again, the Assembly could pass a new law that invalidates that one. When you make the rules, technically it’s impossible to run afoul of them.