Notes on Senator Ciccone’s Demotion
1. By now, you’ve probably heard one of the media reports on Rhode Island State Senator Frank Ciccone being removed from/giving up (more on the slash in point 4) his Chairmanship of the Senate Government Oversight Committee and his membership on the Senate Finance Committee. He kept his assignment as Vice-Chairman of the Labor Committee.
2. Government Oversight is the committee which gets the first crack at gubernatorial appointments, and the Finance Committees of the Rhode Island General Assembly are special positions within the legislature because of their role (or at least their potential role) in the annual budgetary process, so these are more than cosmetic changes.
3. Rhode Island Senate Rule 5.2 states that…
Each senator other than the president and the majority and minority leaders, shall serve as a member of one of the following standing committees: committee on housing and municipal government; committee on corporations; committee on finance; committee on the judiciary.…so technically speaking, Senator Ciccone can’t serve only on the Labor Committee (is this waivable with the Senator’s consent?). However, the larger point is that, according to Senate Rules as well as general legislative practice, every Senator must be allowed to sit on at least one committee; the Senator cannot be stripped of all committee assignments.
4. Philip Marcelo‘s report in the Projo mentions that the decision on which committee assignments to give up was “mutual” between Senator Ciccone and Senate President Teresa Paiva-Weed. This too is consistent with Senate Rule 5.2…
Each of the standing committees of the senate shall consist of the president of the senate and the majority and minority leaders of the senate, ex officio, with voting rights, and senators appointed by the president of the senate, each to serve until January 1, 2013. Provided, however, that the president of the senate may change the committee assignment of a member with the member’s consent.This is actually a pretty decent rule, protecting Senators from having their committee assignments changed if the Senate President decides she doesn’t like how votes are being cast during a session.
5. In the reaction to Senator Ciccone’s demotion given to Ted Nesi of WPRI-TV (CBS 12), Rhode Island Common Cause Executive Director John Marion mentioned the ethics legislation pending before the RI Senate…
John Marion, executive director of good-government group Common Cause Rhode Island, told WPRI.com that stripping Ciccone of two key committee assignments should only be a first step by Paiva Weed.…but Senator Ciccone’s behavior in office should also bring to mind the persistence of the master lever straight-party voting option in Rhode Island elections. Whether Senator Ciccone will retain his right to sit on at least one Senate committee and participate in Senate floor actions after 2012 will depend on whether the voters of his district put him back in office or not — and if the argument is that Senator Ciccone should be able to personally wield governing power for as long as the voters in his district assent to his holding office, and that nothing else really matters, then it is not unreasonable to require that he be personally selected by a plurality of the voters in his district.
“Common Cause is pleased that Senator Ciccone was held responsible for attempting to abuse his power as a state senator,” Marion said. “We hope the Senate leadership continues to support accountability by letting the voters restore the jurisdiction of the Ethics Commission over the General Assembly this November.”
A bill to eliminate the master lever (S2060) has been introduced to the Rhode Island Senate. It is being held by Senate Leadership for further study, which means it can be brought back to committee for a vote in this session.
On the less procedurally-oriented side of the story, Ian Donnis of Rhode Island Public Radio has discovered two arrests (that did not lead to felony convictions) in Senator Ciccone’s past, which according to a Providence Journal from the early 1990s, involved activities such as “carrying a loaded shotgun in a moving car and smashing a window at a bar” and “punch[ing] a cab driver and his passenger”. Donnis also reports that Ciccone “testified under immunity against the late former state Supreme Court chief justice Joseph A. Bevilacqua during his 1986 impeachment trial”.