House Judicary Majority Supports Eliminating the Master Lever. So They Should Vote to Eliminate the Master Lever

The weekly legislative review will start a little early this weekend.

On Wednesday, March 13, the House Judiciary Committee will hear several bills on removing the master lever (i.e., the straight-party option) from Rhode Island election ballots. For various reasons, the most important of these bills is H5778, submitted at the request of the Secretary of State.

Consider this: According to Ken Block’s Eliminate the Master Lever website, there should be enough votes on the House Judiciary Committee to pass this bill…

House Judiciary Committee
Supports Eliminating the Master Lever?
Representative Edith H. Ajello (Chair)Yes
Representative Joseph S. AlmeidaYes
Representative Christopher R. Blazejewski
Representative Doreen Marie CostaYes
Representative Robert E. Craven, Sr.Yes
Representative John J. DeSimone (Vice-Chair)No
Representative Donald J. Lally Jr.
Representative Charlene LimaYes
Representative Michael J. MarcelloYes
Representative Peter F. Martin (Secretary)Yes
Representative J. Patrick O’Neill
Representative K. Joseph Shekarchi
Representative Donna M. WalshYes

…meaning that for H5778 to go before the full House membership, all that has to happen is for Judiciary Committee members who have said they support eliminating the master lever to vote for what they say they support. Neither leadership, nor anyone else outside of the House Judiciary Committee, has the power at this stage of the lawmaking process to prevent H5778 from reaching the House floor It only be denied a floor vote if the declared supporters of eliminating straight-party voting decide to let someone else decide the issue.

To fully understand this, consider how the vote to hold for further study is described in the House rules: a vote on “a motion to report the bill or resolution to the House with a recommendation that it be held for further study”. A vote for passage is described similarly: a vote on “a motion to report the bill or resolution to the House with a recommendation of passage”. Both actions result in the bill being reported to the House, the difference being that a bill reported with a recommendation for passage must be acted on by the full House while a bill held for further study, according to a express rule, need never be heard of again. The rules are murky on what can happen next after a bill is held, and the practice in the Rhode Island legislature has been to leave it solely to the leadership to decide if a held bill is returned to committee. But the leadership does not assume this power to decide a bill’s fate and has no actual power to block any bill from reaching the floor (provided it has been submitted early enough in the session) until a majority of committee members decide that they are going to surrender their power to decide on a bill.

Make no mistake however, it is not the existence of the “further study” rule nor any other rule at the Rhode Island General Assembly that has made the open committee process subservient to decisions made behind closed doors. The real problem is that a great majority of Rhode Island really believe they must wait for leadership permission before they can vote the way they want to in committee on every single issue that comes before them. There is no rules change that can fix this; only representatives willing to act on the principle that making their own decisions is more important than following orders can.

So are there any Representatives on the House Judiciary Committee that would consider taking the radical for Rhode Island step of saying “let’s vote on this” when the master lever bill comes up for consideration this Wednesday? I believe there are no less than three strong possibilities…

  • Representative Michael Marcello, the primary legislative sponsor of the abolish the lever bill, sits on the House Judiciary committee. If he hears nothing during its hearings to change his mind about the bill he sponsored, and thinks it has the votes to pass, it would be entirely appropriate for him to motion for this bill to be sent to the floor for consideration, rather than be held for further study.
  • The chairwoman of the House Judiciary Committee is Representative Edith Ajello, also a supporter of abolishing the Master Lever. Perhaps someone can politely point out to her that a majority of her committee supports passage of this bill, and that it would be appropriate for her to send the bill to the House floor, rather than hold it for further study (assuming that she does not believe that part of her job as a committee Chairwoman to block bills that have majority support from her members, until she gets permission from elsewhere).
  • And if the powers that be don’t want to take action on the bill immediately, Representative Doreen Costa is a member of the House Judiciary Committee. She (as does any member of the Judiciary Committee) has the right to ask that the bill be voted on immediately during Wednesday’s proceedings, instead of it being subjected to further study, and she may be inclined to be less reticent about being the first one to stand up and say we should vote on this than some other Reps.
Despite what people who are complacent with the existing power structure may try to tell you, it will not lead to unmanageable anarchy if a group of legislators who are in the majority tell the leadership that they don’t have to wait for permission to vote on a bill they support. That is, in fact, what they were elected to do.

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Tommy Cranston
Tommy Cranston
10 years ago

The master lever ain’t the problem.
Give the people a SPECIFIC, concise well thought out program for tax limitation and economic revival and give them a reason to vote straight Republican-or better yet a renamed Taxpayers Party.

10 years ago

“House Judicary Majority Supports Eliminating the Master Lever”

10 years ago

Terrific job with this, Andrew.
This point (which I only learned from a prior post by Andrew) cannot be reiterated often enough:
When committee members vote to hold a bill for further study, they turn control of that bill over to leadership. As Andrew points out, is that why their constituents sent them to the Rhode Island General Assembly?

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