The House Finance Committee’s 38 Studios Dilemma
The Rhode Island House of Representatives Finance Committee has a bigger-than-usual open-government dilemma on its hands. Yesterday, the Finance Committee heard three separate bills for dealing with bond payments to 38 Studios (see bills 1A, 1B, and 1C here). There is also a fourth option available — take no further legislative action and pay off the deal in full. All three bills were “held for further study”, i.e. sent to the Phantom Zone where, under unwritten but long-established rules of the House, only the Speaker can retrieve them.
So which bill, if any, will the Speaker retrieve? And who will he consult with, in deciding which bill to retrieve?
The Speaker could choose not to bring any of the 38 Studios bills back to committee. In that case, he will have decided, on his own, that the position of the House is to pay the 38 Studios bonds in full, without allowing any other members to have a say.
The Speaker could also choose to bring only one of the three bills back. In this case, he will be giving the committee the choice of either paying the bonds in full or picking his preferred option, with the the other two options off the table. This would imply one of two things about the Finance Committee’s role in the decision. Either members of the committee against paying off the bonds under their original terms don’t care which option is picked and are willing to pass to the floor whichever option the Speaker tells them he wants, or a deal will be worked out ahead of time between the Speaker and committee members, with one bill that has majority committee support being brought back — and highlighting how RI General Assembly committee meetings are mostly theater used to dress-up decisions made elsewhere.
In the end — unless Finance committee members really do favor passing this decision off to the speaker and rubber-stamping whatever decision he makes about sending (or not sending) a 38 Studios bill to the floor — the only way to assure the public that this decision will be made outside of the confines of a backroom deal is to bring all three of the bills back to the committee for consideration, where committee members can explain in an open session which option or options they favor sending to the floor.