PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The Rhode Island Senate’s Democratic and Republican leaders said Wednesday they have filed legislation to expel state Sen. Nicholas Kettle from the chamber following his indictment last week.
The bill to remove Kettle, R-Coventry, will be taken up by the Senate Judiciary Committee next Tuesday once the General Assembly returns from its winter break. The state constitution requires a two-thirds vote of senators to expel a lawmaker.
State leaders say no legislator has ever been expelled under that provision since the current Rhode Island constitution was adopted 175 years ago. In an interview, however, Senate President Dominick Ruggerio made clear he hopes Kettle resigns rather than force the senators to vote to remove him.
“This is a sad day for the Senate,” Ruggerio said.
Kettle, 27, was first elected in 2010 at the age of 20 and has been re-elected three times since in Senate District 21. He has been charged in two criminal cases, one concerning alleged video voyeurism involving his ex-girlfriend and the other involving accusations that he extorted a Senate page for sex in 2011.
“As of noon today, a sheriff is in the process of serving Mr. Kettle and his attorney with notice of the hearing, at which he will have the opportunity to offer a defense,” a Senate spokesman said.
Paul DiMaio, Kettle’s attorney, said the senator was speaking with his family and would likely decide Wednesday night whether to resign. If he does not step down, they will attend the hearing on Tuesday, DiMaio said.
The bill is sponsored by all of the chamber’s top leaders: Ruggerio, Senate Minority Leader Dennis Algiere, Senate Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey, Senate Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin, and Senate Judiciary Chairwoman Erin Lynch Prata. All but Algiere are Democrats.
The newly filed legislation cites a “pattern of bad behavior” by Kettle that also includes a $6,000 fine levied against him last December for campaign-finance violations. It describes the allegations involving the page, who was a minor at the time, as “repugnant” and says the Senate must “provide a safe work environment to the existing members of the Senate Page program.”
If Kettle is expelled, he would be required to immediately hand over to law enforcement his Senate ID and badge, his State House keys and parking pass, and his Senate licenses plates. His seat would remain vacant until voters choose a replacement in the November election.
The Rhode Island chapter of the ACLU has expressed concern about the Senate’s move to expel Kettle. “As serious as the criminal charges are, so too is the act of expelling a democratically elected legislator from the seat he earned from the voters of his district,” ACLU executive director Steven Brown wrote in a letter Tuesday.
As of Tuesday evening, 20 of Kettle’s 36 fellow sitting senators had told Eyewitness News they would vote to expel him, short of a two-thirds majority. One senator was undecided, and the other 15 had not yet responded to inquiries. No senator had gone on the record opposing expulsion.
Ruggerio has ordered a review of the page program, and said he has met with the pages to make sure they know to whom to report any misconduct by a senator or other staffer.
“This is something that affects the State House itself,” Ruggerio said. “It’s not something that was outside the building, something personal. It affected someone that was employed in this building as a page, and that’s really disconcerting to us right now.”Ted Nesi (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He is a weekly panelist on Newsmakers and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook