PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — House Democrats loyal to Speaker Nicholas Mattiello on Thursday approved a revised set of rules to govern the chamber over the next two years, including a provision requiring that amended bills are published at least 24 hours before a vote.
The usually sleepy rules process, which occurs at the start of every two-year General Assembly session, has received much more attention this year since the 19-member Reform Caucus of dissident Democrats began pushing Mattiello’s leadership team to open up the legislative process.
While Mattiello has publicly dismissed the caucus — he labeled them “the high tax caucus” during a taping of Dan Yorke’s TV show Thursday — his leadership team sought to neutralize some of their criticism in the revised rules package they released Thursday. It won approval from the committee even before it was posted online for the public to read.
Rules Committee Chairman Arthur “Doc” Corvese, D-North Providence, said the new bill will require that revised bills — known as Substitute A’s, or “Sub A’s” in State House parlance — be posted online at least 24 hours if they contain substantive changes. The Reform Caucus had pushed a 48-hour requirement.
The 24-hour rule can be waived by the committee’s chairman “if he or she deems the proposed amendment either technical, grammatical or not substantive or substantial in nature,” and it will not apply to the budget bill, Corvese said.
Asked if the ability to waive the 24-rule could be abused, Corvese told Eyewitness News he didn’t expect it to happen.
“There’s no chair worth their salt who’s going to play around with that,” Corvese said. “Anyone who does that is obviously putting their chairmanship in jeopardy.”
Additionally, the revised rules made changes to the new policy for investigating and punishing sexual harassment that House leaders are adopting in response to the Cale Keable scandal last fall. As expected, a much-criticized “gag order” on harassment victims was removed.
Also included was a change suggested by House Corporations Committee Chairman Robert Jacquard, allowing ceremonial resolutions to be read “either during a recess, while the House is at ease or following adjournment.” Jacquard suggested this would help the House prioritize its committee work.
The vote on the revised rules was 14-3, with the three Republican committee members opposing the bill. However, House Minority Leader Blake Filippi said that he was pleased about the new 24-hour policy on Sub A’s.
Filippi said House Republicans had suggested a similar policy a few years ago, only to see the idea voted down by Democrats. “Sometimes good ideas take time,” he said.
Members of the Reform Caucus celebrated the changes, promising to continue to introduce more rules changes this year including changes to the way rules are suspended during the end-of-session rush to pass bills.
“We are thrilled,” Rep. Deb Ruggiero, D-Jamestown, said. “We thank the House Rules Committee and the speaker for recognizing that the public has the right to know what’s in a bill, legislators need to read that.”
John Marion, executive director of Common Cause Rhode Island, called the changes “a significant step toward a more transparent legislative process.” The 24-hour rule will “make it easier for citizens to follow the legislative process, and will allow legislators time to know exactly what they’re being asked to vote on.”
However, Marion said, “While there were significant improvements made to the proposed process for handling sexual harassment, we still feel it needs far more work. The rules are also not the correct place to put such a process.”
The full House is expected to approve the rules bill next week. Senate President Dominick Ruggerio has not yet released his proposed rules for the upper chamber this session, and Marion said it “would be nice” for the Senate to also institute a 24-hour rule.