PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The Rhode Island lawmaker who asked a colleague if she was “a pedophile” during a State House hearing last week has been reprimanded for his remarks.
R.I. House Speaker Joseph Shekarchi, who described the comments as “reprehensible and insulting,” ordered Thursday the immediate removal of Republican Rep. Robert Quattrocchi from the House Committee on State Government and Elections, where the exchange took place.
“Use of suggestive and offensive language and the disparagement of an esteemed colleague will not be tolerated in this chamber,” Shekarchi said in a statement.
WATCH: Shekarchi reprimands Quattrocchi for remarks during hearing (Story continues below.)
Quattrocchi made the comment during a hearing on legislation that would require lawmakers to attach equity impact statements to every bill introduced in the General Assembly.
The legislation was introduced by Democratic Rep. Rebecca Kislak. Quattrocchi questioned the applicability of the proposal.
“In my thinking about bills I want to represent … Do I have to take into account, for instance, religion?” Quattrocchi asked Kislak. “Do I have to take into account how it affects Satanists in Rhode Island? Or do I have to take into account with sexual orientation, how it affects pedophiles in Rhode Island?”
“Well first I want to point out that being a pedophile is not a sexual orientation,” Kislak responded. “So, my equity right now is pointing out that that was really offensive.”
Quattrocchi responded, “Oh I didn’t mean to — are you a pedophile? I’m sorry.”
Kislak addressed her colleagues Thursday, thanking everyone for their continued support over the past week.
“Our constituents expect us to treat each other and them with respect, and that’s how we can and should work to do the people’s business,” she said.
Quattrocchi, who claims that he’s apologized to Kislak multiple times, refused to admit any wrongdoing.
“I’m going to confess my guilt for calling out evil … an evil act against children,” he said. “Because I did that, evil came for me.”
Quattrocchi said he’s been receiving harassing phone calls and emails ever since his exchange with Kislak.
“All of this for asking questions,” he said. “Not making statements, not making accusations and not talking about other groups of people.”
R.I. House Minority Leader Michael Chippendale criticized Shekarchi’s decision to remove Quattrocchi from the committee, arguing that the speaker “acted under the pressure of ‘a mob.'”
In a letter to his fellow lawmakers, Chippendale said the “inartful exchange” between Quattrocchi and Kislak has “unleashed a whirlwind which is both a grave distraction from the important issues this institution is grappling with, and a 180-degree departure from the long-standing practice of the House.”
Chippendale said he’s “appalled” that Shekarchi didn’t consult the House Conduct Committee before reprimanding Quattrocchi.
“Going forward, if someone suggests in floor debate that a fellow member is uncaring, callous or otherwise stands for anything other than the best interests of their constituents, as numerous members have in moments of rhetorical excess over the years, we would expect punishment,” Chippendale said. “We also expect, as offense is often in the eye of the beholder, that members who claim offense be prioritized. Apologies are obviously irrelevant under our new standard, so punishment is not just needed but required under this new paradigm.”
Chippendale urged his fellow lawmakers to demand Quattrocchi’s removal be reversed.
“All kinds of personal interactions that were once part of normal conversation between normal people will be weaponized,” he said. “I would hope that upon reflection, the overwhelming majority of members will recognize the abject chaos this newly adopted and unprecedented approach will yield.”
In a statement, Shekarchi spokesperson Larry Berman defended Quattrocchi’s removal as “a measured and fair response to uphold the decorum of the House.”
Supporters of the decision noted Quattrocchi wasn’t removed from his other two committee assignments, and that the same action has been taken in the past, including last year when then-Rep. Carlos Tobon was removed from the House Finance Committee following a Target 12 investigation.
Republicans dismissed the Tobon comparison, pointing out that he resigned at Shekarchi’s request rather than being off the committee by direct action of the speaker, and saying the circumstances weren’t comparable.