PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Republican lawmakers are calling on the General Assembly’s Democratic leadership to find a way to have the legislature start meeting again despite the coronavirus pandemic, arguing that too many important issues are now being left unaddressed.
The Republicans — who hold 14 of the 113 seats in the Assembly — suggested in a joint letter that lawmakers could either begin meeting remotely or convene at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center, which has ample space to allow them to sit apart and adhere to social distancing protocols.
“We implore the speaker of the House of Representatives and the president of the Senate to immediately coordinate the logistics that will enable the Rhode Island General Assembly to safely assemble and meet its constitutional responsibilities, and to forthwith assure the public that we will seek to convene prior to the new budget year, the candidate declaration period for the 2020 election, and with sufficient time to respond to multiple crises related to the COVID-19 pandemic,” they wrote.
This is the third straight week that all House and Senate sessions and hearings have been cancelled due to the public health emergency. The State House has undergone a deep cleaning in the weeks since lawmakers departed Smith Hill.
In an email to representatives on Sunday, House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello defended the current policy he and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio have set out. He noted that the two of them met last week along with the leaders of the House and Senate Finance Committees to authorize up to $300 million in short-term borrowing to ensure the state has enough cash for the coming months.
“I have been in contact with Senate President Ruggerio about the possibility of remote sessions, which we do not favor at this point,” Mattiello wrote. “I believe the legislative process should be easily accessible to the public, particularly at the committee level where public testimony is extremely valuable. While written testimony can be shared with committee members, it is not the same as providing the opportunity for in-person testimony.”
“At present, we prefer to take it on a week-by-week basis,” he added.
In a joint statement Monday, Mattiello and Ruggerio stood by their current policy but said they “are researching contingency plans, including remote sessions.”
Raimondo backed Assembly leaders during her daily coronavirus briefing on Monday, warning that bringing rank-and-file lawmakers together in person would violate the current social distancing guidelines. She thanked Mattiello and Ruggerio for helping her deal with the crisis.
Ted Nesi (email@example.com) is WPRI 12’s politics and business editor and a Target 12 investigative reporter. He is a weekly panelist on Newsmakers and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook