PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – House Minority Leader Blake Filippi is criticizing top lawmakers in both the House and Senate after they refused to attend a meeting of the embattled Joint Committee on Legislative Services in part because of pending litigation filed by Filippi.
The Republican leader in the House held a press conference Thursday to chastise leadership in both houses, distributing letters showing they declined his invitation to meet and consider new rules dictating the powerful JCLS, which oversees and controls the legislature’s $45 million budget along with day-to-day operations of the General Assembly.
Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, a Democrat, and Senate Minority Leader Dennis Algiere, a Republican, responded to Filippi’s Feb. 6 invitation saying they would not attend due to legal reasons, despite having repeatedly called for JCLS to meet in the past. The committee has not formally met for several years.
“We have advocated for meetings of the JCLS, as have all past Senate presidents and Senate minority leaders, and we continue to want the committee to meet,” the senators wrote. “However, we have consulted with John A. Tarantino, our attorney in the pending lawsuit initiated by you against us as members of the JCLS, and have been advised to refrain from attending such meeting while the suit is pending.”
Following Filippi’s press conference, the senators released a statement calling on the House Republican to drop the lawsuit and “to support the Senate’s efforts to reform the committee and provide better checks and balances by balancing the membership between the Senate and House.”
House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and Majority Leader Joseph Shekarchi, meanwhile, responded saying Filippi was powerless to call such a meeting, and also pointed to the Senate’s response as part of the reasons why they would not attend.
“Please note that you do not have the authority to unilaterally call a meeting of the committee,” wrote the House’s Democratic leaders. “Based on the fact that the Senate members will not be attending, a meeting will not be called at this time.”
Following the press conference, the lawmakers reiterated that Filippi could not unilaterally call a meeting, adding, “Should Leader Filippi want to work collaboratively, we are prepared to do so, as we have always done in the past.”
The rift between Filippi and his fellow JCLS committee members stems from a lawsuit he filed Jan. 23 challenging the authority of the JCLS. While the five lawmakers make up the committee on paper, in practice it’s most controlled by its chairman, Mattiello, and his inner circle.
Filippi said Thursday the committee members’ unwillingness to attend the meeting reenforces the claim of his lawsuit that its rules should be reexamined. His proposal, which he shared with reporters, would have required the committee to meet on a regular basis throughout the year, and given any two members the ability to call special meetings with prior notice.
The issue came to a head last month after Target 12 first reported the speaker ordered an unauthorized audit of the Convention Center at the same time his friend was embroiled in a personnel matter there. That matter is currently the focus of a grand jury investigation.
According to state law, the speaker should have first received a majority vote from the committee to authorize the audit, which he did not obtain.
Filippi subsequently filed the lawsuit challenging Mattiello’s authority over JCLS and also naming the other members as defendants. Within hours of the Republican’s lawsuit, Mattiello canceled the Convention Center audit.
The lawsuit is ongoing and the next hearing is scheduled for March 2.