Shared from the 1/3/2019 The Providence Journal eEdition


Mattiello gives ‘Reform Caucus’ platform a look

He dismisses most of its ideas, meant to boost transparency at State House


Rep. Liana M. Cassar, D-Barrington, speaks during Wednesday afternoon’s press conference with fellow members of the Reform Caucus in the State House library. The group discussed proposals to change House rules to promote “transparency, efficiency and accountability.”


Rep. Katherine Kazarian, D-East Providence, takes a turn at the lectern to talk about the rules changes she and other members of the Reform Caucus would like to see enacted this legislative session.


PROVIDENCE — A group of House Democrats opposed to Speaker Nicholas Mattiello’s reign on Tuesday proposed changes to the legislative process they hope will disperse some of the power that has concentrated in the speaker’s office over the years back to rank and file lawmakers.

Gathering in the State House Library a day after Mattiello was reelected speaker, the 19-member “Reform Caucus” said it wants to make it easier for lawmakers to force a vote through discharge petition on bills being “held for further study” and harder for leaders to suspend the House rules toward the end of the legislative session.

They also called for a window of at least 48 hours to review new versions of a bill — including the state budget — before a vote. And for bills to carry over into the second year of a two-year legislative term.

“We are hopeful that more of our colleagues will join us and there is broad support for these types of proposals,” said Rep. Teresa Tanzi, D-South Kingstown. “And through conversations we’ve had over years, we know that there is broad support.”

But Mattiello, who retained the speaker’s gavel Tuesday with support from 47 of the 75-member House, appeared unenthusiastic about most of the proposed rules changes Wednesday. He said the House Rules Committee will be releasing its own version of the rules in the coming weeks, but made no promises about what they might look like.

When the Rules Committee does meet to discuss the new House rules, no members of the Reform Caucus will be on it.

A little more than an hour after the Reform Caucus news conference, Mattiello appointed new committee members and removed the only Reform Caucus member from last year’s committee lineup, Rep. Katherine Kazarian of East Providence.

Speaking to reporters in his office Wednesday afternoon, Mattiello said requiring a two-thirds vote to suspend the rules would not change much, as, barring a constitutional amendment, a simple majority could always vote to suspend anyway.

He described the proposal to allow bills to carry over into the second year of a two-year-term as “semantic” and unlikely to change many outcomes.

On giving lawmakers and the public more time to consider new versions of bills, known in State House jargon as “Substitute As,” Mattiello said he’s been considering changes already, but not if they affect the state budget’s annual late-night release and immediate approval of the House Finance Committee.

“There’s actually some merit to that,” Mattiello said about a 48-hour review period for new versions of bills. “I have never 100-percent liked the Sub A system, but that is going to add a lot of logistic work, and we have to work on figuring out to see if it is at all possible.”

“Relative to the budget I don’t agree that it makes sense,” he continued, saying the version of the budget released and voted on by the Finance Committee each year is a “work product” of that committee and the full House gets a week to review it before a final vote.

John Marion, executive director of Common Cause Rhode Island, which has long championed rules changes similar to what the Reform Caucus proposed, said the changes would be a positive step, particularly more scrutiny of the budget.

“Over the decades the rules have narrowed to concentrate power in the leadership of the House by taking power away from the rank-and-file,” Marion said. “The most significant change to the public would be the [48 hours] advance notice ... Of all the bills that should have more sunlight, the budget is foremost, but other bills that take years to finally get a vote also deserve more public scrutiny in their final form.”

Said Kazarian: “Rhode Islanders deserve transparency. Forty-eight hours is the least we could do.”

For years Republicans have campaigned for many of the rules changes proposed Wednesday and Reform Caucus members said they have been seeking the support of the nine-member GOP caucus even though the news conference featured only Democrats.

The last time the rules were debated on the House floor, two Democrats, Reform Caucus member Rep. Ray Hull and former representative Jared Nunes, joined Republicans voting against the House rules bill.

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