June 1, 2010

Stop This. The Legislative Leadership Is Not Nearly As Powerful as our Rank and File Legislators Let Them Be.

Carroll Andrew Morse

I watched the Capitol TV replay of the recommission of the E-verify bill to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senate President Teresa Paiva-Weed announced the bill, Majority Leader Daniel Connors immediately made the motion to recommit, and a voice vote was taken. Senator Connors was correct in saying that Senate rules do not allow any debate on a motion to recommit.

However, as is frequently the case in the Rhode Island legislature, the commands of the leadership are not nearly as final as the legislators we elect allow them to be.

There were at least two fundamental actions that E-verify supporters, supporters of democracy and supporters of the general principle of counting votes had available to them to make sure that the E-Verify bill was not disposed of via unilateral leadership action.

  1. According to Senate rule 8.1, just one (1) Senator requesting a roll call vote would have made the roll call vote a requirement...
    Method of Voting. The electronic roll of the senate shall be called upon any vote pertaining to a public bill and for passage of the consent calendar and on any other vote at the request of any senator present; otherwise, votes shall be put by yeas and nays. In naming sums or numbers, and fixing times, the largest sum or longest time shall be put first.
    ...but no Senator made that request.
  2. According to Senate rule 8.8.2, even when an issue is decided by a yays-and-nays vote, any Senator has the right to have his or her vote entered into the Senate Journal...
    Upon request, on any non-recorded vote, any senator shall have his or her vote recorded so that it shall appear in the journal of the senate.
    ...which raises an interesting possibility: what would happen if, after a voice vote was declared by the leadership to have passed, a majority of Senators immediately followed by requesting that their individual votes be recorded in the negative (that is, what would happen to the bill, after the leadership immediately resigned in disgrace)?
Alas, we will never find out the answer to this question, as long as we keep electing Senators (and Representatives) who choose not making waves with the leadership when it really matters over presenting their views on important legislation to their constituents and to the general public.

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This is the root of the problem. Everyone is afraid to rock the boat - especially those who currently hold legislative seats.

It is the individual legislators who vote to allow rules that enable the orgy of legislating that happens on the last few days of the session.

It is the individual legislators who vote to allow legislative committees to vote to hold bills before taking testimony on those bills from the public.

I could go on and on....

Unless and until legislators are elected who are prepared to vote for basic reforms for how our legislature operates, we will continue to get bad legislating.

Posted by: Ken Block at June 1, 2010 10:02 PM

The root of the problem, as always, is us. The spineless legislators hold their seats because they are repeatedly reelected by a corrupt electorate. We have been conditioned to believe that the touchstone for evaluating candidates is our personal interest and that our fellow citizens' property and income are there to be appropriated on our behalf by politicians. We regularly sell our votes to the highest bidders and are shocked when the politicians we elect follow our example.

Posted by: David P. at June 1, 2010 10:11 PM

Human beings willingly become sheeple in the furtherance of at best a dysfunctional political enterprise, and at worst a thoroughly corrupt one.

And for what?

A $15k-ish position with a gold-plated health care benefit?

Something doesn't add up. Why would people sell their souls, and their integrity, so cheaply.

Either there is something more to "incentivize" them or, as Lincoln Steffens observed 100 years ago, RI is indeed a state for sale, and cheap.

Posted by: Ragin' Rhode Islander at June 1, 2010 11:08 PM

"There were at least two fundamental actions that E-verify supporters, supporters of democracy and supporters of the general principle of counting votes had available to them to make sure that the E-Verify bill was not disposed of via unilateral leadership action."

Andrew, Senator O'Neill told Matt Allen that he and at least one other senator loudly called for an electronic vote. Is that what happened on the tape? If so, is your criticism of them or of the body as a whole?

Also, how did you see the instant replay? Is it available on line someplace or only in analog form in some unhelpful place?

Posted by: Monique at June 2, 2010 12:10 AM

Another good bill dead by a majority of one! Or two, if you count Connors. I consider him just a shadow though, nio form, just bringing darkness.

Posted by: John at June 2, 2010 7:11 AM


I couldn't make out exactly what was said in between the motion to recommit and the voice vote. Connors made a point of saying that the motion couldn't be debated, at which point someone who was serious about a floor vote should have said "I am not debating the motion, I am invoking my right under rule 8.1...", or else, at some point before the vote was completed, said those magic words of parliamentary procedure "point of order; I am invoking my right under rule 8.1...".

What is clear is that the bill's supporters were unprepared for the Senate leadership to act exactly the same way they have in the past. This is the fourth year in a row that a group of Senators who claim they are close to majority support at the very minimum have been unable to get a floor vote on an immigration related bill. The bill's sponsors aren't greenhorn freshmen. So is the problem that rank-and-file Senators have been obedient to the leadership for so long that they just don't know any other way, or is the problem that they are consciously stupaking the public on the issue of immigration?


I agree with the spirit of your comment, but I disagree that there is a major structural flaw in the rules. If Cote and crew were serious about getting this bill a floor vote they could have introduced early in the session and brought it out of committee through a discharge petition, where the rules specify that every Senator wanting to be heard must be allowed a chance to speak, before a motion to recommit can be entertained.

The problem is almost wholly in the people we're electing and the obedience they show to leadership (like voting to hold bills for further study en masse as a matter of routine), not the law-making process itself (although I would be in favor of requiring all committee votes to be electronically published, and for changing the way that committee chairs are selected.)

Posted by: Andrew at June 2, 2010 8:53 AM

I am usually against "all or nothing" thinking, but this is a case in which the leadership of the state legislature has taken precisely that kind of an approach to governance. Therefore, incoming representatives have a choice to make. Either they should sell out entirely and be a hack for political favors, voting how they are told and letting these types of shenanigans go unchallenged, or they should renounce that way of life and do everything within their power to derail and expose the evil Democratic machine destroying the state. Half-measures will not work in this fight, the leadership has made that very clear.

Posted by: Dan at June 2, 2010 10:24 AM
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