February 10, 2011

Signs of Life in Committee: Four Reps Oppose Holding the Illegal Immigration Bill "For Further Study"

Carroll Andrew Morse

A source who was at Tuesday's night hearing of the Labor Committee of the Rhode Island House of Representatives informs me that the decision "to hold for further study" the bill that would write former Governor Donald Carcieri's illegal immigration executive order into law passed by a vote of only 8 - 4 (one committee member was absent). Representatives Deborah Fellela (D-Johnston), Brian Newberry (R-North Smithfield/Burrillville), Robert Phillips (D-Woonsocket) and Jack Savage (R-East Providence) were the votes against further study.

Let's review exactly what it was that 8 members of the Labor committee voted for, in voting for "further study": By voting "to hold for further study", the majority on the Labor Committee voted against giving the full House of Representatives a definitive opportunity to vote on the illegal immigration bill, and instead voted in favor of giving the Speaker of the House the power to decide whether this bill should receive any further attention during this legislative session.

Given the committee's disposition of the immigration bill, no one outside of the 4 Representatives who voted against "further study" can be considered amongst its supporters. Certainly some members of the House Labor Committee, such Chairwoman Anastasia Williams (D-Providence), have given unmistakable indications of opposing the bill on its merits. But it would definitely be of interest to constituents of the Labor Committee members who voted for "further study" to find out if their Rep opposed the bill because of its substance, or because they were told they were not allowed to send it to the House floor for a vote at this time, even if they did support it.

Remember, asking legislators to vote in committee for bills that they support isn't asking for an arcane parliamentary trick. It's simply asking legislators to do the job they were elected to do, and not give away their representation of their constituents to someone else.

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I have no idea what you are complaining about, other than the fact that there aren't more people in RI who agree with you. The legislature is the most democratic body in the state. You have the votes, you win. It's a simple place. Your long thesis about rules of procedure is a waste of time. The majority can always change the rules at their pleasure. There is no pre-existing body of rules that governs a legislature except the constitution.

The Speaker is elected by a majority of the members. The members are elected by a majority of their voting constituents. Don't like the way bills are handled by the Speaker? Help elect more legislators who agree with you!

Enough debate about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. If you want to have an influence, time to be a bit more practical. It's all in the votes, not the rules.

Posted by: Pragmatist at February 10, 2011 11:29 AM

"The legislature is the most democratic body in the state."

Not even close. It's not very democratic if my elected state rep doesn't get to vote on a bill. How's that democratic? If one or a few persons decide on the fate of a bill, that's not democratic at all.

"The majority can always change the rules at their pleasure."

If that's the case, then there are no rules. Rules are to be followed, not changed. And they really should make many of the rules unchangeable, except by a vote of the people.

Posted by: Patrick at February 10, 2011 12:02 PM

Pragmatist, having made that comment, must also be of the sort who believes that Hugo Chavez and Vladimir Putin are the freely elected leaders of their countries.

Posted by: BobN at February 10, 2011 12:48 PM

Your rep is not allowed to vote on a bill because the majority decides what is voted on. How is that not democratic? The Speaker is elected by the majority, his decisions are the decisions of the majority. The rules are adopted -- and changed -- by the majority. How is this not democratic? Your rep doesn't have a "right" to vote on whatever bill he or she wants to vote on. Don't like the fact that your rep didn't have a chance to vote? Then get more people who think like you elected to the House!

Posted by: Pragmatist at February 10, 2011 1:01 PM

And BobN, Gordon Fox was elected by a majority of the members of the House, who were elected by their constituents. Exactly how is that like Vladimir Putin?

Posted by: pragmatist at February 10, 2011 1:04 PM

Because Putin, Chavez and even Saddam Hussein were elected by a majority of their people. Heck Saddam got 100% of the vote. So he must have been really popular, right? So they are a *really* democratic society.

And that's not democratic because it goes against what democracy is. Democracy is equal representation. What if the majority decide to pass a rule that they can simply vote Reps right out of their seat? Hey, that's what the majority wanted, it's ok, right?

The whole point of the Assembly is submit bills, discuss, vote. Not submit bill, a few people throw it in the trash.

That's democratic? I must be in the wrong country.

Posted by: Patrick at February 10, 2011 1:09 PM

By Pragmatist's (sic) logic, why even have a legislature? Just elect one person to write all of our laws for us.

Posted by: Dan at February 10, 2011 4:44 PM

Andrew-re check what you wrote.Rep.Ray Hull D-Prov/No.Prov,to my knowledge,voted against holding the bill for further study.

Posted by: joe bernstein at February 10, 2011 4:48 PM

Good point Dan. Let's just elect a king. Or let's just have Obama write all the laws of the land. He won the election, right? Then let's just have him run everything. That's pretty democratic. You get the most votes, you win, you get to write the laws.

Makes sense to me.

Posted by: Patrick at February 10, 2011 5:04 PM

This thread is a prime example of why conservatives fail so miserably around here in elections. I'm not sure why Dan, Patrick et al. find this concept so difficult to grasp.

The point isn't to have "one person write the laws", the point is that a legislature operates by majority vote. They elect a Speaker and adopt their own rules. When a bill doesn't get a vote, it is because the majority doesn't want the vote.

It isn't undemocratic when a popularly elected head of a popularly elected body exercises his powers within the constitution. It's how the system is supposed to work.

Posted by: Pragmatist at February 10, 2011 5:45 PM

Ok Pragmatist, you just keep on believing in the Potemkin version of our state's political system. But we know how one-party systems work, together with the backroom corruption that feeds them.

Perhaps you could explain what is democratic about Gordon Fox having total personal discretion about which bills to bring to a vote.

You're new here. Are you the latest drone sent over by RIF?

Posted by: BobN at February 10, 2011 6:03 PM

It's how the system is supposed to work. -pragmatist

It is not how the system is supposed to work. Representatives are supposed to vote the way their constituents want them to vote. You are totally excluding the concept of dissention within a party. Dissention encourages debate and leads to compromise. Not allowing a vote is not allowing that debate.

Believe it or not, members within any one political party can actually feel differently about proposed legislation.

Posted by: steve22 at February 10, 2011 7:21 PM


The Speaker doesn't have the power to kill an individual bill, until the members of a House Committee give it to him. Until that time, it is the committee's decision (to be made by majority vote).

Why should any state Rep decide that the Speaker should have a veto over every bill, instead of exercising independent judgetment on whether or not to send a bill to the House floor?

Posted by: Andrew at February 10, 2011 7:44 PM

PLease rest assured there was some underlying reason this bill was held for further study. The testimony, the questions from the committee and the inadequate answers from the advocates clearly indicated that the bill was going to be voted out of committee. I truly believe that the entire room was in shock, supporters and dissenters alike, when the " held for further study " VERDICT was announced. Several of the committee members that asked the toughest questions of the advocates and recieved the MOST INADEQUATE answers voted to hold for further study. It didn't make sense. Maybe someone could ask the Committee Chairwoman who recommended the bill be held in the first place. I'm not sure the motion didn't come from ABOVE prior to the bills consideration. Just BUSINESS AS USUAL from some of our Legislators. Thank you to the Reps that had the courage to vote the way their constituents, at least 80 % of them, desired. The Chairman and several Reps assured some of the attendees that expressed disappointment with the vote that they would see to it that the bill came back for a vote to send the bill to the floor for a vote by the entire House. The bill just needed a little tweaking. We'll see!!!!

Posted by: leprechaun at February 13, 2011 1:22 PM
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