Proposed House Rules Refine Committees, Allow Members Voting Flexibility in Emergencies Such as Pandemic

 

STATE HOUSE –House Rules Committee Chairman Arthur Corvese has introduced legislation proposing new rules for the House of Representatives to allow the Speaker to activate procedures that include remote committee votes and some proxy voting during emergencies such as the current pandemic.

The proposals, which will have public hearings this Thursday and next Thursday, would also create two new standing committees, split the Health, Education and Welfare Committee into two committees, and allow each representative to keep up to three of their bills “alive” from the first year of their term into the second.

“I’m certain that these changes will help the House operate more effectively in doing the people’s work. These proposals will provide new committees to better focus on the types of issues we consider today, and keep legislation moving by spreading out the workload. It also gives us the latitude we need to keep working safely through emergencies like the current pandemic. Being able to do more of our committee work remotely, and allowing proxy voting by those who can’t safely be in a large group will help legislate in the new realities we current face,” said Chairman Corvese (D-Dist. 55, North Providence).

In response to the difficult legislative conditions caused by the pandemic, Chairman Corvese’s proposal (2021-H 5002) would provide the speaker with discretion to trigger temporary legislative procedures during a public health or other emergency. Those temporary procedures include allowing members to participate and vote in committee meetings via video conferencing or telephone, as long as the member’s identity could be verified. Witnesses would also be able to participate in similar manner. 

It would allow the speaker to authorize proxy voting by some members during House session, provided there is a quorum met by the physical presence of 38 of the members. Under that proposal, the Speaker could temporarily allow members who cannot attend the session to have their majority or minority leaders vote on certain matters on their behalf. 

Temporary procedures would remain in place until the speaker rescinds them at his discretion at the conclusion of the public emergency.

The bill adds two new standing committees: a Committee on Innovation, Internet and Technology, which would address issues relating to cybersecurity, data and internet privacy, and emerging technology, including technological innovation in state government; and a Committee on State Government and Elections, which would consider legislation relating to state affairs, governmental departments and divisions, administrative procedures, open meetings, elections law and constitutional amendments.

It also splits the Committee on Health, Education and Welfare into two distinct committees: a Committee on Education and a Committee on Health and Human services. This change would better position committees to hear legislation focusing on these distinct and important issues confronting the state. Additionally, it would change the Municipal Government Committee to the Municipal Government and Housing Committee to reflect the importance that the House places upon the issue of housing currently facing our communities.

The proposal allowing members to carry over up to three of their bills for the second year of a legislative term would allow them to avoid the process of reintroduction for their highest legislative priorities.

The Rules Committee meets Thursday, Jan. 14, at 4 p.m. in Room 35 of the State House for a hearing on the proposal, as well as several proposed bills pertaining to House rules. An additional public hearing will be held Jan. 21, at 4 p.m.

The meetings will be televised live on Capitol Television, which can be seen on Cox Channels 15, and 61, in high definition on Cox Channel 1061, on Full Channel on Channel 15 and on Channel 34 by Verizon subscribers. They will also be live streamed at http://www.rilegislature.gov/CapTV/Pages/default.aspx.

No in-person public testimony will be taken, since the State House is currently closed to the public due to the pandemic. Written testimony is encouraged and should be submitted to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Those who would prefer to provide verbal testimony must send an email by 11 a.m. on Jan. 13 to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with the following information:  bill number, whether the testimony is for or against the bill, and name and phone number where the party can be reached to give the testimony.

Documents provided by the public will be made available on the General Assembly website at http://www.rilegislature.gov/Special/comdoc/Pages/HRUL.aspx.

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