House Adopts 2021-2022 Rules
STATE HOUSE – The House of Representatives voted 59-7 today to adopt new rules for the 2021-2022 session, creating provisions allowing the speaker to activate procedures that include remote committee votes and limited proxy voting during emergencies such as the current pandemic.
The resolution (2021-H 5002A), which became effective immediately upon passage, creates two new committees and splits the busy Health, Education and Welfare Committee in two, and grants committee chairs discretion to put representatives of state departments, agencies, and quasi-public agencies under oath while testifying before House committees.
“I’m certain that these changes will help the House operate more effectively in doing the people’s work. These rules will allow 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 currently face,” said Rules Committee Chairman Arthur Corvese (D-Dist. 55, North Providence), who sponsored the resolution.
In response to the difficult legislative conditions caused by the pandemic, the new rules provide the speaker with discretion to trigger temporary legislative procedures during declared emergencies. 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.
Under the new rules, the speaker could temporarily allow members to vote by proxy on items on the daily and consent calendars, provided there is a quorum met by the physical presence of 38 of the members. Members must communicate their proxy votes to their majority or minority leader and the House clerk.
The new rules allow the speaker to require, during public health emergencies, that members comply with public safety measures recommended by the Department of Health while in attendance at any session or committee of the House.
Temporary procedures would remain in place until the speaker rescinds them at his discretion at the conclusion of the public emergency.
The new rules add two new standing committees: a Committee on Innovation, Internet and Technology, which will 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 will 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.
A new provision now guarantees that each member will be appointed to at least two committees, and would increase from five to 10 the number of cosponsors that can be published on each bill.
Another new provision allows members to carry up to three of their bills over from the first to the second year of a legislative term, allowing them to avoid the process of reintroduction for their highest legislative priorities.
The new rules also introduce a more detailed procedure for the discipline of a member which affords due process protections to the member, through the House’s Committee on Conduct. They also clarify on the procedure for running the legislative session on days when the speaker is absent.