As session begins, R.I. House requests no more than 15 bills per legislator
This article originally appeared in Roll Call on January 10, 2024 and was written by Kate Ackley.
John Marion, executive director of Common Cause Rhode Island, raises opposition to House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi’s calls for a 15 bill limit per each House member.
John M. Marion, executive director of Common Cause Rhode Island, said the bill limit might amount to “inside baseball” for the legislature. “But it’s incredibly important inside baseball because it affects how representatives are able to represent their constituents,” he said.
“When you watch ‘School House Rock,’ no one says, ‘That poor bill sitting on Capitol Hill can only have 14 friends,’ ” Marion said, referring to a series of educational cartoons that ran on Saturday morning TV in the 1970s and ‘80s, including “I’m Just A Bill,” on how a bill becomes a law.
Marion said it’s understandable why the House wants to cap the number of bills each member can introduce. “Agendas have gotten terribly long in recent years and hearings are continuing late into the night,” he said. “Too often, the sponsors of the bills themselves don’t even show up for the hearings because they’re in another committee or have left the building and gone to a fundraiser.”
But, Marion said, “Any limit needs to be weighed against the fact that introducing legislation is one of the primary means by which legislators represent their constituents. The 16th good idea a legislator has shouldn’t necessarily have to wait until next year. There should be reasonable exceptions to any limit.”
Marion said some bills are poorly drafted, stand little chance of passage, and appear aimed only at making headlines. “But it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be able to put that bill in,” he said.
And Marion said the bill limit should not become yet another thing, such as office assignments and parking spaces, that legislative leaders can use to reward or punish individual members. “Any limits should come with clear exceptions,” he said, “and those should be debated and codified in the House rules.”
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