RI House GOP leader claims task force breaks House rules

It was the first meeting of the joint COVID-19 Emergency Spending Task Force Thursday but lawmakers ran into a conflict after the House Minority Leader wanted to weigh-in but the task force shut him down.

The task force met to oversee how Gov. Raimondo will spend $1.25 billion in federal funding to fight the coronavirus pandemic in the state.

Minority Leader Blake Filippi is not on the task force but he said that under House rules he should be allowed to act as an ex-officio member.

“Exercising our House oversight constitutional function. The only way that is possible is through our House rules,” Filippi told ABC 6 in an interview Friday.

Filippi said that under the rules, the Speaker of the House can only create committees, and not task forces.

The Republican goes on to say that in the rules it states that if a committee is created by the Speaker, then the House Minority and Majority Leaders, as well as the Speaker, can act as ex-officio members of that committee.

Filippi tried taking the floor but Co-Chairman of the task force Rep. Marvin Abney told Filippi “I’m overruling at this point so we can continue with this.”

Filippi said it’s against House rules.

“I think it’s giving the impression that the Gernal Assembly is at work and it just isn’t,” Filippi said.

Adam Myers, political science professor at Providence College, said Filippi may have a point but since the task force does not have the legal authority to draft legislation, it’s a different story.

“Representative Filippi is correct. For example, if you look at the Rhode Island constitution it doesn’t envision any sort of joint forum including both members of the House and Senate,” Myers said.

But Myers said in this case “House rules don’t apply.”

“I think it’s most supposed to fulfill a sort of fact finding role it’s not supposed to have the authority to actually pass bills or make laws,” Myers said.

But Filippi said there should be oversight for many things and he wants the House and Senate Oversight Committees to reconvene so they can take action if needed.

“I’m just very disappointed that the mechanism by which the House is exercising “oversight” is some informal committee with no legal authority,” he said.

Larry Berman, spokesperson for the House of Representatives, released the following statement on Friday:

“The House, Senate and Governor have a long history of creating task forces and commissions that meet to review relevant issues.  Leader Filippi is referring to a House rule that the Speaker, Majority Leader and Minority Leader are ex-officio members of all House standing committees.  This is not a committee solely created by the House, but a joint House and Senate task force that is reviewing a very serious issue of the state’s spending of hundreds of millions of dollars.  The Senate President and House Speaker each appointed a member of the minority party to this task force.  Unfortunately, Leader Filippi interrupted a very serious meeting and erroneously referred  to a House rule that does not apply.  While the members were adhering to Department of Health regulations, he inappropriately added his presence to the room and compromised their ability to properly keep a social distance. This task force will continue to focus its attention on an unprecedented health crisis that is causing great strain on the state’s economy.”

Categories: Coronavirus, News, Regional News, Rhode Island