Ken Block, Chairman of WatchdogRI.org
Did you ever wonder how many votes your state senator and representative missed this past year?
I never gave it much thought until the last day of the 2016 Rhode Island legislative session, when the last votes were being cast as the sun was rising after an all-night spasm of deal making and lawmaking. Punch drunk representatives staggered home after casting a mind-boggling 209 votes in less than 48 hours, while our senators cast 141 votes.
WatchdogRI and the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity teamed up to analyze the voting records of every incumbent legislator for legislative years 2014, 2015, and 2016. The Center provided raw data in electronic form from their data provider LegiNation Inc., and WatchdogRI performed the data analytics.
After discarding resolutions and marriage solemnizations, we were left with 615 votes in the House and 532 votes in the Senate for 2016.
In the House, the top 10 legislators with the most missed votes were:
- Thomas Palangio (D, Providence): 536
- John Carnevale (D, Providence): 356
- Arthur Corvese (D, North Providence): 263
- Jared Nunes (D, Coventry/West Warwick): 221
- Joseph Trillo (R, Warwick): 209
- John Lombardi (D, Providence): 202
- Robert Jacquard (D, Cranston): 157
- Edith Ajello (D, Providence): 142
- Nicholas Mattiello (D, Cranston): 126
- Dan Reilly (R, Portsmouth/Middletown): 105
For the Senate, the top 10 legislators with the most missed votes were:
- Frank Lombardi (D, Cranston): 138
- Donna Nesselbush (D, Pawtucket/North Providence): 130
- Edward O’Neill (R, Lincoln/North
- Frank Lombardo (D, Johnston): 115
- Leonidas Raptakis (D, East Greenwich/West Greenwich/Coventry): 107
- Nicholas Kettle (R, Coventry/Foster/
Scituate/West Greenwich): 92
- James Doyle (D, Pawtucket): 91
- Elizabeth Crowley (D, Central Falls/
- Joshua Miller (D, Providence/Cranston): 77
- William Walaska (D, Warwick): 77
Representatives Robert Phillips (D, Cumberland/Woonsocket) and Raymond Johnston (D, Pawtucket) each missed only one vote, joining 23 other representatives who missed fewer than
Senator John Pagliarini (R, Bristol/Portsmouth/Tiverton) did not miss a single vote, joining 15 other senators who missed fewer than 10 votes.
Every representative who understandably decided to go home after midnight on June 18 missed 43 votes or 7% of all votes held for the year. A representative who had a family emergency the last two days of the session would have missed 34% of all votes held for the year.
We all know that the human mind works best well rested, yet 7% of all votes held in the House this year were held after 1:00 a.m. on the last day of the session. Those bills contained 234 pages of legalese. I wonder how many legislators read those pages while most of us were fast asleep?
The practice of pushing most important votes to the end of the legislative session can leave entire legislative districts with no representation. Would you vote for a legislator if you knew he or she would not vote on more than a third of the bills voted upon by the General Assembly in a year? The rules of operation of our General Assembly make it possible for any legislator to miss that many votes if any personal crisis comes up in the tiny 48-hour end-of-session window.
In the seven years that I spent advocating to eliminate the master lever, legislative leadership was fond of explaining away the 50 years it took to get the job done as part of the slow and deliberative legislative process. There is nothing slow or deliberative about the final 48-hour frenzy of last minute bills, amendments, and votes.
Nothing mandates that our legislature operate in such a circus-like manner. Simply passing 10 bills a week over the six-month session would eliminate the end-of-session blitz. Transparency would be increased and legislators would theoretically be better informed about the bills they were voting upon.
The legislature should consider a 25-bill weekly limit (not including resolutions and marriage solemnizations). As a deliberative body, no floor votes should occur after 9:30 p.m. — ever.
Rhode Island needs leaders who are dedicated to changing our political culture. Will we get the leadership we need, or will we be perpetually left with an annual legislative hangover?
Click here to see responses from lawmakers who claim there were extenuating personal circumstances that caused their missed votes.