Speaker Murphy starts session with bills to restore public confidence in General Assembly
STATE HOUSE -- Newly elected House Speaker William J. Murphy kicked off the 2003 legislative session by introducing a pair of reform resolutions aimed at answering the public’s call for accountability in the General Assembly.
The proposals, which would impose eight-year term limits on the Speaker of the House and the Senate President and create a committee on separation of powers, are a response to what the new speaker said was an obvious message from voters in the November election.
“The people of Rhode Island told us loud and clear that they want the General Assembly leaders to be accountable, and that the balance of power is a concept that must be a part of our government,” said Speaker Murphy, a Democrat who represents District 26 in West Warwick, Coventry and Warwick. “These resolutions are our first steps toward making improvements. They are a symbol that we are beginning a new era in the General Assembly. We know that our mission is to listen to voters and make Rhode Island’s government something its people are proud of.”
One of the bills (2003-H 5000) is a Joint Resolution that would put a question on the statewide ballot in 2004 asking voters whether they want to amend the state constitution to limit each Speaker of the House and Senate President to four two-year terms. The resolution is cosponsored by the rest of the majority leadership team: Majority Leader Gordon D. Fox (D-Dist. 4, Providence), Majority Whip Rene R. Menard (D-Dist. 45, Cumberland and Lincoln) and Deputy Majority Whip Charlene Lima (D-Dist. 14, Cranston); as well as Minority Leader Robert A. Watson (R-Dist. 30, East Greenwich and West Greenwich.)
Majority Leader Fox said he believes term limits are necessary to keep those in leadership positions from becoming too powerful or controlling.
“Term limits for leadership are a way to ensure that no one ends up having their own dynasty – that we have a government of laws, not of men,” said Majority Leader Fox, a Democrat who represents District 4 in Providence. “By ensuring that new people will be moving into the top positions at least every eight years, we also get fresh ideas and perspectives from our leadership more frequently.”
That bill, which was pre-filed in November, was referred to the House Judiciary Committee for review.
The other piece of legislation (2003 -- H 5003) is a House Resolution that would create a standing House Committee on Separation of Powers. The committee would be responsible for reviewing the structure of Rhode Island’s government and determining whether it needs improvements in balancing power between the legislative, executive and judicial branches.
“Seventy-six percent of voters in the November said they believe separation of powers is a necessary component of a government that works,” said Speaker Murphy, referring to a non-binding question on the November ballot that asked voters whether they approved of the concept. “We hear them, and we’re taking their message seriously. It’s time to take a long, hard look at ourselves and the rest of state government and make the changes that need to be made.”
The resolution was co-sponsored by Majority Leader Fox, Minority Leader Watson and Rep. Peter F. Kilmartin (D-Dist. 61, Pawtucket), and was referred to the House Rules Committee for review. It is scheduled for a hearing tomorrow at the rise of the House.
The two resolutions were the first bills to be introduced in the 2003 session, which began yesterday.
“It’s my hope that these bills send a message to the people of Rhode Island that this General Assembly is dedicated to honest, open government. We’re going through a lot of changes this year, and I certainly hope Rhode Islanders will see that we’re working for them,” said Speaker Murphy.
For more information, contact:
Meredyth R. Whitty, Publicist
State House Room 20
Providence, RI 02903