New Dispute Flares Between Rhode Island House And Senate

Jan 12, 2018

Ruggerio during his swearing-in last year.
Credit Ian Donnis/File Photo / RIPR

A new dispute between the leadership of the Rhode Island House and the state Senate became public Friday, with Senate President Dominick Ruggerio accusing House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello of obstructing the Senate’s operations.

The Senate leadership said it's considering taking the issue to court.

"Since becoming senate president, and as a result a member of the Joint Committee on Legislative Services, I have grown more and more concerned with the General Assembly’s approach to personnel," Ruggerio said in a statement. "The speaker routinely obstructs the operations of the Senate. The speaker even makes decisions regarding so called ‘joint offices’ in isolation rather than in consultation. The Senate is a coequal, independent body of the General Assembly and the speaker of the House will not dictate to the Senate the operations of the Senate.”

Mattiello rejected Ruggerio's assertions, saying, "The Senate’s claims are meritless. Since Dominick Ruggerio became president, the Joint Committee on Legislative Services, which I chair, has approved several of his requests to increase his staff and authorized his requested pay increases. Most recently, the JCLS authorized President Ruggerio to fill the vacant position of policy adviser, hire a fiscal employee and replace its parliamentarian."

“These actions came after an analysis of whether or not JCLS should consolidate the policy offices," Mattiello added. "Although this consolidation would have saved the taxpayers money, JCLS acquiesced to President Ruggerio’s request to keep the offices separate and fill the position."

Ruggerio fired back: “The speaker’s office stood in the way of me filling several vacancies over the last several months, including the crucial position of Senate policy director. Today, they said the policy director’s position could be filled, but that was conditional upon the Senate “behaving” for a month. These antics fly in the face of our democratic principles.”

On the surface, relations between Mattiello and Ruggerio have been smooth in recent months. That was after the state budget process blew up in a dispute at the end of last June, leaving the state to operate without a new budget, until the two leaders struck an agreement about a month later.

Ruggerio expressed frustration that the hiring and spending arm of the legislature, the Joint Committee on Legislative Service, has not met since 2009, even though dozens of lawyers have been added to the legislative payroll.

But Mattiello said, “I am trying to protect the state’s taxpayers at a time when we are struggling to close a significant budget deficit. The public has a right to expect efficient operations in the Senate, which JCLS has a statutory obligation to monitor. The real issue is that the Senate is being retaliatory because they don’t approve of the House’s position on the PawSox’ stadium. The House will honor the will of the people and will not be bullied or threatened by the Senate.”

That hiring and spending arm, known as the Joint Committee on Legislative Services, is a longtime source of disputes between the House and Senate. The speaker controls three spots on the committee, while the Senate president controls only two.

The new dispute between the House and Senate was first reported by the Providence Journal.