Would a full-time General Assembly be better for Rhode Island?

Jul 12, 2012

A few months ago, a young campaign operative made an earnest argument to me: Rhode Island would be better served by a full-time General Assembly. Observers of Smith Hill might have reason to be skeptical that longer hours and better pay would improve the legislature. Yet my friend Arlene Violet is now adding her voice to those calling for a full-time General Assembly:

[T]he part-time nature of the legislative jobs allows attorneys to pack the place as well. Insurance guys generally also have a contingent at the Statehouse. Legislation that pads their daytime pockets is no accident.

So, the solution is to allow other folks the opportunity to serve. The legislative members should serve full-time with the month of July off as a vacation. Pay them $35,000-$40,000 a year to work 9 a.m.-5 p.m. from Tuesday through Saturday (so average people can approach their legislators on a day they aren’t at work). Health care benefits should be offered. A 401K program should be in place. And here’s an important feature: Anyone already receiving a public pension from the state or municipality either must not collect it or be ineligible to serve. Right now, for example, most state retirees can only work a maximum of 70 days without an impact on their receipt of a pension. A similar ban should apply. This would prevent the packing of the assembly with special interest retirees.

Senator Frank Ciccone, who works for the RI Laborers, used similar reasoning when he supported the idea of a full-time legislature back in 2009:

Senator Ciccone said he believes that creating a full-time legislature will attract individuals who are truly passionate about public service and are willing to dedicate their lives to representing the best interests of their constituents. “Individuals who decide they truly want to serve the public by holding a legislative office will not have to answer to another paycheck, as they do now. They will answer full-time to the citizens, those who elected them,” he said.