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

July 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.

18 Comments leave one →
  1. July 12, 2012 7:21 pm

    Respect Arlene very much. Maybe there is something ab out RI that makes it unique so as to accomplish the changes she wants (her qualifications cited for meeting times, etc. might help. Interested in what others think of the idea.

  2. July 12, 2012 7:22 pm

    No!! Our General Assembly should meet for less time. The majority of states have shorter legislative sessions that RI. A large number of states get the job done in 2 or 3 months instead of RI’s 6 months. Make that change and things will get better because a broader group of people would be willing to come forward as candidates.

  3. July 12, 2012 7:25 pm

    You will find few educated professionals willing to give up their professions for a 35-40K/year job. It is a mistake to go full time.

    • Scott Furtado permalink
      July 13, 2012 1:36 pm

      I agree with Ken Block that a full time legislature is a bad idea, but I don’t care for his suggestion that legislative positions should only be held by well educated professionals.

  4. MATTY SMITH permalink
    July 12, 2012 7:29 pm

    full time is the best way for this state. NO MORE OFFICERS OF THE COURT ==LAWYER==

  5. July 12, 2012 7:37 pm

    This is something I’ve been saying for years. Our problems are complex and need professional attention:

    1- Make the assembly full-time and give them professional staff and resources
    2- Do not allow any other employment with any investments in trust only, etc.
    3- Make the rate of pay mean income of the state but reimburse for all expenses of doing the job
    4-Full public disclosure of every expenditure and paid benefit on the web.

    We do everything amateur this is what you get.

  6. July 12, 2012 7:58 pm

    They should be full time and paid well enough that regular people can afford to serve. Only a very specific set of people can run for a job that meets during odd hours and for part of the year while paying terribly. If you’re retired or a lawyer, this arrangement works out alright. But if you’re just a clerk or something, you can’t afford the shift in hours.

    There are plenty of legislators up there who do good work, but frankly, they have extraordinary circumstances (or guts) which allow them to serve. Recreating the job to allow the widest swathe of people to serve would make the General Assembly more representative.

    Also, when the hypothetical constitutional convention is convened, can we discuss becoming a unicameral legislature and using instant run-off voting?

    • Mister Guy permalink
      July 13, 2012 6:59 pm

      RI absolutely needs a unicameral legislature, and I fully support using instant run-off voting.

  7. Jay permalink
    July 12, 2012 8:17 pm

    You need to offer at least $75k yr. at least to attract qualified people. You get what you pay for.

    • Mister Guy permalink
      July 13, 2012 7:03 pm

      A $75K/year salary would put state legislators immediately in the top 28% or so of wage earners in the USA. The median income in RI is around $55K/year, which, if we are to have a full-time unicameral legislature, is exactly what their salaries should be. Whenever the RI median income goes up or down, state legislators would get a raise or pay cut…that’s basically pay for performance.

  8. July 12, 2012 10:29 pm

    Leave it to Arlene Violent to figure out a scheme where teachers and state workers, police and fire, can’t become members of the GA. Does this sound like democracy? Bet plenty of Tea Party members could pack the GA, right Arlene?

  9. July 13, 2012 1:14 pm

    Theres some states that have much better business climates that pay their state reps 30-40k, now ken block, my conservative friend in disguise, you only say that because it fits into your message. And what about people that truely feel inclined to serves as Arlene points out. With Ken Block’s suggestion(remember he did not get elected by a long shot) the whole state house would be submerged in retiree’s trying to hold onto their pension that lets them have both of their houses in Florida and RI.
    Special Interests. Its barely even worth running for someone that has keen political sense in this state. Offer decent pay and the cream shall rise to the top. Maybe we could pay the firefighters a little less and pay state reps more? Gee one $200,000 a year pension could afford 7 state reps a raise.

  10. July 13, 2012 1:20 pm

    ps. ONLY RICH PEOPLE RUN FOR STATE REP BECAUSE NO ONE CAN AFFORD TO.. GET THE DAMN RICH UPEDY NONSENSE OUT OF THE STATE HOUSE AND LETS THINK REALISTICALLY. BACK TO BASICS!

    -TALENTED MIND

  11. Mister Guy permalink
    July 13, 2012 6:56 pm

    “Health care benefits should be offered. A 401K program should be in place.”

    The absolute last thing that we need to do in RI is give state legislators a health care plan & retirement benefits…ugh…

  12. July 13, 2012 7:41 pm

    Great Idea… NOT. Let’s pay them more money for doing a mediocre job at best. What they lack in pay… Tthey more than make up for in Corruption.
    They have collectively destoyed the state. When they were making $300 a session they would kill to get the job. Power and Connections is what they Crave, not money.
    Am I missing something?

  13. July 14, 2012 3:37 pm

    stop the unecessary town money spent on landscaping and spend it on real things, johnston street sweeping for example, what a waste, and landscaping in the middle of the highway on 95 with like 10 state workers what a waste. There should also be less state reps if they get a raise. maybe 60, theres room for one or two disctricts to go in providence, especially those that have only 500-1000 voters

  14. July 14, 2012 3:39 pm

    as before, only rich people run for office, no one else has the time, pay them more and stop the wastefull state and city spending, while getting rid of some reps.

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