ARLENE VIOLET – Mattiello, Ruggerio earn praise

ARLENE VIOLET – Mattiello, Ruggerio earn praise

It is a rare occasion when I praise the Rhode Island speaker of the House and Senate president. Praise is due, however, for their recent actions. Here are the reasons why:

• House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello – He was criticized last week for allowing a committee vote on legislation related to abortion access. Ultimately, it was up to entire House of Representatives to approve or disapprove the bill (they approved it). His critics were wrong to excoriate him. For years the House of Representatives was anything but, having been the “Rule By One,” i.e., only what the speaker wanted would emerge out of committee.

Voters send people to the legislature to represent their interests. They don’t expect or want what one person alone decides can be voted on or not. The fact is that the nature of abortion-related legislation is controversial, which precisely is the reason why debate should ensue. Partisans should not pick and choose what issues they want one person to act on as gatekeeper just because it is “their” issue. Democracy should prevail and the process shouldn’t be stop-gapped by one person. Further, it is important for the public to know where their legislators stand on important policy.

• Senate President Dominick Ruggerio – He introduced legislation that would bring transparency to all pensions with at least 200 members that are not covered by the Employee Retirement Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). His initiative would require these pension plans to submit to the same public scrutiny, including public reporting of all its liabilities and assets. Ruggerio’s legislation is crucial, particularly after what happened to the participants in the St. Joseph Health Services pension plan. Some 30 months ago those members learned that their pension administrators went to court seeking to cut their paltry pensions by 40 percent (it’s still pending) because the Catholic bishop, inter alia, stopped putting in the necessary funds for sustaining the plan. (Note: This writer and Robert Senville represent the elderly pensioners ages 75-99 of age in pending litigation). Had the Ruggerio legislation been in existence in 2014 and forward, the pensioners would have been able to learn of and monitor the deficit and seek remedies before catastrophe hit. Workers in similar “private/exempt pensions should have access to accurate information in order to avoid the heartache visited upon the St. Joseph pension participants.

Ruggerio also submitted legislation that would bring greater transparency to the hospital conversion process. The bill would extend the monitoring of hospital conversions from three to five years, increase monetary fines for violations from $1 million to $2 million, and simplify judicial review of decisions related to hospital conversion. This added protection supplements the law introduced last year by Senate Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey, which required interviews by the Attorney General and the Department of Health, two cogs in the conversion progress, to conduct interviews under oath with a stenographer recording the representations made by those seeking conversion. In that way deception and misdirection can be sidelined.

Kudos then to the two leaders for these steps. Hopefully, Mattiello will continue in the path of allowing committees to report out legislation (or not) based on the votes of its members who have vetted the merits via testimony at their respective hearings. Similarly Ruggerio has shown he has his ear to the ground when it comes to vindicating the rights of all workers.

Violet is an attorney and former state attorney general.