Influential legislative panel returns from hibernation
Joint Committee on Legislative Services meeting marks the first discussion in 12 years
Henry Kinch, executive director for the Joint Committee on Legislative Services, addresses lawmakers at the committee’s first meeting in 12 years on Wednesday. (Photo by Nancy Lavin/Rhode Island Current)
PROVIDENCE — A powerful legislative panel has come out of hibernation, holding its first meeting in over a decade Wednesday to talk about parking lot lighting, new carpets and updating the State House employee manual.
The 30-minute discussion was hardly a headline-making event, but important nonetheless because it marks the first time the Joint Committee on Legislative Services has come together since 2011, according to Henry Kinch, the committee’s director. The five-person group of leaders from both legislative chambers oversees day-to-day operations of the Rhode Island General Assembly, including spending and staff hiring.
On paper, that is.
In practice for the last 12 years, those key decisions haven’t gotten the public airing intended through regular committee hearings. Fed up with lack of transparency, state Republicans, led by former House Minority Leader Blake Filippi, sued former House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello in 2020. The complaint in Providence County Superior Court alleged that Mattiello violated state law after he ordered an audit of the Rhode Island Convention Center without first seeking committee approval.
House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi, a Warwick Democrat who rose to the Speaker position in 2020 after Mattiello lost his bid for re-election, pledged to resume the quarterly panel meetings, but has been waiting for the lawsuit to be settled. Resolution came in February, when Filippi agreed to drop the complaint.
Now Shekarchi said he intends to keep his promise for regular meetings.
“We all want these meetings,” he said. “They are good for the people of Rhode Island.”
Future meetings may again offer a public discussion of staff hiring and firing, but it’s not guaranteed.
A presentation from Auditor General David Bergantino during the meeting revealed that Bergantino, who had been filling the role on a temporary basis since the beginning of the year, was hired for the job permanently in March. The decision was made by Kinch with Shekarchi’s recommendation, sans committee meeting.
Shekarchi defended the move, saying it was not a controversial hire.
House Minority Leader Mike Chippendale, whose party brought the lawsuit against Mattiello, also backed Shekarchi.
“We can’t stop government function to wait for a quarterly meeting,” Chippendale said.
Filippi, who did not run for reelection in 2022, expressed support for the committee’s resumed meetings in a tweet on Wednesday, calling it “a beautiful sight.”
The legislative committee also includes Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, House Majority Leader Christopher Blazejewski and Senate Minority Leader Jessica De La Cruz.
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