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A Hummel Report Investigation

Learning the Ropes

Six months ago we sat down with four freshmen lawmakers on the eve of their first General Assembly session to talk about their goals and expectations for 2017. This week, Jim Hummel circles back with each - to see what they learned, what they accomplished and what they might do differently in 2018.

SCRIPT

They arrived that first day in January, eager to make a difference for their constituents and take what they had said on the campaign trail to each of their respective chambers.
We sat down in December with four of Rhode Island’s 16 new lawmakers, representing a cross section of the freshman class: They include Representatives Julie Casimiro of North Kingstown and  Jason Knight of Barrington, both Democrats; Republican Robert Quattrocchi of Scituate -  and Senator Jeanine Calkin of Warwick, also a Democrat.
We wanted to know what they know now that they didn’t know then.
Casimiro: ``It is a lot of work getting a bill through from your conception to getting it out of committee to getting it to a floor vote to a Senate vote. It’s a lot of process, takes a lot of time.’’
Quattrocchi: ``I’m really surprised by how many people are really reliant on government for necessarily, or unnecessarily, just totally reliant on government. And government is not just some crazy entity - you know government is us. We’re the people. We are the government. So, they are relying on us to take care of them.’’
Hummel: ``What surprised you the most?’’
Calkin: ``I would say really how much work is really involved if you want to do a good job. I spent many nights reading bills, preparing for committees. Not that I didn’t think there was a lot of work involved, it’s just sometimes you want to go and you want to watch the hearings from other chamber or things like that just to get a good understanding. So to do all that does take a lot of time.’’
Knight: ``It’s like when you’re swimming and you go into the pool and you go underwater and open up your eyes you can sort of see everything but all the lines are blurry and you can’t see too much detail. That’s what it’s like to be a voter looking in. When you get inside it’s like putting on a pair of goggles, and all of a sudden you’d be like: `Oh, now I see what’s going on under the water.’’’
The new lawmakers quickly found out what their veteran colleagues have known for years: the early part of the session can be frustratingly slow, with a rush of bills at the end.
Casimiro: ``I think in January, February, March timeframe we might have had three or four bills to vote on, on the floor. We’d hear a lot in committee then only three or four would make it out, then all of a sudden, the end of the session we’re getting bills all over the place.’’
Quattrocchi: `` I gotta say I’m not a big fan, I think it’s a very burdensome and sluggish system, the way everything gets jammed in at the very last minute.’’
Knight, who is a lawyer, had to change his approach to hearing bills in the Judiciary Committee.
Knight: ``I was treating committee like court: Witnesses would come up and testify and if I didn’t agree with them I would challenge them and I quickly learned that committee is not court. Rule No. 1.

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