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Wednesday, June 6, 2018

UPDATED: Ethics question about local Republican state senator

UPDATE: Senator Algiere explains the question is procedural, not ethical.
I spoke to Senator Algiere about the issues raised in Steve Ahlquist's article (below). Sen. Algiere told me there was no attempt at duplicity but simply a matter of procedure and arithmetic.

Rules require that Senate Committee meetings have at least one Republican in attendance. Since there are only four Republicans in the state Senate, there simply are not enough of them to go around.

So Senator Algiere, who is also the Senate Minority Leader, exercises his right as an ex officio member of all committees to waive the requirement that a Republican be present. He took issue with author Steve Ahlquist's use of the term "falsify," noting that the alternative is for the business of the Senate to grind to a halt. 

He also noted that he went directly from the Environment Committee hearing (chaired by Sen. Sue Sosnowski) to Sen. Josh Miller's hearing which made the matter, in the words of RI Common Cause Director John Marion, "benign."

Right below the fold is Steve's original article.

- Will Collette

Why did Senator Dennis Algiere (Republican, District 38, Westerly, Charlestown) falsify his attendance at the Wednesday, May 30 meeting of the Senate Committee on Environment and Agriculture

In his capacity as Senate Minority Leader, Algiere serves on the committee ex-officio, that is, his attendance is not mandatory or even all that expected. He can sit in and vote on any committee, or not attend.

John Marion, executive director of Common Cause Rhode Island, provides and explanation:

“Senate Rule 6.7 (you can find it on page 19 here) requires that a member of the minority party be present if a committee is going to conduct business. This can, and in my experience is, waived from time to time because the minority party is so small in the Senate that when there are multiple committees meeting at the same time they cannot have a physical presence at all of them. It’s a rule that is designed to protect the rights of the minority party by preventing the majority party from sneaking something past without giving proper notice to the minority. If Minority Leader Algiere was signing in and then attending another committee, this is benign. If he was signing in and then going home, he was not fulfilling his role as either a Senator who should be attending the hearing of a committee on which he serves, nor of the minority party which should be represented at all committee hearings.”
There are no Republicans on the Senate Committee on Environment and Agriculture committee.

Senator Algiere did not reply to a request for comment.

Asked for a comment, Greg Pare, director of communications for the Senate President, wrote, “Steve, as you have written about, there are usually several hearings taking place at the same time and senators are often moving from one to the other.

“I would also point out that there are only four Republicans in the Senate, and they need to be at the numerous hearings and other commitments all taking place at around the same time. Leader Algiere, as an ex-officio member of all committees, checks in to enable the committees to proceed,” added Pare.

Note that Algiere did not attend even one minute of the Senate Committee on Environment and Agriculture meeting. It had not yet been called to order when he had his name added to the attendance sheet and left the room.

Here’s the video of Algiere entering room 211 of the Rhode Island State House, telling committee clerk Nancy Sullivan to mark him present, chatting with some people waiting for the committee meeting to start, and then leaving for the evening: