Remote RI General Assembly Sessions 'A Last Resort': Coronavirus

Rachel Nunes

This article originally appeared on the Cranston Patch

PROVIDENCE, RI — All General Assembly sessions, including the House of Representatives, Senate and committee meetings have been canceled for a third week due to the new coronavirus. Although State House officials are looking into alternative options for meeting, remote sessions will not be held right away, a spokesperson for House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello said.

"While we are researching remote session options, we're still waiting to see at this point," Larry Berman said.

Although a remote session is a possibility, Mattiello is considering it a last resort at this time, Berman said, particularly because it makes it difficult for the public to offer comment.

"Public input is extremely important, especially in committee hearings," Berman said. "The speaker is reluctant to move to remote sessions at this time."

Because the situation surrounding COVID-19 is changing by the day in Rhode Island, all options will be considered to adapt to future scenarios. If the cancellations are forced to continue for four to six weeks, Mattiello will reconsider alternate options, Berman added.

Once the General Assembly reconvenes, lawmakers will have several options to make up for lost time. This could mean increasing the frequency of sessions from three to four or five per week or convening earlier in the day, Berman continued. While it's unlikely that the session will be extended past the state budget deadline on July 1, "anything is possible," he said. Because the budget must be passed before that deadline, it's possible that other legislation could be put aside until the fall.

Some, however, have opposed the delayed legislative sessions. Nicholas Delmenico, a Democratic candidate for House District 27 in Coventry, called for lawmakers to return to the State House as soon as possible.

"We are in the middle of an unprecedented crisis," Delmenico said in a statement. "Legislative bodies across the United States, from states like Utah and Pennsylvania, as well as the Providence City Council have figured this out. Why can’t we? It’s time for remote sessions."

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