Many in Rhode Island vote for their representative, but few know the ins and outs of the House of representatives. The mission of the organization Common Cause is to inform the general public about the values of the American democracy and the government process. In this particular meeting, it is to inform about the role of the Rhode Island house of representatives.
The meeting was held at the Jewish community center in Providence, Rhode Island. The meeting consists of a question/debate structure. A panelist askes four politicians for their perspective on a particular issue and a politician answers it. Then, another politician can jump in and either affirms, add, or dispute the answer of the previous politician. There were several points discussed: Why were there House rules? What are the processes that make a law? Unspoken rules/traditions in the House?
The meeting opens up with several rhetorical questions regarding why there are House rules and the importance of them. In short, House rules servers as the procedure for making laws, the rules ensure that all laws are made fairly. There are laws such as civil arrests cannot be made on a representative during a house meeting. This law prevents the ability of other branches of the government from interfering with making the laws. The politicians then discussed the process of how a bill becomes a law. The most interesting point was not regarding how the bill gets voted to become a law. It was rather the process of deciding on what bill to vote on. Ideally, each bill would get a hearing. However, there are usually too many bills for each bill to get a hearing. In this instance, the House decides on which bill is worth a hearing.
Usually, there will be a speaker that would describe the bill then members would vote on the bill. However, the politicians in the common cause meeting give insight that there are several hidden issues/unspoke rules about the process people in the House vote for a bill to get a hearing.
Number one, people in the House, when faced with difficult bills, tend to not vote. These bills include topics such as sexual violence, abortion, and gay/transgender rights. Since members of the House are given a choice not to vote, many of these bills often times fails to get even ten votes. Through numerous cycles, their bills eventually get forgotten/left out one way or the other. Many people do not want to assert a stance on these particular issues, as a result of peer pressure, mixed feelings and etc. One politician at common cause said:” People don’t vote because they a afraid to do so.” Furthermore, members of the House sometimes are pressured to not vote against the speaker of the House, as that might let others think of that member in a negative way. The politicians pointed out that there have only been less than ten instances which a bill gets past which the speaker of the house did not vote in favor of.
One politician from the Common Cause suggested making the voting more anonymous. Put measure in place that would ideally prevent anyone from knowing what the other has voted for. But another politician pointed out that this would not comply with the transparency standards of the House. In short, it is difficult to both keep the process of the House transparent and encourage people to vote on controversial topics. The only preveivable way is to create a more accepting and professional environment which members of the House could feel free to vote how they truly feel on a matter.
Another issue came up about how laws are made by a vote by majority, thus causing minority groups in the states to get left out. The politicians addressed this issue by saying that the minority groups are certainly important, thus when proposing bills, the minority groups are usually taken into account. This does not mean that laws will not get passed if it is for the minority at the compromise of the majority. The point is, as one politician said:” It is not to always let minorities win, but to let minorities know that they lose fairly.” The point is to let the minorities have a voice, but not overly amplify that voice.
Overall, I think this meeting has been an eye-opener to me. I got see that even though there are many rules and procedures in place in the House during the lawmaking process, there are still many human factors that go to imflunceing the laws that get passed. There are many unwritten rules/traditions in the House, which most plays a negative influence in the democratic process. Thus it is crucial to creating a environment where members of the house vote and don’t have to consider another factors than the bill itself.