Rhode Island General Assembly

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Rhode Island General Assembly

Seal of Rhode Island.svg.png
General Information
Type:   State legislature
Term limits:   None
2015 session start:   January 6, 2015
Website:   Official Legislature Page
Senate President:   M. Teresa Paiva Weed (D)
House Speaker:  Nicholas Mattiello (D)
Majority Leader:   Dominick Ruggerio (D) (Senate),
John DeSimone (D) (House)
Minority Leader:   Dennis Algiere (R) (Senate),
Brian Newberry (R) (House)
Members:  38 (Senate), 75 (House)
Length of term:   2 years (Senate), 2 years (House)
Authority:   Art VI, Section 2, Rhode Island Constitution
Salary:   $14,185.95/year
Last Election:  November 4, 2014
38 seats (Senate)
75 seats (House)
Next election:  November 8, 2016
38 seats (Senate)
75 seats (House)
Redistricting:  Rhode Island Legislature has control
The State of Rhode Island General Assembly is the state legislature of Rhode Island. A bicameral body, it is composed of the lower Rhode Island House of Representatives with 75 Representatives, and the upper Rhode Island State Senate with 38 Senators. Members are elected in the general election immediately preceding the beginning of the term or in special elections called to fill vacancies.

The General Assembly meets at the Rhode Island State House in Providence.

As of May 2015, Rhode Island is one of 7 Democratic state government trifectas.

See also: Rhode Island House of Representatives, Rhode Island State Senate, Rhode Island Governor


Early Independence

The Rhode Island General Assembly was one of the thirteen colonial legislatures that participated in the American War of Independence. The General Assembly was the first legislative body during the war to seriously consider independence from Great Britain. On May 4, 1776, two months before the Continental Congress formally adopted the United States Declaration of Independence, Rhode Island became the first colony of what would soon be the future United States to legally separate from the British Empire.

The Federal Debate

Over a decade after the war, the General Assembly pushed aside calls to join the newly-formed federal government, citing its demands that a Bill of Rights should be included in the new federal Constitution. With this done, as well as an ultimatum from the new federal government of the United States that it would begin to impose export taxes on Rhode Island goods if it did not join the Union, the General Assembly relented. On May 29, 1790, Rhode Island became the last of the Thirteen Colonies to sign the U.S. Constitution, becoming the thirteenth U.S. state (and the smallest).

State Constitutions

From 1663 until 1842, Rhode Island's governing state constitution was its original colonial charter granted by King Charles II of England, a political anomaly considering that while most states during the War of Independence and afterwards wrote scores of new constitutions with their newly-found independence in mind, Rhode Island instead continued with a document stamped by an English king. Even nearly seventy years after U.S. independence, Rhode Island continued to operate with the 1663 Charter, leaving it after 1818 (when Connecticut, the other holdout, dropped its colonial charter for a contemporary constitution) the only state whose official legal document was passed by a foreign monarch.

While the 1663 Charter was democratic considering its time period, rising national demands for voting suffrage in response to the Industrial Revolution put strains on the colonial document. By the early 1830s, only 40% of the state's white males could vote, one of the lowest voting franchise percentages in the entire United States. For its part, the General Assembly proved to be an obstacle for change, not eager to see its traditional wealthy voting base shrink.

Constitutional reform came to a head in 1841 when supporters of universal suffrage led by Thomas Wilson Dorr, dissatisfied with the conservative General Assembly and the state's conservative governor, Samuel Ward King, held the extralegal People's Convention, calling on Rhode Islanders to debate a new liberal constitution. At the same time, the General Assembly began its own constitution convention dubbed the Freeman's Convention, making some democratic concessions to Dorr supporters, while keeping other aspects of the 1663 Charter intact.

Elections in late 1841 and early 1842 led to both sides claiming to be the legitimate state government, each with their own respective constitutions in hand. In the days following the highly confusing and contentious 1842 gubernatorial and state legislature elections, Governor King declared martial law. Liberal Dorr supporters took up arms to begin the Dorr Rebellion.

The short-lived rebellion proved unsuccessful in overthrowing Governor King and the General Assembly. The Freeman's Constitution eventually was debated upon by the legislature and passed by the electorate. Although not as liberal as the People's document, the 1843 Freeman's Constitution did greatly increase suffrage in Rhode Island. Further revisions in the 1843 document were made by the General Assembly and passed by the electorate in 1986.

Partisan balance 1992-2013

Who Runs the States Project
See also: Ballotpedia:Who Runs the States and Ballotpedia:Who Runs the States, Rhode Island
Partisan breakdown of the Rhode Island legislature from 1992-2013

Rhode Island State Senate: During every year from 1992-2013, the Democratic Party was the majority in the Rhode Island State Senate. The Rhode Island State Senate is 1 of 16 state senates that was Democratic for more than 80 percent of the years between 1992-2013.

Across the country, there were 541 Democratic and 517 Republican state senates from 1992 to 2013.

Rhode Island State House of Representatives: During every year from 1992-2013, the Democratic Party was the majority in the Rhode Island State House of Representatives. The Rhode Island House of Representatives is one of 18 state Houses that was Democratic for more than 80 percent of the years between 1992-2013.

Across the country, there were 577 Democratic and 483 Republican State Houses of Representatives from 1992 to 2013.

Over the course of the 22-year study, state governments became increasingly more partisan. At the outset of the study period (1992), 18 of the 49 states with partisan legislatures had single-party trifectas and 31 states had divided governments. In 2013, only 13 states had divided governments, while single-party trifectas held sway in 36 states, the most in the 22 years studied.

The chart below shows the partisan composition of the Office of the Governor of Rhode Island, the Rhode Island State Senate and the Rhode Island House of Representatives from 1992-2013. Partisan composition of Rhode Island state government(1992-2013).PNG

SQLI and partisanship

To read the full report on the State Quality of Life Index (SQLI) in PDF form, click here.

The chart below depicts the partisanship of the Rhode Island state government and the state's SQLI ranking for the years studied. For the SQLI, the states were ranked from 1-50, with 1 being the best and 50 the worst. Rhode Island had a Democratic trifecta in the early years of the study, from 1992-1994, but after that maintained a divided government. The state's best SQLI ranking, finishing 26th, occurred in 2002. In more recent years of the study, Rhode Island's ranking fell, finishing in the bottom-10 at 41st in both 2009 and 2011.

Chart displaying the partisanship of the Rhode Island government from 1992-2013 and the State Quality of Life Index (SQLI).


Article VI of the Rhode Island Constitution establishes when the General Assembly is to be in session. Section 3 of Article states that the General Assembly is to convene its regular session on the first Tuesday of January in each year.


See also: Dates of 2015 state legislative sessions

In 2015, the General Assembly will be in session from January 6 through late June (Projected).

Major issues

Major issues during the 2015 legislative session include a budget deficit estimated at $200 million, social security tax reform, a structural deficit expected to reach $400 million by 2019, education funding and ending homelessness of the state's veterans.[1]


See also: Dates of 2014 state legislative sessions

In 2014, the General Assembly was in session from January 7 through June 23.

Major issues

Major issues during the 2014 legislative session included a budget deficit estimated at $100 million, pension reform, raising the minimum wage, reducing corporate income taxes and raising bridge tolls.[2][3]


See also: Dates of 2013 state legislative sessions

In 2013, the General Assembly was in session from January 1 to July 5.

Major issues

Major issues in the 2013 legislative session included a budget deficit estimated at $69 million, legalization of same-sex marriage, gun control, and economic development.[4]


See also: Dates of 2012 state legislative sessions

In 2012, the General Assembly was in session from January 3 through June 13.

Major issues

The legislature had to address a $120 million budget deficit. Legislators wanted to cut spending to close the gap while Governor Lincoln Chafee (I) pushed for a tax raise. Major issues also included reducing municipal pension costs and reducing regulations to spur economic growth.[5]


See also: Dates of 2011 state legislative sessions

In 2011, the General Assembly was in session from January 4 - July 1. The legislature is in recess until October, when a special session is planned to tackle the cost of public-employee pensions.[6]


See also: Dates of 2010 state legislative sessions

In 2010, the General Assembly was in session from January 5 to June 11.[7]

Role in state budget

See also: Rhode Island state budget and finances
Rhode Island on Horizontal-Policypedia logo-color.png
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The state operates on an annual budget cycle. The sequence of key events in the budget process is as follows:[8][9]

  1. Budget instruction guidelines are sent to state agencies in July of the year preceding the start of the new fiscal year.
  2. Agencies submit their budget requests to the governor in September and October.
  3. Agency hearings are held in November and December. Public hearings are held in March and April.
  4. The governor submits his or her proposed budget to the state legislature in January.
  5. The legislature typically adopts a budget in June. The fiscal year begins July 1.

In Rhode Island, the governor has no veto authority over the budget.[9]

The governor is legally required to submit a balanced budget proposal. Likewise, the legislature is legally required to pass a balanced budget.[9]

Cost-benefit analyses

See also: Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative Cost-Benefit Study
Map showing results of the Pew-MacArthur cost-benefit study.

The Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative released a report in July 2013 indicating that cost-benefit analysis in policymaking led to more effective uses of public funds. Looking at data from 2008 through 2011, the study's authors found that some states were more likely to use cost-benefit analysis, while others were facing challenges and lagging behind the rest of the nation. The challenges states faced included a lack of time, money and technical skills needed to conduct comprehensive cost-benefit analyses. Rhode Island was one of 11 states that made rare use of cost-benefit analyses in policy and budget processes.[10]

Ethics and transparency

Following the Money report

See also: "Following the Money" report, 2014

The U.S. Public Interest Research Group, a consumer-focused nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., released its annual report on state transparency websites in April 2014. The report, entitled "Following the Money," measured how transparent and accountable state websites are with regard to state government spending.[11] According to the report, Rhode Island received a grade of D+ and a numerical score of 62, indicating that Rhode Island was "lagging" in terms of transparency regarding state spending.[11]

Open States Transparency

See also: Open States' Legislative Data Report Card

The Sunlight Foundation released an "Open Legislative Data Report Card" in March 2013. Rhode Island was given a grade of D in the report. The report card evaluated how adequate, complete and accessible legislative data was to the general public. A total of 10 states received an A: Arkansas, Connecticut, Georgia, Kansas, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Texas, Virginia and Washington.[12]


The Rhode Island Senate is the upper house of the Rhode Island General Assembly, the state legislature of the U.S. State of Rhode Island. It is composed of 38 Senators, each of whom is elected to a two-year term. Rhode Island is one of the 14 states where its upper house serves at a two-year cycle, rather than the normal four-year term as in the majority of states. There is no limit to the number of terms that a Senator may serve. Each member represents an average of 27,699 residents, as of the 2010 Census.[13] After the 2000 Census, each member represented 27,587 residents.[14]

Like other upper houses of state and territorial legislatures and the federal U.S. Senate, the Senate can confirm or reject gubernatorial appointments to executive departments, commissions, boards, or justices to the Rhode Island Supreme Court.


The President of the Senate presides over the body, appointing members to all of the Senate's committees and joint committees, and may create other committees and subcommittees if desired. Unlike other states, the Lieutenant Governor of Rhode Island does not preside over the Senate, and is instead active in other areas such as state commissions on health and businesses. In the Senate President's absence, the President Pro Tempore presides.

Current make-up

Party As of May 2015
     Democratic Party 32
     Republican Party 5
     Independent 1
Total 38

The chart below shows the partisan composition of the Rhode Island State Senate from 1992-2013.
Partisan composition of the Rhode Island State Senate.PNG

House of Representatives

The Rhode Island House of Representatives is the lower house of the Rhode Island General Assembly, the state legislature of the U.S. State of Rhode Island. It is composed of 75 Representatives from an equal amount of constituencies, each of whom is elected to a two year term. The Rhode Island General Assembly does not have term limits. Each member represents an average of 14,034 residents, as of the 2010 Census.[13] After the 2000 Census, each member represented 13,978 residents.[14]


The Speaker of the House presides over the House of Representatives. The Speaker is elected by the majority party caucus followed by confirmation of the full House through the passage of a House Resolution. As well as presiding over the body, the Speaker is also the chief leadership position, and controls the flow of legislation. Other House leaders, such as the majority and minority leaders, are elected by their respective party caucuses relative to their party's strength in the chamber.

Party As of May 2015
     Democratic Party 62
     Republican Party 11
     Independent 1
     Vacancy 1
Total 75

The chart below shows the partisan composition of the Rhode Island State House of Representatives from 1992-2013.
Partisan composition of the Rhode Island State House.PNG


See also: Redistricting in Rhode Island

The General Assembly is responsible for legislative redistricting, with the Governor holding veto power. In June 2011, the Assembly passed a law establishing a redistricting commission of 18 members -- 12 legislators and six members of the general public -- that would make recommendations to the Assembly, who would then pass new maps as regular legislation.

2010 census

Rhode Island received its census data on March 23, 2011. The state had a very low growth rate of 0.4 percent; the five counties ranged from -3.0 to 2.8 percent. As far as the most populous cities, Providence grew by 2.5 percent, Warwick decreased by 3.7 percent, Cranston grew by 1.4 percent, Pawtucket decreased by 2.5 percent, and East Providence decreased by 3.4 percent.[15]

On February 1, 2012, the Senate and House passed a proposal that the commission had released and approved in December 2011. Republican were upset over what they saw as gerrymandering in House District 47 working to the benefit of incumbent Cale Keable (D). Gov. Lincoln Chafee (I) signed the maps into law on February 8, 2012. A Republican lawsuit followed on March 8.



See also: Comparison of state legislative salaries

As of 2013, members of the Rhode Island Legislature are paid $14,185.95/year during legislative sessions. Legislators receive no per diem.[16]


Rhode Island does not provide pensions for legislators who took office after 1994.[17]

When sworn in

See also: When state legislators assume office after a general election

Rhode Island legislators assume office the first Tuesday in January.

Joint legislative committees

See also: Public policy in Rhode Island

The Rhode Island General Assembly has three permanent joint committees:

There are also five non-permanent joint committees:

See also

External links


  1. Providence Journal, "Top R.I. lawmakers Mattiello, Paiva Weed pledge cooperation with new governor," accessed January 22, 2015
  2. www.providencejournal.com/, "R.I. General Assembly fields more than 30 pieces of legislation, touching on minimum wage, corporate tax," accessed January 10, 2014
  3. boston.com, "Pensions, budget, tolls on 2014 legislative agenda," accessed January 10, 2014(Archived)
  4. Coventry Patch, "This week at the General assembly," January 6, 2013
  5. Boston.com, "Issues to watch in 2012 RI session," January 2, 2012
  6. Projo.com, R.I. lawmakers pass flurry of bills, recess until October," July 1, 2011
  7. National Conference of State Legislatures, "2010 Legislative Sessions Calendar," accessed June 19, 2014(Archived)
  8. National Conference of State Legislatures, "State Experiences with Annual and Biennial Budgeting," updated April 2011
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 National Association of State Budget Officers, "Budget Processes in the States, Summer 2008," accessed February 21, 2014
  10. Pew Charitable Trusts, "States’ Use of Cost-Benefit Analysis," July 29, 2013
  11. 11.0 11.1 U.S. Public Interest Research Group, "Following the Money 2014 Report," accessed April 15, 2014
  12. Sunlight Foundation, "Ten Principles for Opening Up Government Information," accessed June 16, 2013
  13. 13.0 13.1 census.gov, "Population Distribution and Change: 2000 to 2010," accessed May 15, 2014
  14. 14.0 14.1 U.S. Census Bureau, "States Ranked by Population: 2000," April 2, 2001
  15. U.S. Census Bureau, "U.S. Census Bureau Delivers Rhode Island's 2010 Census Population Totals, Including First Look at Race and Hispanic Origin Data for Legislative Redistricting," March 23, 2011. Accessed August 20, 2012
  16. NCSL.org, "2012 State Legislator Compensation and Per Diem Table," accessed March 18, 2013
  17. USA Today, "State-by-state: Benefits available to state legislators," September 23, 2011