Our General Assembly has abandoned its responsibilities when needed most. The General Assembly needs to do its job: convene committees; oversee and make changes to the state’s COVID-19 relief efforts, if necessary; plan for continuity of government services; and respond to the economic hellfire Rhode Island faces.

Since mid-March, our House Republican Caucus has called upon our colleagues to fulfill these constitutional responsibilities, most especially to serve as the necessary check and balance to the

Governor’s nearly unrestrained power during this emergency. Some of the Governor’s executive orders have restricted fundamental Constitutional liberties; particularly the freedoms of movement and association. Walmart and Home Depot are open for business, but we’ve been excluded from houses of worship, the beach and large family gatherings.

Our calls for action were initially met with weeks of silence and dismissal from House Leadership, who then contrived a window-dressing informal “COVID-19 Task Force” with zero legal authority that met only once. Other unelected boards and working groups have also joined the mix – while the bipartisan, duly elected Representatives and Senators, closest to the People of Rhode Island, have been effectively shut out. Why?

Without legislative oversight of executive branch policies and proclamations, this emergency is run with little lawful supervision. This is not a healthy condition for our Republic, and the public is concerned, as they should be.

The House Oversight Committee is responsible for this needed supervision and public dialogue. In the past, our House Oversight Committee has been the watchdog for the most vulnerable in our state, spending weeks investigating the dead children in DCYF care; it got to the bottom of the EBT benefit debacle with UHIP; and provided the energy behind reforms to critical senior medical transportation with MTM.

The House Oversight Committee not only offers a critical look at past practices; it also provides a public forum to prepare our future response efforts. While we must review and recommend (if necessary) alteration or revocation of the Governor’s emergency dictates that have impacted our families, neighbors, houses of worship, and local businesses – we also must begin to chart our future informed by what we learn at these public hearings.

Specifically, we must meet to review the processes for unemployment claims, contact tracing and mail ballot security. We must meet to discuss the metrics for evaluating distance learning and ensure that access to resources for teachers and students are equitably distributed throughout the state. We must learn the rationale for essential business designations and closures, and how we are going to empower small businesses to survive. We must meet to investigate state response efforts to supply our healthcare professionals with PPE. We must review protocols implemented for those disproportionately affected in our minority communities. Most important, we need to meet to address the crisis among our at-risk seniors in nursing homes – the one demographic that has by far seen the greatest number of fatalities in our state.

The House Oversight Committee is needed now, more than ever. Yet, it sits idle, waiting to be called by a House leadership that has shirked its duty. This must change. Our House Oversight Committee colleagues must resolve to meet and demonstrate that our system of government remains strong – that checks and balances remain firmly in place. Once again, we appeal to our colleagues: let’s do what we were elected to do and get back to work!

Rhode Island House

Minority Caucus

This letter has been signed by Representative Blake A. Filippi, Minority Leader Representative Michael W. Chippendale, Minority Whip Representative John W. Lyle, Jr., Representative George A. Nardone                                                                                                                        Representative Brian C. Newberry, Representative David J. Place, Representative Justin K. Price, Representative Robert J. Quattrocchi and Representative Sherry Roberts.

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