Coventry Lawmaker Ranks High in Open Meetings Report
The House committee chaired by state Rep. Patricia Serpa (D-Coventry, Warwick, West Warwick) complied with the state's Open Meetings law 100 percent of the time last year, according to a new report from Secretary of State A. Ralph Mollis.
"Access 2012" reviewed the performance of every House and Senate committee during last year's legislative session. The Open Meetings law requires most governmental bodies to post meeting notices and agendas at least 48 hours in advance.
Under Serpa's leadership, the House Small Business Committee had a perfect record for the second consecutive year. The committee oversees legislation that streamlines licensing and permitting, cuts bureaucratic steps and delays and uncoordinated or duplicative reviews and filings; and reduces associated added costs to businesses.
"Since small business owners have to take the time out of their day and away from their businesses to come to the State House to testify on legislation, it is important that we provide them with plenty of notice," said Serpa. "I am proud that our committee had a perfect rating in compliance with open government standards. It is my goal to get the business community very involved in the law-making process, and one way is to make certain that meetings are properly posted."
While the General Assembly is exempt from the Open Meetings law, the House and the Senate do issue meeting notices in accordance with their own rules. Mollis monitored that activity in order to produce the "Access 2012" report.
"Accountability is a crucial gauge of government's willingness to keep the public informed about its work," said Mollis.
In developing the data, the Secretary of State's office reviewed meeting notices and agendas for 438 legislative meetings in 2012. Broken out by chamber, House compliance was 94 percent and Senate compliance was 97 percent in 2012.
As in previous years, nearly all the violations came in the last days of the session. Fifteen of the 19 total violations occurred during the 48 hours before the General Assembly recessed in the early-morning hours of June 13.
"The legislature's capacity to give the public at least 48 hours notice as the session winds down is constrained by the compressed timeframe for consideration and the volume of bills that must be addressed," said Mollis.
The Secretary of State's office has issued an annual "Access" report since 1997.
Mollis gives the public access to legislative meeting notices and agendas on his website and maintains a searchable database of meeting notices, agendas and minutes for most other state and municipal agencies, commissions, boards and departments.
Secretary of State Mollis is committed to making it easier for Rhode Islanders to vote, making it easier to do business in Rhode Island and making government more open and accessible.
For more information about the programs and services the Secretary of State offers Rhode Islanders, visit sos.ri.gov.