Good Evening Chairman Corvese and Members of the House Rules Committee:
My name is Jocelyn Foye. My preferred pronouns are she/her. I live in Wakefield, Rhode Island, and I am the Executive Director and Board President of The Womxn Project. I am speaking in support of House Resolutions 5006, 5007, 5008, 5009, 5010, 5011.
The Womxn Project is a grassroots organization founded in 2017 by a group of Rhode Island organizers and local artists who wanted to take a fresh approach to sexual and reproductive rights advocacy that harnesses the power of art, activism, and advocacy. From 2017–2019, TWP focused on passage of the Reproductive Privacy Act. TWP’s approach incorporated grassroots mobilization, artistic activism projects (“artivism”), and educational campaigns. Rhode Islanders engage with TWP because it acts boldly and centers the needs of those often overlooked by racist and sexist institutions.
On November 17, 2020, The Womxn Project, along with 41 diverse organizations, sent a letter to every member and member-elect of the Rhode Island General Assembly calling for change and demanding an open, accessible, and engaged process for the 2021 legislative session.
We cannot dismantle systematic and institutional racism if we exclude people from the legislative process. Current legislative processes do just that. We must use this extraordinary moment in our history to rethink how our institutions function and make them better to meet the needs we have now and improve participation and engagement in the future.
Representative Kislak’s resolutions address some of the issues raised in our letter and other issues which also improve the democractic process:
I cannot emphasize how important this rule change is for Rhode Islanders. A well-functioning democracy requires the active participation of the people. The Womxn Project has substantial experience mobilizing Rhode Islanders to engage their legislators at the State House. We have observed first hand the barriers to access many Rhode Islanders face when engaging in the legislative process. In the past, working folx, disabled individuals, and lower-income folx struggled to participate in hearings. I have coordinated transportation for those who do not or cannot drive to the State House. We have watched each others’ children so that someone could testify. The pandemic and public health concerns have only compounded these barriers.
Allowing remote voting for house committees is the sensible response to public health concerns. Allowing video testimony for the public will greatly expand access by eliminating the need to get to the State House. It allows people juggling work and family an easier method to participate.
House Resolution 5007
Requiring the consent of the majority and minority leaders to suspend a rule creates an unnecessary hurdle to change. Placing one or two individual lawmakers in a position to foreclose the will of the majority is anti-democractic.
House Resolution 5008
House Resolution 5009
House Resolution 5010
House Resolutions 5008, 5009, and 5010 each serve to remove procedural barriers that prevent an expedited process for bills to become law. There is no value letting bills languish. Regarding House Resolution 5008, there is no reason to push legislative action on a bill or resolution so far into the legislative session. That push causes a crush of activity later into the term. Regarding House Resolution 5009, too often, bills enter limbo after they are passed out of committee. Bills that have been passed out of committee should be placed on the floor calendar for a vote expeditiously. Rhode Islanders deserve to know, on the record, how their representatives stand on bills that have been passed out of committee. Finally, House Resolution 5010 helps to remove the sting of the “held for further study” bill classification. As we have seen with numerous good bills, once the bill is “held for further study,” it effectively kills the bill by preventing any legislative action on the bill going forward that session. By allowing the bill’s prime sponsor to request reconsideration of the bill by the committee, the bill will get an opportunity to leave committee and receive a floor vote.
House Resolution 5011
The Rhode Island budget is the single most important bill that the General Assembly must contend with each session. The budget bill is usually hundreds of pages in length and contains provisions that affect every Rhode Islander. And yet, the budget is exempted from the requirement that bills must be noticed at least 24 hours before the vote on the bill is held. Legislators, the media, and ordinary Rhode Islanders should be allowed time to carefully review each provision before the vote is scheduled. The 24-hour waiting period should also apply to the budget.
The House has the opportunity and the obligation to re-imagine how participatory democracy works in our state. I sincerely hope that these resolutions pass and they remain in place long after the pandemic has ceased. Now is the time to remove obstacles, ensure the legislative process is inclusive of all voices, and clear procedural barriers from the path of a bill to a law.
Jocelyn S. Foye
Executive Director & Board President
The Womxn Project
Attached: November 17, 2020 Open & Accessible Government Letter