The push is on ahead of Assembly special session

By Steve Peoples
Published October 15th 2007 in Providence Journal Political Scene Blog
The interest groups have not held back from pressuring legislative leaders to take up their issues in the much-anticipated special session planned for later in the month.

Lobbyists have written letters, led phone call campaigns and held rallies in recent weeks to get their point across.

And they were joined last week by two state representatives who sent a letter to the leaders of the House and Senate, and then issued their own press release to announce the move.

“Members of the Progressive Caucus have been discussing the aggressive vetoing by the governor. We would like to urge all of you to bring us back to override several of these vetoes,” reads the letter signed by state Reps. David Segal, D-Providence, and Arthur Handy, D-Providence, among a handful of lawmakers who make up the Progressive Caucus, including Sen. Charles Levesque, D-Portsmouth, and Sen. Joshua Miller, D-Warwick.

“I’m sure he’s concerned with what his membership is thinking,” Segal said of House Speaker William J. Murphy. “But to a degree, I feel like a lobbyist — I have no personal stake in the issues at hand.”

In their letter, the progressives urge legislative leaders to override some of the lesser known of Governor Carcieri’s 55 vetoes, such as a bill that would eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for drug-related crimes, an act allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to vote and legislation that would give certain benefits to domestic partners of some state and municipal employees.

“We know that your jobs are tough ones,” reads the letter. “We can never please all the people all the time but that in the end is not our job. We again want you to know that we will be thrilled to have an opportunity to respond to the governor on his veto overrides and look forward to the override session later this month.”

Murphy’s spokesman, Larry Berman, confirmed that his office had received the letter, but offered no promises on the speaker’s behalf. Nor would he confirm the special session’s date.

“Certainly he values the input of Reps. Segal and Handy. And we’ve been hearing input from other members as well,” Berman said. “Speaker Murphy has not decided yet what vetoes they’ll take up,” Berman said. “But he said his top priority of the vetoes would be the mandatory overtime bill because it passed unanimously both chambers. The rest of the agenda is still to be determined.”

That’s not great news for people like Ari Savitsky, the director of Fairvote Rhode Island, which has particular interest in the bill allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to preregister to vote. The group held two “call days” last week in which an estimated 50 people phoned their local representatives calling for action on the veto.

“While [the bill] may not have garnered a lot of headlines, its beneficiaries — our democracy’s next generation — are crucial to Rhode Island’s future,” reads a recent letter from Savitsky to lawmakers. “Youth preregistration has broad support from across our state.”

It’s not surprising, however, that the Republican governor would have vetoed the bill. The majority of young voters traditionally vote Democratic.