PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — One local lawmaker is planning to introduce a legislative package that he says aims to level the playing field between citizens, lobbyists and special interests.
The set of bills sponsored by state Rep. Aaron Regunberg, a Providence Democrat and candidate for lieutenant governor, proposes free parking spaces, prioritized testimony times and a child-care center to make it easier for residents to participate in the legislative process.
“Lobbyists paid by the most powerful and wealthy institutions in our state are always present at the State House and at the fundraisers that are ubiquitous during the legislative session,” Regunberg said. “This package is designed to make sure the voices of families who can’t afford a well-connected corporate lobbyist also have access to make their voices heard.”
Regunberg said the new legislation is about leveling the playing field.
“This about making sure that people have faith to know that their voice matters,” he said. “Their voice has a role to play in making policy, and that they have access to the folks that make decisions for them.”
Regunberg said the Citizen Lobbyist Easier Access Reform (CLEAR) package includes the following provisions:
- Transportation: Reserves 100 free parking spaces for visiting members of the public and creates a new bus stop at the State House.
- Child care: Establishes a child-care center for visitors to the State House that will operate during long committee hours when the legislature is in session.
- Public priority: The first 10 spaces for testimony during committee hearings will be reserved for members of the public who are not registered as lobbyists.
- Remote testimony: Invest in the needed technology to allow individuals to submit spoken testimony if they are unable to attend legislative hearings in person.
- Limits on political contributions from lobbyists.
- The maximum annual contribution total to any candidate from a registered lobbyist would be decreased from $1,000 to $100.
- Lobbyists and Political Action Committees would be prohibited from making contributions to political candidates while the legislature is in session.”
“The system for public input we have now simply does not work for parents, working people, the elderly and the disabled. It’s stifling our conversation on the issues, but it’s something we can fix,” Regunberg said. “If you can’t afford a State House lobbyist, you still deserve to be heard in Rhode Island. And if you are a State House lobbyist, then your case should rest on the strength of your argument not on the amount on your campaign check.”
A hearing on the legislative package proposal is expected to happen within the next few months.
John Marion, executive director of the good-government group Common Cause Rhode Island, said physically showing up on Smith Hill can have an effect on lawmakers. “If constituents actually show up, they’re going to pay attention, so it’s important that people get in there,” he said.