RI House Civil Liberties Voting Rankings

See which Representatives have voted to protect your rights and civil liberties here in Rhode Island

The House Civil Liberties Rankings brought out some genuine surprises, but maintained the stunning disappointment we found in the Senate Rankings. Our findings show that most members of the GA have little regard for civil liberty implications, especially on "virtue" bills that seek to correct a genuine concern, but trample individual rights at the same time. A large percentage of bills were commonly voted for/against by the same groups of Representatives, indicating a case of "group think" in which leadership directs its members how to vote. Our top performers in the rankings were those most likely to go against the grain and vote "no" on bills that seemed well-meaning on their face, but contained serious civil liberties concerns. However, none of these top performers achieved an excellent rating, due to the vast number of bills they supported that opposed the ACLU position.

One of our biggest findings in researching the data for both Senate and House Civil Liberties Rankings was that the House intentionally refuses to publicly publish the results of committee votes when a bill is killed using the "held for further study" trick. First, a quick background: When leadership does not support a bill, they almost always still allow a committee vote on it. The committee will then vote to "hold the bill for further study", which essentially kills the bill without a real up/down vote. As we noted in the Senate rankings, with few exceptions, bills held for study usually are neither studied nor brought up for a vote in the future. 

The House, under Speaker Mattiello's leadership, uses the same tactic.  However, in this chamber accountability is lacking - committee votes to kill bills via this maneuver are kept off the publicly-facing legislative website, so voters cannot see which representatives did the deed. As a result, we were not able to retrieve committee votes for 92 of the 131 House bills we scored. Because we use only publicly-available data for vote counts, we had to assign accountability for bills in which the committee vote was hidden. We believe the fairest way to assign accountability on these votes was to assign the committee result solely to the person responsible for the anonymity: the Speaker.  As a result, for bills "held for further study" with anonymized committee votes, a "no" vote was recorded only for the Speaker. The small bit of good news is that Mattiello's anonymous committees blocked 31 "bad" bills that the ACLU opposed. But overall, the harm to the democratic process was breathtaking - of the 131 bills that the ACLU lobbied for or against, the committees blocked 92 of them (70%) from a floor vote, and a jaw-dropping 61 of those bills were supported by the ACLU. We will never know if any of those bills would have become law, but the sheer number of good bills blocked from a vote for the entire House has put an incredible strain on democracy in Rhode Island.

While Senator Ruggerio's "hold for further study" bill-blocking method ultimately accomplishes the same result, every member of the applicable committee is accountable for it, harming their own civil liberties record to appease leadership. This is evident in the Senate Civil Liberties Rankings where members of the Judiciary Committee, which handle the majority of bills with civil liberties implications, saw their scores get decimated by countless "hold for study" votes on ACLU-supported bills.

Our rankings are the first ever "scorecard" to count committee votes. Until now, committee members and leadership got away with killing off good bills, because scorecards like those from the ACLU, Common Cause, and most others score based solely on floor votes (and in some cases sponsorship, which plays a small part). This loophole is how leadership was always able to score much higher than their effect on legislation would suggest. We hope that by bringing these actions to the forefront, it helps educate voters on the current undemocratic process of lawmaking, and pushes voters to demand change.

How We Measured Civil Liberties Voting Records

We evaluated 131 bills with assigned House bill numbers in which the Rhode Island ACLU lobbied in favor or against during the 2018-2019 legislative years. Representatives were awarded a point for floor votes that support the ACLU position, and zero points if they opposed the ACLU position, abstained, or were absent from the vote. Those serving on committees that voted on an applicable bill were awarded a point for a committee vote that aligned with the ACLU position, and zero points for a vote opposing the ACLU position. A "not voting" was counted as a "no" and an absence from a committee vote was not counted at all, since legislators were more likely to miss committee votes than floor votes due to other obligations. We chose not to penalize committee absences for the 2020 rankings, since a penalty already exists on absences from floor votes. This may change in the future if necessary. 

Bills were categorized according to how the ACLU grouped them, with some exceptions. Some categories the ACLU used did not have enough bills to fairly score each legislator, so these bills were moved to the broad "Civil Rights" or "Criminal Justice" category, based on which was most applicable.  A minimum of 4 applicable bills were required to establish each category. While votes for every bill were counted in the overall score, House committees blocked a substantial portion of bills from a vote, leaving legislators with an "N/A" score in the 1st Amendment category, where virtually every bill was blocked.

Best Civil Rights Voting Record

1.

Edith Ajello

District 1 (Elected 1992)

62

Perfect score on Civil Rights and Worker Rights

Better than most on Due Process and Privacy Rights

Poor scores on Criminal Justice and Voting Rights

Ms. Ajello achieved the highest Civil Liberties score in the General Assembly, and did so despite having one of the highest numbers of committee votes on applicable bills. Generally, committee members have voted conservatively on civil liberties bills, causing their scores to drop considerably. Instead, Rep. Ajello used her committee position to often advance ACLU-supported bills.

2.

George Nardone

District 28 (Elected 2018)

61

Perfect score on Due Process Rights

Consistent voting record with only one "poor" scoring category 

Voted against Reproductive Privacy Act

Among top performers, Rep Nardone had the most consistent scores across all categories, even if though were not all stellar. Mr. Nardone was one of only 5 representatives to achieve a perfect score on Due Process. His vote against the RPA - the only legislator in the Top 4 to do so - left a notable stain on his civil liberties record, and prevented him from taking the top spot.

2.

Moira Walsh

District 3 (Elected 2016)

61

Great performance on Civil Rights and Worker Rights

Though not "excellent", scored highest on Criminal Justice Rights

Unusually poor performance on Due Process Rights

As one of the more progressive legislators in the House, we were not surprised to see Rep. Walsh finish in the Top 3. But like all other House legislators, she too voted for several "virtue" bills that seemed well-meaning on the outside, but created important civil liberties implications. However, on many bills, she was often one of only a couple of legislators to vote in support of the ACLU position, cementing her status as an independent-thinking legislator.

4.

Marcia Ranglin-Vassell

District 5 (Elected 2016)

60

One of the few bright spots in the House on Privacy Rights

In a sea of bad performers, scored among the top on Criminal Justice

Surprisingly low scores on several categories

Like Rep. Walsh, MRV voted against the grain on several bills, helping propel her to the top of the House rankings. However, her overall score still comes as a surprise as a progressive legislator and civil rights advocate. On the upside, Rep. Ranglin-Vassell was one of only four members of the House to score "excellent" in 3 different categories.

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Civil Rights Voting Score

Excellent OK Poor N/A Insufficient # of Votes

RepresentativeDistScoreCivil RightsCriminal JusticeDue Process1st AmndPrivacy RightsVoting RightsWorker Rights
Ajello1621003978N/A6725100
Nardone28616750100N/A3350100
Walsh361805840N/A5033100
Ranglin-Vassell560804257N/A7533100
Kislak4596725100N/A3350100
Newberry4856885843N/A203367
Cassar6653672567N/A2050100
Place47526740100N/A333350
Lyle, Jr.4652750100N/A2050100
Almeida1250782950N/A100067
Barros5950635043N/A403333
Carson75501001757N/A403367
Lombardi850881757N/A753367
Filippi3649804733N/A804033
Kazarian6348753157N/A50067
Morin4948882371N/A50067
Hull647752543N/A4033100
Marszalkowski5247751771N/A503367
McLaughlin574788871N/A206767
Speakman68477517100N/A2550100
Tanzi3447753320N/A4033100
Cortvriend7247672533N/A2550100
Jackson2645100033N/A2533100
Handy1845901743N/A50067
Slater1045632571N/A50067
Williams945881760N/A20080
Tobon5844881780N/A20067
Knight6744902833N/A3325100
Roberts2944642944N/A804033
Fogarty3544881743N/A203350
Canario71431001040N/A57067
Bennett2043911443N/A50067
Jacquard174388871N/A40067
Alzate6042100033N/A330100
Costantino4442881729N/A206767
Diaz1142632571N/A03367
Quattrocchi4142505029N/A333333
Ruggiero744288857N/A173367
Chippendale4041753843N/A253325
Ucci4241881740N/A0067
Ackerman454191757N/A17067
Azzinaro3741100743N/A20067
Blazejewski24189857N/A20067
Phillips5141911443N/A17067
McKiernan740100838N/A80025
Messier624088857N/A20067
Abney733988857N/A20067
Casey50391001557N/A0050
Mendez133967067N/A250100
Donovan6939821443N/A17067
McNamara193991743N/A17067
Kennedy383888857N/A17067
McEntee3337901640N/A40067
Shekarchi233788843N/A25067
Price3936403133N/A802533
Fellela4336100843N/A0050
Serpa2736100843N/A0067
Mattiello153636404350431521
Shanley2436901140N/A60067
Edwards7035901130N/A40067
O'Brien543475857N/A0067
Caldwell303367033N/A330100
Casimiro313382725N/A50067
Hawkins533367033N/A330100
Lima143375843N/A25067
Vella-Wilkinson21331001150N/A0067
Amore653375857N/A25033
Johnston613388843N/A0067
Solomon, Jr.223388843N/A0067
Millea163067025N/A00100
Noret253067025N/A00100
Craven3229901130N/A4000
Corvese5527801130N/A0067
Serodio641850033N/A0050

How We Rank

Score is the cumulative total of the representative's floor and committee votes that support the ACLU position divided by the total number of votes the representative could have participated in (committee votes were only counted if the representative was present for the vote). We then multiplied the score by 100 to create a scale from 1-100. 

Scores for each individual category were tabulated as above, but just for that category of bills. A minimum of 2 votes were required for a representative to be scored in any one category, else they were given a score of N/A (though their votes in the category still count as part of their overall score).

Representatives with scores above 75 are considered "Excellent" defenders of civil liberties, scores between 50 - 74 are "OK", and scores below 50 are considered "Poor". For both individual categories and overall score, the maximum possible score is 100. The lowest possible score is 0.

Bills Scored

(All bills originated in the House. Suffixes - A: Sub A, B: Sub B, AM: As Amended)

Civil Rights:
7363, 7156, 7194, 7765A, 7612AAM, 7204, 7982B, 7570, 7710, 5364, 5137, 5659, 5562, 5553A, 5307, 6100, 6098, 5443, 5706, 5707, 5511, 5518, 5919, 5250, 5323, 5538, 5252, and 5370.

Criminal Justice Rights: 7596, 7534, 7445, 7390, 7223A, 7764, 7182A, 7466, 2281, 2280, 7790B, 7541A, 7938, 7200A-9, 7715AAM, 7724, 7725AAM, 7697A, 5196, 5022, 5703, 5739, 5741, 5088, 6065, 5817A, 6043, 5333, 5491, 5228, 5367, 5572, 6033, 5488, 5755, 5863, 5545, 5760, 6067, and 6066.

Due Process Rights: 7594, 7688AAM, 7956BAM, 7233, 8352AM, 8170AM, 5297, 6254, 5167, 5357, 5721, 5334, 5433, and 5113.

1st Amendment Rights: 7422, 7452A, 7343, 7055, 8128, 5042, 5158, and 6255.

Privacy Rights: 7340, 7735, 7882, 7695, 7451, 8354, H5125B, 5383, 5541, 5555, 5556, 5354, 5042, 5255.

Voting Rights: 7438, 7342, 7501, 7530, 7877, 7729, 5727, 5736, 5292, 5698, 5513, 5709, and 5864.

Workers Rights: 7427AAM, 7788, 8276, 8278, 8279, 5346, 5340, 5341, 5342, 5343, 5345, 5346, 5361, and 5759.