- Associated Press - Monday, June 20, 2016

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - Still recovering from the hangover of an all-night legislative session, Rhode Island lawmakers are vowing not to repeat the bill-passing binge that kept them in the State House until after dawn on Saturday.

It began Friday as a festive end-of-year gathering. Lobbyists and aides enjoyed an open-air balcony on the warm June night. One lawmaker cut out early when his pregnant wife went into labor. But by the time his daughter was born at 11 p.m. his colleagues still had dozens of bills to consider and kept adding more. Some fell asleep in their seats and one 72-year-old lawmaker did push-ups to stay alert.

As night turned to dawn, nerves were frayed and negotiations fell apart. A frustrated Democratic Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed choked up at the rostrum after learning that the House refused to consider a criminal justice reform initiative she considered a priority.

“It is an unusual tradition that we seem to have here,” Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo said Monday. “It does feel like there could be a better way.”

Rhode Island’s 6:11 a.m. adjournment on Saturday may hold the record so far this year, but the state is hardly alone in keeping legislators up until the wee hours. The New York Legislature adjourned just an hour earlier than Rhode Island’s. Arizona’s legislature pulled an all-nighter last month, and Kansas, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio and Texas are among many states to have held all-night meetings in recent years. Delaware’s governor last year signed the budget at 5:35 a.m. on the first day of the fiscal year.

Other states have attempted reforms. In Massachusetts, reports of rowdy behavior and drinking during a 2000 session led to new House rules that effectively ended all-nighters.

Open government advocate John Marion of Common Cause Rhode Island said late-night meetings raise transparency concerns.

“As the saying goes, it’s not the best way to run a railroad to have the most important public body in the state finish its work at 6 a.m., and hold committee meetings with just minutes notice at 4 a.m.,” Marion said. “But it’s part of human nature to leave things to the end. Procrastination is a strong force.”

The Senate waited until after 1 a.m. to pass next year’s $8.9 billion budget in what many lawmakers saw as a delay tactic to force the House to act on other bills that senators wanted passed.

Many of the dozens of bills passed in the early morning hours were not of great significance or controversy, such as one to make the harbor seal the official state marine mammal. But others should not have been considered so late, said Republican House Minority Leader Brian Newberry, who as the session progressed began voting ‘no’ against every bill in protest.

“We don’t make good decisions at that time of night,” he said. “We passed a major reform of how we fund our colleges at 5 a.m.”

Democratic House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello said he didn’t expect the legislative session to last as long as it did.

“In hindsight, I wish we had come back (another day), but you reach a point of no return,” Mattiello said in a statement Monday. “Obviously it was very frustrating, and we are not going to repeat such a late-night session.”

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