Local legislator aims for reform at Statehouse

Jason Knight is member of 'Reform Caucus'

Posted 1/1/19

Jason Knight is calling for change. 

The Barrington resident who fills the District 67 seat in the Rhode Island House of Representatives believes change is needed with how the Rhode Island …

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Local legislator aims for reform at Statehouse

Jason Knight is member of 'Reform Caucus'

Posted

Jason Knight is calling for change. 

The Barrington resident who fills the District 67 seat in the Rhode Island House of Representatives believes change is needed with how the Rhode Island Statehouse conducts business. Rep. Knight said the Speaker of the House has too much power, while the rest of the legislators have too little.

"You have one member who really counts and 74 members who get told what to do. That's wrong," Rep. Knight said. 

A relative newcomer to politics — he was first elected in 2016 — Rep. Knight has joined a group calling itself the "Reform Caucus." On Jan. 1, when the general assembly was scheduled to return to work, the 20 to 21 members of the Reform Caucus had planned to show their non-support for Rep. Nicholas Mattiello as Speaker of the House — the group planned to make changes to the rules bill when it came time for a vote.

"We're looking to restore and put in place some of the checks and balances that the rank and file historically had to keep the Speaker in check," said Rep. Knight during an interview last month. He added that too often the RI House leader would not allow good bills to reach the floor for votes.

"When an idea comes up, we want to see it … really get debated," he said.

Rep. Knight said there were "1,001" examples of times when a representative wanted to see his or her bill voted upon, only to have it blocked. Rep. Knight said his decision to withdraw his support for Rep. Mattiello was made last year when Pawtucket Red Sox left Rhode Island. Rep. Knight said there were a number of representatives who wanted to see the Senate bill regarding the Paw Sox brought to the House, but it never reached the floor. Instead, said Rep. Knight, the Speaker brought forth his own Paw Sox bill that failed to garner any attention from Sox ownership. Shortly thereafter, the team's ownership announced the Paw Sox were headed to Worcester, Mass.

"We are looking to change the way the house conducts business," added Rep. Knight. "We want to put a little small 'd' democracy into the House of Representatives."

Rep. Knight said there were a number of other legislative initiatives he was considering for the upcoming session, including "doing what we need to do to keep Rhode Island on the right path economically."

Rep. Knight said he has been thinking about creating a small business bill of rights, which would aim to relieve some of the regulatory pressure placed upon small businesses in Rhode Island when they are working to establish themselves. He said he supports creating an environment that offers businesses an opportunity to grow without too many challenges and burdens from the government.

Rep. Knight also said he is interested in addressing a housing problem in Rhode Island — he said the current laws allow property owners to turn down potential renters who receive governmental housing assistance. 

"Section 8 is often short-hand for 'I don't like people who look different from me,'" said Rep. Knight. "Other states don't allow for discrimination."

Rep. Knight said a correction to the local housing laws would likely result in an improvement in the housing market.

The District 67 (Barrington and Warren) representative also said the Rhode Island General Assembly needs to address issues impacting Rhode Island public schools. 

Rep. Knight said part of the challenges facing schools is the apparent ever-changing sets of standards used by educators. Rep. Knight compared it to a cruise ship which constantly changes directions. He said the result of the changes is that it's difficult to tell whether the current generation of students is prepared for college and the workforce.

"Whatever's going on, we need the 'all-hands-on-deck' approach to fixing it," he added.

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