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A group of GOP lawmakers gathered outside the Statehouse Wednesday to point to the House Oversight Committee as an important check on executive power.

They say the Oversight Committee has a vital role to play in reviewing the impact of coronavirus in nursing homes.

Seventy percent of Rhode Island’s COVID-19 deaths are associated with nursing homes. The virus has also disproportionately impacted Latino and African-Americans in the state.

Considering this toll – and the possibility of a second wave of infections later this year – Republican lawmakers said House Oversight hearings would provide a much-needed review.

“We need to have these conversations,” said House GOP Leader Blake Filippi of New Shoreham. “We don’t need to be afraid of them. We don’t want to Monday morning quarterback anybody, but the goal is to have open conversations, educate ourselves and the public about what’s happened. And the disproportionate effect on the minority community is certainly one of the top things that we need to discuss and resolve.”

Filippi said the Oversight Committee could meet without the approval of House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, if seven Democrats joined the GOP lawmakers in backing meetings.

House Whip Michael Chippendale said the Democrats who control the House shouldn’t be afraid of the process.

Chippendale said the Oversight Committee has played a positive role while advocating for vulnerable Rhode Islanders, on issues involving the state’s troubled IT system, abused children, and transportation for the disabled.

“That’s what transparency does, that’s what daylight does,” Chippendale said. “It causes you to correct your action if you’re out in full sunlight and you’re not on the right path. The main benefit in my opinion is that oversight brings to any sort of oversight hearing is we are overseeing the process and we are shining a light on it and we want to know what’s going on.”

Speaker Mattiello poured cold water on the Republicans’ call for Oversight hearings.

While the GOP lawmakers said an ad hoc House-Senate task force that has held one meeting to examine COVID-19 spending is a sham, Mattiello expressed confidence in that approach and said Oversight hearings would be redundant.

“The House and Senate leadership teams have been in constant communication with our nursing homes,” he said in a statement. “It is not appropriate to play politics, particularly at a time when these nursing homes are working so diligently to save the lives of our most vulnerable populations." 

The full General Assembly has not met since early March, although some committees are meeting.

The GOP lawmakers said that Gov. Raimondo’s daily briefings have not offered enough insight into the impact of the virus at nursing homes.

Asked about that during the Q&A with reporters of her Wednesday briefing, Raimondo said she has tried to be as transparent as possible, and that Rhode Island’s performance is better than that of many other states.

“We’ve offered testing to every resident and every worker in every nursing homes, and we’re committed to re-testing all workers every seven to 10 days,” she said. “We’ve had the National Guard go in to help nursing homes with infection control. We were very early in shutting down visiting hours and visitation.”

Raimondo said nursing homes are hard hit in every state.

“If that committee wanted to be a productive partner in saving lives,” she said, referring to the Republicans, “then give us some concrete ideas, because we are wide open to that. Second-guessing what we’ve done, I’m not sure how that’s very helpful at the moment.”  

Ian Donnis covers politics for The Public’s Radio. He can be reached at idonnis (at) ripr (dot) org.