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Rhode Island Senate Passes US Senate Vacancies Bill

On March 25, the Rhode Island Senate approved a bill that would ensure every US Senator from the state is directly elected. The bill, S 201, was sponsored by Senator Paul Jabour. It passed on a 33-1, vote with Democratic, Republican and Independent support.

Rhode Island's House passed an identical companion measure, H 5094 (sponsored by Rep. Christopher Fierro) on March 10. Now either or both chamber of the General Assembly must approve a companion version before the bill is sent to the Governor's desk.

In the wake of the controversy surrounding former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich's Senate appointment process, nine states are considering US Senate vacancy bills. The dual victories for the Senate vacancy bill mean Rhode Island is the state where a Senate vacancy bill has advanced the furthest so far this year.

A vacancy in a Rhode Island US Senate seat would currently be filled by gubernatorial appointment. In Rhode Island, the governor makes an interim appointment which lasts from the time of the vacancy until the next general election, according to current state law--in other words, for a period of up to two years.

Sen. Jabour and Rep. Fierro's bills would end the gubernatorial selection process and ensure a popular election. Their legislation is similar to laws already in place in several other states. It would also bring Senate vacancies in line with vacancies in the US House of Representatives, which are always been filled by special elections.

See FairVote's issue page for more background on the bill.