In defense of the House Oversight Committee

By Rep. Patricia A. Serpa
Posted 4/17/24

Eight years ago, I was named chairwoman of the House Oversight Committee. It was a position I accepted with much excitement and, to be honest, just a little bit of trepidation.

Unlike other …

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In defense of the House Oversight Committee


Eight years ago, I was named chairwoman of the House Oversight Committee. It was a position I accepted with much excitement and, to be honest, just a little bit of trepidation.

Unlike other standing committees, whose job it is to vet and approve legislation, no bills come out of the Oversight Committee. Rather, it’s our job to delve into the workings of various state agencies and make sure that things are running as they should be, and to address those problems that arise from time to time in the day-to-day workings of state government.

Legislative review is a very important part of representative government, and it is imperative that lawmakers take a good hard look at the executive branch. Without that review, the system of checks and balances that is a hallmark of our government, would begin to break down. I am proud of the work the committee members and myself have done in this regard. And while our members have sometimes introduced legislation based on our investigations, those bills are ultimately assigned to other committees. As a result, their hard work and the positive impact they’ve had on the state can sometimes go unnoticed.

So, I’d like to give some concrete examples of the ways the Oversight Committee has improved the lives of Rhode Islanders.

Back in June 2016, at our very first meeting, we tried to find out why so many Rhode Islanders hadn’t received their tax refunds. We met with officials of the Division of Taxation to find out what the problem was and come up with a solution. Due in large part to that meeting, the problems were rectified, and tax refunds have been done in a timely manner since.

That same year, we took aim at the problem-riddled rollout of the Unified Health Infrastructure Project, a statewide computer system that replaces and unifies numerous aged computer systems across the state’s human services agencies. Those glitches had adverse health effects on many Rhode Islanders, including missed medical treatments and missed food assistance. That problem was addressed in a series of weekly reports and further accountability hearings.

The saddest series of meetings we convened was in the wake of a report from the state’s child advocate examining the cases of six young children who suffered neglect or abuse from adults. Four of the children were dead, two were near death. They ranged in age from 2 to 18 months. Those meetings resulted in greater accountability from the Department of Children, Youth and Families, and a new law requiring physicians or duly certified registered nurse practitioners involved in the delivery and care of infants to report cases of infants born with or affected by substance abuse.

Perhaps one of the biggest successes was the ongoing saga of Medical Transportation Management, the service that provides non-emergency medical transportation to the elderly and Medicaid beneficiaries. The company’s service to the state began as a rocky one, with many complaints that the service had either been delayed or that drivers never showed up. The situation worsened with a fatality.

Because of the relentless work of the Oversight Committee, the Executive Office of Health and Human Services renegotiated the contract with the vendor, providing for greater accountability, improved performance standards, better technology systems integration, additional trainings for transportation providers, a standardized transportation provider credentialing process, and fines for if they fail to meet these standards.

These results, along with many others, are the reason it is so fulfilling to work on the House Oversight Committee, and I am more than proud of all the members who work tirelessly to hold our state agencies accountable. I look forward to continuing the panel’s good work to make Rhode Island a safer, better, and more efficient place to live.

The author, Rep. Patricia Serpa, represents District 27, which includes West Warwick and Coventry, in the House of Representatives. She resides in West Warwick.

op-ed, oversight


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