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Big Controversies Hit State House As General Assembly Tries to Adjourn

Friday, June 22, 2018

 

Speaker Nick Mattiello

Thursday night at the Rhode Island General Assembly morphed into what was termed “a political mess.”

At 6:40 PM, Providence Representative Aaron Regunberg Tweeted, “It’s 6:40 and we’re on item 6 out of 85 on the Floor Calendar. Gonna be a long night. But obviously we couldn’t have done any of this business at any point over the last six months…”

Regunberg is a Democratic candidate for Lt. Governor and has been a leading voice on progressive issues in the House.

Regunberg’s sentiments were just some of the frustrations voiced after the battle erupted over everything from pay equity legislation, the newest PawSox funding scheme being pushed by Mattiello, the final passage of Kristin’s Law, and other issues on contention.

Pushing towards 11 p.m. on Thursday and faced with a floor battle over the PawSox legislation, Speaker of the House adjourned for the night and forewarned that members are likely to be in all of Friday as well as Saturday.

Mattiello's Last-Minute PawSox Bill

The last-minute 21-page PawSox bill passed House Finance Committee with little review of the legislation by members at about 10 p.m.

The PawSox legislation sparked a number of critical questions by committee members.

File Photo: Sharon Ferland Reynolds

The usually sure-footed House Finance Committee fiscal advisor Sharon Reynolds Ferland was unable to answer many key questions about the latest version of the financing deal.

Chair Marvin Abney on a number of occasions interrupted the questioning of Ferland, saying “This is just enabling legislation.” And, Abney claimed “the details” will be worked out later.

When asked about key elements of the financing Ferland said,”I don’t know when a shovel would be in the ground.”

“I don’t have a timetable [on the project],” answered Ferland.

And when asked what about potential cost outside the existing budget like environmental costs, Ferland, after a number of questions, admitted that costs such as clean up for environmental contamination would fall on taxpayers and that it is not covered by the $83 million project financing budget.

Presently, there is a lawsuit between ownership groups tied to the proposed stadium site over $6.5 million in clean up costs.

A number of other questions by House Committee members Ferland could not answer on the legislation that was first distributed after 9 PM on Thursday night.

The bill passed House Finance and was referred to the full House where Mattiello, the architect of the legislation, started the floor debate in an effort to push for passage, but House members began to complain that they had no opportunity to review or ask questions on the “voluminous” new 21-page financing structure.

Ironically, a pro-move-the-PawSox to Worcester group Tweeted on Thursday night, “The RI House Finance Committee has approved the #PawSox stadium bill. (Which still has yet to be released to the public.).”

It is still unclear if the PawSox support the newest version of the legislation that many have called the worst of all worlds as the bill has significantly increased borrowing costs — as much as $25 million due to the bonding structure — and still have taxpayers on the hook in the case of a default according to Governor Gina Raimondo.

Representative Aaron Regunberg

Pay Equity

The pay equity legislation was one of the other major battles between Mattiello’s faction and progressive Democrats.

House progressives opposed a “watered down” version of the legislation that RI Working Families called a rollback to the 1950s.  Long-time legislative leader, Edith Ajello said about the weakened legislation, “I have seldom felt so saddened by a debate. We need to hear the people asking for fairness and equality.”

And Regunberg Tweeted, “So unless we see major movement in the next day, the legislative record for women’s rights this session is no action on choice, no action on sexual harassment, and no positive action on pay equity. Are you kidding me?”

The bill was transferred to the Senate and it is unclear if there is a consensus on the weakened legislation.

 

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