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State Report: RI’s Disastrous Unemployment Rate, Gun Safety & PC Ponies Up

Saturday, December 22, 2012

This week’s State House Report centers on the recently released unemployment numbers for November. Not only did the Rhode Island’s unemployment rate remain unchanged, the state managed to lose jobs, thus continuing a dangerous trend.
Aside from job figures, the question of whether local colleges and universities should pay their fair share is also on the docket. Lastly, we examine how last week’s tragic elementary school shooting in Connecticut is impacting policy in Rhode Island.

Unemployment rate remains at 10.4 percent
On Thursday, the state Department of Labor and Training announced that the state’s November unemployment rate was 10.4 percent, the same as in October. The announcement ends the state’s streak of six consecutive months of unemployment rate decline.
Although the unemployment rate remained stagnant, the total number of jobs declined slightly by 200, to 457,100. State officials indicate that Superstorm Sandy may have had a slight impact on job loss figures, costing between 100 and 150 jobs.
Despite the job loss, the number of employed Rhode Islanders increased by 1,500 in November, to 506,200. The size of the labor force also grew by 1,400, to 564,800, which is the highest level since February 2011. Additionally, the number of unemployed Rhode Islanders, defined as residents out of work and actively seeking employment, dropped by 100, to 58,600.
RI's 10.4 percent unemployment rate is a noticeable improvement over last year’s November unemployment rate of 11.1 percent. Unfortunately, Rhode Island has lost 2,200 jobs over that same period of time. The state’s unemployment is still markedly higher than the average U.S. unemployment rate, which was 7.7 percent in November. Rhode Island unemployment rate is the second-worst in the nation, behind only Nevada (10.8 percent).
Providence College to pay city $3.84 million
On Tuesday, Providence Mayor Angel Taveras and Providence College President Fr. Brian Shanley announced that Providence College will make an additional $3.84 million in voluntary payments to the city or Providence over the next 10 years. The agreement also specifies that the Taveras administration will give up three adjoining streets near the PC campus – Huxley Avenue from Eaton Street to Ventura Street and sections of Wardlaw Avenue and Cumberland Street. In return, PC will make an initial $1 million payment to the city and pay $316,000 annually through 2021.
“Providence College is an important pillar of our community. I am pleased that Fr. Shanley and the entire PC community have stepped up to share in the sacrifice many have made to position Providence for the future,” said Mayor Taveras.
As of Tuesday, the Taveras administration has reached agreements with each of the city’s major tax-exempt institutions including Lifespan, Care New England, CharterCare, Brown University, Johnson & Wales University, and Rhode Island School of Design. In total, the Taveras administration has secured almost $48 million in contributions.
Founded in 1917, Providence College is a private coeducation Roman Catholic college, consisting of 3,852 undergraduate students and 735 graduate students. PC is the only college or university in the United States administered by the Dominican Order of friars.
Sen. Tassoni urges Bryant University to pay its fair share
With the newly announced Providence College payment agreement in mind, Sen. John J. Tassoni (D-Dist. 22, Smithfield, North Smithfield) is calling on Bryant University to come to similar terms with its hometown of Smithfield.
“With Providence College announcing its plan to pay the City of Providence nearly $4 million over the next 10 years, all the colleges in Providence have now acknowledged that, although they are tax-exempt institutions, they owe their host city for the services it provides and that they are part of the equation to help Providence face its fiscal problems,” said Tassoni. “Bryant University has not shown the same consideration to Smithfield.”
Wednesday’s announcement is not the first time Tassoni has urged Bryant to reach a payment agreement with Smithfield. In fact, Tassoni has been advocating such measures for the past six years. In 2006, Tassoni and several other local legislators introduced a bill that would have subjected Bryant to property taxes equivalent to other businesses and institutions.
“It is just not right for Bryant not to contribute something to the town, and it is especially glaring in light of the fact that all the institutions of higher learning in Providence have acknowledged their responsibility to their community by agreeing to pay something,” Tassoni said.
Located along Route 7 in Smithfield, Bryant University is presently home to over 3,300 undergraduate students and 400 graduate students.
Sen. Sheehan calls for review of school security
Less than a week after the horrific shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, Sen. James C. Sheehan is calling for Rhode Island to reassess the safety of children in state schools.
“I believe the Senate needs to look at the question of security at the state’s schools and the safety of the children in them,” Sheehan said. “We owe it to the memory of those who have fallen and to the residents of our state to do everything in our power as community leaders to safeguard our most precious members, the children.”
According to Sheehan, the Senate should immediately hold committee hearings to determine the state of preparedness of Rhode Island’s schools to a Newton-type attack.
Aside from re-examining the state’s level of awareness, Sheehan is also urging that immediate federal measures be taken to restore the ban on assault weapons and that background checks be required on all gun purchases.

BradyCampaign.org , a national, non-partisan organization leading the fight to prevent gun violence, ranked Rhode Island eighth in a 2011 state-by-state gun law scorecard. Rhode Island ranks behind Massachusetts and Connecticut, who finished third and fifth respectively.
Raimondo reviews pension portfolio for gun holdings
Aside from Sen. Sheehan, last week’s shooting in Connecticut also prompted General Treasurer Gina Raimondo to call for a review of the state’s pension fund’s alternative investment holdings for firearm and ammunition manufacturers and distributors.
“As the mother of two public elementary school students, my heart aches for the families of Newtown, Connecticut and what they are enduring. We must all be doing what we can to make sure this never happens again,” said Raimondo, the chair of the State Investment Commission. “We owe it to one another to keep our neighborhoods and schools safe for all our children and their families.”
Preliminary search results found that Rhode Island invests with one private equity firm, Wellspring, which has a stake in United Sporting Companies, a firearm distributor. According to Wellspring, United Sporting Companies will be ending their distribution of semi-automatic rifles as of Jan. 1, 2013.
The sale of semi-automatic rifles has been a hot topic since last week’s massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Adam Lanza, the Newtown gunman, used a semi-automatic Bushmaster .223 rifle during his rampage through the Connecticut elementary school. A 10-year ban on semi-automatic firearms was enacted in 1994, but expired in 2004 due to the law’s sunset provision. There have been numerous attempts to reenact the law since 2004, but no bill has reached the floor for a vote.

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