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State Report: Gay Marriage Battle, Foreclosure Crisis & the Sawyer School

Saturday, January 12, 2013


This week’s State Report centers around a pair of deadlines that many Rhode Islanders may want to keep in mind. Not only is the deadline to file a claim under the National Mortgage Settlement drawing near, but the cut-off for residents to register for Hurricane Sandy relief is just days away.

Aside from relief payment cut-off information, the State Report also examines the recently proposed controversial gay marriage legislation through the lens of the state’s Roman Catholic Diocese. Also on the docket this week is an update on the sudden Sawyer School closure and an examination of the new State Poet.

AG Kilmartin reminds Rhode Islanders mortgage settlement claim deadline

The deadline for eligible Rhode Island borrowers who lost their homes due to improper foreclosure practices between January 1, 2008 and December 31, 201, to file a claim for funds under the $25 billion National Mortgage Settlement is January 18, 2013, Attorney General Peter Kilmartin announced on Tuesday. The settlement pertains to borrowers who had mortgages serviced by Ally/GMAC, Bank of America, Citi, JPMorgan and Wells Fargo.

According to Kilmartin, his office has mailed approximately 5,500 packages to eligible residents. So far, the Attorney General’s office has received 2,398 claims from eligible borrowers. Borrowers that believe they qualify for a payment, but have not received a notice because they’ve moved, may visit www.nationalmortgagesettlement.com to download and complete a form. Rhode Islanders may also contact the settlement administrator, toll-free, at 1-866-430-8358 or by email at [email protected].

The settlement, which took effect in April, provides up to $25 billion in relief to distressed borrowers and direct payments to states and the federal government. It’s the largest multistate settlement since the Tobacco Settlement in 1998, which ordered the country’s largest tobacco companies to pay an estimated $246 billion.

Federal disaster aid deadline draws near

The deadline for Rhode Islanders to apply for federal disaster relief is midnight Monday, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The federal aid is intended to help homeowners pay for home repairs, temporary housing, damage to vehicles and other expenses related to Superstorm Sandy. State residents have been paid $6 million on 1,020 claims thus far, according to federal officials.

Rhode Islanders affected by the storm may register online at www.disasterassistance.gov or call 800-621-FEMA. Federal funding is available to state, tribal, and eligible local governments and select nonprofit groups on a cost-sharing basis for emergency work and the repair of facilities damaged by Hurricane Sandy.

Preliminary figures estimate that Superstorm Sandy caused approximately $65.6 billion in damages, making it the second-costliest Atlantic hurricane in history, behind only Hurricane Katrina.

President Barack Obama has signed a $9.7 billion bill to pay flood insurance claims from Superstorm Sandy, but a larger and more comprehensive $51 billion package still awaits approval from Congress.

Update on Sawyer School closure

As GoLocal previously reported, 300 students were left in the cold last week when The Sawyer School decided to close its doors without warning. And now, one week later, the Rhode Island State Police have presented their preliminary findings.

On Thursday, state police announced that it had removed boxes of documents from the career training school and was looking into whether Sawyer committed any crimes. Investigators are currently trying to determine how the school spent student’s tuition money and where federal financial aid money went.

That being said, state police also stated that there may be no crime and that The Sawyer School simply failed financially.

As for the displaced student body, the state Office of Higher Education will hold an all-day “transfer fair” from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Jan. 17, at the Community College of Rhode Island’s Providence Campus. Representatives from eight schools will be in attendance to talk to Sawyer students. Students with questions can contact The Sawyer School Hotline at 401-277-5282.

Aside from affecting 300 students in Rhode Island, about 1,200 students in Connecticut were impacted by the sudden closure. Academic Enterprise’s, the owner of The Sawyer School has declined to comment.

Bishop Tobin calls same-sex marriage ‘immoral and unnecessary’

Just days after the Rhode Island House and Senate each introduced same-sex marriage legislation, the leader of the state’s Roman Catholic Diocese has come out in strong opposition of the bills. In a statement released on Monday, Bishop Thomas Tobin called the legislation to legalize gay marriage “immoral and unnecessary.” Tobin added that although the Catholic Church welcomes “individuals with same-sex attraction,” it cannot condone gay marriage.

‘‘It is our very concern for their spiritual welfare, however, that motivates our rejection of the homosexual lifestyle and same-sex marriage,’’ wrote Tobin in the statement, which will be published in the Rhode Island Catholic weekly newspaper.

Tobin went on to write: “The natural law, the Holy Scriptures, and long-standing religious tradition are very consistent in affirming that homosexual activity is sinful, contrary to God’s plan. It should never be encouraged, ratified or ‘blessed’ by the state.”

Tobin did add that if the state must consider same-sex marriage, he’d prefer it be left for voters to decide.

Despite Tobin’s opposition, the Rhode Island Religious Coalition for Marriage Equality issued a statement Monday supporting the legislation. “No one church or leader represents all persons of faith,” said Rev. Gene Dyszlewski, the group’s chairman. Dyszlewski added that his group believes ‘‘all loving, committed couples should be recognized, respected and treated equally under the law.’’

Same-sex marriage legislation was introduced last week in the House and Senate. House Speaker Gordon Fox has called for a vote on gay marriage in the House by the end of the month. Rhode Island is the only New England state that has not legalized gay marriage.

Gov. Chafee appoints new State Poet of Rhode Island

On Wednesday, Gov. Lincoln Chafee appointed Dr. Rick Benjamin as State Poet of Rhode Island, replacing outgoing State Poet Lisa Starr, whose five-year term has expired.

“Dr. Rick Benjamin is an accomplished and committed poet and educator who has taken his love for and belief in the power of poetry far beyond the classroom and out into our Rhode Island communities,” said Chafee.

Benjamin, who is currently a lecturer in Public Humanities and Environmental Studies at Brown University and at the Rhode Island School of Design, is the author of Passing Love: Poems (2010) and the upcoming Floating World: Poems (TBD). He also edited Words from Mothers: Poems from Project Hold (2009) and Love, Loss, Life: The Epoch Poets (2011). Benjamin’s poems have appeared in numerous publication including Ars Poetica, Berkeley Poetry Review, Creature Comforts, Journal of New Jersey Poets, Paterson Literary Review, and Blackletter among others.

Aside from being a prolific educator and poet, Benjamin has been extensively involved with non-profits and community organizations throughout the state. He has served as statewide director of Rhode Island River of Words, associate director of Project 540, the National High School Civic Engagement Initiative, and as an arts mentoring fellow with New Urban Arts.

“I am honored and humbled to be named Poet Laureate of Rhode Island,” Benjamin said. “My deepest wish during my tenure will be to saturate this small state with poetry — in schools, community and assisted living centers, in places where poetry already has a presence and in some other ones where it is desperately needed. I am delighted to accept this position.”

Established by law in 1989, the position of Rhode Island State Poet is traditionally held by an artist who represents the highest achievement in poetry in the state. There are no specific duties assigned to the position, but the State Poet is the principal advocate for poetry in Rhode Island. The Previous State Poets are Michael Harper (1989-1994) and C.D. Wright (1994-1999), Thomas Chandler (1999-2006) and Lisa Starr (2007-2012).


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i am so glad we now have a state poet!! thanks for making that high level desicion!!! this was a tough one for the people of rhode island!!! are you jealous of our peot that his term is 5 years and yours is 4 (at least 3 years 6 months toooo long)? did that desicion keep you up at night? of course, this is the highest level desicion i trust you to make!!!! gay marriage really should be left to voters of this state, but then we elect the people we trust (what a joke) to make that desicion!!!

Comment #1 by steven richard on 2013 01 12

I agree, gay marriage should be left up to the voters, not the dolts that sit under the dome on Smith Hill. Rhode Island is a classic example why we need term limits for state legislators. If its good enough for the Governor, it should be good enough for Sens. & Reps.
And the beat goes on....downhill.

Comment #2 by Mark St. Pierre on 2013 01 12

We do have term limits, it's called the VOTE! Sadly the majority of the voting public in this state is brain dead. With a one party state, and you get no one watching the wolf in the hen house. Ask yourself why are businesses and families leaving this state every day?

Comment #3 by Joyce Bryant on 2013 01 13

Is there anything more ridiculous?

With the entire state of RI in ruins, we're somehow worried about gay marriage?

I really wish our politicians would read these blogs, so they can see how unbelievably off base they all are.

Comment #4 by pearl fanch on 2013 01 13

"there may be no crime and that The Sawyer School simply failed financially."
So...this happened over night and they slapped a pad lock on the school the next day. The things that make you go hmmm...

Comment #5 by Chris MacWilliams on 2013 01 13

Pearl French, perhaps you aren't married, and can't understand the importance of it for other people. If you are married, imagine how you would fee if the state outlawed your marriage, and that will give you some perspective on why decent people care about this issue.

The legislature is perfectly capable of handling multiple issues at once time, so the passage of a marriage equality law early this year won't halt other state business.

Comment #6 by Ned Flaherty on 2013 01 13

Roman Catholic Bishop Tobin is free to deny the human rights of members of his church if he wishes, and they are free to leave his church if they wish. But he has no business writing his religious supertitions into state law, and has no business denying the human rights of 1 million citizens who have nothing to do with him or his beliefs.

Comment #7 by Ned Flaherty on 2013 01 13

ned...thats exactly why it needs to go for a vote, then the bishop has no more of a say than anyone else. i am a church going catholic and im ok with gay marriage. i just dont see why it needs to take presedence over this state with all the problems we are in.
as for your comment about the legislature being capable of handling multiple issues??? what state are you talking about??? i know it isnt rhode island they cant handle the desicion of coffee or tea with breakfast!!! if they walk and chew gum they require an assistant, andkeep in mind you can bribe them with pocket change, but fox isnt going to allow anything until that passes even if it takes till december. but its cool because you can vote for those dolts in 2 years and we will be right back in it. again and again and again. as for chaffee... trust chaffee what a joke!!!

Comment #8 by steven richard on 2013 01 13

Steven Richard: Three corrections to your thinking.

Firstly, no one is proposing that marriage equality is more important than other state issues, only that it be handled quickly since it can be.

Secondly, the citizen votes that you prize so highly already took place. Every citizen had the chance to elect legislators and a governor, and they elected the current leaders to represent them.

Thirdly, holding a state-wide election just for a ballot issue is hugely expensive and wasteful. There’s no justification for such waste when the voter-elected legislators can already do what their constituents want — and at zero additional cost.

Comment #9 by Ned Flaherty on 2013 01 13

so ned when they say that gay marriage is taking presendence that it needs to get done. thats not happening?
so when the state is a fiscal mess, yours mine and everyones taxes will be raised because of decades of mismanagement thats clearly not as important as gay marriage
yes the votes did take place and never would i even think to put a new vote together just for that. it can simply wait!!!
or do you think that most people in this state feel as though its the main issue in this state?
maybe it is to you? good for you, you will get your way nobody in the house has guts to say to your pal fox no we should look at this when time allows, ITS NOT A PRIORITY!!!
the elected officals do as thier told by thier boss...fox
not what the voters want thats why we cant vote on this issue.
they couldve put it in last year but no tbey are afraid it would fail. that seems to be your fear as well.
fine just say it!

Comment #10 by steven richard on 2013 01 13

fecal disaster...2 words that describe how the state of rhode island is operated!!

Comment #11 by steven richard on 2013 01 13

Steven Richard: Your writing is indecipherable, and your anger is overwhelming you.

There’s no such thing as “presendence.”

You claim that “decades of mismanagement” can’t wait, but you also claim that decades of marriage inequality can wait. You’re wrong. Both need attention now, and since both types of unfairness have gone on for decades, a few more weeks in either direction doesn’t matter at all.

You assume — incorrectly — that marriage equality and fiscal correction are mutually exclusive. You’re wrong. They are not. Both are achievable. If your elected representatives don’t accomplish both, then elect someone else.

Comment #12 by Ned Flaherty on 2013 01 13

yes im angry how do you explain the idiocy we deal with in this landfill. go get married, tell fox you have my blessing. tell him to get it done. my wishes clearly will not be met. thank you chaffee and fox.
fox go get it done then, so you can move ahead with your next wasteful project. i hear curt shilling has a new start up company you and your cronies can make a few mil with all at the same time screwing the taxpayers.
i have a right to think that gay marriage can wait til the next election. but neds in a hurry so do it

Comment #13 by steven richard on 2013 01 14

People should be aware that the Roman Catholic church believes it has two jurisdictions.

The first is obvious.: the right to insist that Catholics believe and live according to its doctrines and moral teachings which it asserts are based on Scripture, tradition and reason.

The second is disturbing: the right to be the ultimate judge, for all people and all nations, of what it calls Natural Law, a set of moral rulings based on its theory of human nature. In regard to sex, central to this theory is the idea that organs of the human body have a specific end purpose which must not be impeded. The sex organs have the purpose of procreation and therefore should be used only for procreation. According to this church's theory of human nature the essential purpose of marriage is procreation. Where procreation is not organically possible for a couple, that couple is still allowed to marry because they have no intention of thwarting procreation. In the 1800’s the Roman Catholic bishops were in the habit of condemning democracy as against natural law because democracy reversed the natural hierarchy of Nature, with God at the highest level of authority and decisions rightfully flowing down from God to rulers (hereditary) and church officials, with the people at the bottom and obliged to obey their superiors. The church has changed its official tune on democracy since then.

In contrast to the Roman Catholic theory of Natural Law is the more modern theory of Natural Rights. Natural rights starts from the idea that all humans are born equal and have a dignity that endows them with certain inalienable rights. In regard to sex, Natural Rights theory starts with whole persons, viewing sex as primarily for companionable love and mutual intimacy and respect. Obviously from this thinking will flow the right of same sex couples to enter into a mutual commitment to each other in the form of marriage, marriage being a matter for the state to regulate, as Martin Luther taught, rather than a matter for the church to regulate.

The Roman Catholic theory of Natural Law is incompatible with the theory and practice of Natural Rights.

Comment #14 by John McGrath on 2013 01 14

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