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RI State Report: No More Free Healthcare for Lawmakers?

Saturday, February 02, 2013


This week’s State Report centers on three new bills from the General Assembly involving government transparency; health insurance benefits for lawmakers and employment equality for ex-offenders. Aside from new legislation, we will also be examining a House Oversight Committee’s decision to review state election practices and a newly published report on hotel occupancy in the capital city.

House Minority Leader wants lawmakers to pay for healthcare

House Minority Leader Brian C. Newberry (R-District 48, North Smithfield, Burriville) is calling upon his fellow lawmakers to pay their fair share when it comes to health insurance. On Wednesday, Newberry once again introduced legislation that requires state senators and representatives to pay 20 percent of the cost of their health insurance benefits.

“I believe we should hold ourselves to the same standards that we ask of state employees,” Newberry said. “Currently part-time employees have a 20 percent co-share if they earn less than $90,000 annually and a 35 percent co-share if they work part-time and earn more than $90,000 annually. We are a part-time legislature. Why shouldn’t we pay the same amount that we ask other employees to pay?”

The bill (2013-H5202) also forbids legislators from receiving payments for waiving health insurance benefits. Furthermore, Newberry’s proposal also addresses state lawmakers who work for another state or municipality. If a legislator is working for another state and chooses to receive health insurance benefits from that state, he or she would be prohibited from taking a waiver payment from the other employer, according to Newberry’s bill.

Rep. Doreen Costa (R-District 31, North Kingstown, Exeter), Rep. Anthony Giarrusso (R-District 30, East Greenwich, West Greenwich), Rep. Michael W. Chippendale (R-District 40, Foster, Glocester, Coventry), and Rep. Patricia Morgan (R-District 26, Coventry, Warwick, West Warwick) have all signed on as co-sponsors. No Democrat has signed on thus far.

Sen. Hodgson proposes transparency bill

In an attempt to make the legislative process more transparent, Sen. Dawson Hodgson (R-Dist. 35, East Greenwich, North Kingstown, South Kingstown, Narragansett) has filed a proposal to electronically record committee hearings and post them online for the public to see. The bill (2013-S0154) would provide citizens with audio or video recordings of all committee hearings, debates and votes. All recordings will remain on the legislative website for three years.

"Citizens deserve to know how their laws are being made, and it is often difficult for them to accommodate their work schedules to the General Assembly's unique calendar patterns,” said Hodgson. "Posting these deliberations online allows our constituents to see firsthand what forces are shaping legislation. It is also a resource for examining legislative process and intent when courts are called upon to interpret our laws or when the legislature revisits an issue to address a law's unintended consequences."

Hodgson’s bill has 21 co-sponsors, a majority of the Senate. It will now make its way to the Committee on Special Legislation.

Sen. Metts wants to give ex-offenders an equal chance

On Thursday, Sen. Harold Metts (D-Dist. 6, Providence) introduced legislation that would prohibit companies from asking about criminal convictions on job applications. According to Metts, far too many ex-offenders are turned away from employment because they are forced to check a box asking whether they’ve ever been convicted of a felony.

“Individuals who have done wrong and paid for their mistakes should not be haunted for the rest of their lives. Yet many are currently not given a chance to move on and are routinely screened out of many jobs at which they could be successful and which they need to transition back to normal society.”

Metts is also working on a bill that would create “certificates of good conduct” for non-violent ex-criminals who exhibited good behavior in prison and are deemed ready to re-enter society by a parole board. Metts argues that the certificates would help ex-offenders reassure prospective employers and landlords that they are in fact reformed.

“We must move beyond punishment,” Metts said. “We must have a system that encourages restoration, that opens paths of opportunity for those who wish to lead good lives. Encouraging good behavior and sincere efforts at rehabilitation can help reduce recidivism and ultimately save taxpayer dollars.”

Efforts to “ban the box” began in 2004 and have picked up momentum in recent years. An estimated 65 million Americans or about one in four adults, have an arrest or conviction record that would show up on a typical criminal background check.

Oversight panel to focus on election problems

In an effort to avoid repeating last fall’s election night mishaps, the House Oversight Committee has announced it will examine the state’s election practices. The forthcoming review will be the first task the panel has taken on in two years.

The review will focus on poll place selection, poll worker training, voting machine testing and the process of ballot distribution, according to Committee Chairman Michael Marcello (D-Dist. 41, Situate).

Long lines and voter frustration were commonplace throughout Rhode Island in the November election. One-and-half-hour wait times were reported at multiple locations including Hope High School in Providence, as well as Cranston High School West. Additionally, incorrect ballots were delivered to polling stations in South Kingston and West Warwick, which contributed to further delays.

Providence hotel occupancy up in 2012

Providence hotel occupancy was up last year, besting both the New England and national averages. On Thursday, the Providence Warwick Convention & Visitors Bureau reported that the average occupancy in Providence was 68 percent in 2012, up three percent from the previous year. According to the bureau, the New England occupancy average was 62 percent, while the national average was 61 percent.

The increase in hotel occupancy is primarily due to the capital city’s success in attracting large conventions and events like the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority’s regional conference, which brought in 2,500 people. The Visitors Bureau also indicated that meeting and sporting event bookings played a major role in occupancy growth.

The city also enjoyed noticeable growth in the Average Daily Rate. ADR for 2012 was $137.36, a 5.7 percent increase over 2011. The figure is considerably higher than both the national and New England averages, which were $106.10 and 126.80 respectively.



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No More Free Healthcare for Lawmakers? No Democrat has signed on thus far.

Comment #1 by Chris MacWilliams on 2013 02 02

"A" for effort, but this legislation has as much chance as a republican in an old folks home.

Comment #2 by David Beagle on 2013 02 02

thats got as good odds of passing as i do winning the powerball.

Comment #3 by steven richard on 2013 02 02

Is Metts crazy?Does he seriously want ex-offenders to conceal convictions when applying for jobs involving child/elderly contact,financial responsibility,hospital/clinic employment,law enforcement and other sensitive positions?I had to be fingerprinted when I took a job at a hospital in NYC in 1971-it was a policy of the NY Hospital Association even back then.for good reason(drugs and patient property).

Comment #4 by Joseph Bernstein on 2013 02 02

Notice that the House leadership are not only democrats but lawyers makjing 6 figures. They make more moeny than your average Rhode Islander! These lawyer democrats can afford their own health care. And they need to do away with subscriptions like ALEC and to other organizations.. A lawmaker is chosen to represent the people in his district and to create laws unique to their own problems and situations ..They should not be using tax payer subscriptions to model legislature canned material from another state. Are the RI lawmakers in the Gen ASSembly so dumb that they need generic law
templates from other places?

Comment #5 by dis gusted on 2013 02 03

To disgusted: Yes, mostly.

Comment #6 by Michael Trenn on 2013 02 03

It is important to note that Republicans are submitting bills that are needed in our state. Yes, most of the Democrats may not support them but Republicans are not losing sight of what needs to be done even against difficult odds. Co-pays for health insurance by our legislators that are in line with what state employees pay is a no-brainier. Making the legislative process more transparent is an important issue. Call your Representatives and Senators to support these items.

Comment #7 by Michael Napolitano on 2013 02 03

Although I respect Newberry's attempt to get Lawmaker's to pay for their own health care,it's just not going to happen. This is not a new idea, this is not an unpopular idea. The problem I see is there is no incentive what so ever for any state legislator to agree to this.

Comment #8 by Matthew Frank on 2013 02 03

To our general assembly members.

I got a novel idea for you to ponder.

Besides no more free healthcare how about TERM LIMITS?

Comment #9 by Robert Anthony on 2013 02 03

To Joseph Bernstein: your concerns are misplaced, read the bill and you'll see that there are measures with the bill to prevent the exact situations you describe.

To Robert Anthony; I co-sponsored a term limits bill H-5064...

We're trying, if we want these good measures to go anywhere, then please stop blindly re-electing the same people over and over and over

Comment #10 by Michael Chippendale on 2013 02 14

@Rep.Chippendale-I have always admired your positions on issues and I will take your word for it about the safeguards-problem is that Metts always is looking to cut a break for convicted felons and then wants to demonize legitimate gun owners.I guess to stand in with Metts one has to demonstrate an inability to live peacefully with one's neighbors.I could care less about an ex-con in a construction job,but how about home health care,child care,etc?Maybe a car thief can work around children or elderly but I'm thinking of robbers,sex offenders,burglars,and people with a history of violent behavior.

Comment #11 by Joseph Bernstein on 2013 02 17

@Joe Bernstein, thank you for supporting some of my positions, it's nice to know people are paying attention. As I stated in the full press conference, I've hired several formerly incarcerated individuals ad in one case entrusted them to run my entire inventory system which contained, in some cases, some very expensive equipment, components, and customer-owned product. My experiences were most always good, and this law gives employers a very simple means of making a determination as to whether or not the person is right for the job.

- You have them fill out the application - there is no box for criminal record.
- You review the applications and you narrow it down to 6 people you want to bring in for a final interview.
- At this point, you can ask them if they've been convicted. If there is a conflict with what the job is, and what their criminal history was, it's as simple as saying "sorry".
- But at this point, you can explore the person's history more thoroughly and ascertain whether or not you think they will be able to perform the tasks necessary to do the job.

There are plenty of safeguards for employers - I've owned small businesses since 1992 and would never support something that would put businesses in a situation where they could be harmed by this bill.

My experiences have demonstrated that people who are out of jail, want to stay out of jail. This has almost universally led to that individual working a lot harder to "prove themselves" to their bosses and in many cases, they've proven that they will work harder than the average employee because A) they value the opportunity you gave them and don't want to screw it up, and B) they want to prove to everyone (their family, community, their boss, etc.) that they are worth giving a chance to. They have "something to prove."

Again - if this was harmful to the business community I would not support it. But this actually helps businesses, and it helps keep "offenders" from becoming "repeat offenders".

Comment #12 by Michael Chippendale on 2013 02 17

@Rep.Chippendale-thank you for your detailed answer-I only wish more state legislators were willing to explain things that completely

Comment #13 by Joseph Bernstein on 2013 02 19

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