State Report: Homeless People, Regionalization & Obamacare
Saturday, June 30, 2012
Although the General Assembly is still in recess, the State House was not dormant this past week. In fact, Gov. Lincoln Chafee signed a number of important bills into law. Aside from approving several bills, the Governor also signed an executive order on Thursday, which established a task force to study the state’s cash strapped cities. Not to mention, the State House hosted a celebration to recognize the enactment of the “Homeless Bill of Rights.”
On Wednesday, the State House hosted an event celebrating the enactment into law of the “Homeless Bill of Rights,” which is the first such legislation in the nation. Sen. John J. Tassoni Jr. (D-Dist. 22, Smithfield, North Smithfield) and Rep. Christopher R. Blazejewski (D-Dist. 2, Providence, East Providence), the bill’s sponsors, were among those in attendance and also participated in the event’s speaking program. Jim Ryczek, Executive Director of the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless, who organized the program, also spoke.
Gov. Chafee signed the bill into law last week, making Rhode Island the first state to enact a such a measure. The new law pledges that no individual’s rights to access public services will be denied because he or she is homeless. Rhode Island’s trailblazing legislation is being held up as a national model for protecting the homeless community from discrimination. Homeless advocates argue that the state’s new law goes further than any other national law in preventing prejudice against people who lack housing.
Despite being the smallest state in the country, Rhode Island lawmakers hope that the pioneering legislation will make the rest of the nation take notice. “Now we’re a leader in something,” said Sen. Tassoni on Wednesday. "Hopefully other states will now pick up the slack and move this all the way across the country to California."
Governor signs executive order creating shared service task force
Three of the state’s most financially strapped cities may be in luck thanks to an executive order signed by Gov. Chafee on Thursday. The Governor’s executive order establishes a task force that would study how the cities of Pawtucket, Central Falls and East Providence could save money by sharing certain services.
John Simmons, Executive Director of the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council, will chair the task force. The task force will also include Rosemary Gallogy, Rhode Island Director of Revenue and one representative from each city. The committee will first tackle the area of public works operations to investigate where funds can be conserved.
“The fiscal health of Rhode Island’s communities has been and remains a key priority of my Administration,” said Gov. Chafee. “In these difficult economic times, when our cities and towns continue to struggle from deep cuts in state aid, the time has come for the idea of shared services to be seriously examined.”
A similar proposal is currently being explored in Virginia between Norfolk, Virginia Beach and Chesapeake. The Virginia task force recently determined that the state would save an estimated $11.5 million to 15.1 million annually through a shared service agreement.
Rep. Handy praises Supreme Court health care decision
Although the majority of Thursday’s news coverage regarding the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act was examined through a national lens, the verdict will have a direct impact on Rhode Island. With that in mind, Rep. Arthur Handy (D-Dist. 18, Cranston) issued a statement on Thursday pertaining to how Rhode Islander’s will benefit from the court’s ruling.
“This act will protect citizens from being denied insurance because of pre-existing conditions and will prohibit insurers from continuing other unfair practices, like charging women more than men for coverage. The law covers preventive care, which is just as important as the care dispensed in response to new health problems. Additionally, children will be able to stay on their parents’ insurance plan until they are 26 years old. All of these provisions included in today’s decision truly mark the beginning of a new and improved era in health care,” said Rep. Hardy.
Rep. Hardy went on to say that the state has been hard at work preparing for the implementation of the new healthcare law, long before the Supreme Court began considering the case. According to Rep. Hardy, Rhode Island began getting ready as soon as Congress passed the law. “We will be fully prepared to implement it so all Rhode Islanders will have access to the health care they need,” said Rep. Handy.
Legislation creating monument designation commission becomes law
Gov. Chafee has permitted legislation allowing for the creation of the Category One Memorial Designation Commission to become law without his signature. Sponsored by Sen. Roger A. Picard (D-Dist. 20, Woonsocket, Cumberland) and Rep. James N. McLaughlin (D-Dist. 57, Cumberland, Central Falls), the legislation aims to simplify the process by which historical and cultural monuments are selected.
In order to be designated, potential historical and cultural monuments must meet the following criteria:
• It has attained a secular traditional, cultural or community recognition;
• It is located on property owned by either the state, a city or town, or any instrumentality thereof;
• It was in existence prior to Jan. 1, 2012.
The legislation was originally drafted as response to an incident in which the Freedom from Religion Foundation called for the removal of a white cross that was in front of the Woonsocket Fire Department headquarters. The monument was erected as a dedication to the fallen soldiers of World War I and World War II, but caused a minor controversy due to its religious symbolism. Despite the desire of the FFRF, the statue remains to this day, chiefly due to the thousands that rallied in its defense.
Governor signs new law protecting seniors, low income housing polling locations
Lastly this week, the Governor signed legislation that safeguards polling places in senior and low-income communities from being closed. Such polling centers were in danger because new redistricting laws increased the minimum number of voters per polling place to 500. The new law will exempt polling places in the aforementioned communities from meeting the 500-registered voter requirement.
The bill’s sponsors, Rep. Anastasia P. Williams (D-Dist. 9, Providence) and Sen. Paul V. Jabour (D-Dist. 5 Providence), feared that the closure of elderly and low-income oriented polling places would result in the affected communities becoming disengaged in the voting process. Traditionally, low income and elderly groups do not enjoy the mobility of more financially inclined people, which would make it difficult for them to travel long distances to other polling location. Consequently, the new law prevents from such disenfranchisement occurring. It will go into effect for the fall election.