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State Report: Republican Shakeup, RI Loses More Jobs & Climate Change

Saturday, November 17, 2012


This week’s State House Report centers on several news stories that could play a major role in the upcoming 2013 legislative session. Not only did the state Republicans reveal their leadership positions, but Sen. Paul V. Jabour announced plans to introduce legislation to curb manhole cover theft. Furthermore, the RI Climate Change Commission released its first progress report, which will likely shape future environmental legislation.

Speaking of the environment, Rhode Islanders have declared their desire for smoke-free outdoor areas. Lastly, we take a look at what the recently released unemployment rate means for Rhode Islanders.

Climate Change Commission issues first report

The Rhode Island Climate Change Commission, an independent commission, has issued its first progress report. The report reviews the primary risks and vulnerabilities that will affect Rhode Island’s imminent future. The commission’s summary describes changing sea levels and turbulent weather that have been recorded in recent decades. Furthermore, the report outlines what these changes could mean for the state in future decades. The commission also indicates what steps it plans to take in 2013.

Formed in 2010, the Rhode Island Climate Change Commission consists of 28 members ranging from legislators to business professionals. Led by Co-chairmen Sen. Joshua Miller (D-Dist. 28, Cranston, Warwick) and Rep. Christopher R. Blazejewski (D-Dist. 2, Providence, East Providence), the group is in charge of making legislative recommendations to ensure that Rhode Island is prepared for climate change.

“There’s a wide range of issues that need to be considered to protect lives, property and public resources from danger as our climate changes. Our immediate goal is to prioritize initiatives and, by the end of the year, identify any legislative proposals that should be considered in the upcoming legislative session,” said Sen. Miller.

Rep. Blazejewski added: “The state needs to be thinking ahead to what Rhode Island is going to look like in 40, 60 or 100 years when we are talking about how and where we build new infrastructure and public resources and how we are going to keep people safe in the future.”

In 2009, Rhode Island was prominently featured in ClimateWatch Magazine due to its rising sea levels. The article can be viewed HERE.

State Republicans announce leadership positions

On Monday, the Rhode Island House Republicans announced their leadership positions. As was expected, Rep. Brian C. Newberry (R-Dist. 48, North Smithfield, Burrillville) was unanimously re-elected as House Minority Leader and Rep. Joseph A. Trillo (R-Dist. 24, Warwick) was re-elected as Minority Whip for the 2013-14 General Assembly session.

Despite being the minority party in Rhode Island, Rep. Newberry indicates that the House Republicans are determined to be an influential force in the legislature.

“Over the next two years the House Republicans intend to introduce a pro-growth agenda designed to boost Rhode Island’s flagging economy,” said Rep. Newberry. Rhode Island remains in crisis mode and unless and until bold steps are taken we fear that the economic prospects of our citizens will not change. While we may not have the numbers to enact our agenda alone we can provide ideas and analysis for public debate and promote an alternative to the stasis that for too long the leadership of the State has promoted.”

Aside from Republican House news, there was one shakeup this week in the Rhode Island Republican Party. The state’s Republican Party chairman Mark Zaccaria announced on Thursday that he is not seeking re-election. According to Zaccaria, the Republican’s poor showing on election night is not the main reason for his decision. Zaccaria plans to step down from the unpaid position in March.

There are currently six Republicans in the House of Representatives as of last week’s election. The Republicans lost four seats due to the retirement of incumbent Representatives Daniel Gordon Jr., John Savage, Gerald Hocker, and Robert Watson. Republicans currently hold just five Senate seats after losing three seats on election night.

Rhode Island poised for smoke-free outdoor areas

A new survey conducted by the Rhode Island Department of Health (HEALTH) and several other partner organizations has found that Rhode Islanders are ready for smoke-free outdoor areas. Over 900 residents were surveyed, the majority of which favored smoking bans in areas like beaches, parks, playgrounds and recreational locations. Surprisingly, many smokers are in favor of the ban, according to the study.

“Smoke-free outdoor areas would not only protect public health, but reduce cigarette litter, decrease the risk of fire, send a positive message to kids, and create supportive environments for smokers to finally kick the habit,” said Director of HEALTH Michael Fine, MD.

Multiple locations throughout the state have already adopted smoke-free policies including Central Fall, which banned outdoor smoking on school grounds, playgrounds, parks and public events. Additionally, Charlestown recently instituted a smoking ban on their town beaches.

Unemployment rate dips, as does job creation

The unemployment rate is down in Rhode Island, but job creation is also on the decline. The state’s unemployment rate dipped from 10.5 percent in September to 10.4 percent in October, the state’s sixth straight month of decline. Additionally, the state’s labor force increased by 5,200, to 504,700, which is largest ever increase for Rhode Island.

Despite the dip in unemployment, the number of jobs was also down in October. The Department of Labor and Training reports that the total number of Rhode Island-based jobs in October was 457,000, down from 459,500 in September. Of the 2,500 jobs lost, the greatest loses were experienced in the Accommodation & Food Services industry.

Neighboring Massachusetts added nearly 8,000 jobs in October, although the unemployment rate increased slightly from 6.5 percent to 6.6 percent.

According to Labor and Training Director Charles Fogarty, the report is mostly positive, but there’s room for economic improvement.

“Obviously, we want it to be a more vigorous recovery,” said Fogarty. “We were in a deep hole. We have a long way to go.”

The current U.S. unemployment rate is 7.9 percent. Rhode Island’s 10.4 percent unemployment rate is the second-highest in the country.

New bill would make manhole cover theft a felony

On Friday, Sen. Paul V. Jabour (Democrat - District 5, Providence) revealed plans to file a bill in the upcoming legislative session that would make manhole cover theft a felony. The legislation is a response to the recent rash manhole cover thefts in Providence. According to the Providence Journal 241 manhole covers have been stolen in Providence over the past year.

“This offense is an unnecessary burden on the city. Besides the high cost of replacing each cover, in terms of buying a new one and deploying employees to install it and the cost of any damage to exposed equipment, each time a cover disappears, the public is left in danger. Someone could get seriously hurt or even killed falling into a manhole, some of which contain deep water or live electrical equipment. These thefts should be treated as the real public menace that they are,” said Sen. Jabour.

According to Jabour, the legislation will also contain penalties for anyone that receives stolen manhole covers.

Each cover weighs roughly 175 to 185 pounds each and costs the city $230 to $250 per cover. Despite the price tag, the covers fetch just $18 as scrap.


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