State Report: 38 Studios Debacle, Unemployment Dips & Pot Dispensaries

Saturday, October 20, 2012


As was true last week, this week’s State House Roundup centers on the state’s economic health. Not only did the state’s unemployment rate decrease, but also the General Assembly continued its hearings on ways to improve the state’s economy. Additionally, the first of two auctions selling items formerly owned by 38 Studios was held.

Other than economic endeavors, this week’s roundup also examines a new distracted driving program and an update on the state’s medical marijuana program.

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GA hears testimony from the Rhode Island Foundation

This week, the General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Economic Development continued hearings on the state’s economic status, hearing a presentation from the Rhode Island Foundation.

The group’s report focused on several key ways that Rhode Island can improve its struggling economy including lowering the unemployment rate, raising median household income and closing the income, employment and education gaps within the state. The Rhode Island Foundation also said that it would commit $1 million to help cultivate economic growth in the state.

At this moment the Rhode Island Foundation’s suggestions are just that. Sen. James Sheehan said that he was thankful for the group’s report, but that it's just one of many. Nevertheless, the continued hearings illustrate that the GA is open to engaging both the public and private sectors to advance the state’s economy.

“We see it as vitally important to engage others, such as the Rhode Island Foundation, in this conversation about where our economy is and where we want it to go,” said Sen. Sheehan.

Aside from the Rhode Island Foundation, the GA is currently exploring proposals by the Rhode Island Expenditure Council (RIPEC), which examined the RI Economic Development Corporation and joint proposal presented by the Economic Development Foundation of Rhode Island and Bryant Institute for Public Leadership.

The state’s only community foundation, the Rhode Island Foundation works with philanthropic individuals and families to create a stronger Rhode Island.

Unemployment rate down for fifth straight month

Keeping in line with the state’s economic well-being, the unemployment fell to 10.5 percent last month, down from 10.7 percent in August. Rhode Island’s new jobless rate is the lowest it’s been since April 2009, according to the state Department of Labor and Training.

The department reports that Rhode Island jobs increased by 2,000 in September, to 458,000. The largest gains were evident in the professional and business services. Furthermore, the state’s employed residents increased by 3,900, to 499,400. Lastly, Rhode Island’s labor force was up 3,300, to 558,000, down 4,800 from last year.

Although a slight improvement, the new unemployment figures are encouraging says University of Rhode Island Professor Leonard Lardaro, who sees “real strength” in Rhode Island’s economy.

The national unemployment rate is 7.8 percent.

Gov launches program to stop distracted driving

Although texting while driving has been illegal in Rhode Island since 2009, it is still a persistent problem. With this in mind, the state is introducing a new program designed to decrease distracted driving. The plan, which was introduced by Gov. Lincoln Chafee on Wednesday, looks to curb distracted driving by stressing the dangers associated with it.

The innovative program involves trial lawyers going into schools to present the dangers of distracted driving to students and teachers. Rhode Island is the first state to institute such a program, but several states including Massachusetts, New York and Pennsylvania have announced similar curriculum.

The state also recently launched another program that aims to curb distracted driving by asking high school students and teachers to sign a pledge not to text and drive.

According to AAA, nearly 50 percent of teens admit to texting while driving. A study conducted last month by Liberty Mutual Insurance and Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) found that most teens learn distracted driving habits from their parents.

Marijuana dispensaries to begin selling Jan. 1

The three-year wait for marijuana dispensaries in Rhode Island is about to end. The state Health Department is currently in the final stages of revising the original legislation approving medical marijuana dispensaries, meaning that the Thomas C. Slater Compassion Center in Providence; Summit Medical Compassion Center in Warwick and Greenleaf Compassionate Care in Portsmouth can soon submit their licensing applications. Spokesmen for Greenleaf and Slater expect to begin selling marijuana by Jan. 1.

Gov. Lincoln Chafee signed state-licensed marijuana dispensaries into law in May; three years after Rhode Island originally authorized dispensaries in 2009. The three-year delay was primarily the result that the original legislation contained loopholes that may have invited unwanted federal involvement.

Under the revised legislation, the dispensaries will now be able to grow up to 99 mature marijuana plants and stock a maximum of 1,500 ounces of marijuana at any given time. There are presently about 4,500 patients enrolled in the state’s medical marijuana program.

38 Studios auction held

The state has officially begun recouping its losses in the 38 Studios debacle, albeit just $180,000 (not including expenses). On Tuesday, a public auction was held to sell items formerly owned by Curt Schilling’s failed video game company.

The auction, which was held in Maryland, was strong according to court-appointed receiver and attorney Richard Land. Land estimates that roughly 950 items were sold, including computers and gaming consoles. The auction’s biggest item was a “video game animation” suit, which fetched $9,500.

A second auction is planned for Tuesday at 38 Studios’ former Providence headquarters. The most highly touted items up for grabs are art prints of the company’s sole video game release “Kingdoms of Amular: Reckoning signed by Schilling. Other items include a ping pong table, massage table and paper shredders. Tuesday’s auction may be extended to a second day due to the more than 1,800 items up for sale.

Although Tuesday’s auction has the potential of raising a considerable amount of money, an upcoming intellectual property auction will be even more profitable, says Land.

The failed video game company filed for bankruptcy in June after receiving a $75 million loan guarantee from the state Economic Development Corp. Rhode Island is currently on the hook for roughly $100 million, including interest.


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