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Don Roach: The Master Lever Has to Go

Wednesday, May 07, 2014


Ok friends, let’s try this again. The change.org petition I established a few weeks ago netter almost 120 signatures from Rhode Islanders. I had lofty goals of getting to 5,000 but that’s when we were reacting to the Senate Judiciary’s killing of the bill by holding it for further study.

But a funny thing happened on the way to legislative purgatory, the House passed a bill to get rid of the master lever ! Not only did the house pass the bill , they passed it unanimously. Not one single member of the House decided to stand up and defend the master lever. When was the last time a significant piece of legislation met no opposition? I can’t remember another situation.

So folks, this gives us a second chance to put the heat on the Senate. Someone in the Senate is going to have to prove to us why every member of the house, hundreds of Rhode Islanders, and any person with half a brain supports getting rid of the master lever must go while the RI Senate needs to study the issue a bit longer.

I mean what more does the Senate need to study about this issue? Senate President, Teresa Paiva-Weed said she’s “ keeping an open mind” to the House Bill and getting rid of the master lever. I just can’t understand why it’s taking this long to do something about the issue when virtually no one is out in public saying, “Don’t take away my master lever!!!”

So let’s hope she makes up her mind like the rest of us and moves the bill through the Senate. It’s the right thing to do and if she doesn’t do it I can only think of one logical reason – she’s trying to defend some Democratic incumbents who feel that if voters don’t “pull the lever” they may actually decide to vote for other candidates. I mean, the gall of those of us who want to get rid of the master lever; we actually want people to think about who they vote for before they actually vote. Scary concept, I know.

So what can we do?

I don’t want to waste any more time persuading you, faithful readers, because you’re already convinced that the master lever has to go. But…for those that didn’t sign, you can still sign the petition to persuade our legislators to get rid of the master lever. Click here. You can also contact Paiva-Weed by calling - (401) 222-6655.

I was down that it didn’t seem like our leaders were listening to common sense. However, I shouldn’t have been so short-sighted. Sometimes the fight takes more than a week and a change.org petition. Sometimes the fight takes a couple of weeks, a failed Senate Judiciary hearing, and House members who for a moment come together in unison.

Whatever it takes, let’s hope the Senate does the right thing and passes the House bill. I have hope again and I believe Paiva-Weed and her Senate colleagues will finally get that the state no longer wants this archaic tool.

Don can be reached at [email protected] . Don is also on twitter @donroach34.


Related Slideshow: RI State Report: More News of the Week - 5/3/14

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Oversight Committee Seeks 38 Studios Testimony

As part of its review of the state’s Job Creation Guaranty Program, the House Oversight Committee has asked a number of key figures – including 38 Studios founder, former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling – to testify about their involvement in the state’s decision to back $75 million in loans to the now-bankrupt video game development company.

Oversight Committee Chairwoman Karen L. MacBeth indicated when she became chairwoman last month that she would be interested in using subpoenas to get the information if necessary. In addition to Schilling, the letters were sent to:

  • Former Economic Development Corporation (EDC, now called the Commerce Corporation) executive director Keith W. Stokes
  • Former EDC deputy director J. Michael Saul
  • Sean Esten, Commerce Corporation director of financial programs, who raised concerns about likelihood of 38 Studios’ success while its loan guarantee request was before EDC officials
  • Michael Corso, a Providence lawyer and tax credit broker who served as a consultant to 38 Studios
  • Former House Finance Committee chairman Steven M. Costantino (D-Dist. 8, Providence), who sponsored the legislation authorizing the Economic Development Corporation (now the Commerce Corporation) to create the Job Creation Guaranty Program
  • Former representative Jon D. Brien (D-Dist. 50, Woonsocket), a cosponsor of that legislation.


In the April 22 letters, Chairwoman MacBeth indicated that she would like the recipients to provide insight and describe their involvement with the Jobs Creation Guaranty Program, and that she would like to schedule testimony on the matter in May.

The committee has not yet received any responses to the letters.

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Senate Oks Master Lever Elimination

With a unanimous vote, the House of Representatives approved legislation on Thursday that will eliminate the “master lever,” or straight-party voting option, on all future, non-primary Rhode Island election ballots.

Introduced by Rep. K. Joseph Shekarchi (D-Dist. 23, Warwick), the legislation (2014-H 8072aa) was sent to the House floor on a unanimous vote of the Committee on Judiciary and will now go to the Senate for consideration.

“This is a pragmatic solution to what has been a long and persistent controversy,” said Shekarchi. “At a time when more voters consider themselves independent than a member of either traditional party, the master lever has, I believe, outlived its usefulness. Eliminating this option will require candidates for office to reach out to communities and voters to make their positions known, as opposed to relying on a party label.”

The legislation calls for the elimination of the option of straight party voting by means of a single mark (a master lever) in non-primary elections. Because it is scheduled to take effect upon passage, the legislation, if enacted into law, would be implemented in time for this year’s November election.

To accommodate that change, the legislation passed by the House today includes a requirement for a “Training and Community Outreach” program. It requires the Secretary of State to conduct training and consultations with the State Board of Elections and local boards of canvassers. It also requires the Secretary of State to conduct community outreach programs throughout the state, including the distribution of materials to state and local libraries.

Rhode Island is one of only 14 states, and the only New England state, to still employ the “master lever,” or straight-party voting, procedure in elections.

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Taxation for For-Profit Hospitals

On Wednesday, the Senate passed legislation sponsored by Sen. Roger A. Picard to articulate a community’s right to tax for-profit hospitals, addressing a potential loophole for Woonsocket’s Landmark Medical Center.

The legislation (2014-S 2298A) specifies that tax-exempt status for hospitals extends only to non-profit hospitals. Landmark’s sale to Prime Healthcare Services on Dec. 31 made it the first for-profit hospital in Rhode Island, and while Prime has indicated it fully expected to pay taxes on Landmark, current state law does not address the issue of for-profit hospitals.

“Prime has been very forthright since the beginning about their expectation to be a city taxpayer, but our laws should be clarified for this for any future hospital conversions. We need to say that for-profit hospitals are subject to tax, and give municipalities the means to collect that tax,” said Picard.

The legislation articulates how cities and towns can impose taxes on for-profit hospitals, and provides an exception to the host municipality’s tax levy cap for the year that the hospital converts to for-profit status for the amount it pays. State law limits any municipality from collecting more than 4 percent more revenue in total from all its taxpayers combined in any year than it did the year before. However, a hospital converting from a non-profit entity to a tax-paying one could force a community over that cap.

The bill is retroactive to Dec. 31, 2013, the day on which the sale of Landmark took place.

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House Oks Bill Addressing Business Streamlining

“If there is one thing that gets in the way of business growing and thriving, it’s red tape and excessive bureaucracy,” said Rep. Joseph A. Trillo (R-Dist. 24, Warwick). “Certain government functions are important and valuable, but sometimes government needs to get out of the way.”

The House of Representatives this week unanimously approved legislation sponsored by Trillo to create a special House commission to study and provide recommendations on streamlining the permitting process for businesses in Rhode Island.

The commission, once organized, will be expected to conduct its study and report its findings and recommendations to the House of Representatives by January, 2015. The nine-member panel will include five members of the House, a member of the Rhode Island hospitality industry, a member of the Rhode Island building industry, a member of the service industry and a member of the retail industry.

“It is no secret that Rhode Island, compared to other states, is ranked very low in terms of its attractiveness to business, and while our tax structure is part of the problem, our excessive bureaucracy is also a major concern for companies looking to move here or start up here,” said Trillo. “Through the years, many of our regulations have become outdated and others are just so entrenched that we haven’t taken a good look at them to see if they are still necessary. It’s time for a comprehensive study of this area, with a goal of making Rhode Island much more business friendly.”

“Rebuilding our economy must be our number one priority and doing that will mean finding ways to make it easier for businesses to move here and grow here,” added Trillo. “I think the findings and recommendations of this study commission can be very important to our long-term economic health.”

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Commemorating the Armenian Genocide

Rep. Katherine S. Kazarian (D-Dist. 63, East Providence), a fourth-generation Armenian-American, had the honor of commemorating the Armenian genocide of 1915 with the introduction of a House resolution earlier this week.

“Ninety-nine years ago, my great-great-grandmother bid her husband farewell,” Kazarian said. “The Turkish officials summoned him to a meeting. He removed his wedding band, gave it to his wife, mounted his horse and sped off into the night. The next day, his horse returned home without him. Word reached my ancestors that the Turkish officials had killed him.

“And ninety-nine years ago, my great-grandmother then watcher her mother and her baby brother writhing in pain as they lay on the sands of the Syrian desert, only to die of starvation and leave her orphaned. The death marches were planned an executed in an attempt to kill all Armenians.”

The resolution sets aside April 24, 2014 as day to remember the victims of the atrocities that took place against Armenians, but also to serve as a reminder that the world must not allow history to repeat itself. Further, Kazarian asked her colleagues to support her in calling upon Congress to acknowledge and condemn the event that triggered an Armenian diaspora. 

According to the Armenian National Institute in Washington D.C., the genocide resulted in the death of 1.5 million Armenians between 1915 and 1923. It is estimated that close to 2 million Armenians were living in the Ottoman Empire just prior to World War I when the Turkish government subjected its Armenian population to deportation, expropriation, abduction, torture, massacre and starvation.


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