Resignations, A Hotel for Twin River, & a “Tip Wage” Rally: This Week at the State House
Saturday, March 21, 2015
Here's what's going on at the State House this week:
Rep. Donald J. Lally Jr. (D-Narragansett, South Kingstown), a State Representative since 1989, announced his resignation from the House of Representatives. First elected in a special election in November 1989, Representative Lally’s 25 years of service ranked second in the House this session in terms of seniority. He was serving this year as Speaker Pro Tempore of the House, having previously been the Deputy Speaker. His House tenure also includes four years as chairman of the House Committee on Judiciary. A special election to fill the House seat will be held on June 9.
House OKs bill for hotel at Twin River Casino
The House of Representatives approved legislation to clear the way for construction of a hotel at or near the Twin River Casino in Lincoln. The bill, introduced by Rep. Jeremiah T. O’Grady (D-Lincoln, Pawtucket), ensures that any hotel to be built at the casino is subject to the Town of Lincoln zoning ordinances. The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration, where a companion bill has been introduced by Sen. Maryellen Goodwin (D-Providence).
Sosnowski bill banning hand-held cell phones for drivers passes Senate
The Senate approved a bill sponsored by Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski (D-South Kingstown, New Shoreham), that would outlaw the use of any non-hands-free personal wireless communication device while operating a motor vehicle, except for public safety personnel or in emergency situations. Those caught violating this provision would be subject to a fine of no more than $100. That fine can be suspended for a first-time violator who provides proof of acquisition of a hands-free accessory subsequent to the violation and prior to the imposition of the fine. Similar legislation in the House has been introduced by Rep. Teresa A. Tanzi (D-South Kingstown, Narragansett).
A diverse array of organizations and individuals, united as One Fair Wage Rhode Island, joined legislators at a State House news conference to rally support for legislation to increase the state’s tipped minimum wage, hiking it from the current $2.89 per hour to $4.50 per hour next January and then incrementally increasing the rate until, in 2020, it is comparable to the regular minimum wage at that time. Addressing the news conference were the sponsors of the bills, Rep. Aaron Regunberg (D-Providence) and Sen. Gayle L. Goldin (D-Providence).
Rep. Serpa bill would protect nursing homes from financial abuse
Rep. Patricia A. Serpa (D-West Warwick, Coventry, Warwick) has submitted legislation that seeks to curb financial losses nursing homes incur from patients who don’t pay their bills by limiting abuses of the system. In addition to closing loopholes that allow misuse of the appeals process, the legislation would eliminate misuse of the Medicaid application process.
Rep. Amore bill provides opt-out of PARCC testing
Saying that many parents feel it takes too much time away from regular classroom work, Rep. Gregg Amore (D-East Providence) has introduced legislation to allow parents and guardians of students in Rhode Island schools to opt out of the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for Colleges and Careers (PARCC) assessments and tests. Students opting out would be assured their academic records would not be adversely affected for not participating. Similar legislation has been introduced in the Senate by Sen. Adam J. Satchell (D-West Warwick).
Kennedy, Algiere, AG bills protect against ‘patent trolls’
Legislation introduced by Rep. Brian Patrick Kennedy (D-Hopkinton, Westerly) and Senate Minority Leader Dennis L. Algiere (R-Westerly, Charlestown, South Kingstown) at the request of the Office of the Attorney General, would prohibit bad faith assertions of patent infringement against Rhode Island businesses and individuals. “Patent trolls” are individuals or companies that acquire patents solely for the purpose of using them to extract license fees and settlements.
The Senate approved legislation to add military status discrimination as an unlawful housing practice, protecting veterans who have an honorable discharge or an honorable or general administration discharge or who are members of the Armed Forces or Rhode Island National Guard. Sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Walter S. Felag Jr. (D-Warren, Bristol, Tiverton), the companion House bill was introduced by Rep. Jan P. Malik (D-Barrington, Warren).
Senate and House celebrate St. Patrick’s Day and St. Joseph’s Day
Both chambers of the General Assembly celebrated Irish and Italian heritage as they observed St. Patrick’s Day and St. Joseph’s Day. In the Senate, Gov. Gina M. Raimondo and Rhode Island State Police Superintendent Col. Stephen G. O’Donnell made presentations. Co-hosts of the celebration were Sen. Michael J. McCaffrey (D-Warwick) and Senate Minority Leader Dennis L. Algiere (R-Westerly, Charlestown, South Kingstown). In the House, Johnston Mayor Joseph M. Polisena and comedian and writer Frank O’Donnell offered remarks on Italian and Irish heritage respectively. Rep. Gregg Amore (D-East Providence) offered an Italian toast, and Rep. Daniel P. McKiernan (D-Providence) did the honors for the Irish.
House, Senate committees hear presentation on Hepatitis C
An informational presentation on hepatitis C virus in Rhode Island took place at a joint hearing of the House Committee on Health, Education and Welfare and the Senate Committee on Health & Human Services. Making the presentation were Dr. Amy Nunn, assistant professor of public health and medicine at Brown University and executive director of the Rhode Island Public Health Institute; Dr. Alan Epstein, director of clinical gastroenterology at Roger Williams Medical Center, and Dr. Lynn Taylor, assistant professor of medicine at Brown University and director of Rhode Island Defeats Hep C. The speakers discussed the virus, including the disease burden, new treatments and potential for treatment expansion in the state.
Related Slideshow: The 10 Most Politically Powerful at RI State House
#10 - Sen. Da Ponte
The Senate Finance Chairman pushed hard in 2014 for corporate tax reform -- and combined reporting -- and was recently reappointed to his fourth term at the helm of the committee that vets the state's budget. With House Speaker Mattiello's talking about eliminating the state income tax on social security, a budget deficit and the prospect of diminishing gaming revenue, Da Ponte will have his work cut out for him chairing the powerful Senate committee.
#9 - Rep. DeSimone
One of the most powerful political players in Providence, the Majority leader wields his influence at the state house as part of Speaker Mattiello's team. Serving in the chamber since 1992, DeSimone rose to his current position with the ouster of former Speaker Gordon Fox in 2014. He will be a pivotal player at the State House for the City of Providence (and new Elorza administration), as the state grapples with a projected $200 million budget deficit, and Providence needs a strong advocate to appeal for what it can.
#8 - Bob Goldberg
The former Minority Leader continues his position as one of the state's top lobbyists, representing a wide range of clients that last year included Lifespan, GTech, Johnson and Wales, and CVS Health, to name a few. Year in, year out, Goldberg -- who is married to RI Supreme Court Justice Maureen McKenna Goldberg -- parlays his State House knowledge and connections for his well-funded clients, who in the past have included Twin River when it successfully pushed for table games on the ballot in 2012.
(Goldberg pictured at right.)
#7 - Bill Murphy
The former Speaker of the House continues to wield unparalleled influence as a lobbyist and behind-the-scenes king maker. While he last served as the state's most powerful elected official until 2010, Murphy's ability to exert control at the State House was evidenced by backing now-Speaker Mattiello when the battle to replace Gordon Fox took place. Murphy's lobbying clients range from the corrections officers to payday lending to Twin River.
#6 - Sen. Paiva Weed
The Senate President, who has been at the chamber's de facto top post since 2008, faced a strong challenge this past election season from Newport's Mike Smith, who had been an outspoken opponent against a table games expansion at Newport Grand -- a decision which Paiva-Weed ultimately came to following the rejection of a host agreement by the Newport City Council. Paiva Weed in her opening address of this year's General Assembly session promised to make jobs and the economy her top priorities, followed closely by education. With the school construction moratorium schedule to expire in May, watch to see how Paiva-Weed works with the House and Raimondo administration to address the burgeoning infrastructure needs.
#5 - Sen. Ruggerio
The Senate Majority leader was first elected to the chamber in 1984, after four years in the House, and was Senate majority whip from 2003 to 2010. An administrator for the New England Laborers Labor Management Co-op Trust, Ruggerio's labor ties have helped cement his position of power in the Senate. Despite two arrests, Ruggerio has emerged relatively unscathed, advancing the legislation establishing the I-195 Redevelopment Commission, and pushing for increased parking in downtown Providence by the Garrahy judicial complex
#4 - David Cruise
Governor Raimondo's newly chosen Legislative Director should prove to be much more than that. While Raimondo tapped former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley staffer Stephen Neuman to be her Chief of Staff, the out-of-towner might bring in a fresh perspective, but Cruise knows the lay of the land. Having a Rhode Island political resume that includes serving as a State Senator, Governor Sundlun's Chief of Staff, and top roles at the RI Resource Recovery Corporation and as a traffic court magistrate, Cruise's policy role, while his official one, will be just one in his advisory capacity for the newly elected Governor.
#3 - Leo Skenyon
The Speaker of the Houses's Chief of Staff is the gatekeeper -- and like his predecessor before him, Frank Anzeveno (under former Speaker Gordon Fox), Skenyon is the key to access the Speaker. Skenyon, a former top aide to Governor Bruce Sundlun and U.S. Senator Claiborne Pell, had most recently been the Traffic Tribunal Clerk. The former Chief of Staff to Senate-Majority leader Jack Revens in the 1980s, Skenyon has been at the helm before in orchestrating the chamber's top office. Skenyon enters his first full session at the post along with Mattiello as the agent behind the state's biggest power broker.
#2 - Gov. Raimondo
The state's 75th governor -- and first woman at the helm -- marks the first return of a Democratic head-of-state since Governor Bruce Sundlun entered the office in the winter of 1991. Raimondo however won with just 40.7% of the vote, which gave her the plurality, but not a mandate. Bringing in a number of outsiders for key positions, and shaking up multiple Department directors, the Raimondo administration looks markedly unlike any in recent years. How successful Raimondo is in pushing through her agenda in the first six months will go a long way to determining how powerful she will be in the next four years.
#1 - Speaker Mattiello
The Speaker of the House has always wielded the most power in Rhode Island, and Speaker Mattiello is now the de facto head of state for the second -- and first full -- year. Mattiello emerged from the 2014 session earning plaudits from a wide range of supporters for pushing through a cut in the corporate income tax and changes to the estate tax. Now, as a new General Assembly has just gotten underway, Mattiello is eying eliminating the state income tax on social security, before the Governor has submitted her budget proposal. Look to see what the Speaker can -- and will -- accomplish in 2015.
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