RI State Report: Green Energy Pledges, Special Elections + Tolls

Saturday, December 07, 2013


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This week’s State Report centers on a new green energy pledge signed by each of New England’s governors including Governor Lincoln Chafee. We’ll also take a look at the upcoming special election for Woonsocket’s vacant House seat, as well a recent announcement by the Department of Labor and Training pertaining to unemployment insurance. Additionally, we’ll examine Congressmen David Cicilline and Jim Langevin’s call for stricter background checks for handguns and provide an update on the East Bay bridge toll debate.

Rhode Island Commits to Renewable Energy

On Thursday, each of New England’s six Governors committed their six states to an energy initiative that aims to bring more affordable, cleaner, and reliable power to their respective states.

"I am pleased to join with our neighboring states to advance this energy infrastructure initiative which will position Rhode Island to take advantage of cleaner and more affordable energy," said Governor Lincoln Chafee. "Through this collaborative effort the New England states will pursue a diversified energy portfolio, with the infrastructure needed to support it that will bring long-term environmental and economic benefits to Rhode Island residents and businesses alike. As part of that strategy, I remain committed to the advancement of clean, affordable hydropower, as well as other renewable resources that can improve electric reliability, stabilize and lower long-term energy costs, and help reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions."

In a joint statement, the Governors committed to more thoughtful and strategic investments focused on expanding the region's energy portfolio. Regional expansion will bring New England lower electricity and heating costs, increased economic development, competitiveness and job growth, and improved air quality through a reduction in harmful air emissions from the burning of fossil fuels.

The Governors said the agreement will "ensure that we are on a course toward a transformed energy, environment, and economic future for our region that offers a model for the nation." They directed their staff to continue working together over the next few months – through the New England States Committee on Electricity (NESCOE) and in cooperation with ISO-New England, operator of the region's electric grid network – to develop a regional strategy that "meets our common needs and goals." 

The agreement also calls attention to the fact that the region's electric and natural gas systems have become "increasingly interdependent," creating a need for cooperative investments in energy efficiency, new and existing renewable generation, natural gas pipelines, and electric transmission.

The Governors said their Initiative "must respect individual state perspectives, particularly those of host states, as well as the natural resources, environment, and economy of the States, and ensure that the citizens and other stakeholders of our region, including the New England Power Pool (NEPOOL), are involved in the process."

The states believe that investments in local renewable generation, combined heat and power, and renewable heating for buildings "support local markets and result in additional cost savings, new jobs and economic opportunities, and environmental gains." Furthermore, these types of investments must "be advanced in a coordinated approach in order to maximize ratepayer savings and system integrity."

Aside from Governor Chafee, was signed by Governors Dannel P. Malloy, Connecticut; Paul LePage, Maine; Deval L. Patrick, Massachusetts; Margaret Wood Hassan, New Hampshire; and Peter Shumlin, Vermont.


Related Slideshow: RI State Report: More News of the Week - 12/7/13

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Special Election

On Thursday, Secretary of State A. Ralph Mollis announced a special election would be held February 25th, 2014 to fill the General Assembly seat vacated by State Representative Lisa Baldelli-Hunt, who was sworn in as Woonsocket Mayor on Tuesday.

Candidates interested in running for the vacant State Representative (District 49) seat must file a formal declaration of candidacy, during the declaration of candidacy period, starting on December 12th, 2013 and ending on December 13th, 2013 at 4:00 p.m. (EST). Declarations must be filed with the Woonsocket Board of Canvassers.

The primary is scheduled for January 21st, 2014.

Information for candidates is available at: http://www.sos.ri.gov/elections/candidate/

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Unemployment Insurance

The RI Department of Labor and Training reported on Wednesday that Rhode Island has qualified for the fourth tier of the Federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program, due to the recent uptick in its unemployment rate.

The EUC program provides up to 47 weeks of federally funded unemployment insurance benefits to the long-term unemployed who have exhausted their regular unemployment insurance benefits. The program offers from one to four tiers of benefits to states, depending on the level of unemployment. A state may qualify for the fourth and final tier of EUC when its three-month moving average unemployment rate reaches or exceeds nine percent.

In August, Rhode Island's three-month moving average unemployment rate fell below nine percent, thus disqualifying it from the fourth tier of benefits. Now, approximately 1,500 RI claimants who had exhausted their third tier after August 9th may now be eligible for the fourth tier of benefits if they are able and available for work and are actively seeking full-time employment.

To collect on the fourth tier of benefits, eligible claimants must reopen their EUC claims no earlier than December 8, 2013. The Department of Labor and Training is notifying those claimants by mail of their potential eligibility.

All tiers of the EUC program are scheduled to end after December 28, 2013. This means that those qualifying for the fourth tier of benefits may not be able to collect the maximum weeks associated with that tier before the EUC program ends at the end of the year.

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Background Checks

Congressmen Jim Langevin and David Cicilline, who both serve on the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force have issued a call to implement stronger background checks for individuals purchasing handguns in Rhode Island.

On Tuesday, the Congressmen referenced a newly released Federal Bureau of Investigation report, released by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which found that Rhode Island has failed to submit health records of individuals barred from purchasing handguns to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). In fact, Rhode Island ranked among the lowest-performing states in the country, submitting fewer than 100 mental health records since the inception of the database under the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act twenty years ago.

The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993 requires an individual to pass a background check through the NICS database before purchasing a firearm from a federally licensed dealer, a process that typically takes 90 seconds. Data released last month by the FBI, reflecting record submissions as of May 2013, shows that the NICS remains incomplete, with hundreds of thousands of state and federal records missing. According to the report, the omission of mental health records in the NICS has created dangerous information deficiencies.

“This is an opportunity to educate ourselves on the deficiencies that exist within the NICS and strengthen gun violence prevention efforts in our state.  It is critical that we take meaningful action to fill these information gaps and create a more effective background check process,” said Langevin. “I strongly believe that Rhode Island can strengthen its reporting requirements in a manner that respects the balance of privacy and public safety.”

Rhode Island law currently prohibits the disclosure of mental health records without the express permission of the patient or guardian. State lawmakers created a 20-member task force to examine Rhode Island’s participation in the NICS and make recommendations to the General Assembly by January 31.

“As a founding member of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, I strongly believe that commonsense measures, like improving the NICS database, are the best methods to strengthen gun violence prevention in Rhode Island and around the country,” said Cicilline. “Congress needs to work with states to increase measures, like background checks, that protect the public from violence, and I am committed to continue working with the delegation to bring federal resources to improve reporting and bridging the information gaps in these requirements here in our state.”

Earlier this year, Langevin and Cicilline announced the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force’s comprehensive policy principles designed to reduce gun violence while respecting Second Amendment Rights of law-abiding Americans.

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Gingerbread Express

The annual “Gingerbread Express” is set to stop at the State House on Wednesday, December 11 at noon.

Sen. Hanna M. Gallo (D-Dist. 27, Cranston), Nancy Miller, the wife of Sen. Joshua Miller (D-Dist. 28, Cranston, Warwick), and Jaclyn Doyle, the wife of Sen. James E. Doyle II (D-Dist. 8, Pawtucket) are hosting this year’s visit, as they have in previous years that the donation program has been conducted at the state capitol.

Gifts purchased by state legislators and legislative staff members will be wrapped and brought to the State House to be presented to the members of the Rhode Island Children’s Fund for distribution.

Earlier in the season, participating school children were given lists that were cut out in the shape of gingerbread characters. In addition to their age and clothing sizes, the children wrote down the name of a special toy, game or book they hoped to receive. State House staffers and legislators selected one or more of the cutouts, purchased the appropriate items and wrapped them for the event at the State House. A sample donated gift bundle might include a clothing outfit, underwear, socks, a fun item and a book.

Representatives from the National Education Association Rhode Island Children’s Fund will be at the State House on December 11 to accept the gifts and distribute them to the children.

Now in its 22nd year, the NEARI Children’s Fund Gingerbread Express program provides children, and some families, with gifts from hundreds of volunteer Rhode Island teachers, school and public employees, and friends of the Fund.

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Bridge Toll Open House

Rep. John G. Edwards (D-Dist. 70, Portsmouth, Tiverton) is inviting his constituents to an open house to discuss updates on bridge tolls and other East Bay issues. The forum will be held on Wednesday, Dec. 11 at 6:30 p.m. at the Common Fence Point Community Hall located at 933 Anthony Road, Portsmouth.

“This is a chance for the people in both of the communities I represent to continue fruitful discussions about East Bay infrastructure and the work the commission has done thus far,” said Edwards, who serves as a member of the Special Legislative Commission to Study the Funding for East Bay Bridge.

“This is also an opportunity for my constituents to bring their biggest concerns to me before we enter a new legislative session at the State House in January. The bridge issue alone has made me realize how truly lucky I am to represent constituents who care so deeply about our community and recognize that we must all participate in democracy in order to create the best possible outcomes for everyone. I look forward to seeing everyone next week and I strongly encourage all who are interested to attend,” Edwards added.

The East Bay bridge commission – co-chaired by Rep. Helio Melo (D-Dist. 64, East Providence) and Sen. Daniel Da Ponte (D-Dist. 14, East Providence) – was established during the 2013 legislative session to allow lawmakers and officials from affected state departments and agencies an opportunity to investigate various funding plans, potentially eliminating the need for tolls on the Sakonnet River Bridge.

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Addiction Seminar

In November, Rep. Patricia A. Serpa (D-Dist. 27, West Warwick, Coventry, Warwick) attended a three-day bipartisan workshop, titled: “The Science that Underlies Drug Abuse, Addiction, Treatment and Prevention” as part of a The National Conference of State Legislatures’ (NCSL) Addiction Studies Program for the States 2013 seminar.

Earlier this week, Serpa discussed the importance of the seminar and how it can be used to shape legislation in Rhode Island.

“As I’ve said before, addiction is a battle that not all of us have been through. However, it’s important to acknowledge its existence so we can empathize with others who, unfortunately, have to fight every day of their lives in order to avoid succumbing to it,” Serpa said. “This seminar was wonderful because it really brought to light the many misconceptions about addiction, recovery and prevention. Legislators like myself are in a position to be mindful of these things and submit legislation that will help people get their lives back on track, so it is even more important to understand the complexities of the addiction and recovery process. This workshop provided us with excellent tools to navigate the world of prescription drug abuse prevention and medication-assisted treatment options. I hope to put this knowledge to good use in the upcoming legislative session.”

The NCSL seminar fostered in-depth discussion among state leaders about a variety of related topics, such as “The Biology of Addiction and Public Policy,” “Treating the Chronic Disease of Addiction” and “The Science of Effective Community-Based Prevention.” The seminar also encouraged state teams to create a six-month plan to help them implement and address related issues in their states after hearing the latest policy and scientific studies, as well as a criminal justice presentation.

In September, the Rhode Island Council on Alcoholism and Other Drug Dependence (RICAODD) recognized Serpa for her work to aid and protect those suffering from addiction with the James H. Ottmar Award. She was also the torchbearer for the Providence Waterfire held in honor of National Recovery Month this year.

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Pearl Harbor Remembrance

The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee will commemorate the 72nd anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor today with a State House event at which two local survivors of the attack will be honored.

Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day is scheduled for this morning at 11 a.m. in the Bell Room on the first floor of the State House. The event is open to the public and the media is invited.

House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Raymond E. Gallison Jr. (D-Dist. 69, Bristol, Portsmouth) will serve as host. Special guests will be Daniel Hunter of Cumberland and Wilmer Stevens of Wakefield, veterans of the Navy and Army, respectively, who survived the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

The event will also include a special reenlistment ceremony for a former U.S. Navy member who will returning to service.

Speakers will include Capt. Mark L. Turner, director of the Naval Staff College at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport; Kimberly Ripoli, associate director of Rhode Island’s Division of Veterans Affairs; and Chairman Gallison.


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