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State Report: Parole-Probation Office Near Schools + New Speaker

Saturday, March 29, 2014

 

This week’s State Report will focus on Sen. Juan Pichardo’s call for elected officials to rethink a proposal that could relocate the state’s probation and parole offices in Providence within close proximity to schools.

We’ll also recap Tuesday’s House vote that overwhelmingly elected Rep. Nicholas Mattiello as the new Speaker of the House. Additionally, we’ll examine a new proposal that looks to address safety concerns on the Pell Bridge; legislation relating to DNA samples from criminals; and the House’s passage of a new bill making background checks for school employees mandatory.

Pichardo opposes bids for parole, probation offices near schools

With the administration mulling over options for the relocation of the state’s probation and parole offices in Providence, Sen. Juan M. Pichardo (D-Dist. 2, Providence) has called for officials to take into account that three of the four bids may be too close to schools and childcare facilities.

“My constituents are very alarmed when they hear of the possibility that offices of this nature would be so close to Dr. Jorge Alvarez and Classical high schools, as well as a home childcare provider,” Sen. Pichardo said. “Elmwood, South Elmwood, the West End and the Reservoir Triangle neighborhoods have a substantial youth population. What these empty facilities need are tenants who can offer real opportunities to help spur economic development and contribute something positive to the community. The administration should take everything into account – jobs, tax revenue, public safety and, most importantly, the safety of our children.”

Proposals under consideration

Sen. Pichardo pointed out that proposals for the Cathedral of Life Christian Assembly, at 433 Elmwood Ave.; Mashpaug Partners, LLC, 333 Adelaide Ave.; and 56 Associates Management LLC, 187 Broad St., South Providence, would place the offices in neighborhoods with several local schools. Initially, Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee had plans to move the offices from the Urban League of Rhode Island headquarters at Prairie Avenue to Fountain Street in downtown Providence, but pressure from local business leaders forced the administration to reconsider. Now there are four proposals under consideration from property owners who wish to have the state’s probation and parole offices as tenants.

“I realize this is a delicate issue and that every location is going to be met with some resistance by particular groups and neighborhoods,” Sen. Pichardo said. “But we’re talking about our children here. I have faith in the justice system, but I also believe in taking precautions when it comes to protecting our most vulnerable population. All I’m asking is that these factors weigh heavily in the administration’s final decision.”

The last bidder is Ralph Shuster Inc., which has proposed a plan for 610B Manton Ave. in Olneyville.
 

For more legislative news from the past week, check out the slideshow below.

 

Related Slideshow: RI State Report: More News of the Week - 3/29/14

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Mattiello named Speaker of the House

Earlier this week, the House of Representatives elected Rep. Nicholas A. Mattiello (D-Dist. 15, Cranston) its Speaker.

“I have only been a representative for seven-plus years, and I was never involved in politics before that. I have no long allegiances or political ties to anyone,” Speaker Mattiello told his fellow representatives after he accepted their approval. “I have a different style. There will be a much greater emphasis on collaboration in the decision-making process among everyone in this room, Democrats and Republicans alike. There is no shortage of good ideas, whether they come from freshmen or members with more than 20 years experience.”

In his remarks, Speaker Mattiello thanked former speaker Gordon D. Fox for his leadership, and said he accepted the mantel of speaker with a heavy heart after the former speaker’s resignation Saturday. He promised to get to work immediately with his fellow legislators on their “No. 1 issue: jobs and the economy.”

Sixty-one representatives voted in favor of electing Speaker Mattiello, who had previously served as the Majority Leader, the House’s second-in-command, since February 2010. He was first elected to the House in 2006, and has served on the Finance, Judiciary and Rules committees.

Speaker Mattiello was a cosponsor of landmark 2011 pension reform legislation and worked closely with General Treasurer Gina Raimondo in crafting the legislation and working out compromises to make the bill fairer to taxpayers, state employees and retirees. 

He was also a cosponsor of the state’s education funding formula, which was enacted in 2010 after the state went 15 years without one. He has been a committed advocate for elderly, community hospitals, schools and business, among others.

During a caucus held on Tuesday, Democratic representatives also elected a new slate of leaders: Rep. John J. DeSimone (D-Dist. 5, Providence) as Majority Leader, Rep. John G. Edwards (D-Dist. 70, Tiverton Portsmouth) as Majority Whip, and Rep. Joseph S. Almeida (D-Dist. 12, Providence) as Deputy Majority Whip.

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New House Judiciary Committee Chairman

On Wednesday, House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello appointed Rep. Cale P. Keable (D-Dist. 47, Burrillville, Glocester) as the new chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

“Chairman Keable brings with him a keen knowledge of the law and an ability to understand the complexities of the broad variety of issues that come before the Judiciary Committee. I’m positive that he will be a good leader who will work to strengthen some of the most important bills that are produced in this chamber,” said Speaker Mattiello.

The Judiciary Committee considers all bills affecting the penal code, judicial system, ethics, open meetings, access to public records and election laws.

“This opportunity is both an honor and a great responsibility that I take very seriously,” said Chairman Keable. “The Judiciary Committee considers bills that have a profound effect on Rhode Islanders’ lives and safety, and I appreciate the careful consideration that must go into our work on all of them. I look forward to working hard alongside my committee to improve safety, justice and government transparency in our state.”

Chairman Keable, 37, previously served as vice chairman of the Corporations Committee and has also served on the Labor and Small Business Committees since being elected in 2010.

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Addressing safety concerns on Pell Bridge

In an effort to address the causes of three deaths within 27 months on the Claiborne Pell Bridge, President of the Senate M. Teresa Paiva Weed and Rep. Deborah Ruggiero have introduced legislation seeking the construction of a median barrier on the span and increasing penalties for cell phone use by minor drivers and texting while driving.

The legislators have each introduced two bills relating to the issue. The first (2014-S 2764, 2014-H 7760) is a resolution requesting that the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority (RITBA) install a solid center median on the Pell Bridge without further delay, to be completed by March 31, 2015.

The resolution indicates that the quasi-public RITBA should use its own funds to pay for the barrier. The resolution requests the safety improvements in honor of the memory of Kathy Meunier, Kenny Prior and Elijah Swift, the three people who have died in head-on collisions in recent years. It also asks that RITBA and the State Police work together to rigorously enforce the 40-mile-per-hour speed limit on the bridge, as well as laws prohibiting distracted driving.

The second bill (2014-S 2678, 2014-H 7761) would increase fines for distracted driving relating to mobile devices. Under it, fines for texting while driving would rise from $85 to $100 for a first offense.

A second conviction would rise from $100 to $150, and subsequent offenses, now $125, would double to $250. The bill leaves intact the license suspensions that are possible at all three levels. The Senate bill is scheduled for hearing and/or consideration before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday, March 20, at the Rise of the Senate.

The legislation also raises the fines for those under 18 who use cell phones while driving. Currently, fines for first and second offenses are $50; those for subsequent offenses are $100. The bill would raise fines for first, second and subsequent offenses to $100, $150 and $250, respectively. The bill leaves intact a provision that would suspend the drivers’ license until his or her 18th birthday for a third or subsequent offense.

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Senate approves DNA collection bill

Once again this year, the Rhode Island Senate has approved legislation to require the collection of DNA samples from any person arrested for any crime of violence.

Sponsored by Sen. David E. Bates (R-Dist. 32, Barrington, Bristol, East Providence), the legislation is modeled after “Katie’s Law,” adopted in two dozen states and named for Katie Sepich of New Mexico, who was brutally murdered in 2003.

Rhode Island law requires the collection of DNA samples from individuals convicted of a felony. The bill approved by the Senate on Thursday, 2014-S 2101A, would require samples to be taken from individuals arrested for violent crimes. The legislation provides for expungement of the DNA information if the arrested individual is not charged through indictment or if the case is dismissed by the state or a court, or if the arrested individual is found not guilty.

Rep. Brian Patrick Kennedy (D-Dist. 38, Hopkinton, Westerly), sponsor of the companion House bill, 2014-H 7304, said he is anxious to learn more about the possibility of new federal funding to implement the process in Rhode Island. The fiscal impact of enacting the law, he said, has been one of the barriers to its passage in previous legislative sessions.

If enacted, DNA samples would be collected from individuals arrested for crimes of violence, including  murder, manslaughter, first degree arson, kidnapping with intent to extort, robbery, larceny from the person, first degree sexual assault, second degree sexual assault, first and second degree child molestation, assault with intent to murder, assault with intent to rob, assault with intent to commit first degree sexual assault, burglary, and entering a dwelling house with intent to commit murder, robbery, sexual assault, or larceny.

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School employee background checks

Rep. Anthony Giarrusso’s (R-East Greenwich, West Greenwich) legislation to require national background checks for all employees of firms contracting with Rhode Island school districts passed the House chamber on Thursday.

The legislation, developed in cooperation with Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin, expands the definition of employment to include contract employees and employees of third-party contractors, such as school bus drivers and monitors, cafeteria staff, etc.

Giarrusso’s bill also adds conviction for possession and sharing of child pornography to the list of “disqualifying information” for employment, automatically disqualifying an individual from employment.

“I am extremely pleased that the House overwhelmingly supported this legislation,” said Rep. Giarrusso. “This bill expands protection of school children across the state, and helps ensure our kids are not placed in vulnerable situations with people hired to care and look after them,” Giarrusso said.

The legislation grew out of an incident in East Greenwich in November 2013 in which a school bus monitor working for a third-party contractor was arrested on charges of possessing and sharing child pornography. The episode sparked vocal meetings between school officials and parents demanding tougher screening of those coming into contact with children at school.

Click here to read the bill in its entirety.

 
 

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