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Student Loans, Beach Fees, and Honoring The Speaker: This Week At The State House

Saturday, February 14, 2015


Legislation introduced this week included eliminating the "subminimum wage" for tipped workers, giving a 2 year breather on student loan repayments, letting cities and towns keep a portion of beach fees, and more. Check out what's been happening on Smith Hill this week below:

Rep. Aaron Regunberg (D-Providence)

Bill would eliminate subminimum wage for tipped workers

Rep. Aaron Regunberg (D-Providence) and Sen. Gayle L. Goldin (D-Providence) have introduced legislation to raise Rhode Island’s subminimum wage for tipped workers for the first time in nearly 20 years. The legislation would gradually raise the state’s tipped minimum wage from its current rate of $2.89 per hour until it is in line with Rhode Island’s regular minimum wage by the year 2020.

 Sen. Metts reintroduces “Community–Police Relationship Act”

Sen. Harold M. Metts (D-Providence) has again this year introduced legislation, “The Comprehensive Community–Police Relationship Act,” with the goal of improving relations between state residents and law enforcement. The bill will require all police departments to submit annual reports indicating what action has been taken to address any racial disparities in traffic stops and/or searches documented in previous reports.

Bill gives college grads a two-year breather repaying student loans

Legislation introduced by Rep. K. Joseph Shekarchi (D-Warwick) is aimed at helping new graduates deal with their student loan debt. Under the “Get On Your Feet Loan Forgiveness Program,” the state will pay the difference between what graduates are paying through the federal Pay As You Earn (PAYE) repayment program and the total loan repayment amount for the first two years after graduation. It will apply to Rhode Island residents who graduate from in-state institutions.

Sen. Walter Felag (D-Warren, Bristol, Tiverton)

Sen. Felag bill bars airport access fees on certain services

Off-airport parking facilities (parking lots, rental firms) which have entered into an agreement with the Rhode Island Airport Corporation are allowed to charge their customers a 12 percent airport access fee, including for services (auto detailing, general maintenance) that are unrelated to airport access. Sen. Walter S. Felag Jr. (D-Warren, Bristol, Tiverton) has introduced legislation to exempt unrelated, ancillary services from the 12 percent fee.

Legislation seeks higher payment to towns from daily beach parking fees

Sen. James C. Sheehan (D-Narragansett, North Kingstown) has introduced legislation to increase the percentage of daily beach parking fees payable to the city or town in which the beach is located from the current 16 percent of total daily parking revenue to 20 percent. With season pass sales up and daily parking fees down the past few years, communities with beaches have seen a decrease in their cut from the state because they receive no share of the season pass revenues.

Melo proposes doubling tax deduction for college savings

Rep. Helio Melo (D-East Providence) has introduced a bill that would double the deduction from the state income tax for contributions to the state’s tuition savings program, from $500 to $1,000 for individual filers and from $1,000 to $2,000 for those filing jointly. The measure is designed to encourage families to save for college as the costs continue to rise, and to provide greater relief to families doing their best to save in a difficult economy.

Cote bill would give veteran-owned businesses a leg-up on state contracts

Sen. Marc A. Cote (D-Woonsocket, North Smithfield) has introduced legislation designed to boost employment and business opportunities for veterans in Rhode Island. The bill would give veteran-owned small businesses a preference in the state purchasing process, akin to the benefit that is awarded women-owned and minority-owned businesses. The legislation would require that at least 3 percent of the total value of all state contracts available to businesses in each fiscal year be awarded to those owned by veterans.

Senate Republican Caucus asks to reopen I-95 Welcome Center

The Rhode Island Senate Republican caucus has asked the Department of Transportation and the new Secretary of Commerce to investigate the feasibility of reopening the I-95 North Welcome Center in Richmond.  In a letter to DOT Director Michael P. Lewis and Secretary of Commerce Stefan Pryor, the caucus noted that reopening the center would be a positive step in bolstering the Ocean State’s image as business- and tourist-friendly.

Speaker of the House Nick Mattiello (D-Cranston)

Speaker Mattiello honored at NRI Chamber annual dinner

Speaker of the House of Representatives Nicholas A. Mattiello (D-Cranston) received the Barbara C. Burlingame Award during the Northern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce annual dinner. The award, named in honor of former state Representative Burlingame, was presented to Speaker Mattiello for spearheading the creation of a new Economic Development Council, for being instrumental in the drive to reduce the state’s corporate tax rate and for supporting estate tax reform.


Related Slideshow: The 10 Most Politically Powerful at RI State House

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#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. 

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#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.  

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#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.)

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#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.

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#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.

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#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

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#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.  

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#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.  

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#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. 

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#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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