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Stiffer Campaign Finance Laws, Addressing Guns and Domestic Violence: This Week at the Statehouse

Saturday, April 25, 2015


The General Assembly might have been in recess this week, but there was plenty of legislative and political action, from the Governor signing the Twin River hotel, to construction on the Pell Bridge and proposed medicaid savings measures. Here is what happened at the State House this week. 

Governor signs campaign finance reform into law

Gov. Gina M. Raimondo signed four pieces of legislation aimed at strengthening campaign finance reform. House Majority Leader John J. DeSimone’s (D-Dist. 5, Providence) bill (2015 H-5789A) requires the filing of bank statements with the Board of Elections. Rep. Robert E. Craven’s (D-Dist. 32, North Kingstown) bill (2015-H 5840A) requires separate campaign accounts. Rep. Joy Hearn’s (D-Dist. 66, Barrington, East Providence) bill (2015-H 5920A) requires a treasurer. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Michael J. McCaffrey’s (D-Dist. 29, Warwick) bill (2015-S 0681A) combines and mirrors the three House bills.

Click here to see news release.

Twin River Casino hotel legislation signed into law

Gov. Gina M. Raimondo signed legislation to clear the path for a hotel at the Twin River Casino in Lincoln. Both chambers of the General Assembly gave final passage to the companion bills on Thursday, April 16. Rep. Jeremiah T. O’Grady (D-Dist. 46, Lincoln, Pawtucket) sponsored the House bill (2015-H 5798aa) and Sen. Maryellen Goodwin (D-Dist. 1, Providence) introduced the Senate bill (2015-S 0649A) that removes a provision in the 2005 public laws prohibiting construction of a hotel at the gaming venue. The new law provides that construction of a hotel will remain subject to Town of Lincoln zoning ordinances.

Click here to see news release.

Working group proposes Medicaid savings measures

A working group that includes Senate Health and Human Services Committee Chairman Joshua Miller (D-Dist. 28, Cranston, Providence) and Sen. Louis P. DiPalma (D-Dist. 12, Middletown, Little Compton, Newport, Tiverton) identified $85.5 million in potential Medicaid savings for the state. The list of potential savings measures, which includes cuts to hospital and nursing home reimbursement rates offset in part by incentives, will be refined by April 30 and will be nonbinding to the General Assembly and the governor.

Construction complete on Pell Bridge barrier sought by Paiva Weed, Ruggiero

Construction of a median barrier on the Claiborne Pell Bridge — called for by successful legislation sponsored last year by President of the Senate M. Teresa Paiva Weed (D-Dist. 13, Newport, Jamestown) and Rep. Deborah Ruggiero (D-Dist. 74, Jamestown, Middletown) — is now complete, a month ahead of schedule. The legislators sought the barrier to prevent the sort of head-on collisions that have claimed three lives in recent years on the span that connects Jamestown and Newport.

Click here to see news release.

 Rep. Nardolillo bill would change minimum corporate tax

Rep. Robert A. Nardolillo III (R-Dist. 28, Coventry) has submitted legislation that would alter the minimum corporate tax. The first bill (2015-H 5549) would eliminate the $500 minimum corporate tax altogether for corporations with fewer than 50 employees. The second bill (2015-H 5562) would change the minimum corporate tax for those corporations with more than 50 employees from $500 to $250.

Click here to see news release.

Senate honors Bannister House on 125th anniversary

The Rhode Island Senate honored Bannister House of Providence on the 125th anniversary of its founding in 1890. Introduced by Sen. Harold M. Metts (D-Dist. 6, Providence), the Senate resolution (2015-S 0852) praised the facility and its caring and compassionate staff for doing its best to take care of vulnerable, low-income Rhode Islanders in need of quality long-term care. The resolution also urged the governor to call a meeting of stakeholders to explore ways to keep the facility open as it attempts to resolve its current financial crisis.

Click here to see news release.

Legislators work to keep guns out of the hands of violent domestic abusers

Two members of the House of Representatives are continuing their call for passage of bills that would prohibit violent domestic abusers from owning, buying or possessing firearms. Heard by the House Committee on Judiciary and held for further study are a bill by Rep. Gregg Amore (D-Dist. 65, East Providence) (2015-H 5872), supported by the Office of the Attorney General, that bars firearms for any individual who has been convicted of a misdemeanor crime involving domestic violence, and a bill by Rep. Teresa Tanzi (D-Dist. 34, South Kingstown, Narragansett) (2015-H 5655) that would bar gun possession by domestic abusers and also mandate that persons subject to protective orders due to domestic abuse be compelled to turn in their guns.

Click here to see Amore release.

Click here to see Tanzi release.

House Speaker, Senate President comment on Newport Grand proposal

This week, the owners of Newport Grand unveiled a proposal to move operations from the city of Newport to the town of Tiverton.  House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello (D-Dist. 15, Cranston) said of the plan, “Gaming is the state’s third largest source of revenue and we must do all we can to protect it against the impending competition from Massachusetts.  Therefore, I support TwinRiver’s proposal to relocate Newport Grand to Tiverton.”  Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed (D-Dist. 13, Newport, Jamestown) stated, “I support TwinRiver’s plan to have a conversation with the residents of Tiverton to explore the possibility of relocation, and I am grateful for their public commitment to a planning process to ensure the highest and best use of the land in Newport.”

‘Governor for a Day’ joins Senate President in Newport groundbreaking

Khatima Bulmer, a fifth-grader from Newport’s ThompsonMiddle School who won the “governor-for-a-day” contest, joined Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed (D-Dist. 13, Newport, Jamestown) for the groundbreaking of the new Saint Clare facility in Newport.  In 2010, legislation was passed that set the stage for more home-like settings in nursing care facilities, such as what is being developed at St. Clare-Newport.  Also attending were Gov. Gina M. Raimondo and Rep. Marvin L. Abney (D-Dist. 73, Newport, Middletown).


Related Slideshow: Raimondo’s First 75 Days

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Out of State Staff

Raimondo shook things up prior to taking office when she announced she was bringing in former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley Administration members Scott Neuman for Chief of Staff and Scott Jensen for Department of Labor and Training, and ousting former Healthsource RI head Christie Ferguson for Anya Rader Wallack from Vermont.   Suddenly, what had previously been often parochial appointments suddenly gained a national look -- prompting further speculation that the news Governor could ultimately be eyeing a bigger stage. 

Pictured: Martin O'Malley

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In-State Staff

While Raimondo went out of state for a number of hires, the new Governor made a point of keeping on high-profile Rhode Island political faces to serve in her Administration, from former Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Roberts as Secretary of Health and Human Services, to former DLT Director (and Lt. Governor) Charlie Fogarty as head of Elderly Affairs, to former Traffic Magistrate and seasoned political operative David Cruise as Legislative Director and former Governor Sundlun press secretary Barbara Cottam as the new Chair of the state Board of Education.

Pictured: Charlie Fogarty

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Snow Storm Politics

Just weeks into her Administration, Raimondo declared a state of emergency prior to winter storm Juno hitting Rhode Island. Raimondo earned high marks for the handling of the preparations and response to the storm, and subsequent snow falls soon after. "The big Rhode Island story has been the heavy snowfall. It has given the Governor an opportunity to dominate the news and show herself to be in charge," said Darrell West, Vice President and Director of Governance Studies at the Brooking Institution in February.  "She has become the contemporary Joe Garrahy who used the weather to propel his popularity. This will help her down the road when she needs public support."

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Female Staff Pay

Despite campaigning on the issue of pay equity for women as a candidate for Governor in Rhode Island, Gina Raimondo’s staff is top heavy with highly paid men, who on average make significantly more than women. We hear it every election year. Candidates from all over the country promise to fight for pay equity for woman and minorities. It sounds good and is music to our ears but the truth is we are at the crossroads on this issue and have been for many years," wrote former State Representative and GoLocal MINDSETTER Joanne Giannini

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Minimum Wage Increase

Governor Raimondo's call to increase Rhode Island's minimum wage to $10.10 by 2016 has been met with mixed reviews -- support by community groups and opposition from business and taxpayer organizations. "Minimum wage workers do not earn enough to meet their basic needs.  The Rhode Island Standard of Need, a study that documents the cost of living in the Ocean State, shows that a single adult needed to earn $11.86 per hour in order to meet his or her most basic needs in 2014," said the Economic Progress Institute in submitted testimony prior to Raimondo's announcement.

"A higher minimum wage becomes yet another burden for businesses to bear.  Despite that, the Rhode Island General Assembly raised the minimum wage three times in the last three years, further exacerbating the state's anti-business climate," said Larry Girouard with RI Taxpayers. "The last thing that the state's businesses need is yet another increase in the minimum wage, whether now or next year."

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Taylor Swift Tax

In her budget proposal presented on March 12, Raimondo floated a luxury tax for second homes, which was swiftly dubbed the "Taylor Swift tax," for the pop star whose second (or third, or fourth) home in Watch Hill would qualify. 

"Disguised as a wealth tax, the "Taylor Swift tax" is really an assault on private property rights and an infringement on municipal sovereignty. You deserve better. This strategy is clearly represented in the language of the governor's proposed tax scheme, which describes property ownership as a "privilege." Further, with the state exerting control over property taxes, local governments could find themselves with diminished sovereignty to manage real-estate issues," said the RI Center for Freedom and Prosperity. 

Watch to see if Raimondo's proposal, which is intended to yield over $12 million by placing a statewide property tax on second homes worth more than $1 million, withstands the scrutiny -- and chopping block -- of the General Assembly.

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Medicaid Overhaul

When Raimondo signed an executive order during the last week of February establishing a "Working Group to Reinvent Medicaid", citing that as Governor she has an "obligation to fix a broken system," the Governor cited it wasn't just about cuts -- but her budget proposal unveiled in March is contingent on tens of millions in Medicaid cuts. 

"Cuts, that's not what this is about," said Raimondo at the press conference unveiling the working group.  "It's about tough discussions to look at short term cost savings but long term delivery system changes to yield long term reform and better outcomes."

Following the budget proposal, however, critics questioned what would happen if the Medicaid cuts didn't come to fruition. "While the governor's tax increases are all too real, her spending cuts are mostly hypothetical place-holders," said Monique Chartier with RI Taxpayers. "What will happen, for example, if her working group does not identify a way to cut $46 million in Medicaid spending next month?"

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Pension Reform Suit

The vote on the latest pension reform settlement is slated for this week, possibly putting to rest years of legal challenges to the state's landmark 2011 pension reform legislation -- which was the result of then-General Treasurer Gina Raimondo's efforts. Whether or not a settlement is reached, or if it goes to trial, any changes to the savings predicted by the reform would have to be accounted in part now by Governor Raimondo, along with cities and towns).  Any decisions made in the coming weeks on the pension reform front should make the second 75 days of the Raimondo administration look markedly different from the first, given the magnitude of developments that unfold. 

Pictured: Former Chief Justice Frank Williams, who was appointed Special Master in the pension case


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