— General Assembly —

April 10, 2013


A Brief Primer on Gun-Permitting Laws in Rhode Island

Carroll Andrew Morse

Commenter "Mike" noted that there is more to the Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin’s proposed firearms permitting bill (h/t Providence Journal) than which office handles an application. Here is a basic outline of the set of overlapping provisions that form the basics of Rhode Island’s firearms law, and how the Attorney General’s bill might change them.

1. A permit is required under section 11-47-8 of Rhode Island law (with some exceptions) for an individual to carry a pistol or revolver off of their own property ...

(a) No person shall, without a license or permit issued as provided in §§ 11-47-11, 11-47-12 and 11-47-18, carry a pistol or revolver in any vehicle or conveyance or on or about his or her person whether visible or concealed, except in his or her dwelling house or place of business or on land possessed by him or her or as provided in §§ 11-47-9 and 11-47-10.
11-47-11 establishes rules for local government permit issuance, while 11-47-18 sets the rules for the Attorney General; we'll come back to these two sections of the law in a moment. (These permits are frequently referred to as “concealed carry” permits, though the letter of the law is explicit about its application to non-concealed firearms too). 11-47-12 sets the fees for the permitting process.

2. 11-47-8 also contains provisions against the possession of machines guns and sawed-off shotguns regardless of location, but nothing regarding permitting of rifles or regular shotguns...

2A. ...though section 11-47-51 makes it illegal for non-law enforcement non-military members to carry a loaded rifle or shotgun in a vehicle, while on a public road.

3. For a Rhode Island resident to legally purchase any pistol or revolver, section 11-47-35 of Rhode Island law requires a background check and completion of a safety course administered by the Department of Environmental Management, with exceptions for law enforcement and military personnel. To purchase a rifle or shotgun, the relevant section of the law is 11-47-35.2 which requires clearance of a background check conducted by the local police, unless the purchaser already has a locally-issued permit under 11-47-11 (11-47-18 isn't mentioned), or is a member of law-enforcement or the military.

4. The firearms permitting changes proposed by the Attorney General as part of the “gun safety package” would repeal 11-47-11, stripping municipal authorities of the power to issue pistol or revolver “concealed carry” permits. This would change more than where paperwork needs to be sent. 11-47-11 says local authorities "shall issue" a concealed carry permit, once need has been demonstrated (though making determinations of criteria like "need" and “suitability” are left entirely to the municipal authority)…

(a) The licensing authorities of any city or town shall, upon application of any person twenty-one (21) years of age or over having a bona fide residence or place of business within the city or town...issue a license or permit to the person to carry concealed upon his or her person a pistol or revolver everywhere within this state for four (4) years from date of issue, if it appears that the applicant has good reason to fear an injury to his or her person or property or has any other proper reason for carrying a pistol or revolver, and that he or she is a suitable person to be so licensed.
11-47-18, the process that would remain if the AG's bill became law, says the Attorney General "may issue" a permit, leaving room for discretion even after need is sufficiently demonstrated...
The attorney general may issue a license or permit to any person twenty one (21) years of age or over to carry a pistol or revolver, whether concealed or not, upon his or her person upon a proper showing of need, subject to the provisions of sections 11-47-12 and 11-47-15
4. Both the “may issue” in the Attorney General’s permitting process, and the additional requirements of need and suitability needed to reach the “shall issue” stage in the local process may need reevaluation in light of the United States Supreme Court decision in District of Columbia vs. Heller which affirmed that the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees an individual right., e.g. can something that is recognized as a right be made subject to a “may issue” decision of a government official?

5. And there may be even a higher hurdle for a “may issue” law to clear -- section 22 of Article I of the Rhode Island Constitution, which makes no reference to the well-regulated militia mentioned in the U.S Constitution. Article I section 22 of the RI Constitution states simply...

Right to bear arms. -- The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.
…and is followed by a pointed declaration in section 24, that…
The rights guaranteed by this Constitution are not dependent on those guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States.
I’ll take up a few of the “rights”-related aspects of this issue in subsequent posts.



The House Finance Committee’s 38 Studios Dilemma

Carroll Andrew Morse

The Rhode Island House of Representatives Finance Committee has a bigger-than-usual open-government dilemma on its hands. Yesterday, the Finance Committee heard three separate bills for dealing with bond payments to 38 Studios (see bills 1A, 1B, and 1C here). There is also a fourth option available -- take no further legislative action and pay off the deal in full. All three bills were “held for further study”, i.e. sent to the Phantom Zone where, under unwritten but long-established rules of the House, only the Speaker can retrieve them.

So which bill, if any, will the Speaker retrieve? And who will he consult with, in deciding which bill to retrieve?

The Speaker could choose not to bring any of the 38 Studios bills back to committee. In that case, he will have decided, on his own, that the position of the House is to pay the 38 Studios bonds in full, without allowing any other members to have a say.

The Speaker could also choose to bring only one of the three bills back. In this case, he will be giving the committee the choice of either paying the bonds in full or picking his preferred option, with the the other two options off the table. This would imply one of two things about the Finance Committee’s role in the decision. Either members of the committee against paying off the bonds under their original terms don't care which option is picked and are willing to pass to the floor whichever option the Speaker tells them he wants, or a deal will be worked out ahead of time between the Speaker and committee members, with one bill that has majority committee support being brought back -- and highlighting how RI General Assembly committee meetings are mostly theater used to dress-up decisions made elsewhere.

In the end -- unless Finance committee members really do favor passing this decision off to the speaker and rubber-stamping whatever decision he makes about sending (or not sending) a 38 Studios bill to the floor -- the only way to assure the public that this decision will be made outside of the confines of a backroom deal is to bring all three of the bills back to the committee for consideration, where committee members can explain in an open session which option or options they favor sending to the floor.


April 9, 2013


The "Gun Safety Package"

Carroll Andrew Morse

Here is a link the General Assembly press release on the 9 bills to be introduced, labeled as the "gun safety package". The two items likely to be most controversial are...

Gun Control and Safe Firearms Act: This bill bans the manufacture, sale, purchase or possession of semi-automatic assault weapons after July 1, 2013. It also bans high capacity magazines, belts, drums, feed strips or similar devices manufactured on or after July 1. It does not apply if the weapon is an antique, is inoperable, or was manufactured prior to July 1, 1963, and does not apply to an attached tubular device capable of operating only with .22 caliber rimfire ammunition.

Background Checks and Attorney General Permits (AG Kilmartin bill): These bills would require a person requesting a license or permit to carry a pistol or revolver to undergo national criminal background checks and will make the Attorney General’s office the license and/or permitting authority, as requested by local law enforcement officials.

Direct links to legislation to follow, when they become available.

UPDATE:

Amanda Milkovits of the Projo has posted links to preliminary versions of the "gun safety package" bills. Here's the definition of "semi-automatic assault rifles" that would be banned...

The term semiautomatic assault weapon means:
(1) A semiautomatic rifle that has an ability to accept a detachable magazine and has at least two (2) of the following characteristics:
  (i) A folding or telescoping stock;
  (ii) A pistol grip that protrudes conspicuously beneath the action of the weapon;
  (iii) A thumbhole stock;
  (iv) A bayonet mount;
  (v) A threaded barrel designed to accommodate a flash suppressor, muzzle break, or muzzle compensator;
  (vi) A grenade launcher...

(5) Provided, however, that such term does not include:
  (i) Any rifle...that:
    (A) Is manually operated by bolt, pump, lever or slide action;
    (B) Has been rendered permanently inoperable; or
    (C) Is an antique firearm as defined in 18 U.S.C. 921(a)(16);
  (ii)A semiautomatic rifle that cannot accept a detachable magazine that holds more than ten (10) rounds of ammunition;
...
  (iv) Any firearm, rifle, or shotgun that was manufactured prior to July 1, 1963;


April 8, 2013


Coming up in Committee: All of the Economic Development Corporation Bills Being Heard on Tuesday, April 9

Carroll Andrew Morse

1G. H5746: Limits the Economic Development Corporation's total liability for loans, bonds, guarantees and other financing instruments to $1B, unless a larger amount is authorized by a General Assembly joint resolution. (H Finance; Tue, Apr 9)

1F. H5268: Caps EDC loan guarantees to any one entity at $10M. (H Finance; Tue, Apr 9)

1E. H5745: Caps the amount of loans, bonds, guarantees or other financing instruments involving any single entity at $5M, unless a larger amount is authorized by a General Assembly joint-resolution. (H Finance; Tue, Apr 9)

1D. H5463: Caps EDC loan guarantees to any one entity at $0, i.e. "Rhode Island economic development corporation shall not guarantee any loan or obligation, nor shall it pledge the faith and credit of the state or any of its subdivisions". (H Finance; Tue, Apr 9)

1C. H5639: "Notwithstanding the provisions of this section, neither the corporation nor the general assembly shall use and/or appropriate any moneys relating to the redemption and/or payment of the principal of and/or the interest on any bonds, notes or other obligations of the corporation pertaining to the 38 Studios loan unless and untilthe identity of all entities and/or purchases of same shall be made public by the filing of a complete list with the finance committee of the house of representatives". (H Finance; Tue, Apr 9)

1B. H5643: "The state shall be prohibited from paying any interest on the 38 Studios bonds. Only the amount of the initial investment shall be paid". (H Finance; Tue, Apr 9)

1A. H5888: "The [Economic Development Corporation], the state and any subdivisions of the state shall not make payment on the moral obligation bonds related to 38 Studios". (H Finance; Tue, Apr 9)



Coming up in Committee: Forty-Five Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, April 9 - April 11, Part 4

Carroll Andrew Morse

9. H5748/H5371/H5303: Mandates state use of "data verification and provider screening technology solutions" and "state-of-the-art predictive modeling and analytics technologies in a pre-payment position within the healthcare claim workflow" to reduce Medicaid, RIte Care and RIte Share fraud and waste. H5734 is a variation on the same theme, repeating some of the same descriptions of fraud prevention, and focusing on Medicaid and CHIP (children's health insurance program). (H Finance; Wed, Apr 10)

8B. H5753: Converts the "health care planning and accountability advisory council", an in-government advisory panel, into the "health analytics, policy and planning commission", a quasi-public body (with an executive director who "shall set his or her compensation and terms of employment"(?)), responsible for performing analyses on financial and quality reports for licensed health care providers, health outcomes and health expenditures". Submitted at the request of the Lieutenant Governor. (H Health, Education and Welfare; Wed, Apr 10) Why should this be a quasi-public agency outside of the main government be performing this function? Possibly so it can eventually become a state level version of the Federal IPAB.

8A. S0656: As a condition of eligibility for certain state-funded medical assistance programs, "every applicant or recipient who owns a life estate in property with retained rights to revoke, amend or redesignate the remainderman must exercise those rights as directed by the executive office of health and human services". (S Judiciary; Thu, Apr 11)

7. S0268: Ties the amount of the car-tax reimbursed to a municipality to the percentage of statewide vehicle value located in that municipality (rather than to tax rates that have been frozen arbitrarily by state law). (S Finance; Tue, Apr 9)

6B. H5646: Requires a photo ID to be presented when a purchase is made with an electronic benefit transfer (EBT) card. (H Finance; Wed, Apr 10)

6A. H5411: "No person shall knowingly use or accept direct cash assistance funds held on electronic benefit transfer cards or access devices for the purchase or sale of...alcoholic beverages...lottery tickets...tobacco products...[pornography]...firearms and ammunition...vacation services; tattoos or body piercings; jewelry; [or] for gambling or for the payment...of any [government] fees, fines, bail, or bail bonds". (H Finance; Wed, Apr 10)

5. S0352: Repeals the June 30, 2013 sunset on the law that makes driving without wearing a seat belt a primary motor vehicle offense. (S Judiciary; Thu, Apr 11)

4. H5946: Unionizes Rhode Island child-care workers, and provides them with the same arbitration and mediation options as state employees. (H Labor; Wed, Apr 10)

3B. FY2014 will be year 3 of a 7-year phase-in for the new education "funding formula", for the communities scheduled to receive more aid under the new system relative to the old. (a 10-year period is used, for communities undergoing an aid reduction). S0188 would give those communities their entire new "formula" aid total beginning immediately in FY2014 -- and, if a community is spending more per-pupil on education than the state average, all of the money from the acceleration could be used to reduce its maintenance of effort obligation by an equivalent amount, converting a portion of "education funding formula" into a property tax subsidy. (S Finance; Tue, Apr 9) The bill says that if a community is spending $1 more than the state average, but is due to receive more money under the "funding formula", it can start making the rest of the state pay for its education costs, without changing anything about its education programs. It's a bill that, more honestly than usual, shows how many Rhode Island legislators think of the education "funding formula" as a function-agnostic property tax subsidy.

3A. H5055/S0013: Schools districts would only pay a "local share" of education costs for the students who reside in their districts and attend charter schools "when the school classification, as determined by the formula specified in the Rhode Island accountability system, of the charter public school and the Met Center is higher than that of the student's comparable district school of enrollment". (H Finance; Wed, Apr 10 & S Education; Wed, Apr 10)

2. H5747: An attempt to appropriate $2M "for local mental health centers for outreach programs" by "joint resolution", which usually means without gubernatorial approval. (H Finance; Wed, Apr 10) I hope the attitude of we-get-to-make-up-whatever-rules-we-want isn't spreading from the House Committee level to the overall appropriations process.



Coming up in Committee: Forty-Five Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, April 9 - April 11, Part 3

Carroll Andrew Morse

19. H5285: "The Comprehensive Racial Profiling Prevention Act of 2013", including such provisions as requiring police officers to document the grounds of their "reasonable suspicion" or "probable cause" searches and to contact a dispatcher or supervising officer where practicable before such searches, and requiring traffic stops to be recorded when a police vehicle is equipped to do so. (H Judiciary; Thu, Apr 11)

18. S0312: Requires the school committee and town/city council of every community that would send students to a proposed mayoral academy to approve the mayoral academy's charter school application. (S Education; Wed, Apr 10)

17. S0393: Creates a tax-credit of 10% of a student loan balance (with caps based on type of degree) for the first 10 years after a student's graduation "so long as the person remains a legal resident of and employed in Rhode Island". (S Finance; Tue, Apr 9)

16. S0360: "Notwithstanding any other general or special law to the contrary, any person serving as a member of the pension board of the city of Pawtucket shall be immune from any civil liability in that capacity so long as that person acts in good faith, without malice, and not for improper personal enrichment in the performance of any duty or prerogative in connection with the administration of the pension system". (S Judiciary; Thu, Apr 11) What'd they do in Pawtucket that's worse than in the average "distressed" Rhode Island community?

15. S0154: "Each chamber of the legislature shall keep, for a period of three (3) years, an audio or video recording of debate and testimony occurring in committee and shall place the recording on the general assembly's website within twenty-four (24) hours of the debate and hearing". (S Special Legislation and Veterans Affairs; Wed, Apr 10)

14. S0414: Introduces four criteria that must be present to establish criminal intent in cases where the law does not specify "the criminal intent required to establish an element of the offense". The four elements are 1) a conscious object to engage in conduct of the nature constituting the element; 2) a conscious object to cause such a result required by the element; 3) an awareness of the existence of any attendant circumstances required by the element or with the belief or hope that such circumstances exist; and 4) specific intent to violate the law or with knowledge that the person’s conduct is unlawful. (S Judiciary; Thu, Apr 9). Doesn't criteria #4 introduce a potentially major loophole into the law, and run counter to centuries of common law holding that ignorance of the law is not a defense?

13. S0682: Creates a six-person "joint committee of the repealer" within the legislature that would "compile suggestions for repeal of statutes, regulations, and executive orders received from citizens, businesses, and government agencies". (S Judiciary; Thu, Apr 11)

12. H5743/S0605: Adds to the section of law on educational finance that "any municipality or local educational agency (LEA) that is rated A or better with any of the primary rating agencies, said municipality or LEA shall be able to elect to pursue issuing and selling their bonds on the open market, without approval from the general assembly and without having said bonds issued by the Rhode Island health and educational building corporation". (H Finance; Wed, Apr 10 & S Finance; Thu, Apr 11)

11. S0522: Empowers the General Treasurer to withhold non-education state aid from "any municipality that does not fully fund their annual required contribution (ARC)" to a locally administered pension plan. (S Finance; Tue, Apr 9)

10D. H5270: One line added to the law, giving "deputy sheriffs within the department of public safety, capitol police, and DEM police" the same retirement benefits as corrections officers. (H Finance; Wed, Apr 10)

10C. H5468:/S0371: Requires teachers at mayoral academies to participate in the state teachers' retirement system. (H Finance; Wed, Apr 10 & S Education; Wed, Apr 10)

10B. H5221: Restores cost-of-living adjustments for state pensioners whose annual benefit is less than 150% of the federal poverty level. (H Finance; Wed, Apr 10)

10A. H5199: Repeals the minimum retirement age of 55 for police officers and firefighters with 10 years of service. (H Finance; Wed, Apr 10)



Coming up in Committee: Forty-Five Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, April 9 - April 11, Part 2

Carroll Andrew Morse

29. H5132: Families qualified to receive child-care subsidies because their incomes were less than 180% of the Federal poverty level would continue to receive the subsidy if their incomes rose to 225% of the poverty level "provided that the family requires child care in order to work at paid employment". H5409 and H5473 would allow various education and/or training programs to be counted towards subsidized child-care qualifications. (H Finance; Wed, Apr 10)

28. H5554: Appropriates $3,250,000 "out of a dedicated funding stream of money in the treasury appropriated for the fiscal year 2013-2014" for homeless rental assisstance and winter shelter operations programs (even though the FY2014 budget is yet to be approved). (H Finance; Wed, Apr 10)

27. S0459: Mandates that "a health care provider providing treatment to a patient in a hospital" inform "appropriate law enforcement personnel" if "such disclosure appears necessary to alert law enforcement to the commission and nature of a crime, the location of such crime or the victim(s) of such crime; or the identity, description, location of the perpetrator of such crime". (S Judiciary; Thu, Apr 11)

26. S0756: Reduces the health-insurance utilization review period of time from 72 hours to 24 hours in the case of urgeny/emergency services, and from 15 days to 48 hours in the case of non-urgent/non-emergency services. (S Health and Human Services; Thu, Apr 11)

25C. S0552: "There shall be established within the department of attorney general a public corruption and white collar crime unit". Introduced at the request of the Attorney General. (S Judiciary; Thu, Apr 11)

25B. S0556: Creates a new section of criminal law that defines crimes against the public trust. Introduced at the request of the Attorney General. (S Judiciary; Thu, Apr 11)

25A. H5465: Repeals the section of the law creating a workers' compensation investigations unit within the state police. (H Finance; Thu, Apr 11) Does one of the items in set 25 seem out of place with the others?

24. S0501: Joins Rhode Island to something called the "International emergency management assistance compact". Two interestion sections of this compact are Article IV, which reads "Any party jurisdiction requested to render mutual aid or conduct exercises and training for mutual aid shall undertake to respond as soon as possible, except that it is understood that the jurisdiction rendering aid may withhold or recall resources to the extent necessary to provide reasonable protection for that jurisdiction" and Article III section (a)(7) of which requires member jurisdictions to "provide, to the extent authorized by law, for temporary suspension of any statutes or ordinances, over which the province or state has jurisdiction, that impede the implementation of the responsibilities described in this subsection". (S Special Legislation and Veterans Affairs; Wed, Apr 10)

23. H5410: The official description says this bill "eliminates the two-tiered time limit", i.e. creates a single time-limit, for direct welfare cash-assistance. Among other changes, a time limit of 24 months for certain programs is replaced with a time limit of 48 months. (H Finance; Wed, Apr 10)

22. H5689: Assesses a 15% penalty on unemployment payments received because of fraud. Submitted at the request of the Governor (H Judiciary; Wed, Apr 10)

21. S0026: Bryant University gets until July 1, 2014 to agree to a payment-in-lieu of taxes deal with Smithfield, or else it has to begin paying full property taxes on its campus. (S Finance; Tue, Apr 9)

20. H5413: Reduces the gasoline tax from 32 cents per gallon to 27 cents per gallon. (H Finance; Thu, Apr 11)



Coming up in Committee: Forty-Five Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, April 9 - April 11, Part 1

Carroll Andrew Morse

Local Impact: Burrilliville 2, Glocester, Pawtucket 2, Portsmouth 2, Providence/Pawtucket.

Inobvious Priorities: S0648 >> Creates a new board to oversee licensing of massage therapists; H5445 >> Licensing of music therapists; H5853 >> Regulations on the treatment of circus elephants; S0676 >> Procedures for resolving "ownership of unclaimed property on loan to a museum" (primary sponsor is the Senate President); S0055 >> Adds the Senate Majority Leader to the Joint Committee on Legislative Services.


45. S0467: Requires parents/guardians of driver's license applicants under 18 years of age to take a course on "on the content of the driver education curriculum and the requirements for the graduated licensing for persons under the age of eighteen" developed by CCRI. (S Judiciary; Tue, Apr 9)

44. S0555: Tightening of regulations on precious metal dealers, including a requirement that a licensed dealer have an address in an area zoned for business, and that a $50 fee per branch be paid on an annual basis. (S Judiciary; Thu, Apr 11)

43. S0368/S0572: Rules for distinguishing independent contractors from regular employees. (S Labor; Wed, Apr 10)

42. S0293: All bidders on state, municipal or quasi-governmental contracts worth $1M or more "shall have an indentured Class A apprenticeship program" with "no less than fifteen percent of the labor hours worked on the project...performed by apprentices in these programs". (S Labor; Wed, Apr 10)

41. H5768: Retirement board disability decisions concerning police or fire injuries sustained on the job have to be appealed within 20 days of the decision. (H Judiciary; Tue, Apr 9)

40. S0599: Prohibits banks from charging overdraft fees for certain kinds of small transactions. (S Commerce; Thu, Apr 11) Listed because of it's relation to the payday lending issue.

39. H5901: Completes the process of moving the East Greenwich fire district into the Town of East Greenwich. (H Municipal Government; Wed, Apr 10)

38. H5889: "Establish[es], within the state temporary disability insurance program, a temporary caregiver insurance program to provide up to eight (8) weeks of wage replacement benefits to workers who take time off work to care for a seriously ill child, spouse, parent, domestic partner, or to bond with a new child". (H Finance; Thu, Apr 11)

37. S0391/H5479: Directs the state's executive office of health and human services to apply for a Federal waiver, to able to provide publicly financed contraceptives to "individuals (who lack health insurance coverage of family planning services and supplies or have high-deductible coverage and) whose income is no greater than two-hundred fifty percent (250%) of the federal poverty level". (S Finance; Tue, Apr 9 & H Finance; Wed, Apr 10)

36. H5130: Adds Federal military installations to the list of properties eligible for payments-in-lieu of taxes (PILOT) paid to their hosting communities. Note that PILOT amounts are computed as a percentage of taxable value, so this would impose an additional cost on state taxpayers, not simply redistribute existing payments. (H Finance; Tue, Apr 9)

35. H5022: Gives the governor the power to appoint judicial system magistrates, from lists of candidates created by the judicial nominating commission (Currently, magistrates are appointed by various top-level judges). (H Judiciary; Tue, Apr 9)

34. H5759: Allows multi-stage lotteries for charter school admissions, and requires "geographic attendance zone plans" for charter schools that plan to operate as neighborhood schools. (H Health, Education and Welfare; Wed, Apr 10)

33. S0674: Establishes regulations for privatizing municipal services. (S Finance; Thu, Apr 11)

32. H5167: Requires cities and towns to provide transportation to students attending charter or vocational school students outside of their city or town, if the transportation is necessary for them to be able to enroll. (H Health, Education and Welfare; Wed, Apr 10)

31. H5428: Allows the director of the department of labor and training to pursue employment-law complaints on behalf of employees/applicants who become unavailable to pursue them on their own. (H Judiciary; Wed, Apr 10)

30. S0128: Creates tax-credits for fuel vendors for installing facilities that dispense compressed natural gas, liquefied natural gas, liquefied petroleum gas, hydrogen, any liquid at least eighty-five percent of the volume of which consists of ethanol or electricity. (S Finance; Wed, Apr 10)


April 5, 2013


Notebook Entry: "NAIC model legislation"

Carroll Andrew Morse

NAIC model legislation -- There was much consternation last year, locally and nationally, over the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) drafting "model legislation" that might be submitted in Rhode Island. Model legislation was heard at the statehouse this very week -- but not from ALEC. Three bills heard on Tuesday by the House Corporations Committee (H5596, H5601, H5608) are officially described as model acts of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC). Two of the three bills are sponsored by Representative Brian Patrick Kennedy, who is a member and past president of the National Council of Insurance Legislators (NCOIL), another organization that takes credit for having written "model acts" that have been adopted in Rhode Island. Indeed, much of Rhode Island's insurance law seems to get written outside of the confines of the Rhode Island General Assembly, by working committees of NAIC and NCOIL.

State legislators shouldn't have to work in a vacuum and re-invent every word written into law from scratch. But if first drafts of laws written by NAIC and NCOIL aren't a problem in this or previous sessions, then why was there an issue with ALEC last session?


April 4, 2013


The Ethics Bill

Patrick Laverty

In today's Providence Journal, Common Cause's John Marion wrote a letter to the editor about the lack of leadership and democracy shown at the Statehouse by Speaker Gordon Fox. After State Rep. J. Patrick O'Neill made a motion to pass House Bill H 5498, got it seconded, and then got it passed, the Speaker and his Chairwoman Edith Ajello nullified the vote. The explanation is that rules were not followed and as Chairwoman Ajello noted in her comments while she was nullifying the vote, the House has rules and the rules need to be followed. I'm not sure how that jibes with the last couple nights at the Statehouse when the body votes to suspend the rules, but I guess that's a fight for a different day.

As for the bill being debated itself, we were told that the bill needs to be studied further. Speaker Fox and others have said they need more time to consider the bill and its merits.

That may strike some as interesting as the exact same bill passed the House just three years prior. If that's not enough, the primary sponsor on the 2010 version was Speaker Gordon Fox! Why does he need more time to consider a bill that he sponsored and passed just three years ago? Does the Speaker no longer agree with the bill that he himself crafted just 36 months prior? How much confidence would that instill in his lawmaking abilities?

I decided to check for myself just how "exact" the two bills are. The only differences I see are the date submitted, the bill number and the sponsors. The language in the bill? Exactly the same, word for word, zero differences whatsoever.

See for yourself:
2010 H 7357 Sponsors: Fox, Fierro, Hearn, Marcello, Walsh
2013 H 5498 Sponsors: Marcello, Costantino, Valencia, Hearn, Edwards

I still haven't heard any explanation for this yet. Why can't this bill get out of committee? Is there any bill more important than the ethics of our government? If we can't trust our legislature to act in an ethical way and be held accountable, our government becomes the professional wrestling world of sports. What is going on here? Why is the Speaker effectively shutting down his own bill that he wrote himself? Is it any wonder that people don't trust the government?


April 1, 2013


Coming up in Committee: Forty Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, April 2 - April 4, Part 4

Carroll Andrew Morse

UPDATED:

Somehow, I missed the entire Senate Judiciary hearing for Tuesday, April 2, which includes:

  • S0039/S0044: The bills to eliminate the master lever (which would have been rated #1).
  • S0422: State-issued drivers' licenses for illegal immigrants (which would have been either #2 or #3).
  • S0769/S0553: Two bills that create in-person early voting in Rhode Island elections, beginning several weeks before the "traditional" election day, and S0447 which eliminates the requirement that mail-in ballot applicants provide an explanation "setting forth the facts relating to the circumstances necessitating the application" (low to mid-teens).
  • S0450: Senate companion to this week's #16.
  • S0549: Prohibiting anyone who has contracted with the state for $5,000 or more from making a political campaign contribution to an officeholder responsible for that contract (high-teens or low 20s)


10. S0681: Changes the law regarding the judicial review of the administrative approvals required as part of the change of ownership or control of a hospital. The law makes a point of placing appeals of Attorney-General decisions on a slightly different track than appeals of Department of Health decisions, and appears to make the criteria that the Superior Court is to use in making a decision on an appeal much more fuzzy. Submitted at a joint request of the Governor and the Lieutenant Governor (which is a rare occurrence). (S Health & Human Services; Tue, Apr 2)

9. S0234: Constitutional amendment to create 4-year terms with a limit of 3 consecutive terms for Rhode Island Senators and Representatives. (S Special Legislation and Veterans Affairs; Wed, Apr 3)

8. H5645: Limits unemployment benefits associated with a seasonal job to the season(s) when that job would be active. (H Finance; Wed, Apr 3)

7. S0618: "A healthcare entity or health plan shall not deny payment for a claim for medically necessary inpatient services resulting from an emergency admission provided by a hospital solely on the basis that the hospital did not timely notify such healthcare entity or health plan that the services had been provided". (S Health & Human Services; Thu, Apr 4)

6. H5791: Applies the annual property tax-cap currently applied to municipalities to fire districts and, in the event that a fire-district is liquidated, requires the containing municipality to automatically assume fire-protection responsibility including management and costs. (H Municipal Government; Thu, Apr 4)

5B. H5030 reduces the corporate minimum tax to $250 for the first three year's of a corporation's existence, but has no impact on corporate tax liability, since they will still owe a $500 franchise tax. H5115 reduces the corporate minimum tax to $50, but has no impact on a corporation's tax liability since they will still owe the $500 franchise tax. (H Finance; Thu, Apr 4) Details on corporate minimum income versus franchise tax are available here.

5A. H5200: Repeals the franchise tax in its entirety, leaving the corporate minimum tax in place; one effect of this would be to eliminate the minimum annual tax on S-corps. (H Finance; Thu, Apr 4)

4. H5272: Ties the amount of the car-tax reimbursed to a municipality to the percentage of statewide vehicle value located in that municipality (rather than to tax rates that have been frozen arbitrarily by state law). (H Finance; Wed, Apr 3)

3. H5320: Minimum staffing requirement for the number of social workers assigned to a public school. (H Health, Education & Welfare; Wed, Apr 3)

2. S0157: Requires health insurers to "disclose the insurance reimbursement rate to hospitals in this state, including, but not limited to, reimbursement for matters such as medical services and equipment. (S Health & Human Services; Thu, Apr 4)

1. S0260: Repeal of the sections of banking law that allow pay-day lending. (S Corporations; Tue, Apr 2)



Coming up in Committee: Forty Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, April 2 - April 4, Part 3

Carroll Andrew Morse

20. H5514: Grants "deputy sheriffs, capitol police officers, environmental police officers, juvenile program workers, shift coordinators, airport crash/rescue firefighters, airport police, and campus police officers employed by the state of Rhode Island or any Rhode Island quasi-public agency" retirement benefits equal to those of state police officers. (H Finance; Wed, Apr 3) Isn't this the kind of sudden change to a pension program that can create future financial difficulties?

19. S0736: Allow a family qualified to receive a child-care subsidy because their income is below 180% of the Federal poverty level to continue to receive the subsidy if their income rises to 225% of the poverty level. (S Health & Human Services; Tue, Apr 2)

18. H5593: Allows local chief fire officials or chief building officials to grant waivers from the state building code. (H Corporations; Wed, Apr 3)

17. H5201: Reduces the fee "for plan review, by the state fire marshal's office, under the provisions of the Fire Safety Code", which can exceed $3000 under the current statutory formula, depending on construction costs involved, to a maximum of $150. (H Finance; Tue, Apr 2)

16. H5504: Eliminates the requirement that mail-in ballots requested but not used be returned, along with a statement by the voter that he or she has chosen not to use the mail ballot, by the day of the election. (H Judiciary; Tue, Apr 2) Submitted by William San Bento on behalf of the Board of Elections. Let's make it easier to get those mail-in ballots early and often!

15. H5719: Requires buyers at mortgage sales to "make appropriate arrangements to keep the foreclosed property from becoming vacant, including, without limitation, selling or leasing the property". (H Corporations; Wed, Apr 3)

14. H5194: Exempts capital gains resulting from the sales of an "ownership interest in an entity incorporated and having its headquarters located in the state of Rhode Island" that has been held for 3 years (and that meets a few other conditions) from RI income taxes. (H Finance; Thu, Apr 4)

13. H5176: Allows fire districts to adopt four-part property classification systems for assessing taxes and to adopt supplemental tax-increases, and mandates that the current year budget is automatically renewed (with an escalator for bonded indebtedness) if the referendum on the budget proposal for next year fails. (H Finance; Wed, Apr 3)

12. H5285: "The Comprehensive Racial Profiling Prevention Act of 2013", including such provisions as requiring police officers to document the grounds of their "reasonable suspicion" or "probable cause" searches, to contact a dispatcher or supervising officer, where practicable, before such searches, and requiring traffic stops to be recorded when a police vehicle is equipped to do so. (H Judiciary; Wed, Apr 3)

11B. H5158: Creates an automatic (and presumably non-refundable) $33,200 tax-credit against any required estate tax. The official explanation says this value was picked to create an exemption for the first $1M of an estate. (H Finance; Tue, Apr 2)

11A. H5470: Keeps the current estate tax structure, raising the floor to $1,5M, which means an estate worth $1,500,000 is assessed no tax, while an estate worth $1,500,001 is assessed a tax on the full amount. This bill also adds an explicit statement that the estate tax is "a tax upon the right to transfer", which doesn't appear in the existing law. (H Finance; Tue, Apr 2)



Coming up in Committee: Forty Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, April 2 - April 4, Part 2

Carroll Andrew Morse

30. S0733: Places the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation in charge of funding "replacement projects" that make use of tax-credits that had been awarded to projects that were abandoned. Submitted at the request of the Governor. (S Finance; Tue, Apr 2)

29. Two agendas concerning multiple bills on insurance regulation will be heard by the House Corporations Committee on Tuesday April 2 and Wednesday April 3.

28. H5326: Defines five ways to commit the crime of residential mortgage fraud. (H Judiciary; Wed, Apr 3)

27. H5740: "All corporations doing business in the state of Rhode Island shall add back into their taxable income any amount deducted under the federal "domestic production deduction" also known as section 199 of the federal Internal Revenue Code". (H Finance; Wed, Apr 3)

26. H5785: Increased penalties for crimes involving "criminal street gangs". (H Judiciary; Wed, Apr 3)

25. S0695: Creates an "early offer" claims process as an alternative to the usual lawsuit process for medical injuries. (S Health & Human Services; Thu, Apr 4)

24. S0401: Establishes a program within the Department of Labor and Training for providing funds to small businesses to subsidize six months of costs of a new hire. (S Labor; Wed, Apr 3)

23. H5412 creates a tax-incentive for "for newly established businesses in the state of Rhode Island that hire and retain a minimum of two employees. H5302: reduces tax-liability based on the number of new hires made before the end of the 2015 tax-year. (H Finance; Thu, Apr 4)

22. H5545: Requires the state to pay the costs of a fiscal overseer/budget commission/receiver operating in a city or town. (H Finance; Wed, Apr 3)

21. S0776: Assesses a 15% penalty on unemployment payments received because of fraud. (S Labor; Wed, Apr 3)



Coming up in Committee: Forty (Count Them, Forty) Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, April 2 - April 4, Part 1

Carroll Andrew Morse

Local Impact: Burrillville 2, Central Falls, Coventry 2, Glocester, North Kingstown, Pawtucket, Warwick, West Warwick 2.

Inobvious Priorities: H5529 >> Ice cream vendors must purchase their ice cream from a licensed ice cream wholesaler. H5544 >> Removes Portuguese people from the list of people covered by the Minority Business Enterprise section of the law.


40C. S0713: A non-binding resolution, where the Senate suggests that different department heads coordinate their economic and workforce development efforts, and that a "cabinet" of such department heads (i) accept grant funds and in-kind contributions from governmental and private entities; (ii) hold hearings; (iii) Invite academic experts and other witnesses to submit testimony; and (iv) contract with experts and consultants as necessary to inform deliberations and recommendations. (S Commerce; Thu, Apr 4)

40B. S0712: Charges the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation and Division of planning with developing a "long-term economic development vision and policy for the state of Rhode Island and a strategic plan for implementing the policy" by October 31, 2013. (S Commerce; Thu, Apr 4) [Your own joke about the deadline for the report being on the same day that trick-or-treating occurs goes here].

40A. S0718: Changes the name of the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation to the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation and lays out a set of "roles and responsibilities" for board members. (S Commerce; Thu, Apr 4)

39. S0735: Mandates that 20% of an (already existing) 0.3 mills per kilowatt-hour surcharge on electric rates "be allocated to the office of energy resources in administering this program for the purposes of developing, promoting and financing renewable energy programs". (S Finance; Tue, Apr 2)

38. S0755: Allows "developmental disability agencies" to operate their own "self-insurance" plans for "employees, retirees and other beneficiaries". (S Health & Human Services; Thu, Apr 4) From the text, it's not immediately clear whether this bill is closing a loophole or defining an exception, but it does raise an interesting question of why a specific type of employer needs its own health insurance section of the law.

37. H5384: Adds "juvenile program workers and shift coordinators of the Rhode Island department of children, youth, and families" to the definition peace office in Rhode Island. (H Judiciary; Tue, Apr 2)

36. H5561: Mandates that "a health care provider providing treatment to a patient in a hospital" inform "appropriate law enforcement personnel" if "such disclosure appears necessary to alert law enforcement to the commission and nature of a crime, the location of such crime or the victim(s) of such crime; or the identity, description, location of the perpetrator of such crime". (H Judiciary; Wed, Apr 3)

35. H5080: Some changes to the Bristol County Water Authority, the most interesting of which are ones like "All actions taken by the board of directors must be in compliance with the Rhode Island General Laws 'Access to Public Records Act'...and the 'Open Meetings Act'", which basically make clear that the BCWA cannot claim that it has some nebulous not-quite-government status that allows it to evade requirements for conducting business in the open. (H Municipal Government; Thu, Apr 4)

34. S0739: Completes the process of moving the East Greenwich fire district into the Town of East Greenwich. (S Finance; Wed, Apr 3)

33. H5117 eliminates pet-care services from the list of exceptions of services to which the sales tax does not apply (i.e. repeals the sales tax on pet-care services). H5218 eliminates taxicab and limousine services from the list of exceptions of services to which the sales tax does not apply (i.e. repeals the sales tax on Taxicab and limousine services). (H Finance; Wed, Apr 3)

32. S0380: A number of changes intended to improve the monitoring of fire-department compliance with NFPA 1500: Standard on Fire Department Occupational Safety and Health Program. (Senate Housing & Municipal Government; Tue, Apr 2)

31. H5780: Eight pages of regulation on the use of "unmanned aerial vehicles". (H Judiciary; Tue, Apr 2)


March 25, 2013


Coming up in Committee: Twenty-Eight Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, March 26 - March 28, Part 2

Carroll Andrew Morse

14. Various proposed changes to campaign finance and expenditure laws; H5074 limits all campaign contributions to the General Assembly between January 1 and the passage of the state budget, H5187 limits campaign contributions from lobbyists between January 1 and July 1, H5385 requires disclosure of four year's worth of political contributions by anyone hired by the state, H5502 prohibits lobbyists from contributing more than $200 to any candidate who sits on a committee that the lobbyist appeared before and H5490 prohibits anyone who has contracted with the state for $5,000 or more for contributing to an officeholder responsible for that contract. (H Judiciary; Tue, Mar 26)

13. H5825: Limits the use of automated license plate readers to outstanding parking or traffic violations, identifying a vehicle registered to an individual for whom there is an outstanding warrant, identifying a vehicle associated with a missing person; or for the purpose of electronic toll collection, and creates other regulations regarding how data collected is to be maintained and used. (H Judiciary; Wed, Mar 27)

12. S0441: Adds, to the section of the law allowing school committees to "establish joint purchasing agreements between and among themselves or with the Rhode Island Association of School Committees", a section allowing school committees to "to enter into agreements, trusts, contracts, consortia, and other arrangements among themselves and/or with any college or university, and/or with the Rhode Island association of school committees", expanding both the scope of who can be contracted with, and what can be contracted for. (S Education; Wed, Mar 27)

11. H5380: Makes "statements, writings, gestures, or affirmations made by a health care provider or an employee of a health care provider that express apology, sympathy, compassion, condolence, or benevolence relating to the pain, suffering, or death of a patient...with the exception of the admission of liability or fault" inadmissable in lawsuits against healthcare providers. (H Judiciary; Wed, Mar 27)

10. S0402: Establishes a program where employers can offer a prospective new hire 6 weeks of 24 hour-per-week training before putting them on the payroll, and the prospective employee won't lose unemployment benefits during this training period. (S Labor; Wed, Mar 27)

9. H5485: Mainly, a bill to raise campaign contribution limits in Rhode Island. It also caps the fine for not filing campaign finance reports at $2,000, and prohibits campaign expenditures by anyone who hits that limit, or who fails to file four or more reports. (H Judiciary; Tue, Mar 26)

8. S0754: Prohibits health insurance pharmacy benefits from having a "dollar limit" (S Health & Human Services; Tue, Mar 26)

7. S0201: Prohibits medical health insurance premium rates for individual and and group policies from varying based on gender, excluding disability income, long-term care, Medicare supplements, specific disease indemnities and several other categories of insurance. (S Health & Human Services; Tue, Mar 26)

6B. H5681: Requires a warrant in order to obtain the location information being transmitted by an electronic device. (H Judiciary; Wed, Mar 27)

6A. H5180: Requires a search warrant for the search of any "portable electronic device" in the possession of an individual under arrest. (H Judiciary; Wed, Mar 27) This is the bill that was passed by both chambers but vetoed by the Governor last year.

5. S0639: Mandates that the state Board of Education create a "dual enrollment policy that shall allow students to enroll in courses at postsecondary institutions to satisfy academic credit requirements in both high school and...postsecondary institutions" where "funding allocated for that student shall follow the student to the enrolled higher education institution". (S Education; Wed, Mar 27)

4. On Wednesday, March 27, the House Finance Committee will hold a hearing on the "Background, Implementation status and budget" of the Rhode Island Health Benefits Exchange. Their budget request for the health benefits exchange in the Governor's revised budget for this fiscal year (all funded by Federal dollars) is a 30% increase over what was originally requested.

3. H5516: "A patient who has been diagnosed with a life-threatening illness and is in need of a referral to a medical specialist shall have the right to specify the specialist to whom he or she shall be referred". (H Health, Education & Welfare; Wed, Mar 27)

2. H5802: "Not later than July 1, 2014, and thereafter, all heating oil sold in the state shall contain not less than five percent (5%) of a biobased product". (H Environment & Natural Resources; Tue, Mar 26)

1. H5342: 1) Repeal of the Caruolo act, and the addition of a governing requirement that city or town councils ratify school department contracts. (H Labor; Tue, Mar 26)



Coming up in Committee: Twenty-Eight Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, March 26 - March 28, Part 1

Carroll Andrew Morse

Inobvious Priorities: H5278 > Labeling of food products containing genetically modified organisms; H5280 > Standards for handling raw milk.


28. H5654: Calamari declared to be the state appetizer (H Health, Education & Welfare; Wed, Mar 27).

27. S0012: Father-daugther dance bill. (S Education; Wed, Mar 27)

26. On Tuesday, March 26, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hear several bills on the regulation of the mortgage and property rental industries. S0547 (along with House companion H5512) contains this intriguing phrase: "The failure to present the mortgage assignment for recording within the time limits stated herein shall render the mortgage void, but shall not nullify the underlying indebtedness".

25. H5519/H5513: Tightening of regulations on precious metal dealers, including a requirement that a licensed dealer have an address in an area zoned for business, and that a $50 fee per branch be paid on an annual basis. The latter bill has a particular emphasis on deterring precious metals dealers from buying public property like streetlights and manhole covers from people who walk in off the street. (H Corporations; Tue, Mar 26)

24. H5874: Prohibits recyclables from being deposited at the central landfill. (H Environment & Natural Resources; Tue, Mar 26)

23. H5331: An assortment of loosenings of criminal law, including the decriminalization of a first offense for shoplifting or driving without a license, and an overall change so that "a petty misdemeanor shall not give rise to any disability or legal disadvantage based on conviction of a criminal offense". (H Judiciary; Wed, Mar 27)

22. An agenda filled with changes to property insurance, long-term care insurance, life insurance and other kinds of insurance law. (S Commerce; Tue, Mar 26)

21. H5521: Prohibits the establishment of new check-cashing businesses in Providence within a two-mile radius of another check cashing business. (H Corporations; Tue, Mar 26)

20. H5571 extends eligibility for expungement from first-offenders to persons who have "not been previously convicted of or placed on probation for a felony for a period twenty (20) years or a misdemeanor for a period of ten (10) years" when they seek expungement. H5328 allows persons convicted of up to six misdemeanors to have them all expunged. (H Judiciary; Wed, Mar 27)

19. S0511: Directs Rhode Island's public college and universities to create a reverse-transfer policy "to use credits earned at a four (4) year institution for an associate’s degree at a two (2) year institution". (S Education; Wed, Mar 27)

18. S0456: Defines five ways to commit the crime of residential mortgage fraud. (S Judiciary; Tue, Mar 26)

17. H5388/H5577: Establishes conditions that must be met, which go beyond the IRS regulations currently in use, for someone to be considered a contractor and not an employee. (H Labor; Tue, Mar 26)

16. S0092: Prohibits health insurance policies from requiring that "any alternative brand name prescription drug" be used prior to a brand-name drug that's "prescribed by a licensed prescriber". (Generic drugs can still be given limited preference) (S Health & Human Services; Tue, Mar 26)

15. The annual raft of bills on automobile insurance and auto-body shops (H Corporations; Wed, Mar 27):

  • H5263: No totaling a vehicle if it can be repaired for less than 75% of its market value.
  • H5522: Claimant gets to pick the auto-body shop; insurance company must negotiate with them.
  • H5797: "The automobile body repair shop shall document any agreement with a consumer whereby repairs detailed in an appraisal, and paid for by an insurer have not been made".
  • H5798: Repeals the section of the law requiring auto insurers to conduct "auto body repair labor rate surveys".


March 20, 2013


General Assembly On Demand

Patrick Laverty

I try to be an equal-opportunity curmudgeon, but when the General Assembly does some good, it's only fair to point that out as well. Referred by a tip from Ian Donnis' twitter feed I found out that Capitol TV is now available online, both streaming and archived video on demand.

This is great for someone like me who doesn't have anything more than an antenna hooked up to my tv. I can't stand all the expensive packages that Cox requires. Thus with no cable tv, there's no Capitol TV for me. Until now.

http://www.rilin.state.ri.us/CapTV/default.aspx

That's the good news. I guess the bad news is even more people now have access to the events and shenanigans going on up there on Smith Hill. Even better is to watch on the night the budget is brought to the floor and those final waning days and ridiculously early mornings. I'll be enjoying those from my couch, with popcorn, sans cable tv.


March 19, 2013


Coming up in Committee: Twenty Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, March 19 - March 21

Carroll Andrew Morse

Local Impact: Johnston, Middletown 2

Inobvious Priorities: S0513 > Requires school districts to develop plans to promote purchases of locally grown fruits, vegetables and dairy products.


20. S0012: The father-daughter dance bill. (S Education; Wed, Mar 20)

19. H5579: Changes to zoning regulations intended to facilitate the development of "small wind energy systems". (H Municipal Government; Thu, Mar 21)

18. H5616: Requires the state's office of energy resources to "collect price, inventory and product delivery dates, including amounts and types of product sold, and other information which is necessary and material regarding petroleum products, natural gas and other fuels available for supply within the state from wholesalers and resellers of petroleum products". Submitted at the request of the Governor (H Environment and Natural Resources; Thu, Mar 21).

17. The Senate Environment and Agriculture Committee will hear several bills concerning the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation on Wednesday, March 20. Two that stand out are S0314 which prohibits recyclables from being deposited at the central landfill, and S0728 which repeals the prohibition on the RIRC from studying incineration.

16. S0119: Requires the children of recipients of public cash and medical assistance to maintain a 80% school attendance rate as a condition for receiving aid. (S Education; Wed, Mar 20)

15. H5856: Directs the state Board of Education to create a policy for awarding academic credit for military training, experience and coursework at public colleges and universities. (H Veterans` Affairs; Thu, Mar 21)

14. S0662: Dissolves the Worker's compensation investigations unit of the Rhode Island state police. (S Labor; Wed, Mar 20) Several other bills on worker's compensation will be considered at this hearing.

13. S0125: For students attending "the East Providence campus of Bradley Hospital", "the child’s sending district or district where the child resides" and not East Providence "shall be responsible for payment to Bradley Hospital directly". (S Finance; Wed, Mar 21)

12. H5400: Extends a moratorium on licensing of new nursing facilities that was supposed to expire on July 1, 2013 to July 1, 2016. (H Corporations; Tue, Mar 19)

11. H5507: Prohibits employers from "from inquiring whether [a job applicant] has ever been convicted of any crime". (H Labor; Wed, Mar 20)

10. On Thursday, March 21, the Senate Commerce Committee will hold its advice and consent hearings on the appointments of George Nee, Shannon E. Brawley, Nancy E. Carriuolo, Roland Fiore and Jason E. Kelly to the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation.

9. H5434: Establishes a fairly lengthy list of "defects or omissions" that a mortgage agreement may contain and still be considered valid (H Judiciary; Tue, Mar 19) Several other bills related to real estate transactions and mortgages will be considered at this hearing.

8. S0509: Strong presumption that school suspensions should be of the in-school variety, and a requirement that the State Education Commissioner to study whether school discipline practices disproportionately impact students "based on race or ethnicity". (H Labor; Wed, Mar 20)

7. H5536: Directs Rhode Island's public college and universities to intensify their remedial programs for incoming students, and to standardize credit and coursework that can be transferred between institutions. (H Education Welfare; Wed, Mar 20)

6. H5787: A one-sided limit (i.e. it applies to the city or town only) on "[L]egal fees pertaining to a labor contract entered into by a city or town", which "shall not exceed two tenths of one percent (0.2%) of the value of the contract". (H Labor; Wed, Mar 20)

5. H5699: Terms of municipal labor contracts would not expire until a new contract was agreed upon. (H Labor; Wed, Mar 20)

4B. S0540: Among other things, charges Rhode Island's "Health care planning and accountability advisory council" with "calculating the annual Rhode Island total health expenditures to establish both a benchmark and growth targets", and specifies standards for "patient-centered medical homes". (S Health & Human Services; Thu, Mar 21)

4A. S0141: Instructs the state health insurance commissioner to monitor a transition away from the use of fee-for-service medicine in Rhode Island. (S Health & Human Services; Thu, Mar 21)

3. H5392: Exempts building which pass a fire-code inspection from future inspections for the next 10 years. (H Municipal Government; Thu, Mar 21)

2. H5776: Repeal of Rhode Island's voter ID law. (H Judiciary; Tue, Mar 19)

1. Rhode Island's same-sex marriage bills; S0708 which places same-sex marriage on the ballot as a Constitutional referendum, along with one of the most expansive regimes for the protection of freedom of religion in marriage in the US, and S0038 which authorizes same-sex marriage directly by statute, along with one of the narrowest regimes -- perhaps so narrow as to be non-existent -- for the protection of freedom of religion in marriage in the US. (S Judiciary; Thu, Mar 21)


March 18, 2013


A Proposed Rules Change, to Restore the Democratic Process in the Rhode Island House

Carroll Andrew Morse

In a separation of powers system, the legislature is made to be the most powerful branch of government precisely because no one person is supposed to be able to easily dominate its proceedings. Rules of a legislative body are supposed to support this principle. Indeed, early on in the parliamentary manual used by the Rhode Island House of Representatives, the spirit of egalitarianism supposed to guide any legislature is expressed with wonderful clarity...

Sec 52. Equality of Members -- In public bodies, the equality of members is presumed. It would seem that for any democratic group to operate, acceptance of the principle of equality of members is essential. Unless that equality is recognized, there is no basis upon which it can be determined who or what number has authority to speak for the group and to make its decisions. Equality seems essential also to secure the accpetance in good faith of the decisions of the group.
Alas, a majority of Rhode Island legislators have somehow been talked into (or talked themselves into) believing that the equality of members is dangerous, and that they must give up the power they should have to participate in setting agendas for substantive committee actions, or else be overwhelmed by the volume of business they have to deal with.

Now, some legislators may sincerely believe that giving one person absolute control over the voting agenda, no exceptions allowed, is the best system of governance there is. But because some legislators believe in the efficiency of one-man rule does not mean that such a system can justly be imposed upon legislators who don't. For an assembly to be considered democratic, pathways that rank-and-file members can use to bring business before the body must be available -- even when the leader of the body is one vote (of many) opposed to consideration of a particular item. (If you want to be the one person who can block a bill, then there's a different office to run for, one that is directly accountable to the voters, and one where your decision can be overridden).

A pathway that allows any legislators to participate in agenda setting does exist in letter of the rules of the Rhode Island House of Representatives: the rule on reconsideration, used by Rep. Patrick O'Neill to call for a vote on the Ethics bill (which the House Labor Committee initially followed through on, before being told not to). In both the spirit of compromise, as well to clarify its use, I propose that this rule be slightly modified to allow a motion to reconsider to be used to bring a bill before a committee at a subsequent meeting...

(12)(f) Committee Chairs shall bring reports of committee actions to the floor no later than two (2) weeks following the committee votes thereon, provided that this shall not apply to the Committee on Finance, nor shall it apply to bills being held for further study under subdivision (e)(v). A committee member may move at any time while a committee is in session for reconsideration of any vote taken on the motions specified in rule 12(e)(i) through 12(e)(v) so long as the bill or resolution which was the subject of the vote remains in the possession of the committee and that the motion is made by a member voting in the majority. When a committee votes in favor of reconsidering a bill under this rule, the Chair shall place the bill on the agenda of the earliest meeting of the committee where the requirements of rule 12(c) can be satisfied. A motion to reconsider in committee shall not be debated.
This will alleviate the concerns about posting of bills and adequate notice before votes that have been expressed. Note also that this retains the principle that there's no debate on the motion to reconsider, so motions for reconsideration wouldn't bog down the meetings for any appreciable period of time (which is exactly why such motions are undebateable). Finally and most importantly, this proposed modification would allow quarter to Representatives who worry that they'll miss out on important backroom dealing and other perks of hanging out at the Statehouse if they are required to sit through the same meetings that regular citizens and conscientious legislators diligently attend, while restoring the democratic process to committee proceedings that the current House leadership is seeking to actively suppress.


March 14, 2013


What the Voiding of the Ethics Vote Can Teach Us (or "A Journey into the Phantom Zone")

Carroll Andrew Morse

1. A great many Rhode Island legislators, along with their minions, supporters and enablers, are confused about the necessity of holding bills for further study. The specific process that is used at the RI General Assembly conflates two ideas that are not inextricably linked.

That it can be prudent to delay action on a particular question until after a first hearing is eminently reasonable. That delaying action can only be done by making the Speaker of the House the sole arbiter of how long a bill is delayed, or if it is ever heard from again, is beyond unreasonable into the realm of the thoroughly stupid.

2. According to the rules of the Rhode Island legislature, any bill that is submitted is guaranteed just one vote in committee. According to the practice of the Rhode Island legislature, that one vote is usually held before the bill has been deliberated. Frequently, that one vote occurs as part of an en masse vote to hold all of the bills on a committee's agenda for further study.

3. Where does a bill held for further study (usually without deliberation) actually go? The text of the motion as described in House rule 12(e)(v) seems to send it to the full House: "a motion to report the bill or resolution to the House with a recommendation that it be held for further study". The House legal staff, on the other hand, is arguing (both in person last evening, and in their remarks to WPRI-TV's Ted Nesi) that a bill held for further study stays in committee, because of the beginning of rule 12(f): "Committee Chairs shall bring reports of committee actions to the floor no later than two (2) weeks following the committee votes thereon, provided that this shall not apply to the Committee on Finance, nor shall it apply to bills being held for further study under subdivision (e)(v)".

Rule 12(f) goes on: "A committee member may move reconsideration of any vote taken so long as the bill or resolution which was the subject of the vote remains in the possession of the committee and that the motion is made by a member voting in the majority". However, the House legal staff argues that this rule does not apply to bills held for further study, because of the previous sentence of 12(f).

Got that? The leadership's logic is that, because of a sentence that says a bill is not to be reported to the full House, it can no longer be treated as if it is "in the possession of the committee", i.e. holding a bill for further study causes it to vanish into a mysterious Phantom Zone, not readily accessible to most of the members of the legislature, from either the committee or the floor.

4. Let's move next to the rule that specifies the process for moving a bill that's been held for further study back to committee. Oh, right, there is no rule for that. The House legal staff also told that directly to Ted Nesi: "[The Speaker of the House's Legal Counsel Susan Pegden] acknowledged that there is no way for the sponsor of a bill to get another vote on it once the bill has been held for further study".

Unsurprisingly, in the absence of a clear process, power has filled a vacuum in good governance and the Rhode Island General Assembly has fallen back to the crudest process there is. One man, the big man of the Smith Hill tribe, makes all the decisions. When support for the voiding of Tuesday's committee vote is offered on the grounds that "the rules matter", this is the rule being defended.

5. If you are believer in the idea that society needs a single leader to bring it discipline and that representative democracy is inherently unmanageable, you can skip the rest of this post. For the rest of you, the question is obvious: Why do rules and processes that send every bill to the Phantom Zone exist in the first place? More formally, what purpose is served by a mandatory process for holding all bills for further study, which results in the House Speaker alone to choose what bills will receive final consideration?

I challenge anyone (not in the group of people described in the first sentence of this item) to come up with a reason why the current process makes sense.

6. There is actually an easy way to fix this that 1) will allow legislators multiple committee sessions to deliberate and consider bills, and 2) should be acceptable to those with a deep emotional attachment to the idea that chaos will shroud the earth if bills cannot be held for further study, while 3) still allowing rank and file members the power they should have to make a real choice on all the issues referred to them.

Just specify in the rules that bills held for further study can be brought back before a committee for consideration either by whatever process is used now or by a majority vote of the committee members (in which case, the bill would be heard at the next meeting, after the posting requirement has passed). That's not going to create an unmanageable process -- so long as the Speaker and the Committee Chairs act in reasonable accordance with the views of their members, which is what they are supposed to be doing anyway.

In the end, if there is a cherished rule built into the workings of the Rhode Island legislature that every bill must be dispatched immediately to the Phantom Zone upon its arrival in committee, then to maintain an actual democratic process, there must also be a way for bringing bills back from the Phantom Zone that any member can initiate.



Are Bills Held for Further Study for the Committee's Benefit or for the Speaker's Benefit?

Carroll Andrew Morse

Paul Spetrini of GoLocalProv posted a story last night on the decision by the House Judiciary Chair to void the previous night's vote that would have sent an Ethics amendment to the full House that contains this item of note...

[Spokesman Larry Berman] added that Fox wants “more time” to review the bill.

“Arguments were made in favor of it, as well as those against it,” Berman said. “He looks forward to considering the merits of the legislation in the coming weeks.”

Note that the references are to the Speaker -- that's one person, not an entire committee -- needing more time to review the bill.

It certainly seems like permission from leadership is a requirement for this bill to be acted on in committee.

UPDATE:

In the comments section, John Marion of Common Cause Rhode Island notes that Speaker Fox wants more time to review a Constitutional amendment that is, word-for-word, the same as he voted for in 2010.

The facade that this has anything to do with substance, and is not a naked power play, is becoming nearly impossible to maintain.



We Have to Insist on Rules

Justin Katz

Rules of procedure are a sore spot for me.

For several years, now, I've been watching at the state and local levels (especially the local level) as laws and procedural rules have been distorted beyond recognition. On Monday, in fact, I presented a case in a four hour hearing before the Tiverton Town Council, making up the rules as it went, concerning a process for Charter Complaints. The Town Clerk had simply invented a new process that hadn't been done in the past and that wasn't described in the Town Charter.

Typically the lawyers' trick goes something like this: The law doesn't say what the people in office want it to say. It is therefore "ambiguous," and they can do whatever they, themselves, feel is reasonable.

A more extreme example is when the lawyers simply pretend the rules are clear and in their favor. That's the case in the argument of the legislative lawyer whom Ted Nesi cites in his review of how House Speaker Gordon Fox "nullified" a committee vote that he didn't like (ironically concerning the authority of the Ethics Commission over the legislature).

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...



Interview with House Judiciary Chair Edith Ajello, After Yesterday's Voiding of the Day Before's Ethics Vote

Carroll Andrew Morse

Yesterday's meeting of the Rhode Island House of Representatives Judiciary Committee began with the surprise move of Representative Christopher Blazejewski asking Chair Edith Ajello to void the reconsideration of a further study vote from yesterday that had resulted in a proposed Constitutional amendment on the Ethics commission being sent to the House floor. The Chair ruled that the passage of the Ethics amendment had indeed been out of order and therefore didn't count and, in response to an objection from Representative Doreen Costa, that the matter could not be discussed further at this meeting.

After the meeting concluded, I was able to ask Chairwoman Ajello what this suggested to people, about the role and process of committees at the RI legislature...

Anchor Rising: I've been writing about this subject for a few years, and a question that a lot of people in Rhode Island have is: does a Rhode Island committee in the House of Representatives have the power to pass a bill to the floor without the express permission from the leadership?
 
Audio: 13 sec
House Judiciary Chairwoman Edith Ajello: Yes.
 
 
AR: At the start of the day, when I woke up this morning, Representative Patrick O'Neill was a member of this committee, and it's my understanding that he no longer is. Is that correct?
 
Audio: 27 sec
EA: I heard that on the floor today.
 
 
AR: And as the Chairwoman of the committee, were you consulted on the decision?
 
 
EA: I was not....I did not ask that he be removed from the committee.
 
 
AR: The practice of voting for multiple bills, to hold them for further study. Do you think that's a good practice, and can the members of the committee be required to vote for all of the bills at the same time?
 
Audio: 1m 0 sec
EA: Nobody can be required to vote in any way. I think that holding bills for further study is a good way to keep them alive and make it very clear that bills are works in progress. We just heard a bunch of bills that all need amendments. 
The last section of the excerpt above finishes begins with a final question from me: "But might it be a better practice to hold them within the committee, rather than using what is a very unique thing to Rhode Island, to send them to the floor, to hold them for further study, rather than tabling them within the committee". In response, you can hear Richard Raspallo and Susan Pegden from the House Legal stuff jumping in to dispute the premise of my question. We'll take that issue in an upcoming post...


March 13, 2013


Rhode Island House of Representative Judiciary Committee Meeting, March 13, 2013

Carroll Andrew Morse

[7:30] One more: For the record, Reps still present: Ajello, Costa, Marcello, Almeida, Walsh, Martin.

[7:23] Testimony on the Master lever has concluded. On to a bill requiring board of canvassers to report on provisional ballots. Signing off, for the moment...

[7:20] Margaret Kane: Eliminating the Master lever requires voters to read the ballot and know who they're voting for. The current Master lever is an equal opportunity disaster for all parties, and the "programming" part of it cannot be fixed without throwing out the whole system.

[7:19] Mark Binder: Candidates should want people to vote for them as individuals.

[7:15] Sean Gately: It's a disservice that this bill has been held for further study. Chairwoman Ajello tells him that he is off-topic. Gately adds that getting rid of the master lever will do more for Rhode Island's image than calamari or gay marriage.

[7:11] Poll-worker from North Kingstown notes that a common case for people asking for a new ballot is mistakes concerning the master lever.

[7:08] Steven Tetsner: The flaws in the system we have is an insult to anyone who puts the energy into running a serious campaign.

[7:06] Matt Guerra: Master lever made sense for a mechanical voting machine, where you can see the results, and reverse the individual choices you want to.

[7:02] Bev Clay from OCG: She's seen ballots from West Greenwich that look the same as the Burrillville ballots. People don't realize what the master lever does. Mentions the issue of ML votes wiping out all votes in multi-candidate local races.

[7:00] Mike Puyana from the Rhode Island Tea Party -- Master lever discourages the informed and engaged voting that is central to democracy.

[6:58] Chairwoman Ajello has returned.

[6:57] Abel Collins: Representing the Sierra club and himself, he supports repealing the master lever. It doesn't add anything, but it does create confusion.

[6:48] Meg Rogers: The Master Lever should be allowed to pass into history like corsets and manual typewriters.

[6:46] Representatives for the League of Women Voters and Common Cause of Rhode Island support elimination of the Master Lever. Common Cause Rep reiterates that his group has been involved with gathering the empirical data showing confusion, and there's no good reason to keep it.

[6:45] Note: Now that Reps Ajello and Blazejewski have told the other Reps they can't vote without leadership permission, they've already left the room. And why should they stay? They're on the inside, and committee meeting aren't the place where decisions are allowed to be made.

[6:42] Rep. Craven is asking Healey if the evidence of confusion that's been demonstrated might make the master lever something could be challenged in court.

[6:39] Bob Healey says if there's a Master Lever on the ballot, there's a chance for confusion. If there's no Master Lever, there's no chance for confusion, and Ken Block's work has shown it would be wise to get rid of it.

[6:34] Lisa Blais from OSTPA states that repealing the Master Lever will make every vote count, and it should be passed out of committee and to the floor as quickly as possible.

[6:32] Of course, the vote is not binding. Which makes it no different from any other vote taken, before the committee seeks leadership permission first.

[6:31] Edith Ajello holds a show of hands of people who are opposed to their legislation. From what I saw, no one raised their hands.

[6:24] Comparison between partisan and non-partisan races in Burrillville was 131% greater on ML ballots than on non-ML ballots.

[6:23] More states have gotten rid of the master lever than have early voting (which RI is seriously considering).

[6:22] People are using the Master Lever to indicate their political philosophy.

[6:21] On one ballot, a person connected the lines for all parties.

[6:18] Block is going through all of the weird permutations of what can happen with the Master Lever -- 61% of people who voted "Moderate party" in Burrillville created no Moderate votes, because voters individually chose other party candidates in all races...

[6:15] Ken Block: In seven years of testifying on the master lever, I don't think I've ever heard anyone say we need to keep it.

[6:11] Representative from the SoS says his office believes 1) that people think they're answering a question of what party do you belong to when they pull the master lever and 2) it leads to undervoting in non-partisan races.

[6:08] Spencer Dickinson is describing his version of a master lever bill, and tying it to his top-2 gubernatorial runoff bill, because they would both have impact on third party candidates.

[6:05] But, Marcello says his rationale has advanced -- he's convinced by some of the work that Ken Block has done that the master lever creates confusion.

[6:04] OK, Master lever is up. Rep. Marcello introduces the bill; he says he's concerned that some people's victories are questioned, because of the master lever.

[5:59] Still here, waiting for the Master Lever issue to come up. We're still on the issue of whether the law needs to be changed, to specify that people in line to vote but outside of the polling place should be allowed to vote.

[5:44] Ooops. Ajello says she described the wrong bill. Hard to believe that someone who's been doing meetings this way for so long can't stay on the script. After all, we learned tonight that there's nothing else in a House Judiciary meeting, but the script.

[5:42] Ajello introduces the bill to let people in line with the polls close at 8, rather than "inside of the polling place" cast their ballots.

[5:38] Phil Marcelo reports the San Bento bill that makes mail ballot recounts difficult has been withdrawn.

[5:22] Moving on to several mail ballot bills, as we continue with Committee theatre.

[5:10] And now, after a naked display of discipline over democracy, the committee is discussing "elevating democracy" with respect to the early voting bill.

[5:06] And after the fake AG bill is disposed of, the committee votes to hold all bills for further study, with only Rep. Costa voting no. Rhode Island Democratic reps seem to think it's their job to rubber stamp whatever that leadership approves. Terrible day for democracy in Rhode Island.

[5:05] Rep. Costa objects. Ajello rules her out of order, because we have a hearing to conduct.

[5:03] Representative Ajello declares last night's ethics vote void.

[5:01] Blazejewski tries to undo last night's ethics bill vote.

[5:00] Roll called. O'Neill's name not.

[4:57] Chairwoman Edith Ajello has arrived and is in her seat. Rep. Michael Marcello, sponsor of one of the master lever bills is here also.

[4:53] Enough people in the room, that they are directing people to an overflow area. Maybe they'll be able to watch the meeting with Rep. O'Neill.

[4:44] Katherine Gregg of the Providence Journal has just tweeted that Representative Patrick O'Neill has been stripped of his seat on the House Judiciary Committee.

[4:34] OK, back to liveblogging the meeting at hand. There's already a full House in 313. Ken Block, Donna Perry, Bob Healey, Abel Collins, Mark Zaccaria among others...

[4:31] But the rationale for undebatability only makes sense if the people who voted it out of committee will be guaranteed an opportunity to send it again to the floor.

[4:29] That is the spirit of why the motion to recommit is undebatable.

[4:25] ...and when a bill is sent to committee, it (might) make sense to let the committee do its work on its substance, and wait until it comes back, before spending any time seriously debating it.

[4:20] To keep the process efficient, you want the folks on the committee to do the fine detail work. Again, in our ideal deliberative body, the committee is a smaller group, with a smaller list of responsibilities, so it makes sense to let them do the bulk of the work in drafting a bill...

[4:19] Ideally, everyone gets to say their piece and a vote is taken, and a decision is made with input from everyone.

[4:16] Imagine real people, with real constraints on their time in energy, who have to make real decisions, but in the ideal deliberative body...

[4:14] The motion to recommit is undebateable (as the Rhode Island Senate reminded us, several years ago). There is actually a reasonable logic behind this...

[4:11] While we're waiting, let's try an experiment in stream-of-consciousness writing, pondering uses and abuses of the motion to recommit...

[4:09] The bell calling Senators and Representatives to the floor is ringing. On the House side, they only have one bill to consider today, so their floor session should be relatively quick.

[4:07] Here's the whole agenda for today, starting with the no pretending to be the Attorney General if you're not bill.

[4:00] Good afternoon, from the Rhode Island Statehouse, room 313. I will be liveblogging today's House Judiciary Committee, where the bill to eliminate the master lever, among others will be considered.


March 11, 2013


Coming up in Committee: Thirty-Two Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, March 12 - March 14, Part 3

Carroll Andrew Morse

10. H5760: Allows all Rhode Island school departments to accept "donations, gifts and grants of money, equipment, supplies, materials and services, conditional or otherwise, from any state, the federal government, or any governmental entity or agency; or from any person, firm, association, foundation or corporation". (H House, Education and Welfare; Wed, Mar 13) Right now, only Coventry and Woonsocket are allowed by the law to accept outside contributions. Rhode Island can be weird sometimes.

9. H5064 is a Constitutional amendment that increases representatives' terms to 4 years, with a term-limit of 3 consecutive terms for any one individual; H5105 is a Constitutional amendment increasing the terms of both Senators and representatives to 4 years, with a limit of 3 consecutive terms for any one individual. (H Judiciary; Tue, Mar 12)

8. H5495: Constitutional amendment requiring a top-2 runoff election if no candidate for Governor receives a majority in the general election. (H Judiciary; Tue, Mar 12)

7. H5525: Gives the Public Utilities Commission the authority to regulate "the display of objectionable content". (H Corporations; Wed, Mar 13)

6. Following Tim White's WPRI-TV story on double time and a half for correctional officers during snow emergencies, it is worth noting that the Department of Corrections budget will be heard by the House Finance Committee on Tuesday, March 12.

5. H5575: Joins Rhode Island to an interstate compact where the RI legislature would disregard the choice for President made by Rhode Island voters and allocate RI's electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote instead. (H Judiciary; Tue, Mar 12)

4. S0029/S0282: Mandates state use of "data verification and provider screening technology solutions" and "state-of-the-art predictive modeling and analytics technologies in a pre-payment position within the healthcare claim workflow" to reduce Medicaid, RIte Care and RIte Share fraud and waste. (S Health and Human Services; Thu, Mar 14)

3C. H5040: Allows mail ballots to be used in a general election, without any explanation being provided. (H Judiciary; Wed, Mar 13)

3B.H5683/H5565: Proposals to allow in-person early voting in elections for several weeks before the "traditional" election day (H Judiciary; Wed, Mar 13)

3A. H5672: Excludes mail ballots from an election recount unless evidence of irregularities is shown first, and prohibits review of in-person ballots from being reviewed for voter intent. (H Judiciary; Wed, Mar 13) Submitted at the request of the Board of Elections and prime sponsored by William San Bento, who "won" an election where four different ballot counts produced results of 543-540, 543-543, 545-543 and 544-543. San Bento's response to this appears to be to limit recounts.

2. H5492: Constitutional amendment applying the code of ethics to the state legislature. (H Judiciary; Tue, Mar 12)

1. H5778: Eliminates the straight-party option from Rhode Island election ballots. (H Judiciary; Wed, Mar 13)



Coming up in Committee: Thirty-Two Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, March 12 - March 14, Part 2

Carroll Andrew Morse

20. H5300: Creates an underground utility contractor licensing process (and fee) where, apparently, none currently exists. (H Corporations; Wed, Mar 13)

19. S0212: Allows "mobile and manufactured homes within a mobile and manufactured home park" to count towards a city or town's low or moderate income housing requirements. (Senate Housing and Municipal Government; Thu, Mar 14)

18. S0672/S0640: Prohibits local ordinances regarding "the location, design, construction, or maintenance of on-site sewage disposal systems and/or wetland setbacks or requirements" from being more stringent than DEM or CRMC regulations. (S Environment and Agriculture; Wed, Mar 13)

17. S0501: Joins Rhode Island to something called the "International emergency management assistance compact", article III section (a)(7) of which requires member jurisdictions to "provide, to the extent authorized by law, for temporary suspension of any statutes or ordinances, over which the province or state has jurisdiction, that impede the implementation of the responsibilities described in this subsection". (S Special Legislation and Veterans Affairs; Wed, Mar 13)

16. H5657: "All pupils in grades kindergarten through eight in all public schools in the state shall receive instruction designed to prevent the abduction, exploitation or sexual abuse of children". (H House, Education and Welfare; Wed, Mar 13)

15. H5711 mandates that all higher education institutions in Rhode Island (no distinction between public and private is made) honor suitable "military training, experience, correspondence courses and occupations, and adopt a policy for applying those credits to veterans. {H5712, S0629} mandate that state licensing boards consider the "education, training or services completed by an individual as a member of the Armed Forces or Reserves of the United States, the National Guard of any state, the Military Reserves of any state, or the Naval Militia of any state toward the qualifications to receive the license or certification". Both bills submitted at the request of the Governor. (S Special Legislation and Veterans' Affairs; Wed, Mar 13 & H Veterans' Affairs; Thu, Mar 14)

14. H5364: Allows the state to make a refund deal for "any financing leases entered into with the authorization of the general assembly" (no explicit mention is made of "bonds", "guarantee agreements", or "other obligations"), while "public corporations" could only refund various instruments of obligation if they had been issued "to finance the acquisition, construction, or improvement of an essential public facility". (H Finance; Wed, Mar 13) This bill has already been passed by the full Senate, so whatever it does, it goes to the Governor if it passes the House.

13. S0279: Requires all licensed healthcare organizations in Rhode Island to "establish a system for identifying patients or residents who could benefit from palliative care", where palliative care "includes, but is not limited to, discussions of the patient's goals for treatment; discussion of treatment options appropriate to the patient, including, where appropriate, hospice care; and comprehensive pain and symptom management". (S Health and Human Services; Tue, Mar 12)

12. H5184: "No public school official or public school employee shall display or distribute to any pupil any campaign materials...relative to any campaign for election to public office, nor shall the same be sent home with pupils". (H Judiciary; Tue, Mar 12)

11. H5251: Mandates "constant" electronic surveillance in all individual resident rooms and public areas of licensed nursing homes. (H House, Education and Welfare; Wed, Mar 13) This line still strikes me as creepy: "Electronic monitoring in residents' rooms, bathrooms, and bathing areas shall be constant", even if the surveillance in the bathrooms and bathing areas is only required to be audio.



Coming up in Committee: Thirty-Two Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, March 12 - March 14, Part 1

Carroll Andrew Morse

For the first time, the list goes to three parts...

Local Impact: Central Falls 2, One or a Few Big Employers.

Inobvious priorities: S0498 > Adds the executive director of the Economic Development Corporation to the Interagency Council for the Homeless; S0353 > Sets weekend fees for justices of the peace; H5395 > Golf carts allowed to operate on roads near golf courses.


32. H5775: The redefinition of the meaning of red, yellow and green traffic lights goes to committee for a second time. (H Judiciary; Tue, Mar 12)

31. S0517: Adds a Division of Agriculture to the Department of Environmental Management. (S Environment and Agriculture; Wed, Mar 13)

30. H5322: No pretending to be the Attorney General or using the office's emblem, if you're not the Attorney General. (H Judiciary; Wed, Mar 13) Is there a specific incident that led to this bill?

29. S0209: Adds the mayor of Newport and the town council presidents of Portsmouth, Tiverton, Jamestown, Middletown, and Little Compton to the Rhode Island Bridge and Turnpike Authority (giving 6 of 9 members to the East Bay). (Senate Housing and Municipal Government; Thu, Mar 14)

28. H5450: Allows a telephone company to use wireless or VoIP service to meet the requirement that it be able to cover everyone in a given geographic area. (H Corporations; Wed, Mar 13)

27. H5454: "Notwithstanding any general or public law to the contrary, the [Public Utilities Commission] and the division shall have no jurisdiction or authority over wireless service". (H Corporations; Wed, Mar 13)

26. {S0093/H5454}: Changes to the Bristol County Water Authority, the most interesting of which are ones like "All actions taken by the board of directors must be in compliance with the Rhode Island General Laws 'Access to Public Records Act'...and the 'Open Meetings Act'", which basically make clear that the BCWA cannot claim that it has some nebulous not-quite-government status that allows it to evade requirements for conducting business in the open. (S Housing and Municipal Government; Tue, Mar 10 & H Municipal Government; Thu, Mar 12)

25B. S0486: Knocks out a section of the law that says compensation for traffic tribunal magistrates "shall be determined by the chief magistrate of the traffic tribunal subject to appropriation by the general assembly". And replaces it with nothing. (S Judiciary, Tue, Mar 12)

25A. S0702: Promotes a position of family court general magistrate to a family court judgeship. (S Judiciary, Tue, Mar 12)

24. H5075: Lifts the prohibition on classified state employees running for state office. (H Judiciary; Tue, Mar 12)

23. Two committee agendas this week are filled with bunches of technical commercial regulatory bills; people with an interest in the insurance, real estate, design or banking industries may be interested in looking over the Senate Commerce Committee agenda and the House Corporations Committee agenda for Tuesday, March 12.

22. S0426: "The Rhode Island department of human services shall require all generic manufacturers whose products are to be provided to Medicaid recipients to engage in a competitive bidding process created by the department of health to ensure that it is providing Medicaid recipients with quality generic products at a competitively bid cost". (S Health and Human Services; Thu, Mar 14)

21. S0198: "Any emergency services system operated by the department of children, youth and families...shall direct families with children in need of behavioral health crisis evaluation to community-based settings unless the hospital emergency services are voluntarily sought by the family or child, or is deemed medically necessary by any involved party". (S Health and Human Services; Tue, Mar 12)


March 4, 2013


Coming up in Committee: Nineteen Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, March 5 - March 7, Part 2

Carroll Andrew Morse

10B. The House and Senate Judiciary Committees will hear large rafts of bills on motor vehicle law on Tuesday, March 5 and Thursday, March 7, respectively. {H5505, S0470, S0564} and S0355 toughen penalties for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, H5779 for driving to endanger, and {H5379, S0565} for both; H5666, submitted at the request of the Governor, toughens the maximum penalty for driving under the influence with a child under age 13 in the vehicle, but allows the prison sentence to be suspended or deferred (currently not allowed); H5177 toughens penalties for hit-and-run offenses, while H5691 loosens the penalty for multiple moving offenses; {H5675, S0456}, S0218 and S0417 tighten laws on texting while driving . (Bills in curly braces are companions to one another).

10A. Bills to help cars enforce the law on their own. {H5149, H5338, S0563}/S0566 would add an ignition interlock requirement to the possible sentences for convictions for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. H5774 would replace license suspension for convictions for driving under the influence with the use of ignition interlocks (though fines and prison sentences could also still be applied as penalties). H5669 would require installation of a device prohibiting cell phone usage in the vehicle of an individual convicted of texting while driving. (H Judiciary; Tue, Mar 5 & S Judiciary; Thu, Mar 7)

9. Bud. Art. 11: A plan to use $10M per year in municipal aid, for three years, to incentivize municipalities to transition their locally administered pension plans into MERS, and to create "Funding Improvement Plans" that receive state approval. (S Finance; Wed, Mar 6)

8. S0460: Increases penalties for crimes committed in association with "criminal street gangs". (S Judiciary; Thu, Mar 7)

7. H5603: Allows individuals "serving in a branch of the uniformed military services" 18 years of age or older to purchase and consume alcoholic beverages. (H Corporations; Wed, Mar 6)

6. H5343: Limits cities and towns which can participate in the statewide Municipal Employees Retirement System to those "that do not participate in any other pension plan or system". (H Municipal Government; Thu, Mar 7) Does this mean cities and towns are not allowed to join MERS if, afterwards, they would still have one or more pension plans outside of MERS -- or does it mean that they're prohibited from joining MERS, if they have a plan outside now?

5. H5204: Requires all licensed healthcare organizations in Rhode Island to "establish a system for identifying patients or residents who could benefit from palliative care", where palliative care "includes, but is not limited to, discussions of the patient's goals for treatment; discussion of treatment options appropriate to the patient, including, where appropriate, hospice care; and comprehensive pain and symptom management". (H Health, Education and Welfare, Wed Mar 6) The question raised by this bill is what it is that the legislature wants to mandate that healthcare providers discuss, that they think is not being discussed now.

4. H5318: Adds, to the section of the law allowing school committees to "establish joint purchasing agreements between and among themselves or with the Rhode Island Association of School Committees", a section allowing school committees to "to enter into agreements, trusts, contracts, consortia, and other arrangements among themselves and/or with any college or university, and/or with the Rhode Island association of school committees", expanding both the scope of who can be contracted with, and what can be contracted for. (H Health, Education and Welfare, Wed Mar 6) This is at once the argument for and against "regionalization", for in a general sense that it can make sense for state government to encourage school districts to collaborate on certain activities, against in the Rhode Island specific sense that quirks in RI law and governing practices can act as impediments to sensible collaboration, with "regionalization" taking the form of the state saying to local governments that since we prevented you from doing what makes sense, we're now taking away your autonomy. This kind of change to the law can help the "against" dynamic from happening.

3. H5506: Extends binding arbitration for police and fire contracts to retirees. (H Labor; Tue, Mar 5) Would this bill have meant that the deal Angel Taveras made with Providence's unions could have been made subject to an arbitrator?

2. Bud. Art. 9: Lowers the corporate tax rate in Rhode Island, from 9% now to 8% in 2014, to 7.5% in 2015, to 7% from 2016 onward. This article also contains several other tax-code related items, including a long section on penalties for tax-preparers. (S Finance; Tue, Mar 5 & H Finance; Wed, Mar 6)

1. S0220: Bans use of cell-phones while driving. (S Judiciary; Thu, Mar 7)



Coming up in Committee: Nineteen Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, March 5 - March 7, Part 1

Carroll Andrew Morse

Local Impact: Coventry

Inobvious Priorities: H5101 >> no driving with a dog in your lap; S0008 >> warning labels that say cell-phones may cause brain cancer (for the record, the American Cancer Society's position is here); S0171 >> laundries must post prices of each garment cleaned.


19. One inobvious priority slides its way into the main list. H5775 redefines the meaning of red, green and yellow traffic lights. I'm not kidding. (H Judiciary; Wed Mar 6)

18. Bud. Art. 21: Converts a $4.2M loan used to obtain matching funds for the purchase of buses that was taken from a Rhode Island Public Transit Authority "revolving loan fund" into "a direct grant" that "need not be repaid". (S Finance; Tue, Mar 5)

17. S0341: An assortment of loosenings of criminal law, including the decriminalization of a first offense for shoplifting or driving without a license, and an overall change so that "a petty misdemeanor shall not give rise to any disability or legal disadvantage based on conviction of a criminal offense". (S Judiciary; Tue, Mar 5) The bill currently posted on the GA website is unamended from the version held for further study last week by this same committee. Will the committee being dealing with a Sub A?

16. H5291: Bars anyone under age 21 from nightclubs. (H Corporations; Wed, Mar 6)

15. Bud. Art. 22/Bud. Art. 23: Places the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation in charge of reissuing $25M (initially) in historic tax-credits that were issued by the state but have since been "abandoned". (H Finance; Tue, Mar 5)

14. H5510: Municipalities that require that retiree health benefits be provided through Medicare would be required to reimburse costs of enrollment. (H Municipal Government; Thu, Mar 7)

13. Various changes to criminal record expungement. S0094 would extend eligibility for expungement from first-offenders to persons who have "been convicted of not more than two misdemeanor offenses" when they seek expungement. S0338 would extend eligibility for expungement from first-offenders to persons who have "not been previously convicted of or placed on probation for a felony for a period twenty (20) years or a misdemeanor for a period of ten (10) years" when they seek expungement. S0423 allows persons convicted of up to six misdemeanors to have them all expunged. (S Judiciary; Tue, Mar 5)

12. H5442: Prohibits Rhode Island employers from requiring proof-of-citizenship that is more stringent than Federal law "as now or hereafter amended". (H Labor; Tue, Mar 5)

11. H5344: Disability pensions from municipal or quasi-municipal entities would be reduced by any amounts that a pensioner earned from other sources. (H Municipal Government; Thu, Mar 7)


February 28, 2013


Late Addition: Bills on Requiring Armed Guards at Schools to be Heard Today

Carroll Andrew Morse

A bill (H5068) requiring cities and towns to post an armed guard at every school in Rhode Island was posted Tuesday for a House Municipal Government hearing today. Here's the complete text:

The school committees of various cities, towns, and school districts, shall appoint a guard to each school building within their jurisdiction. The guard shall protect the safety of all students and school personnel and preserve order at each school.
I wouldn't oppose a decision by local authorities to assign armed guards at the schools they are responsible for, if they determined it made sense for their circumstances. However, I'm also skeptical that a blanket mandate by the legislature, especially one that rather casually combines protecting safety and preserving order, is the most sensible policy on this issue.


February 25, 2013


Coming up in Committee: Twenty-One Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, February 26 - February 28, Part 2

Carroll Andrew Morse

10. S0330: Independent voters would not need to become a member of a political party, to vote in that party's primary. (S Judiciary; Thu, Feb 28)

9. H5389: Spencer Dickinson's proposal for a binding arbitration process for teacher contracts. In the Dickinson process, only the school committee could choose to go to binding arbitration, but the bill also implies that teachers would be given the right to strike, if a contract expired, without the school committee requesting arbitration. Also, the 3rd arbitrator would be a retired judge chosen by "the presiding justice of the Rhode Island superior court". (H Labor; Tue, Feb 26)

8. Most of the time in Rhode Island's legislative committees is spent on standalone bills and individual budget articles. However, the finance committees also have the responsibility for holding hearings on individual department budgets, where most of the money is actually spent each year. On Wednesday, February 27, the Senate Finance Committee will hold its hearing on the "Office of Health and Human Services" budget which by itself is a 1.86 billion dollar line item.

7. H5251: Mandates "constant" electronic surveillance in all individual resident rooms and public areas of licensed nursing homes. (H House, Education and Welfare; Wed, Feb 27). This line from the proposed law strikes me as particularly creepy: "Electronic monitoring in residents' rooms, bathrooms, and bathing areas shall be constant", even if the surveillance in the bathrooms and bathing areas is only required to be audio.

6B. H5438/H5458/H5460/H5533: A raft of bills regarding electronic databases for automobile insurance compliance. (H Corporations; Tue, Feb 26)

6A. H5150: (H Corporations; Tue, Feb 26) The most extensive of the automobile insurance compliance bills, authorizing...

  • "A system to make both interstate and intrastate vehicle insurance and registration status available to law enforcement for automated query at any time",
  • "A system to provide automobile and commercial vehicle insurance information to emergency medical service providers",
  • "A verification system to provide courts with financial responsibility status for the court date, the citation date, the day prior to the citation date, and a history of the vehicle's periods of coverage, regarding...vehicles identified as non-compliant",
  • "An automatic license plate recognition system to electronically capture license plate images in two (2) seconds or less and non-invasively attempt verification of the insurance and when possible, the registration status of the vehicle", and
  • "A system that provides a help desk service with live operators but also a fax service and internet-based response service so that citations can be challenged and any errors corrected in support of the public".

5. S0346: Joins Rhode Island to an interstate compact where the RI legislature would disregard the choice for President made by Rhode Island voters and allocate RI's electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote instead. (S Judiciary; Thu, Feb 28)

4. H5441: Limits "student growth and achievement" to one-third of what can considered in a teacher evaluation. (H Labor; Tue, Feb 26)

3. H5277: Bans "standardized testing program[s] or assessment[s]" from being used as a high-school graduation requirement. (H House, Education and Welfare; Wed, Feb 27)

2. H5342: Repeal of the Caruolo act, and the addition of a requirement that town/city councils ratify school department contracts. (H Labor; Tue, Feb 26)

1. S0359: Repeal of Rhode Island's voter ID law. (S Judiciary; Thu, Feb 28)



Coming up in Committee: Twenty-One Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, February 26 - February 28, Part 1

Carroll Andrew Morse

Local Impact: Coventry, Foster, Johnston, Middletown, North Kingstown, Woonsocket 2

Anyone know the background on this one? H5322: Prohibits unauthorized use of the emblem of the Attorney General of the state of Rhode Island.


21. S0341: A potpourri of changes to criminal law, including the decriminalization of a first offense for shoplifting or driving without a license, and an overall change so that "a petty misdemeanor shall not give rise to any disability or legal disadvantage based on conviction of a criminal offense". (S Judiciary; Thu, Feb 28) Would anyone familiar with the legal system care to comment on what the implications of the "petty misdemeanor" change are?

20. S0093: Some changes to the Bristol County Water Authority, the most interesting of which are ones like "All actions taken by the board of directors must be in compliance with the Rhode Island General Laws 'Access to Public Records Act'...and the 'Open Meetings Act'", which basically make clear that the BCWA cannot claim that it has some nebulous not-quite-government status that allows it to evade requirements for conducting business in the open. (S Housing and Muncipal Government; Tue, Feb 26)

19. Proposed Senate Rules for the 2013-2014 session. (S Rules; Wed, Feb 27) If I'm reading this correctly, there is exactly one change from last year: the sentence "In no event shall one (1) calendar day be construed as two (2) legislative days" has been struck from the definition of "Day" in rule 1.2. Further amendments could be proposed in committee.

18. S0173: Prohibits telemarketing (or "telephonic selling") calls to cell phones. Note that this an outright prohibition, not just implementation of a do not call list. (S Corporations; Tue, Feb 26)

17. S0291: Requires a search warrant for the search of any "portable electronic device" in the possession of an individual under arrest. (S Judiciary; Thu, Feb 28) This exact bill was passed by both chambers last year, but vetoed by the Governor.

16. Bud. Art. 8: Moves administration of renewable energy programs, funded via surcharges on ratepayers, away from the Economic Development Corporation and to the state's Office of Energy Resources. (H Finance; Tue, Feb 26)

15. S0305: Makes it illegal for banks to charge daily overdraft fees or overdraft fees greater than the amount overdrawn. (S Corporations; Thu, Feb 28)

14. S0361: Requires prisoners serving non-life sentences for first or second degree murder to serve 50% of their sentence before being eligible for parole. (S Judiciary; Thu, Feb 28)

13. S0225/S0358: Creates a good-conduct certificate that can be awarded by the state parole board to individuals who have served prison sentences, with the intent of helping them "to reestablish themselves as law-abiding members of society". (S Judiciary; Tue, Feb 26)

12. S0041: Extends the current requirement that persons convicted of sexual and violent offenses provide DNA to be logged in a database, to a requirement that persons arrested for "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" or convicted of any felony do so. (S Judiciary; Thu, Feb 28)

11. H5274: Legalizes "actually and constructively using, obtaining, purchasing, transporting, or possessing one ounce (1 oz.) or less of marijuana" and various other related activities. (H Finance; Wed, Feb 27)


February 12, 2013


Things We Read Today (48), Post-Blizzard

Justin Katz

Economic freedom as the best approach to economic development; what Rhode Island chooses to penalize; the root cause of education decline.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...


February 11, 2013


Coming up in Committee: Nine Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, February 12 - February 14

Carroll Andrew Morse

Local Impact: Central Falls


9. H5047: "Six hours of over-the-road driver’s training from a licensed driver’s training school" required for a first-time driver to obtain a license. (H Corporations; Tue, Feb 12)

8. Bud. Arts. 3 and 4: Changes to state employee benefits involving removal of divorced spouses from family health plans and establishment of a Social Security Alternative Retirement Income Security Program. (H Finance; Tue, Feb 12)

7. H5147 requires prisoners serving life sentences for first or second degree murder to have served 30 years before being eligible for parole (up from 20), and those serving life for other crimes to have served 20 (up from 10). H5145 requires prisoners serving non-life sentences for first or second degree murder to serve 50% of their sentence before being eligible for parole. (H Judiciary; Wed, Feb 13)

6. H5243: Prohibits medical health insurance premium rates from varying based on gender (excluding policies for "disability income, long-term care, and insurance supplemental policies which only provide coverage for specified diseases or other supplemental policies"). (H Corporations; Tue, Feb 12) Will a similar bill that applies to automobile insurance rates be following?

5. H5299: Requires that any Public Utilities Commission rate increase be authorized by a General Assembly joint resolution. (H Corporations; Tue, Feb 12)

4. Proposed House rules for 2013-2014 plus some amendments. The only major change in the main rules bill from last session is the addition of a substantial section defining House "caucuses", which does not appear to have any impact on the conduct of formal floor or committee business. (H Rules; Tue, Feb 12) The proposed amendments (each to be voted on separately) include...

  • A proposal to try to cut House sessions off at 10pm,
  • A proposal for the beginnings of a seniority system in House committees, and
  • A proposal to prohibit consideration of floor amendments to the budget unless they are either first approved by the finance committee or by a 2/3 floor majority.

3. S0242: Prohibits tolls on the Sakonnet Bridge, Mount Hope Bridge and Jamestown Bridge, while increasing the state's vehicle inspection fee from $39 to $59, with the new money to be used for a bridge maintenance fund. S0022 is a more oblique and maybe not as complete restriction on Sakonnet River Bridge tolls, combined with transferring jurisdiction for the Sakonnet River Bridge back to the Department of Transportation from the Bridge and Turnpike Authority. (S Finance; Wed, Feb 13)

2B. S0049: Moves the layoff notice date for public school districts in cases of "fiscal exigency or program reorganization" and for "a substantial decrease of pupil population within its school system" from March 1 to June 1. Only in the case of a decrease in pupil population would layoffs be required to proceed by seniority (S Labor; Wed, Feb 13) The House version of this bill (H5066) was held for further study last week. Ideally, a pointer to the record of the committee vote would be provided here, but the General Assembly committee vote tracker still treats votes by House committees to surrender their right to take action on bills without leadership approval as if they are not happening. (By the way, Senate committee votes to hold bills for further study are recorded on the General Assembly's committee vote tracker).

2A. H5186: Moves the layoff notice date for public school districts in cases of a "decrease in pupil population, program reduction or elimination, or budget reduction" from March 1 to May 15. Under all three conditions, layoffs would be required to proceed by seniority. (H Labor; Tue, Feb 12)

1. H5340: Replaces municipal government approval as the last step of teacher contract negotiation with a binding arbitration process, moving final budgetary authority away from school committees and city/town councils to an unaccountable authority. (H Labor; Tue, Feb 12) (Here is just one of many reasons why binding arbitration is a bad idea: If retired Rhode Island judges are truly best qualified to make decisions about local taxation and expenditures, why do they need to be told that they need to consider the taxpayers "ability to pay"? Does anyone really believe that a retired Rhode Island judge who parachutes into a city or town on a one time basis will be better able to judge local residents' "ability to pay" than town/city councilors who have to regularly be elected by the people they are taxing?


February 8, 2013


Binding and Bound by Legislation

Justin Katz

Interesting things happen when news producers order wall-to-wall coverage of a storm set to arrive in a day or two and visibility of anything but snow moves toward zero. Over the last twelve hours, two such things came flashing out of the blizzard of pre-blizzard forecasting and caught in my eye via email.

The first was in the humdrum yet esoteric area of legislative rules for the Rhode Island House of Representatives. ...

The other bit of legislative shrapnel to pierce the snow coverage is the annual bid to give union employees of public schools (teachers and others) access to binding arbitration in matters of money.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...


February 6, 2013


Things We Read Today (47), Wednesday

Justin Katz

Taxing sweet drinks; collectively bargained legislation; equal pay for unequal merit; Projo promotes the economy; civil rights from heroism to handouts.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...


February 4, 2013


Coming up in Committee: Fourteen Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, February 5 - February 7

Carroll Andrew Morse

Local Impact: East Providence, Foster, Johnston, Middletown 2

Inobvious Priorities: H5162 adds "city and/or town owned manhole covers and bridge placards" to a list of items that precious metals dealers are required to hold for fourteen days before doing whatever they're planning to do with them next. (H Judiciary; Tue, Feb 5)


14. H5165: Allows members of the armed forces and members of the national guard who "receive military orders for a permanent change of station or to deploy with a military unit for a period of not less than one hundred-eighty (180) days" to terminate a lease with 30 days notice. (H Veterans' Affairs; Tue, Feb 5)

13. H5213: Prohibits retailers from adding to surcharge to credit card transactions -- but does allow them to offer a discount for paying by cash or check. (H Corporations; Tue, Feb 5)

12. Bud. Art. 21: Converts a $4.2M loan used to obtain matching funds for the purchase of buses that was taken from a Rhode Island Public Transit Authority "revolving loan fund" into "a direct grant" that "need not be repaid". (H Finance; Tue, Feb 5)

11. H5166: Changes the qualification for adjutant general of the Rhode Island national guard from having served "not less than five years in one or more of the federal services" to having served "not less than five years in the Rhode Island National Guard". (H Veterans' Affairs; Wed, Feb 6)

10. Bud. Arts. 2, 3 and 4: Changes to state employee benefits including lots of mentions of "Non-Medicare-eligible retirees", removal of divorced spouses from family health plans, and establishment of a Social Security Alternative Retirement Income Security Program. (S Finance; Tue, Feb 5 & H Finance; Wed, Feb 6 [Art. 2 Only])

9. On Tue, Feb 5, the House Rules Committee will discuss the House rules for 2013-2014.

8. Bud. Art. 22/Bud. Art. 23: Puts the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation in charge of reissuing $25M (initially) in historic tax-credits that were issued by the state but have since been "abandoned". (S Finance; Thu, Feb 7) Looking over the current section of the law on historic tax credits (section 44-33.2), this appears to be the first instance of the Economic Development Corporation being given a role in the administration of historic tax credits, perhaps as a reward for the work they did administering the $75M for 38 studios?

7. Bud. Art. 11: A plan to use $10M per year in municipal aid for three years as an incentive for municipalities to transition their locally administered pension plans into MERS and create "Funding Improvement Plans" that are approved by the state. (H Finance; Thu, Feb 7)

6. H5078: Card-check unionization for public employees, with the definition of "public employee" expanded to encompass all "quasi-public entities". (H Labor; Wed, Feb 6)

5. H5079: Sets Rhode Island's minimum wage to $8.25 per hour beginning in 2014 and adjusts it upward for inflation in subsequent years, with the additional stipulation that the RI minimum wage must always be at least $0.15 per hour higher than the Federal. (H Labor; Tue, Feb 5)

4. Bud. Art. 7: OK, let's go through this one in gruesome detail (H Finance; Tue, Feb 5 & S Finance; Wed, Feb 6)...

  • Budget article 7 in its current form is identical to the original version of standalone Senate bill S0019 which would allow the state or any public corporation to enter into a deal to "refund" any non-voter approved "bond", "financing lease", "guarantee agreement", or "other obligation", without prior approval of the General Assembly, provided that "the governor certifies...that the refunding shall provide a net benefit to the issuer".
  • What Article 7 seems to be intended to do is allow an executive branch agency or a quasi-public corporation to make a deal that "promises" a refund to a state creditor, prior to any money being appropriated to pay for the refund. An argument can be made that, if a refund costs less than the following through on an original obligation, budgetary impact should be minimal or even positive and, therefore, necessary funding can assumed to be there, but there is still a legitimate and important question about how binding executive branch or quasi-public corporation deals can be in the absence of a legislative appropriation.
  • Meanwhile, the original S0019 was amended by the Senate Finance committee last week and sent in to the Senate Floor. Under S0019 Sub A, "the state" would be able to make a refund deal for "any financing leases entered into with the authorization of the general assembly" (no explicit mention is made of "bonds", "guarantee agreements", or "other obligations"), while "public corporations" could refund various instruments of obligation, but only if they had been issued "to finance the acquisition, construction, or improvement of an essential public facility".

3. H5138: Allows public schools "to assess students a reasonable fee for participation by a student in school extracurricular activities". (H Health, Education and Welfare; Wed, Feb 6)

2. H5066: Moves the layoff notice date for public school districts in cases of "fiscal exigency or program reorganization" from March 1 to June 1. (H Labor; Wed, Feb 6)

1. H5106: Requires Rhode Island employers with 3 or more employees to "apply to participate" in E-Verify by 2015. (H Labor; Tue, Feb 5) A national debate over "comprehensive immigration reform" is shaping up around proposals for immediate amnesty in return for promises of future immigration enforcement. Against this backdrop, those following immigration issues should be cognizant that a law requiring an application to participate in E-verify falls, at best, into the category of a future promise once-removed.


January 28, 2013


Coming up in Committee: Six Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, January 29 - January 31

Carroll Andrew Morse

6. H5114: A preliminary sign that the Rhode Island General Assembly may once again be taking a keen and perhaps unusual amount of interest in the rental of motor vehicles; this bill would require anyone "who rents or leases more than five motor vehicles in any one year" in the state of Rhode Island to have those vehicles "registered, insured and inspected in the state of Rhode Island" (H Corporations; Tue, Jan 29).

5. S0021: Authorizes the state Auditor General and the Division of Municipal Finance to create a "uniform system of accounting" for Rhode Island municipalities, and allows to state to withhold state aid payments from any municipality which refuses to install and maintain said system (S Finance; Tue, Jan 29).

4. H5129: Limits damages in lawsuits involving the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority to a maximum of $100,000 unless the General Assembly authorizes a higher limit "in particular cases" (H Corporations; Tue, Jan 29).

3. S0023: Exempts capital gains resulting from the sales of an "ownership interest in an entity incorporated and having its headquarters located in the state of Rhode Island" that has been held for 3 years (and that meets a few other conditions) from RI income taxes (S Finance; Tue, Jan 29).

2. S0022: Changes the estate tax floor in Rhode Island from $675,000, at which point the entire amount of the estate is currently taxed, to $2,000,000, at which point only the amount in excess of $2,000,000 would be taxed (S Finance; Tue, Jan 29).

1. S0019: Allows the state or any public corporation to "refund" any non-voter approved "bond", "financing lease", "guarantee agreement", or "other obligation", provided that "the governor certifies...that the refunding shall provide a net benefit to the issuer" (S Finance; Tue, Jan 29). Could this be a strategy for dealing with the 38 Studios "guarantee agreement"? If so, it kicks the ball back to the Governor, requiring him to provide a certification for a specific situation under a law that applies to any bond that did not go through a voter referendum. Another immediate question raised by this bill is whether a "refund" for a state debt obligation can be provided in piecemeal fashion or whether it would have to be provided all at once. This bill's lead sponsor is Senate Finance Chairman Daniel DaPonte, suggesting that this bill is a priority of Senate leadership.


January 22, 2013


Coming up in Committee: Three Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, January 22 - January 24

Carroll Andrew Morse

Let's really make the new Rhode Island General Assembly session official; the list below is based on the Rhode Island General Assembly website as of 11:00 am today...

3. On Tue, Jan 22, the Senate Rules Committee will discuss the Senate rules for 2013-2014.

2. H5086: Allows "developmental disability agencies" to operate their own "self-insurance" plans for "employees, retirees and other beneficiaries" (H Corporations; Tue, Jan 22). From the text, it's not immediately clear whether this bill is closing a loophole or defining an exception, but it does raise an interesting question of why a specific type of employer needs its own health insurance section of the law.

1. H5015: The same-sex marriage bill with nominal but basically meaningless "protection of freedom of religion in marriage" (H Judiciary; Tue, Jan 22).


January 16, 2013


Legislation Under the Radar - Mo' Money for the General Fund

Justin Katz

I'm going through all legislation as it's introduced to the Rhode Island General Assembly, and the Center for Freedom & Prosperity will be putting out a real-time Freedom Index — essentially a watch list — in a couple of weeks. That'll have the collection of good and bad within the think tank's scope.

Card check? Check. Master lever? Yup. Mail ballots for lazy voters? Uh-huh. General Assembly term limits? Absolutely.

But in keeping with yesterday's post about overly discreet legislation concerning Bryant's taxes, I'm not able to resist mention of bills that I find intriguing, including those that are of interest because of the way they're presented.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...


January 15, 2013


Burying the Legislative Lead

Justin Katz

Most legislation introduced into the General Assembly comes with a brief summary that appears with references to the bill — most visibly on the various pages of the legislature's Web site. Sometimes the descriptions are misleading; sometimes they're just confusing. (Usually, they're pretty good, assuming one understands the lingo of policy.)

Today, Representatives Thomas Winfield (D, Smithfield, Glocester) and Gregory Costantino (D, Lincoln, Smithfield, Johnston) submitted legislation with a description that puts a superficial effect first and excludes the most significant purpose of the bill from the locations where it would be most easily spotted.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...


December 18, 2012


Things We Read Today (43), Tuesday

Justin Katz

Explaining Rhode Island's decline in four brief sections: legal process, the economy, the media, and fashionable graft.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...


November 16, 2012


Marijuana Legalization Because of or In Spite of Drug Tourism

Carroll Andrew Morse

Dan McGowan of GoLocalProv has a short round-up of the background and momentum that will be leading into a 2013 Rhode Island General Assembly debate on legalizing non-medical use of marijuana; the article mentions that House Judiciary Chairwoman Edith Ajello thinks there is support in the GA not just for "decriminalization" but for full "legalization" (RI decriminalized possession of an ounce or less of marijuana last year).

The American Interest has published a guide to the policy issues surrounding marijuana legalization including multiple lines of reasoning that will very likely be directly discussed in any RI debate on the subject...

A principal motivation for legalization has been its potential to generate tax revenues. [Colorado’s Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act] CO-LA specifies that the first $40 million raised by its excise tax would be credited to the public school capital construction fund. That figure suggests unrealistic expectations; unless state-level legalization tripled Colorado’s cannabis use, the tax receipts from sales to Coloradans wouldn’t even total that much, especially since the law would exempt medical users from paying taxes and such users account for about a quarter of Colorado’s current regular marijuana users. (Under CO-LA, medical dispensaries would be like “duty-free” shops at airports.) However, there are about fifty times as many marijuana users elsewhere in the United States as there are in Colorado. That, ultimately, is why Federal authorities would not be able to ignore the matter.

“Drug tourism” (users coming to Colorado to buy) could generate significant economic benefits, though not nearly as much as it might for an eastern state with more populous neighbors.


October 31, 2012


Things We Read Today (27), Wednesday

Justin Katz

Campaign finance & incumbents; where the buck stops for the bad economy; Obama follows Chafee on a Commerce Czar; and the storm should be a warning.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...


October 23, 2012


Can Rhode Island Find Representatives Willing to Take the Daring Action of Representing?

Carroll Andrew Morse

I try to use the blogospheric cliche of "read the whole thing" sparingly, but it is very obviously the appropriate pointer to Senator Dawson Hodgson's op-ed from Saturday's Projo, where Senator Hodgson criticized the lack of accountability at the Rhode Island General Assembly, which the 38 Studios fiasco has made more apparent than usual.

Consider the following, in conjunction with Senator Hodgson's op-ed: when the General Assembly created the loan guarantee program that 38 Studios tapped into, the decision to use "moral obligation" instead of "general obligation" bonds was a conscious decision to bypass the process written into the state constitution that is supposed to be used when putting taxpayers on the hook for long-term debt. Long-term bonded debt is supposed to require direct voter consent...

ARTICLE VI - Section 16 - The general assembly shall have no powers, without the express consent of the people, to incur state debts to an amount exceeding fifty thousand dollars, except in time of war, or in case of insurrection or invasion; nor shall it in any case, without such consent, pledge the faith of the state for the payment of the obligations of others.
Seeking the express consent of the people would have automatically created a window for deliberation, open between the the passage of the legislation calling for a ballot question and the voters going to the polls. Questions like how much any one company could tap the loan guarantee fund for would have been raised in public; members of the state's Economic Development Corporation, responsible for administering the loan guarantee program, would have to had taken a position on whether they supported giving $75 million to a single company.

But, as is ingrained habit at the Rhode Island statehouse, our legislators decided to skip over any serious deliberations about whether to incur $125 million in potential debt. Instead, a few members of "leadership" decided behind closed doors what they wanted passed (the amendment that increased the initially proposed size of the loan guarantee fund from $50M to $125M, the difference being the size of exactly one 38 Studios loan guarantee, didn't write itself), chose the “moral obligation” process that did not involve a referendum, and told their followers to approve the plan as written. Naturally, their followers complied, obeying their orders without deliberating amongst themselves, much less the public, and sticking the citizens with the bill.

* * *

The refusal to deliberate 38 Studios has now extended beyond the original vote authorizing the loan guarantee program. No hearings were held this session to determine, in the words of Senator Hodgson, "who put [legislators] in the position to facilitate the squandering of tens of millions of public dollars". The General Assembly has decided that Rhode Island voters should not be provided with a clear accounting of how the loan guarantee decision was made, prior to choosing Senators and Representatives in the upcoming elections.

This decision fits perfectly within the usual operating philosophy of the Rhode Island legislature, where rank-and-file legislators regularly forgo conducting substantive business in open committee sessions. Instead, decisions get made someplace less visible, with legislative committees rubber-stamping them, their primary function being to provide a bit of theater to make backroom decisions appear to be public ones. Leadership alone is not responsible for this state of affairs; it is the repeated actions of just-happy-to-be-there backbenchers, willing to quietly go along with the practice of holding all bills "for further study" and awaiting permission from above before considering anything for real, that allows this to happen again and again.

The manner in which 38 Studios’ loan guarantees are ultimately disposed of will be greatly impacted by the degree to which Rhode Island legislators are willing to accept their usual relegation to the background. Will the decision either to pay off or default on the bonds be made through open deliberations, with all issues laid out, the public fully informed and every legislator making an independent decision about what is in the best interests of his or her constituents? Or will the decision be made by the House Speaker and Senate President, consulting with a few associates out of public view, and commanding a compliant majority to obey orders?

Senator Hodgson concludes his op-ed with one important question related to this and to every decision that the legislature makes...

[Y]ou should ask them whom they are going to support to lead the chamber. Are they going to use your vote to keep the same decision makers in place?
...but another, equally as important question should also be put to the voters of Rhode Island: regardless of who the next leaders of the Rhode Island House and Senate are, are you going to accept representatives who meekly give away their rights to decide on the substance of important matters, just because that's the way it's always been done?


October 9, 2012


Projo Tilt on RIVotes.org

Justin Katz

I'd finished an email exchange with Providence Journal reporter Philip Marcelo somewhat encouraged, on Friday night.  He apparently had some questions about the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity's RIVotes.org site; some legislators disputed that they'd missed as many votes as the site says.

On my way out the door to a social function, I didn't exactly perform an extensive review, but I checked the House Journals for five randomly selected bills for which RIVotes says Rep. Robert Flaherty (D, Warwick), the most vote-missingest legislator, did not cast a vote.  For one of the bills, he was absent; for the others, he was noted at the top of the journals as in attendance, but the roll calls did not have his name.  That is, on all five, RIVotes was accurate.

I explained this to Marcelo, and he said the information was helpful.  Not helpful enough, it appears, to include in the article ...

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...


October 5, 2012


The Powerful and Powerless General Assembly

Patrick Laverty

I had been planning to write a post like this but maybe later in the year. However, a letter to the Providence Journal by Mark Binder has sort of accelerated that.

Binder is an Independent candidate for House District 4, the seat currently occupied by House Speaker Gordon Fox. On his web site, Binder illustrates a number of areas where he has issues with Fox and the RI House, but in his letter one line especially stands out.

The strong men and women currently “leading” our state have proven again and again that they are incapable of this sort of leadership. They’ve left us behind.
I couldn't agree more. The 74 other members of the House of Representatives seem to forget what kind of collective power they have and what power that the Speaker actually has. The Speaker position only has the power that they give him. They can just as easily take it away or override him. But yet, they continue to concede this over to the position. (By the way, the same holds true over on the Senate side too. This is not a one-chamber discussion.) When we ask the Reps or Senators why they continue to allow themselves to get pushed around, they give the same answers, "You'll never get anything passed if you buck the leadership" or "You'll get a primary opponent in the next election." Well guess what, if you all do it, the majority wins. And for some of you, it's not like you're getting anything meaningful passed anyway. If you all step up and want change, if you all want your bills heard and not "held for further study", you can force that change.

On any given bill bill, maybe you don't care either way so you let it die in committee, but then you sit there seething when the bill you really care about dies because no one else is speaking up for it. Maybe it's time to think more generally instead of selfishly.

Binder's letter also showed another example:

In the last session, 50 state representatives co-sponsored a bill reforming payday-lending practices. The representatives wanted to reduce the usurious annual interest rate to 36 percent, from 260 percent. To counter this, one of the largest payday-lending companies hired former House Speaker William Murphy as a lobbyist. The reform bill never came to a vote...
This one is just mind-boggling. A full two-thirds of the House signed their name on this bill but it couldn't even get out of committee?

Let's look at Binder's statement in two parts. First, why couldn't it make it out of committee? Because the chairman of the committee suggested it and then the committee voted in favor? How is that possible unless that committee just happened to be stacked with people from the 25 who didn't sponsor it? And what are the odds that all 25 of them were opposed to this bill? When this bill came up in committee, why didn't the supportive Reps immediately move for a vote to send it to the floor? If they don't know how the mechanics of it works, Andrew spelled it all out for them almost two years ago with How To End the Tyranny of Held For Further Study. If you sponsor a bill and then sit idly as it dies in committee, you have failed as a representative. Not a capital R, but as a representative of your constituents and the people you were looking to help with that legislation. This happens over and over again in the State House. Many good bills go to die simply because the Speaker doesn't want them to pass. Letting this happen is a failure of all General Assembly members who don't work to stop it from happening.

The second part of Binder's statement just amazes me. Former Speaker William Murphy was the lobbyist against the bill. I've read comments from some legislators that Murphy still wields power in the State House. How? Does he have compromising photos of some of the Reps? He's not there anymore! He's a lobbyist! How does he have any power at all over them? And why are they rolling over like dogs for a tummy rub for him? If they thought the bill was a good enough idea to sponsor it, then tell the lobbyist "No!"

We keep giving the voters questions to ask the candidates when they come to your door, especially the incumbents like "Do you support same-sex marriage?" and "What did you know about 38 Studios?", "Did you vote for the loan?", however questioning the incumbents about what they're doing to prevent good bills from dying just because one man wants them to would probably be an even better question. Everything else stems from that. When we can get a more open system for legislating, when we can end the last-minute horse trading of bills, then that will be a step in the right direction for good government in Rhode Island and a step forward in improving our state.


September 9, 2012


Things We Read Today This Weekend, 6

Justin Katz

First, scroll down and read Monique's postings on Rep. Spencer Dickinson. Then...

The topics of hope and hopelessness pervaded this weekend's readings, from absurd labor rules in schools, to the likely outcome of Make It Happen, to Spencer Dickinson's insider view, and then to Sandra Fluke.


August 13, 2012


7 Assembly Debates I Want To See

Patrick Laverty

I enjoyed watching the first two debates on Newsmakers. The first, between Senator DaPonte and Rep. DaSilva where I'm still trying to figure out whose pay grade it was that should have known about the $75M being intended for 38 Studios. If it wasn't the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, then who?

Then this week on Newsmakers, we saw another interesting debate between Rep. Peter Petrarca and challenger Greg Costantino. We got to see all kinds of things from an allegation of voter fraud by one of the candidates to the utterance of "ravioli people" by one of the panelists.

These debates got me thinking, which other debates would I like to see? Some would be pre-primary, some are after and some are dependent on one candidate surviving their primary. Here's what I got.

First, I think both heads of their respective chambers should be on the spot to answer questions. Let's start with those.

House District 4: Speaker Gordon Fox (D) vs. Mark Binder (D). Chances are you know who Gordon Fox is. He's the current Speaker of the House, completing his first full term as the Speaker. Many feel the Speaker is the most powerful politician in the state and nothing political happens without the Speaker's approval. Yet when he was questioned about the 38 Studios deal, the best he could offer was "I don't know." His opponent, Democrat Mark Binder shares many of the same progressive values as the Speaker but it seems one the areas he'd like to talk with the Speaker about and get answers on is 38 Studios. I'm confident Fox is a very skilled orator, but can he bring the substance behind it? I'd like to find out.

Senate District 13: President Teresa Paiva-Weed (D) vs. Geoffrey Cook (R). This is Cook's second shot at the seat as he also challenged the Senate President two years ago. Cook is a naturalized US citizen who followed the legal steps to become an American. One of Cook's major beefs with Paiva-Weed is her opposition to eVerify. Paiva-Weed might have some other things that voters could be interested to hear including her thoughts on the likely outcome if Speaker Fox does get a same-sex marriage bill passed in his chamber and passes it on to the Senate. Much of the talk is that Paiva-Weed is one of the major players blocking the bill. Is she?

House District 35: Rep. Spencer Dickinson (D) vs. James Haldeman (R). The incumbent Dickinson is just finishing up his second go-around in the Assembly and would first need to survive a primary with fellow Democrat Kathleen Fogarty. He first served in the 1970's and was re-elected just two years ago. One of the bills that Dickinson became known for was to require towns to put in escrow the amount of money that they would have to pay if the state's pension reform bill is struck down by the courts. Haldeman, a Republican, was well-received for a column that he wrote about his candidacy in GoLocalProv where he cited his reasons for running. Among them, to represent the entire district and not just a select few. These two seem pretty far apart on the ideological spectrum and I think getting them together for a discussion could get some sparks flying.

House District 49: Lisa Baldelli-Hunt (D) vs. The Field (D&I). Ok, I admit it, the main reason I chose this race was so Ted Nesi can sit across the table from all the candidates and ask one by one, "Do you think I'm cute?" Seriously though, some in Woonsocket are not happy with the way their state delegation handled the fiscal situation and want to replace various members, including Baldelli-Hunt. She is facing two other Democrats in a primary and then the winner will take on the independent Michael Moniz. I would like to see this debate to hear how the contenders would have handled the situation differently and helped Woonsocket avoid the budget commission, as well as how they see the Assembly helping Woonsocket stay fiscally viable.

Senate District 3: Maryellen Butke (D) vs. Gayle Goldin (D). Incumbent Rhoda Perry decided to not run for re-election, so this is an open seat. Maybe this would be the debate for all the policy wonks. Goldin runs the Women's Policy Institute and is an officer at the Women's Fund of Rhode Island. Butke is the former executive director of the Rhode Island Campaign for Achievement (RI-CAN). The focus of RI-CAN was to find new ways to improve public education in the state. Maybe these two would not exactly be the best two for contrasting each other's stances on issues, but it'd be great to hear what each of them will do to improve the state from within the State Senate.

Senate District 7: Senator Frank Ciccone (D) vs. Catherine Graziano (I). This one's easy. In spite of Graziano telling Ted Nesi back in April that she would not run again, she is. In that same article, Graziano is "shocked" by Ciccone's attempt to intimidate police a few months ago as he tried to get fellow Senator Dominic Ruggerio out of a DUI on the side of the road. There's no question that Ciccone apparently has union backing, so it could be interesting to probe deeper into that and who he truly serves in the Senate. And has he learned his lesson with regard to throwing his status around.

Senate District 16: Elizabeth Crowley (D) vs. Nicholas Gelfuso (M). Crowley needs to first survive a primary with Central Falls' former police chief, Joseph Moran III. That in itself could be a debate I'd like to see. In various articles through the whole Central Falls bankruptcy issue, I'd often see Crowley and Moran arguing the same side against the Receiver, Robert Flanders. I'm not sure why Moran feels he needs to unseat Crowley. However, I'd like to see how a Moderate party member would discuss these issues and how he would have handled the financial situation in Central Falls. Another question is whether they both support that idea the state's taxpayers should still be fully funding the Central Falls school district. What do they see themselves being able to do at the State House to further help the city get back on its feet financially?

Those are my picks. Are there others you'd like to see? Add them to the comments section.


August 10, 2012


Legislative Votes For and Against Tolls on the Sakonnet River Bridge

Justin Katz

Rhode Islanders, mainly from the East Bay, have organized a protest at Clements Market in Portsmouth, this afternoon, against tolls on the Sakonnet River Bridge. The hope is that the language that the General Assembly passed into law, this session, as Article 20 of the budget bill (7323Aaa) can be reversed.

That article and the budget to which it was attached were on the agendas of the RI House and Senate on June 7 and June 11, respectively. (The links are to the Ocean State Current's liveblogs, so readers can see who said what during debate.) In the Senate, Article 20 came up for a vote when Sen. Louis DiPalma (D, Little Compton, Middletown, Newport, Tiverton) proposed an amendment to remove it from the bill.

In the House, several amendments were raised and voted down to modify the article to make it less burdensome on local residents. The following table shows how the votes went in both chambers. The House voted on the article in three parts: Section 4, transferring the bridge's title to the RI Turnpike and Bridge Authority and authorizing tolls; parts of Section 3, authorizing the authority to maintain the bridge and set up tolls; and the rest of the article.

The votes below reflect the first vote, which is most explicit about tolls, but the article is written such that tolls would have been likely if any part of it passed. However, the only differences for the other two votes were that Baldelli-Hunt voted in favor of the language of Section 3, and Messier voted against the rest of the article.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...


July 30, 2012


This Is How It's Done In The RI Senate

Patrick Laverty

We hear people talking about "throw 'em all out" and actually, I'm ok with throwing out the good with the bad, because we have so many more of the bad. But it's interesting when you can actually see first-hand just how bad it can be and the odds that are stacked against those that are trying to do some good up on Smith Hill.

I saw this video link come across my Twitter feed this morning and thought it'd be interesting to check out. It's from the second to last day of the 2011 RI Senate session when the issue of binding arbitration for teachers popped up on the floor for a vote around 10:30 pm. It went into committee, got amended, got out of committee, got amended some more and was ready to be voted on by the full body of the Senate. This is where Senator Beth Moura (R-Cumberland/Lincoln) steps up and simply asks to give this bill 24 hours so local mayors and town councils (not to even mention taxpayers) could see it and offer their thoughts back to their Senators, as that's who would have to live by it.

Immediately, Senator Maryellen Goodwin (D-Providence), the Majority Whip gets into the fray to defend the bill. Her defense is that the Senate is already aware that the mayors and town councils don't want this bill to pass, so it's pointless to wait 24 hours.

Really? That seems logical? You know you're doing something that your constituents don't want, so it makes sense to go forward and vote on it anyway? Plus, it's always interesting to hear the whining and complaining about needing to move legislation simply because it's late at night. I have an idea for you people, adjourn and come back tomorrow if you don't want to be there late into the night!

And what is with the comment, "I know you're a freshman..."? It's as if Goodwin is talking down to Moura. It seems like she's saying, "Aren't you so cute trying to do this, but we don't let things like that happen. Thanks for trying to play with the adults, now go back to the childrens' table."

One last point here. How do the citizens of Rhode Island deal with this behavior and react to the efforts of both of these senators? Goodwin is running unopposed for her seat while Moura has three others seeking hers. Gotta love Rhode Island politics.


July 23, 2012


Thirty-One Legislators' Pay Does Not a Turnaround Beget

Justin Katz

The latest political news meme in Rhode Island has been the public declaration of 31 General Assembly legislators that they intend to forgo their scheduled salary increases:

Starting this month, the annual salary for most members of the part-time state legislature rises from $14,185.96 to $14,639.90. The salaries for House Speaker Gordon D. Fox and Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed, who make twice as much as other lawmakers, went from $28,371.92 to $29,279.80.

Neither Fox nor Paiva Weed is on the "no raise" list, meaning that the election-year move will save the state all of $14,072 on its $8,099,856,384 (that is, 0.000174%).

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...


July 15, 2012


A Full-Time General Assembly

Patrick Laverty

No.

In this week's Valley Breeze, frequent columnist Arlene Violet wrote that she is now a convert and a support of a full-time General Assembly in Rhode Island.

This sorry state of affairs has led me to reverse my long-term opposition to a full-time legislature. Now I think that we need to make that change so we can have a citizen body. Here's the why and the how.

The present General Assembly is loaded with union folks who do their master's bidding. Actual union leaders, along with teachers, firefighters, and policemen, pack the assembly halls. Taxpayers shell out money for their substitutes on days they report to work on Smith Hill at times that are inconsistent with their full-time jobs. This is pretty ridiculous. It allows a situation where they can have their cake and eat it, an option no other working stiff has. (Municipalities should cease including such a provision in collective bargaining agreements).

Similarly, the part-time nature of the legislative jobs allows attorneys to pack the place as well. Insurance guys generally also have a contingent at the Statehouse. Legislation that pads their daytime pockets is no accident.

I agree with her reasoning but disagree with her solution. I think what she suggests could force the Assembly to go in the other direction and cause people to be more corruptible and be more-self-serving. Her employment terms would include:
The legislative members should serve full-time with the month of July off as a vacation. Pay them $35,000-$40,000 a year to work 9 a.m.-5 p.m. from Tuesday through Saturday (so average people can approach their legislators on a day they aren't at work). Health care benefits should be offered. A 401K program should be in place. And here's an important feature: Anyone already receiving a public pension from the state or municipality either must not collect it or be ineligible to serve.
Let me ask you this, do you want someone who is willing to do a full time job for $40,000 making the laws in this state and making decisions for you? Who would give up their job as a teacher making upwards of $70,000 a year and a few months a year off for $40,000 and one month off? Or a lawyer possibly making a six-figure salary? Would these people switch jobs? Of course not, and I get it, that's her point. But who would run for office under this scenario? Probably not the "best and brightest", which is not a situation that we really need.

If the answer is that it shouldn't be about the money anyway and it should be about the desire to serve, then I agree totally, and let's go in that direction. If we are going to make a major reform to the structure of the General Assembly, let's go in the opposite direction from what Arlene suggests. Here's what I would like to see happen.

First, zero compensation. If it really is about the "service", then let's truly make these people be public servants. Also, notice I wrote "compensation" and not just "pay." There will be zero salary but there will also be zero health insurance and no retirement money, not that there is any pension for legislators now. New Hampshire gets away with paying their legislators $100 a year. So apparently that works.

Ok, so with no compensation, how will people be able to be there and serve either full-time or even with keeping it at its current schedule, the 4 pm bell time? Let's change that too. If you've ever experienced some days at the General Assembly, you've seen that they'll open at 4 pm and sometimes close as early as 4:30 pm, and then either head off to some committee hearings or head home. I'd push that back to a 6 pm start time. Now virtually anyone with a first-shift job can finish their normal work day and head to Providence for the Assembly sessions.

One other change that I'd like to see that actually works in another state, Texas, is to only have the Assembly meet every other year. It seems that in election years, they're very concerned with getting their work done, getting out and back on the campaign trail. Ok, I'm willing to help them with that. The change I'd make here is they are elected in November, start the Assembly session the following January, go as long as they need to, even if that means going into, *gasp*, July, and then when they're done, that's it. They sit out the following year as they get the whole year unimpeded to run for re-election.

In a state the size of RI, why do we need the Assembly to meet every year and put in all kinds of crazy bills and create new crazy laws, when a state the size of Texas doesn't need an annual legislature? It seems to work fine there, I'll take it here.

That's about it for now, but if any more evidence is needed of how a full-time Assembly does nothing to cut down on corruption, look no further than our neighbor to the north. Citing from the great internet source known as Wikipedia, here are their recent political convicts:
-Massachusetts Speaker of the House Salvatore DiMasi (D) was found guilty of using his position to secure multimillion-dollar state contracts for a software company in exchange for kickbacks.(2011)
-Massachusetts, Boston Councillor Chuck Turner (D) was expelled from the Boston City Council on December 1, 2010 following his conviction on federal bribery charges
-Massachusetts Speaker of the House Thomas Finneran (D) pled guilty to one count of obstruction of justice and received 18 months probation.(2004)
-Massachusetts State Senator Dianne Wilkerson (D-MA) was video taped by the FBI stuffing bribe money into her bra. Charged with tax evasion (1997), ethics violations (2001) and perjury (2005)
-Massachusetts Speaker of the House Charles Flaherty (D-MA) pled guilty to felony tax evasion for submitting false receipts regarding his business expenses and to violations of the state conflict of interests law.(1996)
-Massachusetts state representative Nicholas Mavroules (D-MA) pleaded guilty to bribery charges. Mavroules was a US Representative, not a MA state rep. h/t Bill Rappleye

To me, that says that if anything, more power can lead to more corruption. I searched the same Wikipedia list for corrupt NH legislators and found none. One arrested for DUI, but certainly not the rogue's gallery we see up in Mass.

That's my opinion. If we're going to make a radical change to the Assembly, let's go unpaid, every other year and have them start later in the day. Sounds like a better combination to me.


July 3, 2012


Doing More With Less

Patrick Laverty

I would expect that constituents on both sides of the aisle to be asking members of the General Assembly if they will be taking the same cuts* as eight of them have been reported to be doing. Today's Providence Journal reports that eight members of the General Assembly, six in the Senate and two in the House will decline their state constitution-mandated raises.

As of Monday afternoon, six senators — all of them Republicans — and two House members had notified the Joint Committee on Legislative Services, a panel of House and Senate leaders that oversees General Assembly business matters, that they do not want the additional pay. The list includes Senators Dennis L. Algiere, R-Westerly; Dawson T. Hodgson, R-North Kingstown; Nicholas D. Kettle, R-Coventry; Francis T. Ma-her, R-Exeter; Christopher Ottiano, R-Portsmouth; and Glenford J. Shibley, R-Coventry; and Representatives Doreen M. Costa, R-North Kingstown, and James N. McLaughlin, D-Cumberland, said House spokesman Larry Berman.
Granted, the amount is relatively small (increasing from $14,185.96 to $14,639.90) so the move is partly symbolic, but I think that when members of the Assembly do something positive, we should write about that as well, and not just let the "blogosphere" (gotta love made up words) be negative all the time.

So at this time when our politicians are ok with nickel and diming us all over the state every year, here's one time when we can post something good about nickel and diming in the other direction.

But you didn't think I could end this with all kittens and roses right? Keep in mind that this is 8 out of 113. We still have 105 who will either accept the raise or simply haven't decided yet.

*The use of "cuts" is tongue in cheek as a cut is usually indicative of spending less. Here is the usage where we call it a cut only because we're spending less than was budgeted for in the future, but there's still not any real savings. Many times when our local politicians tell us about "cuts" and "savings", this is the usage they really mean. Marc has posted about this a number of times.


June 13, 2012


March 1 vs. June 1

Patrick Laverty

One specific bill did not pass in this General Assembly session and it should have been a slam dunk. The bill would have moved the teacher layoff notices from March 1 to June 1. It was sponsored by Senator DiPalma, was last seen back in February by the Senate Labor Committee and you guessed it, was held for further study.

Two groups are affected by the teacher layoff notices, school districts and teachers. Everyone that I've heard from, school districts and teachers included, wanted the date pushed forward to June 1. The March 1 deadline in the middle of the school year causes stress for teachers who then worry about their job status for the next few months, until they're notified that they will be brought back.

Each year, far more teachers receive this notice than actually get laid off. If the date was moved to June 1, school districts would have a better idea of their needs for the upcoming school year and fewer teachers would receive the notice.

So why didn't this pass? No idea. I've spoken with a few in the media covering this as well as elected members of the GA. No one has any idea why it didn't pass. It seems like a no-brainer.

Now because everyone wants this to pass, sometimes extreme measures are required to get peoples' attention to enact change. Here's my suggestion on how to get the General Assembly's attention on this one. Next March 1, every school district in the state should send the layoff notice to 100% of their teachers. Every district, every teacher. Remember the uproar it caused a couple years ago when Central Falls did then and then again last year in Providence? What if that happened throughout the state? We'd have everyone up in arms asking why this date is the law. I'm pretty sure at that point, we'd have every teacher telling their representation to get the law changed and the school districts would be fine with moving the date as well.

It seems that possibly in their haste, the General Assembly and the Senate Labor Committee dropped the ball on this one, someone just "forgot" about it. That is, unless there actually is someone or some group that thinks the March 1 date is appropriate. If so, that person should explain it to the teachers. It's only fair.



Representative Bob Watson Not Seeking Re-election

Patrick Laverty

According to multiple sources, State Representative Bob Watson will not be seeking re-election in November.

Watson has been in the General Assembly for 20 years, and served from 1998 to 2011 as the House Minority Leader.

Representative Watson was always known to be very vocal on many issues and was never afraid of a fight in the State House. I'm sure his voice will be missed by many (but certainly not all) on Smith Hill, especially on those very late nights at the end of an Assembly session.

Thank you and good luck Representative Watson.


June 12, 2012


It's Not Quite A Media-Savvy Assembly

Patrick Laverty

I'm not expecting much from these people, our General Assembly, but is it really too much to ask to have them be aware of the media around them? I don't think anyone expects to be treated like Mick Jagger or something, but a minimal understanding of who media members are would be nice. It would at least show that our Assembly's members are informed when it comes to the local news.

First we had one state rep being overheard asking "Who's that?" in reference to Tim White of WPRI testifying before a committee. Then our own Justin Katz being asked multiple times in the State Senate who he is and what he's doing there. And today, we get the doozy. We get the whole deal. Both a "who are you" and either borderline sexual harassment or complete condescension.

After WPRI reporter Ted Nesi asked State Rep. Lisa Baldelli-Hunt about her mayoral aspirations in Woonsocket, she had a question for him:

BALDELLI-HUNT: Quite frankly – are you Ted Nesi?
Well, points for that one. At least she had an accurate guess. But later in the conversation, after some testy exchanges, she ended it with:
BALDELLI-HUNT: You know what? You’re very cute.
I was not there and am merely reading Nesi's account, but you can see where it devolved and she may have been baited. However, when you're involved in politics and you're not answering the questions directly, reporters will try to get an answer by asking a different way, but that doesn't excuse her response. Can you even imagine the outrage that would come of this if a male state rep answered a Kathy Gregg or Kate Bramson or Erika Niedowski the same way? Any of those women would probably be outraged to be spoken to that way by anyone on Smith Hill and rightfully so. Should Rep. Baldelli-Hunt get a pass on this for some reason?

I have no idea whether she does have her eyes set on the mayor's seat in Woonsocket, but if this is the kind of heat that she can't take in stride, she might want to answer the reporter's question next time with a genuine "No."


June 11, 2012


Why the East Bay Energy Consortium Should Be Rejected by the General Assembly this Session II

Carroll Andrew Morse

Another amended version of the East Bay Energy Consortium bill has appeared on the General Assembly website. This latest version of S2870 would allow two (or more) town/city councils to get together and create a corporation for the newly defined "essential governmental function" of developing "renewable energy resources". A corporation created under this law would not be able to issue bonds -- this version of the bill says so explicitly -- but would be able to create "notes or other obligations".

If the project fails or is substantially delayed, who would be on the hook for these "notes or other obligations" is not clear from the law. To be able to sell "notes or other obligations" as "risk-free" municipal-grade investments, the corporation will need to be able to point to a method for raising revenue that is guaranteed to be there in the future, such as access to direct government appropriations or the ability to add surcharges to energy rates. If there is no public backstop, meaning that money to pay back the "notes and other obligations" might not be available and there is a real possibility of default, then interest rates on the "notes and other obligations" issued by the corporation will be high, and how the corporation provides any advantage over more conventional methods of financing, from the perspective of taxpayers and ratepayers, is uncertain at best.

Could the same end-of-session process that has led many Rhode Island legislators to claim they didn't know what they were voting on when they approved the 38 Studios loan guarantee program be used to speed an East Bay Energy Consortium bill through the RI General Assembly this year? Two years ago, a bill modifying the Economic Development Corporation's loan guarantee program to provide for the 38 Studios flew through the final three days of the General Assembly session. A Senate Committee passed the bill two days before the Senate adjourned. The full Senate passed the bill on the day after that. The bill then went from the Senate directly to the House Floor calendar (no House committee hearing was involved; this appears to be allowed by the rules after the budget has been passed) and was approved by the full House on the final day of the session.

The East Bay Energy Consortium bill goes before the Senate Environmental and Natural Resources Committee this afternoon, on what is expected to be the day before adjournment of the 2012 General Assembly session. Legislators, in both chambers, whether in committee or floor sessions, should not vote to approve S2870 in any form until they understand -- and can explain to the public -- who it is that will be assuming the real risks that this bill enables.

Continue reading "Why the East Bay Energy Consortium Should Be Rejected by the General Assembly this Session II"

June 10, 2012


Coming up in Committee, Special Sunday Edition: Sixteen Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, June 11 - June 12 (That's Monday and Tuesday), Part 2

Carroll Andrew Morse

8. H7173/S2052: A statutory "bill of rights" for homeless individuals (H Judiciary; Tue, Jun 12). The section guaranteeing a "right to fair, decent and affordable housing in the community of his or her choosing, and access to safe and proximate shelter until such housing can be attained", noted previously in these updates, has been removed from the amended version of the bill. This is a definite improvement given that this "right" was unenforceable if taken literally, and laws as much as possible should be written to be understood literally.

7. H7842/S2684: Establishes a "conciliation conference" procedure that must be followed by mortagagee, before "any owner-occupied, one-to-four unit residential property" can be foreclosed upon (S Judiciary; Tue, Jun 12).

6. S2572: A major rewrite of the law concerning sexual offender registration and notification, in order to comply with Federal law, introduced at the request of the Attorney General (S Judiciary; Mon, Jun 11).

5. S2880: Introduces four criteria that must be present to establish criminal intent in cases where the law does not specify "the criminal intent required to establish an element of the offense". The four elements are 1) a conscious object to engage in conduct of the nature constituting the element; 2) a conscious object to cause such a result required by the element; 3) an awareness of the existence of any attendant circumstances required by the element or with the belief or hope that such circumstances exist; and 4) either specific intent to violate the law or knowledge that the conduct is unlawful (S Judiciary; Mon, Jun 11). Question for Anchor Rising's legal-eagle commenters: Doesn't criteria #4 introduce a big loophole into the law, and run counter to centuries of common law holding that ignorance of the law is not a defense?

4. S2569/H7859: An attempt to bring independent electioneering expenditures under a campaign-finance regime. Not just corporations, but also individuals (though not 501c(3)s) who want to independently spend more than $1,000 in a calendar year supporting/opposing a candidate for office or a position in a referendum would have to register with the Board of Elections, and any "written, typed, or other printed" electioneering communications would be required to carry a "paid for by" message (S Judiciary; Mon, Jun 11).

3. H8213/S3001: Regulation of casino tables games (assuming the passage of a constitutional amendment allowing them (H Finance; Mon, Jun 11 & S Finance; Mon, Jun 11 & S Finance; Tue, Jun 12). The same bill being scheduled for hearings in the Senate on back-to-back days is not a typo. It's actually on both calendars.

2. H7413: "No state assessment conducted pursuant to this chapter, and no other standardized testing program or assessment, shall be used to determine a student’s eligibility to graduate from high school" (H Health, Education and Welfare; Mon, Jun 11). Addendum: There's an amended version of S2274 posted on the General Assembly website, where the blanket prohibition on standardized testing as a graduation requirement has been replaced by several alternative pathways for students who don't pass a standardized test.

1. S2870: The East Bay Energy Consortium and its mysterious financial machinations (S Environment & Agriculture; Mon, Jun 11).



Coming up in Committee, Special Sunday Edition: Sixteen Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, June 11 - June 12 (That's Monday and Tuesday), Part 1

Carroll Andrew Morse

What is the legislature working on, in what is almost certain to be their final week in session? Well, for one thing, giving lots of bills getting House and Senate hearings at the same time:

Local Impact: Cranston 2, Exeter, Glocester, Middletown, North Providence, Portsmouth, Providence.

16. H7026: Allows the State Insurance Commissioner to grant "licenses to permit an experienced motor vehicle appraiser to act as a motor vehicle physical damage appraiser in this state without a Rhode Island license" in the event of an emergency (S Judiciary; Mon, Jun 11).

15. H8189: Bill from the unofficial board of directors of the RI Resource Recovery Corporation (i.e. the House of Representatives delegation from Johnston) prohibiting corporation facilities from using "construction and demolition debris" to cover compacted solid waste at a sanitary landfill (H Environment and Natural Resources; Mon, Jun 11).

14. S2962: Resolution asking the Federal government to lift its ban on sports betting and other forms of wagering in states where it's not currently allowed (like Rhode Island) (S Special Legislation and Veterans' Affairs; Mon, Jun 11).

13. H7721/S2465: Increases the surcharge on rental vehicle contracts from 6% to 8% (H Finance; Mon, Jun 11 & S Finance; Mon Jun 11).

12. S2395/H7910: Requires monitoring for the Johnston landfill, specifically for "the presence of odorous contaminants from landfill gas" (H Environment and Natural Resources; Mon, Jun 11 & S Environment & Agriculture, Mon, Jun 11).

11. H8110/S2969: Eliminates a section in the law governing state lotteries that says, after prizes and operating costs have been paid, that "the amount to be transferred into the general revenue fund" from what remains "shall equal no less than twenty-five percent (25%) of the total revenue received and accrued from the sale of lottery tickets plus any other income earned from the lottery...but the amount transferred into the general revenue fund shall equal no less than fifteen percent (15%) of the total Keno revenue received", and doesn't replace it with anything (H Finance; Mon, Jun 11 & S Finance; Mon, Jun 11). OK, then how much does the state get?

10. H8195: Removes the exemption from "all taxation" of the real and personal property of Bryant University "used exclusively for educational purposes" (H Finance; Mon, Jun 11).

9. S2411: "No application for any license or employment from any public agency or private employer shall be denied by reason of the applicant's having been previously convicted of one or more criminal offenses", with some exceptions (S Judiciary; Mon, Jun 11).


June 9, 2012


House Democrats Opt For The Money

Patrick Laverty

One of the underreported stories from Thursday night/Friday morning's General Assembly budget session is how House Minor Leader Brian Newberry attempted to prevent the new tax on dog grooming and taxi rides.

Any time a legislator wants to amend the budget in a way the removes taxes (income), the budget becomes unbalanced unless they can offer up a solution. So how did Newberry expect to offset the lost revenue from eliminating the taxi and dog grooming tax?

From the On Politics blog by Ian Donnis:

Newberry said the lawmakers could make up the same amount by cutting into the $2.3 million budget for legislative grants. His amendment to make that change — like scores of others opposed by leadership — was soundly defeated.
Right. Don't you dare touch that sacred cow also known as the legislative grants fund. Oh sure, the Democrats will tell you they care about the working man and small business but if you force them to put their money where their mouth is, nope, they won't go there.

Here's an alternative for Newberry then. They all know how much they expect to receive in the new tax. In spite of a pledge to never request any legislative grants, make an exception this time. Request a grant and use it to pay back the tax paid by these small businesses. Let the leadership look them in the eye a third time and say "No, suckers!"

Gotta love that legislative grant money. Just don't call it a slush fund.


June 7, 2012


Live from Rhode Island Budget Day, It's Justin Katz!

Carroll Andrew Morse

Justin is liveblogging the Rhode Island House of Representatives' budget deliberations at the Ocean State Current. He's in the media section on the House floor, allowing him to immediately read (and blog about) floor amendments, as they are presented to the legislators.


June 5, 2012


Why the Move to Put the East Bay Energy Consortium Under the Economic Development Corporation and into the Wind Farm Business Should Be Rejected by the General Assembly this Session

Carroll Andrew Morse

Some Rhode Island General Assembly members want to take the state into the wind farm business. They want to make an already-existing body called the “East Bay Energy Consortium” into a subsidiary of the RI Economic Development Corporation, so that the governmental parts of the EDC's quasi-governmental authority can be leveraged by the EBEC, so that the EBEC can involve itself in the creation, financing and management of an electricity-generating windmill project in Tiverton. The bill that would authorize this has been fast-tracked in this legislative session, even as the collapse of another EDC project, 38 Studios, has played out in public, with some legislators apparently oblivious to the potential downside of semi-attentive politicians trusting quasi-government panels to guide sector-specific economic development. Drawing parallels between 38 Studios and the East Bay Energy Consortium is appropriate, not only because the Economic Development Corporation is involved with both projects (though it is fair to ask if the organization that bungled the oversight of a software company is qualified to oversee a power generation company), but also because both projects center on government presenting itself to the world as a "risk-free" investment.

The State of Rhode Island became involved with 38 studios as a result of its ownership being unable to convince investors that direct investment in the software gaming company was likely to return more money than was put in (at least on terms that 38 Studios owners were willing to agree to). As a result, to generate the startup capital that was needed, 38 Studios found something else, by making a deal with Rhode Island, that financiers were willing to invest in: the ability of Rhode Island's government to raise revenue through taxation. This is what buying bonds that back loan guarantees is, an investment in government's ability to use its sovereign powers to acquire from future citizens the monies that bondholders are owed. Whether the state gets the money to pay bond obligations from a sales-revenue stream, as would be ideal in this case for all parties involved, or from some other source is irrelevant to the bondholder. Bondholders just want to know that some source of revenue that they have access to is certain to be there in the future, so that their investment will be "risk-free". (Contemporary bondholders are also investing in the gullibility of modern government, who are alright with being charged 6%+ interest rates on what are supposedly "risk-free" investments, but that's a separate issue).

Since 38 Studios went out of business before it could pay off its associated bonds, the money to pay the bondholders is obviously not going to come from sales revenue; it will come from revenues taken directly from taxpayers. Likewise, if a Tiverton wind farm financed by public bonds is unable to generate sufficient revenues to cover its operating costs and finance the bond obligations, additional revenue would be need to be raised from somewhere else -- and after the 38 Studios debacle, claims that there is no chance that a startup business backed by Rhode Island government can fail, or that it is impossible for a project to be substantially delayed, or that future market conditions might not be favorable to generating revenues needed to cover operating costs and payoff bondholders are not to be taken seriously.

An underperforming East Bay Energy Consortium wind farm probably would not draw on general taxation if it needed extra money to pay bond obligations. The most recent version of the EBEC legislation that has been made available to the public states that Consortium obligations will not become obligations "of the state or of any political subdivision of the state". But if EBEC bonds are to be made attractive to bond investors, i.e. if they are to be made "risk-free", then some method of raising revenue independent of the success or failure of the Tiverton wind-farm must be possessed by the Consortium. The alternate revenue mechanism is probably the power "to collect revenues under tariffs approved by the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission", a power (along with a few others) enumerated in the new law that the state and municipalities "pledge" not to alter the rights of the Consortium until all of its obligations, "together with the interest thereon", is paid off.

Whenever government assumes revenues from the successful future completion of a project, while at the same time presenting investments related to that project as risk-free, a number of very basic questions need thorough public examination, so that lawmakers, taxpayers and, in this case, ratepayers have a realistic idea of how likely it is that taxpayers and ratepayers will end up subsidizing poor business planning, unexpected changes in market conditions or some combination of the two. The highest-level questions are:

  • What is the risk that a Tiverton wind farm won't be able to generate the money to cover its operating costs and pay back its associated bondholders by selling electricity at market rates?
  • If the project cannot generate adequate revenues by selling electricity at market rates, by what mechanism will money be taken from ratepayers/taxpayers to pay off bondholders, and upon whom is the bulk of this burden expected to fall?
  • If the risks are minimal, then why is a long-term subsidy mechanism written into the law needed to find startup capital?
  • And what will be the EDC/EBEC/PUC attitude towards the priority of bond payments, i.e. will it be bondholders-first, where no surcharge is deemed too high to add to a bill, to pay off the project?
There is one final question related to this particular project; several reports on the public forums where the EBEC's bill has been deliberated mention another developer, Apex Wind Energy, also interested in developing a wind farm at the Tiverton site. Apex's plan is to build the wind farm independent of East Bay Energy Consortium involvement and has claimed that it is ready to begin, without reliance on the sovereign powers of the government or on sovereign debt. I don't know at this time if Apex's plans are realistic or not, but why isn't the company that claims that it can get started in the absence of a long-term government subsidies being given priority over the one that says it absolutely needs them?

In the aftermath of 38 Studios, a number of Rhode Island lawmakers have said that they didn't know what they were voting on, or what the real risk was, when they approved the legislation that made taxpayers an alternate source of payments to 38 Studios bondholders. Lawmakers should not repeat that mistake by approving the East Bay Energy Consortium bill before all of the ramifications of the structures it implements have been fully explained to the people who could end up paying for them. Claims of we didn't know what we were voting on will absolutely not be tenable next time around.


June 4, 2012


Coming up in Committee: Thirteen Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, June 4 - June 8

Carroll Andrew Morse

Usually, there's a pretty clear most important bill of the week that gets the top slot, but this week, cases could be made that any of the top 5 or 6 bills could be number one, depending on which issue areas an individual thinks are most important...

Local Impact: Bristol, Central Falls 2, Central Falls/Cumberland 2, Coventry 2 3 4 5 6 7, Cranston 2 3, Cumberland, Exeter, Middletown 2 3 4, Narragansett, Pawtucket 2 3, Portsmouth, Providence 2, Smithfield 2, Warwick 2.

13. S2816/ H7882: Adds the Governor's Office to the list of government departments that can participate in the operation of a State House gift shop (S Special Legislation and Veterans' Affairs; Wed, Jun 6). Just a reminder of all of the really big issues that the Rhode Island legislature is considering at the end of its session, and what your legislators will be spending their time on, instead of considering the details of the budget.

12. S3002: Governor Chafee's proposed changes to the motion-picture tax-credit law (S Finance; Tue, Jun 5).

11. H8225: Subjects the Bristol County Water Authority to the Access to Public Records Act (H Municipal Government; Wed, Jun 6).

10. H8049: Provides state funding for all day kindergarten in four school districts "to offset a portion of the reasonable one-time, start-up costs" (H Finance; Mon, Jun 4).

9. H8195: Removes the exemption of the real and personal property of Bryant University from all taxation (H Finance; Mon, Jun 4).

8. H7060: An extension of parts of campaign finance regulation to local financial town meetings and referendums (S Judiciary; Tue, Jun 6).

7. S2955: Moves Central Falls into the MERS pension system (S Finance; Tue, Jun 5). The Governor promised to do this as part of the Central Falls pension settlement; Justin has a report on the RI General Treasurer's reservations about this idea at the Ocean State Current.

6. H7916: Resolution opposing the detention provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act (H Judiciary; Wed, Jun 6). My objections to the resolution, for anyone who is interested, are explained here.

5. S2280: Limits the powers of a state-appointed fiscal overseer, budget commission or receiver "to dealing with financial matters" and denies them the authority "to enact any ordinance, resolution or charter revision" or "to abolish any board or committee or reduce an elected body to an advisory capacity" (S Finance; Tue, Jun 5).

4. H8143: Allows "any elected Rhode Island state or municipal official" to designate "a structure, sculpture, inscription, or icon, or similar item" on public property and meeting certain other criteria as a "category one memorial item", and explicitly states that such a designation is not an attempt to establish a religion (H Judiciary; Wed, Jun 6). The courts will probably not take the category one designation into consideration in their rulings. However, the bill also makes it a state responsibility to pay the legal costs associated with lawsuits demanding the removal of a category one memorial item...

3. H7592/S2870: Authorization of the East Bay Energy Consortium as a subsidiary of the RI Economic Development Corporation, so that it can finance and manage a wind-farm project with government backed bonds (H Environment and Natural Resources; Tue, Jun 5 & S Environment and Agriculture; Wed, Jun 6).

2. H7909: Writes various "health insurance rules, standards, and policies" from Obamacare into state law (and that will remain, no matter how the Supreme Court rules on Obamacare); also, S2477/H7784 mandates that the State Health insurance commissioner create a workgroup "for the purpose of coordinating the development of processes, guidelines, and standards to streamline health care administration that are to be adopted by payors and providers of health care services operating in the state" (H Corporations; Tue, Jun 5).

1. H8213: Regulation of casino tables games (assuming the passage of a constitutional amendment allowing them) (H Finance; Fri, Jun 8).


May 29, 2012


Coming up in Committee: Thirteen Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, May 29 - May 31

Carroll Andrew Morse

Getting up to speed after the long weekend...

Local Impact: Barrington Bristol, Burrilliville, Cranston, Exeter, for all intents and purposes, Middletown 2, North Kingstown, Pawtucket, Portsmouth, Richmond, Smithfield, South Kingstown, Warren 2, Warwick 2, West Greenwich.

13. H8188: Prohibits RI Resource Recovery Corporation facilities from accepting "any construction and demolition debris" (H Environment and Natural Resources; Tue, May 29). This bill involves the oft-seen pattern of Johnston's State Reps acting like a board of directors for the Resource Recovery Corp.

12. H8207/H8208/H8209/H8210/H8211: $8.55M of bonds for the town of Coventry (H Finance; Tue, May 29). So far, no rumors that any Coventry reps will be offering tearful motions to recommit the bills, if they make it to the House floor.

11. S2792: "Beginning on or before January 1, 2013 each electric distribution company shall, to the extent eligible projects are available and conforming applications are submitted, fund investments in at least twenty megawatts of combined heat and power installations at commercial, institutional or industrial facilities" (S Environment and Agriculture; Wed, May 30).

10. S2962: Ceremonial resolution, asking the Federal government to lift the ban on legalizing sports betting and other forms of wagering in states where it is not currently allowed (like Rhode Island, for instance) (S Special Legislation and Veterans Affairs; Wed, May 30).

9. S2036: From the official description: "This act would allow for shared service administration of OPEB [other post-employment benefit] trusts between municipalities. It would also allow city and town councils and regional school districts to jointly establish a corporation to manage and operate OPEB trust" (S Finance; Tue, May 29).

8. H7950/S2659: Gives city and town solicitors the power to investigate false claims against the state and municipalities, and bring civil actions against the perpetrators (H Judiciary; Wed, May 30).

7. S2553: Government funded "family planning" through "eligibility pursuant to section 1902(a)(10)(A)(ii)(XXI) of the social security act" (Medicaid?) for individuals "whose income is no greater than two-hundred fifty percent (250%) of the federal poverty level" (S Finance; Tue, May 29).

6B. S2887: Various measures to establish "health insurance standards in addition to, but not inconsistent with" Obamacare, including a prohibition on limiting or excluding healthcare coverage based on pre-existing conditions (S Health and Human Services; Tue, May 29).

6A. S2287: Instructs the state health insurance commissioner to phase out the use of fee-for-service medicine in Rhode Island (S Health and Human Services; Tue, May 29).

5. S2361: Detailed procedures for dealing with and possibly altering a patient's "medical order for life sustaining treatment" (MOLST), defined as a "request regarding resuscitative measures that directs a health care provider regarding resuscitative and life sustaining measures" (H Health, Education and Welfare; Wed, May 30).

4. H7859: An attempt to bring independent electioneering expenditures under a campaign-finance regime. Anyone -- including individuals, not just corporations -- who wants to independently spend more than $250 in a calendar year supporting/opposing a candidate for office or a position in a referendum would have to register with the Board of Elections (H Judiciary; Tue, May 29). Also, S2336 extends parts of campaign finance regulation to local financial town meetings & referendums (S Judiciary; Tue, May 29).

3. S2870: Authorization of the East Bay Energy Consortium as a subsidiary of the RI Economic Development Corporation, basically putting the EDC into the wind-farm business (S Environment and Agriculture; Wed, May 30).

2. S3001/H8213: Regulation of casino tables games (assuming the passage of a constitutional amendment allowing them (Joint H & S Finance; Tue, May 29). You can follow Justin's liveblog of the fast-tracked hearing for this bill, at the Ocean State Current.

1. H7323: The budget bill (H Finance; Thu, May 31).


May 21, 2012


Coming up in Committee: Ten Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, May 22 - May 24

Carroll Andrew Morse

Local Impact: Coventry, Cumberland, Foster 2, North Kingstown, Richmond 2 3, Smithfield, Warwick.

10. H7866: A package of zoning law changes, including a cap on the minimum allowed size for buildable lots, an exclusion on considering slope as a development potential criteria, and the addition of "protecting natural resources and promoting efficient use of land" to the list of factors to be taken into account in zoning ordinances (H Municipal Government; Thu, May 24).

9. H7136: "Notwithstanding any law to the contrary, a foreclosing owner shall not evict a tenant except just for just cause or unless a binding purchase and sale agreement has been executed for a bona fide third party to purchase the housing accommodation from a foreclosing owner and the foreclosing owner has disclosed to the third-party purchaser that said purchaser may be responsible for evicting the current occupants of the housing accommodation after the sale occurs" (H Judiciary; Tue, May 22).

8. S2712: Extensive new regulations on quasi-public corporations. In addition to mandating that public corporation board members must do things like "understand operational decisions" of their corporations, this bill also requires the establishment of executive compensation and governance committees by quasi-publics... (S Finance; Tue, May 22) ...but the best part is the new section 42-155-4(3) of the law, which would the extend to quasi-public corporations the code of ethics that the legislature refuses to accept for itself!

7. H7359: Allows out-of-state businesses to operate in RI during a declared disaster without being immediately treated, for purposes of taxation and regulation, as having opened a branch office in RI (H Corporations; Wed, May 23).

6. H8024: Charges the Economic Development Corporation with reviewing all state regulations (within 4 years) for their impact on small business. One criteria to be examined, new to Rhode Island law, is whether "the benefit conferred by the regulation is outweighed by the cost" (H Small Business; Tue, May 22). On the one hand, this might be a better mission for the EDC than making dubious loan guarantee deals. On the other hand, if this becomes a core mission of the EDC, it might make sense to pull it directly into the executive branch. Then again, it may make sense to end the EDC's debt-issuing powers and pull it into the executive branch in any event.

5. H7283: Replaces a 5-section/7-subsection part of the law prohibiting for-profit "corporations, subsidiaries, or affiliates" from applying to "convert" more than 1 hospital in a 3-year period, with 1 section (sans subsections) expressly stating that for-profits can apply to "convert" more than one hospital per year (H Corporations; Thu, May 24).

4. H8143: Allows "any elected Rhode Island state or municipal official" to designate "a structure, sculpture, inscription, or icon, or similar item" on public property and meeting certain other criteria as a "category one memorial item", and explicitly states that such a designation is not an attempt to establish a religion (H Judiciary; Thu, May 24). I don't think the courts will care about the category one designation in their decision making. However, the bill also makes it a state responsibility to pay the legal costs associated with lawsuits demanding the removal of a category one memorial item...

3. H7859: An attempt to bring independent electioneering expenditures under a campaign-finance regime. Anyone -- including individuals, not just corporations -- who wants to independently spend more than $250 in a calendar year supporting/opposing a candidate for office or a position in a referendum would have to register with the Board of Elections (H Judiciary; Thu, May 24).

2. H7112/S2179: Eliminates good-behavior reduction of prison sentences for individuals convicted under sections 11-23-1 (Murder), 11-26-1.4 (Kidnapping of a minor), 11-37-2 (First degree sexual assault), 11-37-8.1 (First degree child molestation sexual assault) or 11-37-8.3 (Second degree child molestation sexual assault) of Rhode Island law (H Judiciary; Tue, May 22).

1. S2872: The Woonsocket supplemental property tax. Related; S2860 would adjust the education aid "funding formula" so if Woonsocket moves to full-day kindergarten, "the kindergarten students in the city of Woonsocket shall be considered full-time equivalent students, and the reference year used to determine the average daily membership for the city of Woonsocket shall be moved forward one year and projected into the fiscal year for which the appropriation is to begin" (H Finance; Tue, May 22).


May 15, 2012


Coming up in Committee: Thirteen Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, May 15 - May 17

Carroll Andrew Morse

Local Impact: Central Falls, Coventry 2, Cranston, Glocester, Narragansett, Middletown/Newport 2, Newport 2, North Providence 2, Pawtucket, Tiverton, Warren, Warwick, West Greenwich, West Warwick 2.

13. S2883: A capital gains tax exemption for "new investments in Rhode Island businesses" that meet certain conditions (S Finance; Thu, May 17).

12. S2631: Adds to the state's payment-in-lieu-of-taxes program a reimbursement to cities and towns of 27% of the property tax value of land occupied by Federal military installations (S Finance; Tue, May 15).

11. Seven different bond issues for Pawtucket (H8085, H8086, H8087, H8088, H8089, H8090, H8102) (H Finance; Tue, May 15). Normally these would be in the local impact section, but seven bond issues for the same community on one agenda is highly unusual.

10. S2538: Mandates that portable electronics insurance can only be sold by someone with a license to sell such insurance (H Corporations; Wed, May 16).

9. H8044: Reduces not wearing a seatbelt to a secondary offense (H Judiciary; Tue, May 15).

8. H7950: Gives city and town solicitors the power to investigate false claims against the state and municipalities, and bring civil actions against the perpetrators (H Judiciary; Wed, May 16).

7. H8052: Lifts a moratorium, currently not set to expire until June 30, 2014, on the Board of Regents for Education not approving new "school housing projects" (H Finance; Tue, May 15).

6. H7948: Moves the "control of firearms...regarding their ownership, possession, transportation, carrying, transfer, sale, purchase, purchase delay, licensing, registration, and taxation" from state to local jurisdiction (H Judiciary; Wed, May 16). I'm going to speculate that this bill is motivated more by an intent to move attempts to end-run the second amendment and the Heller regime down to a level where fewer people might notice than by any broader desire to devolve the functions of government.

5. S2631/H7735: Detailed procedures for dealing with and possibly altering a patient's "medical order for life sustaining treatment" (MOLST), defined as a "request regarding resuscitative measures that directs a health care provider regarding resuscitative and life sustaining measures" (H Health Education and Welfare; Wed, May 16 & S Health and Human Services; Wed, May 16).

4. H8074: According to the official description, "this act would relieve municipalities from the mandatory obligation of providing suitable transportation for pupils of nonprofit private schools" (H Housing and Municipal Government; Thu, May 17).

3. H7853: State constitutional amendment allowing legal resident non-citizens to vote in state and local elections (H Judiciary; Wed, May 16).

2. S2872: Supplemental property tax for Woonsocket, to help straighten out the city's finances (H Finance; Tue, May 15).

1. S2955: Moves Central Falls pensions into the MERS system, and restores a portion of the pension benefit reduction that was part of the Central Falls bankruptcy settlement (S Finance; Thu, May 17) ...but without any obvious mention of how the restored benefits will be paid for.


May 8, 2012


You Can Lead a Horse to Water...

Patrick Laverty

It seems that locally some people are on a "Full Time Assembly" kick and I'm not sure why. I don't see how this is possibly a good idea. One of the latest people to suggest it is URI Professor Len Lardaro in an On Politics blog post with Ian Donnis today. Ian lists out Lardaro's suggestions on what would help Rhode Island.

(1) Have a full-time legislature;
(2) Dramatically reduce the size of the legislature to about 50 persons;
(3) Institute four-year terms for the legislature;
(4) Have term limits of two (four-year) terms;
(5) Give the governor a line item veto authority; and
(6) Earmark all revenues generated by increases in taxes or fees to investment-oriented uses.

I believe some are better than others, but the bad ones are pretty bad. But first, a little other background from Ian's article. Earlier in the post, Lardaro says:

In spite of a very severe crisis, where the global economy flirted with depression, Rhode Island made very few changes to either eliminate or moderate its major structural deficiencies
Prof. Lardaro is explaining that the Assembly has done little to help avoid the economic downturn that the state is experiencing but then one of his suggestions on how to fix it is to have a full-time legislature? I don't really understand that logic. I don't think the problem is that the Assembly doesn't annually have enough time to do what needs to be done. They have plenty of time. So how would a full-time Assembly fix that?

Looking at some of his other points, on number two, I think it's also a bad idea to drop to just 50 people in the Assembly. What happens when you concentrate power into fewer people? When they are corrupted, the smaller numbers can do more damage. Plus, it's fewer people for the special interests to sway. It takes less money to influence the fewer people. Plus, when you cut the Assembly down to less than half of what they have now, it's harder for the members to associate with their constituency. So for me in that regard, the more the merrier!

On the four-year terms, I don't think it's as big of a problem, especially if it is coupled with a two-term term limit. However there is very little accountability to the public that way. I do love the idea of term limits. I can never understand why an office like Governor or President has a term limit but Congress and the State Assembly don't. Clearly that just gives more power to the career politicians and that's not what our system of government was intended to be.

Line item veto? Absolutely. Great idea.

Earmark tax increases for investments? This sounds great. Of course it makes the budgeting and accounting process more difficult, but if you want to raise our taxes on something, tell us what it's for and then use the money for that purpose.

While we're at it, why not a couple more? Zero based budgeting. We keep hearing all these little stories about waste and fraud and I'd love to have the department heads come to Smith Hill and justify everything. Let's go with a couple suggestions that commenter Dan has put forward a few times. How about a completely volunteer Assembly. If it really is all about public service, as they indicate when they want your vote, then show it. Completely volunteer. No salary, no benefits. Also, let them convene every two years. If it works for a state the size of Texas, it can certainly work in Rhode Island. They can have election years off to come up with the lists of bills that they'll bring forth in the odd year.

Like Ian indicated, it's a virtual lock that these will not be adopted in their entirety and also very unlikely that any would be adopted. However, they might be a good start to just getting the Assembly out of the way.



State Budget on the Horizon?

Carroll Andrew Morse

It's not surprising that, in an election year, the Rhode Island General Assembly would like to finish up as quickly as possible and free themselves up for the campaigning phase of the political cycle. A few folks familiar with the budgetary process believe that the schedule will be as aggressive as the House Finance Committee approving a budget by the end of next week, with all legislative business for the year -- state budget, Governor’s municipal relief package (approved or not) and everything else -- being completed by the first day of June, and with any unexpected twists in the process unlikely to carry the session beyond the first full week of June.

Those who believe that the Rhode Island legislature's traditional end-of-session flurry of business is the time when the most scrutiny is required may want to plan their schedules accordingly.


May 7, 2012


Coming up in Committee: Seventeen Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, May 8 - May 10

Carroll Andrew Morse

Local Impact: Barrington, Central Falls, Coventry 2, Exeter, I'm pretty sure, Middletown, Newport, North Providence 2 3, Providence, Smithfield, Warren, West Greenwich.

17. H8084/S2905: In the same week, both chambers of the state legislature will hear a bill to approve $250,000 in new "Promotional Points" for the state's slot parlors (H Finance; Tue, May 8 & S Special Legislation and Veterans' Affairs Wed, May 9). Why is this a priority?

16. H7801: Provisions for the removal of derelict and abandoned vessels in state waterways (H Finance; Wed, May 9). Are we sure we don't have something in the law for this already? And why did this bill get moved from Environment and Natural Resources to Finance?

15. S2670: The weirdest bill yet in this session's continuing battle to impose strange new regulations on the rental of motor vehicles. This one says that "examiners, field investigators, hearing officers, regulatory inspectors, and other employees of the Public Utilities Commission "designated by the administrator" will be granted "all powers of police officers" with respect to the sections of Rhode Island law pertaining to motor carriers of property, towing storage, motor passenger carriers, taxicabs, and public motor vehicles (H Corporations; Tue, May 8).

14. Auto body shop and insurance company bills (S2661, S2662, S2664, S2665, S2667, S2674, S2686). Also new regulations for being allowed to remove motor vehicles from accident sites (S2514) and a lift on the ban on mobile automobile glass repair (S2663) (S Judiciary; Tue, May 8).

13. S2878: Organizations "established and licensed by the department of behavioral healthcare, developmental disabilities and hospitals for the purpose of providing either employment, vocational supports, residential and/or day support services for adults with developmental disabilities" would be allowed to join together to form their own health insurance company for "employees, retirees and other beneficiaries" (S Health and Human Services; Wed, May 9). But if this is a good idea for some organizations, why isn't it a good idea for the rest of us?

12. Various taxation changes. H8057 is a capital gains tax exemption for "new investments in Rhode Island businesses" that meet certain conditions; H7969 changes how farmland is assessed for estate-tax purposes and H7198 requires "corporations doing business in the state of Rhode Island shall add back into their taxable income any amount deducted under the federal "domestic production deduction" (H Finance; Tue, May 8).

11. H7910: Requires monitoring for the Johnston landfill, specifically for "the presence of odorous contaminants from landfill gas" (H Environment and Natural Resources; Tue, May 8).

10. S2606: Prohibition on price gouging of essential commodities; price gouging would be prohibited not only during a "a declaration of a state of emergency by the governor, or federal disaster declaration by the president", but also during any "actual or anticipated market emergency or economic emergency" (S Corporations; Tue, May 8). Do the past several years count as an economic emergency that would trigger this bill?

9. H7341: Sales-tax permits that retailers must obtain in order to do business in Rhode Island would be valid in perpetuity, instead of having to be renewed annually (H Finance; Tue, May 8).

8. H7456: On its face, this bill appears to lower the minimum corporate tax in Rhode Island from $500 to $50... (H Finance; Tue, May 8) ... but in reality, this bill, by itself, will have no impact on the taxes that businesses pay. It impacts only the minimum income tax and not the franchise tax, which with the way that RI law is currently structured, means that business owners who pay this tax still owe the state $500, $50 in corporate minimum tax and $450 in franchise tax.

7. H7072: Creates a position of Inspector General for the state of Rhode Island "charged with the purpose of preventing and detecting fraud, waste, abuse and mismanagement in the expenditure of public funds" (H Finance; Wed, May 9).

6. H7237: A $75,000,000 bond question "to provide funds to the Housing Resources Commission to be allocated to finance the cost of the Neighborhood Opportunities Program" to be placed on the November ballot (H Finance; Wed, May 9).

5. S2307, to paraphrase the official description, repeals the section of the law allowing pay-day lending; S2832 creates new regulations governing pay-day lenders (S Corporations; Thu, May 10).

4. H7132: Restores and freezes the regionalization bonus in the state education aid "funding formula" at 2% (H Finance; Wed, May 9).

3. H7454: Creates a new 10.09% tax-bracket on "head of household, unmarried individuals, married individuals filing separate returns and bankruptcy estates" making more than $200,000 per year and on "married individuals filing joint returns and qualifying widow(ers)" making more than $250,000 per year (H Finance; Tue, May 8).

2. S2251: Authorizes the use of a system "(1) Consisting of an electronically automated scanner and sensor; and (2) Capable of producing one or more digital images of the registration plate of a motor vehicle" (presumably linked to an appropriate database) for detecting automobile owners who do not have insurance (S Judiciary; Tue, May 8).

1. H8056: Foundation for a single-payer health insurance system in Rhode Island (H Finance; Wed, May 9), containing such intriguing phrases as...

  • "EOHHS [The executive office of health and human services] shall maintain enrollment and expenditures to ensure that expenditures do not exceed amounts available in the fund, and if sufficient funds are not available to cover the estimated cost of program expenditures, EOHHS shall institute appropriate measures to reduce costs",
  • "EOHHS is authorized to seek appropriations from the general fund in the form of loans to the healthy Rhode Island program trust fund", and
  • "In the event that EOHHS reasonably expects that the cost of healthy Rhode Island program will exceed the available funds, coverage for eligible individuals shall continue until the annual redetermination of each eligible individual, after which time EOHHS shall immediately transfer the eligible individual to coverage in the state’s health insurance exchange." (i.e. when this program proves too expensive to manage, we'll transfer people to a magic exchange where magic money will appear to pay their costs).


May 2, 2012


Coming up in Committee: Nine More Sets of Bills Being Heard by the RI General Assembly, May 2 - May 3

Carroll Andrew Morse

Local Impact: Central Falls/Cumberland 2, Cumberland, Newport, Warwick.

9. H7197: "The general assembly shall not authorize, award or allow legislative grants. For the purposes of this chapter legislative grants are hereby defined as monetary award to nongovernmental, or nonquasi-governmental entities" (H Finance; Thu, May 3).

8. S2473: Makes explicit that municipal fiscal stabilization procedures relating to budget commissions do not "impair any protection and/or indemnification of elected officials provided in any city or town charter, or restrict the protections afforded by the constitution of the United States, the constitution of the state of Rhode Island, or the United States Supreme Court", then specifically noting something called "the Noerr-Pennington Doctrine" (S Finance; Wed, May 2).

7. H7996: Establishes conditions that must be met, which go beyond the IRS regulations currently in use, for someone to be considered a contractor and not an employee (H Labor; Wed, May 2).

6. H7478: Mandates that portable electronics insurance can only be sold by someone with a license to sell such insurance (H Corporations; Wed, May 2). It's worth noting that the second sponsor of this bill is William San Bento of Pawtucket, whose official House bio includes mentions "Insurance Agent/Business Owner" under employment, and "Professional Insurance Agents; Independent Agents Association..." under general background.

5B. H7811: A maintenance of effort provision for the annual taxpayer contribution to the state pension system, until the system is 80% funded (H Finance; Wed, May 2).

5A. H7131: Establishes "a special escrow pension lawsuit satisfaction fund which shall be used to pay any financial court judgments rendered against the state as a result of successful pension law challenges. All state fiscal year end budget surplus revenues shall be deposited in this fund" (H Finance; Wed, May 2).

4. S2764: The official description says this bill "eliminates the two-tiered time limit", i.e. creates a single time-limit, for direct welfare cash-assistance. Among other changes, a time limit of 24 months for people participating in "The Rhode Island Works Program" is replaced with a time limit of 48 months (S Health and Human Services; Wed, May 2).

3. S2361: Detailed procedures for dealing with and possibly altering a patient's "medical order for life sustaining treatment" (MOLST). A MOLST is defined as a "request regarding resuscitative measures that directs a health care provider regarding resuscitative and life sustaining measures" (S Health and Human Services; Wed, May 2). The question around this bill continues to be whether it is intended to make it easier or harder to end life-sustaining treatment for a patient who cannot make decisions for him or herself, relative to existing law.

2. S2870: Authorization of the East Bay Energy Consortium (S Environment and Agriculture; Wed, May 2). Justin covered the first hearing on this bill for the Ocean State Current (starts at 7:27), where some interesting detail, including why the consortium is seeking eminent domain power (so that it can sell bonds that it will finance with charges on National Grid Ratepayers) was deliberated.

1. 3 bills relating to civil unions and same-sex marriage. H7845 would permit same-sex marriage in Rhode Island; H7752 would allow same-sex couples married in other jurisdictions to divorce in RI (even if same-sex marriage isn't approved) and H7753 restricts the conscience protections in Rhode Island's current civil-unions laws to organizations "whose principal purpose is the study, practice, or advancement of religion" (H Judiciary; Wed, May 2).


May 1, 2012


Coming up in Committee: Fourteen Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly on May 1

Carroll Andrew Morse

Here are the RI General Assembly bills of interest for Tuesday (a few with hearings already underway):

Local impact: New Shoreham, Pawtucket

T14. H8020: "The director of administration shall not approve any contract or contract for services with a nonprofit organization or agency unless the organization or agency fully discloses all executives’ compensation and administrative costs" (H Finance; Tue May 1).

T13. 7406: Sets a minimum price of $35.00 for transportation provided by "public motor vehicles", i.e. privately owned non-taxicabs hired for individual trips (H Corporations; Tue, May 1).

T12. H7468: Bans persons under 21 from admittance to nightclubs where alcohol is served (H Judiciary; Tue, May 1).

T11. H7359: Allows out-of-state businesses to operate in RI during a declared disaster without being immediately treated, for purposes of taxation and regulation, as having opened a branch office in RI (H Corporations; Tue, May 1).

T10. Various changes to criminal law submitted at the request of the Attorney General. A candidate for the most interesting is S2650 which criminalizes residential mortgage fraud (S Judiciary; Tue, May 1).

T9. H7130: No tolls on the Mt. Hope bridge. Also, H7457 would transfer control of the Sakonnet River bridge to a newly created "Turnpike and bridge division" within the department of transportation (H Finance; Tue May, 1).

T8. H7409: A prohibition on price gouging of essential commodities "upon a declaration of a state of emergency by the governor, or federal disaster declaration by the president, or during an actual or anticipated market emergency" (H Corporations; Tue, May 1).

T7B. H7374: The official description says this bill "eliminates the two-tiered time limit", i.e. creates a single time-limit, for direct welfare cash-assistance. Among other changes, a time limit of 24 months for people participating in "The Rhode Island Works Program" is replaced in the law with a time limit of 48 months (H Finance; Tue May 1).

T7A. H7105/S2284: Extends the state's child-care subsidy to families at 225% of the Federal poverty level from 180%, if "the family requires child care in order to work at paid employment" (H Finance; Tue May 1 & S Finance; Tue, May 1).

T6. S2254: "Any private contract or employee who has worked more than thirty-six months whether or not consecutive, at a state department, performing services similar to or in substitution of work normally performed by state employees within that department, shall be automatically converted to a fully funded full-time equivalent position within that department" (S Finance; Tue, May 1).

T5. H7710: Government funded "family planning" through "eligibility pursuant to section 1902(a)(10)(A)(ii)(XXI) of the social security act" (Medicaid?) for individuals "whose income is no greater than two-hundred fifty percent (250%) of the federal poverty level" (H Finance; Tue May 1).

T4. H7265: A $75,000,000 bond question "to provide funds to the Housing Resources Commission to be allocated to finance the cost of the Neighborhood Opportunities Program" to be placed on the November ballot (H Finance; Tue May 1).

T3. S2201 raises the value of estates exempted from the estate tax to $1,500,000 (to be annually adjusted for inflation); S2172 changes estate tax rules on "farmlands and other real and tangible property associated with agricultural operations" (S Finance; Tue, May 1).

T2B. S2108: Restores and freezes the regionalization bonus in the state education aid "funding formula" at 2% (S Finance; Tue, May 1).

T2A. S2757: Changes how debt service is considered in maintenance of effort calculations for school-district budgeting. (S Finance, Tue, May 1).

T1. S2656:/H7899: Resolution calling for Congress to approve a Constitutional amendment that would allow the government to restrict the political activities of corporations and individuals (H Judiciary; May 1).


April 30, 2012


The Ocean State Tea Party In Action Blog (Better Prepared for the Unexpected than Other Bill-Watching Bloggers You May be Aware Of)

Carroll Andrew Morse

The RI General Assembly website was down this weekend, so I wasn't able to do my weekly review of the legislation coming up in committees. (There was a similar occurrence, at least one time last year).

However, as fate would have it, this is also the week that the Ocean State Tea Party in Action's (OSTPA) blog went live. The OSTPA blog includes daily legislative alerts on the bills scheduled for hearings that OSTPA is tracking. (I've been consulting with OSTPA on the setting up and maintaining of the blog portion of their website, and will be a contributor to their blog; more to come on that later in the week). Since a major part of OSTPA's activity is staying current with GA activity, so as to be prepared to offer RI legislators different perspectives on bills before them than they might otherwise hear, OSTPA wasn't caught as flat-footed as I was by the unexpected technical difficulties.

Tuesday looks to be a very busy day in committee, the large number of bills on OSTPA's watch list that are being heard can be viewed here. Also, OSTPA's complete legislative alert for this week (including some interesting observations about what happened on Smith Hill last week) can be viewed here, at their main website.

I will provide my rundown of bills (which will continue to be a separate effort from OSTPA's fine work, in case anyone was wondering) after the GA website returns.


April 26, 2012


The Nanny State Again

Patrick Laverty

Oh here we go again. Yeah it sounds like a good idea. Don't you want to keep people safe? Do you want someone else to get killed?

But that's not the point. The point is that the General Assembly keeps passing bills forcing people and businesses to do things that make sense, but still they are things that the individuals should have a free choice over.

This time it's Senate bill S2072. Luckily, it's short enough to post in its entirety here.

It is enacted by the General Assembly as follows:
1 SECTION 1. Chapter 19-3 of the General Laws entitled "Powers and Operations" is
2 hereby amended by adding thereto the following section:
3 19-3-13.3. Security cameras. – All financial institutions and credit unions shall install
4 and continuously maintain security video cameras covering night deposit repository areas.
5 SECTION 2. This act shall take effect upon passage.
So there you have it. Because someone was tragically murdered while putting money in a bank's night deposit box, the RI Senate wants all banks to install and monitor cameras on their facilities.

Does this make sense for banks to monitor their facilities? Yes, of course it does. They all have cameras already inside the bank, so sure, it makes sense to do this outside too. But we're going to force them to do it? Why? Let this be part of the business decision that people make in choosing their bank. Is this bank safe? Has this bank taken my night time safety into account when I have to make my business deposits?

Only the Senate has passed the bill so far. It's on to the House. Hopefully they will see through this and see it as yet another cost we're adding on to businesses. Does the Assembly want to make Rhode Island business-friendly or keep on adding to the cost? I guess we'll see.


April 23, 2012


Coming up in Committee: Twenty-One Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, April 24 - April 26, Part 2

Carroll Andrew Morse

9. H7719/H7378/S2757: Changes how debt service is considered in maintenance of effort calculations for school-district budgeting. H7719 would apply to all school districts; the other bills apply only to regional districts (H Finance; Thu, Apr 26 & S Finance; Tue, Apr 24). Also, H7815 would have the maintenance of effort amount in each community determined by the state's Auditor General (H Finance; Thu, Apr 26).

8. S2287: Instructs the state health insurance commissioner to phase out the use of fee-for-service medicine in Rhode Island (S Health and Human Services; Wed, Apr 25).

7B. H7714: "No provision or provisions in any collective bargaining agreement providing for binding arbitration shall be applicable or applied to" the development of locally-administered public employee pension plans (H Finance; Thu, Apr 26).

7A. H7713: Amends the Home Rule Article of the Rhode Island Constitution (new part underlined) to read:

SECTION 2. Local legislative powers – Every city and town shall have the power at any time to adopt a charter, amend its charter, enact and amend local laws relating to its property, affairs and government not inconsistent with this Constitution and laws enacted by the general assembly in conformity with the powers reserved to the general assembly, provided, however, that no city or town shall have the power to offer as an inducement to employment or continued employment, any compensation or benefit, future or present, including, but not limited to, compensation or benefits pertaining to pension or retirement, that would be in excess of any such compensation or benefit allowed by any law enacted by the general assembly, including laws enacted by the general assembly which became effective prior to this amendment (H Finance; Thu, Apr 26).

6B. Various unreforms of the pension system; S2552 modifies the part of last year's reform that suspended cost of living increases when a pension plan is less than 80% funded, reinstating annual cost-of-living increases "for all members whose annual retirement allowance is at or below one hundred fifty percent (150%) of the federal poverty level" (S Finance; Wed, Apr 25); H7711 would repeal the minimum age of 55 for the retirement of police officers and fire fighters (H Finance; Thu, Apr 26).

6A. H7418: If I read this correctly, this would prohibit cities and towns from moving or being moved into the state pension system, if they currently operate or participate in any other local pension system, i.e. it would prohibit closing a local pension plan and putting new hires into a state-run plan (H Finance; Thu, Apr 26).

5. H7372: "Notwithstanding any provision of the general or public laws, or any rule or regulation to the contrary, all unfunded state mandates, not attached to federal funds, required of the towns and cities in municipal areas of operation under their jurisdiction are hereby repealed" (H Finance; Thu, Apr 26).

4B. Estate tax changes. H7491 changes the exemption for estates below $850,000 into a tax-credit of $33,200 (to be annually adjusted for inflation) which means that only value in excess of an effective exempted amount gets taxed. This changes the situation under current law where an estate valued at $850,000 might pay nothing while an estate valued at $850,001 would pay the full amount. Also, H7491 drops the estate tax exemption down to $675,000 for the remainder of this year; H7705 raises the value of estates exempted from the estate tax to $5,000,000 (to be annually adjusted for inflation); H7706 cleans up the description of the current $850,000 exemption (to be annually adjusted for inflation) and H7635 changes estate tax rules on "farmlands and other real and tangible property associated with agricultural operations" (H Finance; Tue, Apr 24).

4A. Additional income taxes; H7379 adds an additional 1% tax on incomes over $250,000; H7381 adds an additional 2% tax on incomes over $250,000; H7382 adds an additional 2% tax on incomes over $500,000; H7305 adds an additional 1% tax on incomes over $500,000 and H7729 which is supposed to set a top tax bracket of 9.99% on incomes over $250,000 that then declines with the unemployment rate, but is ambiguous about what happens if the unemployment rate doesn’t montonically decline (H Finance; Tue, Apr 24).

3. S2483: Foundation for a single-payer health insurance system in Rhode Island (S Health and Human Services; Wed, Apr 25), containing such intriguing phrases as...

  • "EOHHS [The executive office of health and human services] shall maintain enrollment and expenditures to ensure that expenditures do not exceed amounts available in the fund, and if sufficient funds are not available to cover the estimated cost of program expenditures, EOHHS shall institute appropriate measures to reduce costs",
  • "EOHHS is authorized to seek appropriations from the general fund in the form of loans to the healthy Rhode Island program trust fund", and
  • "In the event that EOHHS reasonably expects that the cost of healthy Rhode Island program will exceed the available funds, coverage for eligible individuals shall continue until the annual redetermination of each eligible individual, after which time EOHHS shall immediately transfer the eligible individual to coverage in the state’s health insurance exchange." (i.e. when this program proves too expensive to manage, we'll transfer people to a magic exchange where magic money will appear to pay their costs )
2. House Finance takes its first stab at Governor Chafee's municipal reform package: H8006 relating to distressed community relief; H8007 changing the dates for payment of state education aid; H8008 relating to school district accounting compliance; H8009 allowing suspensions of benefit adjustments for pension plans in critical status; H8010 limiting allowed retirement benefits according to "the actuarial value of benefits afforded under the municipal employees retirement system"; H8011 modifying disability pensions in cases where the beneficiary receives other income and H8012 exempting payments made to compensate for past deficits from school district maintenance of effort calculations. (H Finance; Thu, Apr 26). Additional detail on the municipal reform bills is available here.

1B. H7340/S2279: Statutory implementation of the decision by the Board of Governors for Higher Education, to allow in-state tuition for illegal immigrants at Rhode Island public colleges and universities (H Finance; Tue, Apr 24 & S Finance; Wed, Apr 25).

1A. H7266: Statutory reversal of the decision made by the Board of Governors for Higher Education, to allow in-state tuition for illegal immigrants at Rhode Island public colleges and universities (H Finance; Tue, Apr 24).



Coming up in Committee: Twenty-One Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, April 24 - April 26, Part 1

Carroll Andrew Morse

...and to be honest, I only got it down to twenty-one through liberal use of part-A's and part-B's. It's definitely a busy week for disposing of legislation at the RI General Assembly...

Local Impact: Coventry 2, Middletown/Newport, North Kingstown, North Providence, Richmond.
Local Impact bill of special note: Woonsocket (the supplemental property tax).

21. H7591: Adds to the charter of Johnson and Wales that "the real and personal property of the corporation shall be exempt from state and local taxes" (H Finance; Tue, Apr 24). What are the possible interactions, between this bill and other state and municipal efforts to tax non-profits?

20. S2556: Mandates that all health insurance plans issued in Rhode Island include a "telehealth" component, defined as "the mode of delivering health care services and public health via information and communication technologies to facilitate the diagnosis, consultation, treatment, education, care management, and self-management of a patient’s health care while the patient is at the originating site and the health care provider is at a distant site" (S Health and Human Services; Wed, Apr 25).

19. S2149: Police officers who cross out of their municipality in pursuit of a driver whom they intend to stop for violating the motor vehicle code maintain the authority they would have in their home jurisdiction "to arrest and hold in custody" the driver being pursued. (Presently, police officers would retain their authority to arrest only if they already were intending to make an arrest during the pursuit) (S Judiciary; Tue, Apr 24).

18. S2336: An extension of parts of campaign finance regulation to local financial town meetings & referendums (S Judiciary; Tue, Apr 24).

17. Senate Finance Committee advice and consent hearing on the reappointment of 3 members (Elizabeth Fournier, Linda L. Cwiek, David Quinn) and new appointment of 2 members (David Robert, Kenneth M. Mallette) to the state Vehicle Values Commission (Thursday, Apr 26).

16. H7225: Provides for stays of foreclosure for active duty or deployed armed service members (H Veterans' Affairs; Thu, Apr 26).

15. H7710: Requires a search warrant for the search of any "portable electronic device" in the possession of an individual under arrest (H Judiciary; Tue, Apr 24).

14. S2052: A statutory "bill of rights" for homeless individuals, including "the right to fair, decent and affordable housing in the community of his or her choosing, and access to safe and proximate shelter until such housing can be attained". (S Housing and Municipal Government; Thu, Apr 26). But could an unlimited number of people use this section of the proposed law to sue for their right to housing in New Shoreham?

13, H7810: Assesses a $50 per semester "public transportation fee" on students attending RI public colleges and university. In return, student IDs will be enabled to serve as passes for public transportation services (H Finance; Tue, Apr 24). Of course, the irony of this bill is that if a student wanted to take public transportation to his or her polling place on an election day, Arthur Handy, the primary sponsor of the bill, would be OK with someone having to show an ID card to ride the bus but not with having to show an ID at the polling place.

12. S2223: $100 fine for using a non-hands free cell-phone while driving (S Judiciary; Tue, Apr 24).

11. S2248: An attempt "to implement waste, fraud and abuse detection, prevention and recovery solutions" to Medicaid, RIte care and RIte share (and to Obamacare, to whatever degree it is implemented) (S Health and Human Services; Wed, Apr 25). The question is whether waste, fraud and abuse be effectively countered, all other things being held equal, by adding law that basically says "the state shall try and detect it using technology" and then having the Department of Health and Human Services produce a report on how well it's worked.

10. S2659: Gives city and town solicitors the power to investigate false claims against the state and municipalities, and bring civil actions against the perpetrators (S Judiciary; Tue, Apr 24). It's worth noting that Senators Dominick Ruggerio and Frank Ciccone, who have both been in the news of late for reasons different from good-government advocacy, are both sponsors of this bill.


April 9, 2012


Coming up in Committee: Seventeen Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, April 10 - April 12, Part 2

Carroll Andrew Morse

7. S2302: Constitutional amendment providing for 1) four-year terms for state Senators and 2) an 8-year term limit on both Senators and Representatives (S Special Legislation and Veterans Affairs; Wed, Apr 11). As currently written, the amendment would have voters choose an entire Senate class every fourth year starting in 2014. I would humbly suggest rewriting the bill to follow the method used for the Federal Senate, and have half of the seats up for election every two years.

6. Several proposals to change item-specific sales taxes: a $1.28 per gallon "sugar-sweetened beverage tax upon every sugar-sweetened beverage, syrup, powder or other base product sold within the state of Rhode Island" (H7342), a reduction in the gasoline tax from $0.32 to $0.27 per gallon (H7638) and a reduction in the cigarette tax from 173 to 123 mills per cigarette which the official description says is a reduction of $1.00 per pack (H7639) (H Finance; Tue, Apr 10).

5. H7129: Repeal of the $500 minimum franchise tax on most Rhode Island corporations and the $500 minimum corporate income tax on most Rhode Island C-Corps and LLCs, which are two separate taxes under Rhode Island law (though payment of one can be credited towards the other) (H Finance; Tue, Apr 10).

4. H7863: Changes public school teacher tenure qualification from having been a party to "three annual contracts within five successive school years" to receiving "three consecutive ratings of effective or higher under the district evaluation system" (H Labor; Tue, Apr 10).

3B. S2294: Prohibits law enforcement officers from inquiring into the immigration status of a complainant or a witness. Also, S2330 prohibits landlords from inquiring into the immigration status of tenants and prospective tenants (S Judiciary; Tue, Apr 10).

3A. S2216: Requires all employers in Rhode Island (employing 3 or more persons) to participate in E-verify by 2014 (S Judiciary; Tue, Apr 10).

2. A series of bills regarding abortion, including civil penalties for forcing someone to have an abortion (H7009), a provision allowing "a physician or certified counselor" to authorize an abortion for a minor in cases where parents have not given consent (H7754), a requirement that a woman seeking an abortion be provided with an ultrasound of the unborn child (H7205), several bills imposing criminal penalties for harming an unborn child during an unlawful assault on another (H7006, H7010, H7091), a general ban on government interference with a woman's decisions to terminate a pregnancy prior to fetal viability or at any time where the life or health of the mother is involved (H7041) and a ban on using abortion for sex-selection (H7114) (H Judiciary; Wed, Apr 11).

1. All seven items comprising Governor Chafee's municipal reform package: S2823 relating to school district accounting compliance; S2824 limiting allowed retirement benefits according to "the actuarial value of benefits afforded under the municipal employees retirement system"; S2825 allowing suspensions of benefit adjustments for pension plans in critical status; S2826 relating to distressed community relief ; S2827 changing the dates for payment of state education aid; S2828 modifying disability pensions in cases where the beneficiary receives other income and S2829 exempting payments made to compensate for past deficits from school district maintenance of effort calculations (S Finance; Thu, Apr 12). Additional detail on the municipal reform bills is available here.



Coming up in Committee: Seventeen Sets of Bills and a Bunch of Community Service Grants Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, April 10 - April 12, Part 1

Carroll Andrew Morse

One set of items on the House Finance agenda very different from anything that has come up in this session so far are labeled officially as "community service grants", which are being heard at three separate early afternoon hearings this week...


Local Impact: New Shoreham, North Kingstown, Providence, Smithfield 2, Warren.

17. S2706: The continuing battle in this session to make small-scale renting of motor vehicles more regulated and more difficult. This one says you have to be licensed to rent one motor vehicle one time during a year; current law says you don't have to be licensed until you rent "more than five motor vehicles" (S Corporations; Tue, Apr 10).

16. S2160: A constitutional amendment(!) requiring General Assembly members to "contribute twenty percent (20%) towards the premium for health care coverage paid for by the State of Rhode Island" (S Special Legislation and Veterans Affairs; Wed, Apr 11).

15. H7996: Establishes conditions that must be met, which go beyond the IRS regulations currently in use, for someone being paid to be considered a contractor and not an employee (H Labor; Tue, Apr 10).

14. S2480: Allows hospitals to open ambulatory care sites without obtaining individual licenses for them (S Health and Human Services; Wed, Apr 11).

13. H7173: A statutory "bill of rights" for homeless individuals, including "the right to fair, decent and affordable housing in the community of his or her choosing, and access to safe and proximate shelter until such housing can be attained". (H Judiciary; Tue, Apr 10). Question: Could an unlimited number of people use this section of the proposed law to sue for their right to housing in New Shoreham?

12. S2122: "[A]ny university, college or other non-profit educational institution which has not entered into a tax treaty with the municipality wherein it is located, shall not be considered tax exempt and its real and personal property shall be subject to taxation by the municipality in the same manner as other businesses taxed by the municipality" (S Finance; Wed, Apr 11).

11. H7722: The language on this is a little specialized, but I think this bill allows municipalities to assess "private nonprofit institutions of higher education" a $150 fee per dorm room per semester" (H Finance; Tue, Apr 10).

10B. S2727: Prohibits the use of an individual's credit report or credit history for making employment decisions (S Judiciary; Tue, Apr 10).

10A. S2411/S2678: "No application for any license or employment from any public agency or private employer shall be denied by reason of the applicant's having been previously convicted of one or more criminal offenses", with some exceptions (S Judiciary; Tue, Apr 10).

9B. S2526: Unionization of and a binding arbitration process for (including wage and pay rate issues) Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation employees (S Labor; Wed, Apr 11).

9A. S2425: Binding arbitration on wage and pay rate issues, and non-expiring contracts for municipal employees (S Labor; Wed, Apr 11).

8. S2361: Detailed procedures for dealing with and possibly altering a patient's "medical order for life sustaining treatment" (MOLST). A MOLST is defined as a "request regarding resuscitative measures that directs a health care provider regarding resuscitative and life sustaining measures" (S Health and Human Services; Wed, Apr 11). The basic question about this bill is whether it is intended to make it easier or harder to end life-sustaining treatment for a patient who cannot make decisions for him or herself, relative to existing law.


April 2, 2012


Coming up in Committee: Nineteen Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, April 3 - April 5, Part 2

Carroll Andrew Morse

8. H7592: Creates a board called the "East Bay Energy Consortium", with members selected by East Bay town councils and granted the power, amongst others, "to fix, charge and collect rents, fees, rates, and charges for the use of any project or the electricity generated or delivered thereby and to make assessments and impose reasonable and just user charges" (H Environment and Natural Resources; Thu, Apr 5). Apparently the legislature thinks things are going too smoothly between East Bay residents and the Bristol County Water Authority, so they want to throw another regional body with revenue collecting powers into the works.

7. H7735: Detailed procedures for dealing with and possibly altering a patient's "medical order for life sustaining treatment" (MOLST). A MOLST is defined as a "request regarding resuscitative measures that directs a health care provider regarding resuscitative and life sustaining measures" (H Health, Education and Welfare; Wed, Apr 4). The basic question about this bill is whether it is intended to make it easier or harder to end life-sustaining treatment for a patient who cannot make decisions for him or herself, relative to existing law.

6. S2737: 100% of "new revenues from either new and/or expanded forms of gambling shall be deposited into a restricted receipt account to fund elementary and secondary education on a state and local level" -- and the state is not allowed to reduce education funding from other sources, as a result of the new revenue (S Special Legislation and Veterans Affairs; Wed, Apr 4).

5. S2406: Changes the ratio of 40% state/60% local for the employer contribution to the public school teacher retirement system, currently fixed in state law, to a state/local split that will be "each year determined by the Rhode Island department of elementary and secondary education" (S Finance; Wed, Apr 4).

4. H7388: Requires the state legislature to disregard the choice for President made by Rhode Island voters, and assign Presidential electors to the winner of the popular vote as determined by other states (H Judiciary; Tue, Apr 3). Supposedly this bill is motivated by a desire to have Presidential candidates pay more attention to Rhode Island, but that goal could be achieved -- in time for the 2012 election -- by honoring the choice made by Rhode Island voters, and only awarding electors on a winner take-all basis to a candidate who receives 62.5% of the state's popular vote. Full explanation here.

3B. Proposed changes in the motor vehicle tax "exemption" and corresponding reimbursement. H7253 Raises the motor vehicle tax "exemption" back to $6,000 in distressed communities. H7350 sets the exemption at $3,000 in all RI communities and adds "the mileage of the vehicle" to the list of factors used to determine vehicle value (H Municipal Government; Thu, Apr 5).

3A. H7224: Mandates that car tax valuations be set according to "Kelley Blue Book values...for new vehicles for the year and vehicle model in question", plus this formula:

Relative to the manufacture year of a vehicle, the excise tax paid on the vehicle or trailer shall be on one hundred percent (100%) of the vehicle’s presumptive value. Thereafter, in the sixth (6th) year, the vehicle shall be taxed at a rate of ninety-five percent (95%) of the presumptive value, and shall be reduced in each subsequent year by five percent (5%) until years fifteen (15) through nineteen (19), at which time the vehicle shall be taxed at a rate of fifty percent (50%) of the presumptive value. Thereafter in year twenty (20), the vehicle shall be taxed at a rate of forty-five percent (45%) of the presumptive value, and shall be reduced five percent (5%) per year in each subsequent year until years twenty-three (23) and twenty-four (24), in which the vehicle shall be taxed at a rate of thirty percent (30%) of the presumptive value.
The bill also says that vehicle owners dissatisfied with the formula appraisal can submit an individual appraisal from a licensed RI appraiser. However, the law doesn't say that the vehicle value commission has to do anything with that appraisal; it just adds an outside appraisal to the list of items that can be considered in the appeal process that is already on the books, but rarely if ever used to modify a valuation (H Municipal Government; Thu, Apr 5). Not having consulted with anyone about this bill, and speaking only for myself, I don't think this is going to satisfy the Warwick Car Tax Revolters and others who have been active in this issue.

2. H7603: State Constitutional amendment (requiring approval by the voters) making clear that Ethics Committee jurisdiction extends to the state legislature (H Judiciary; Tue, Apr 3).

1B. H7859: An attempt to bring independent electioneering expenditures under a campaign-finance regime. Anyone -- including individuals, not just corporations -- who wants to independently spend more than $250 in a calendar year supporting/opposing a candidate for office or a position in a referendum would have to register with the Board of Elections (H Judiciary; Tue, Apr 3).

1A. H7899: Resolution asking Congress to begin the process of amending the Constitution to roll-back First Amendment protections and allow government restriction of both corporate and individual political activity (H Judiciary; Tue, Apr 3).



Coming up in Committee: Nineteen Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, April 3 - April 5, Part 1

Carroll Andrew Morse

Local Impact: Barrington, Middletown/Newport, Pawtucket, 2 3 4, North Providence, Portsmouth, Providence, Warren 2.

19. A potpourri of bills illustrating that no matter what the top issues of the day are in the State of Rhode Island, no subject is too small to escape the General Assembly's attention...

  • H7791: From the official description: "This act would provide that the price for propane gas would be expressed in terms of the sum of any fees divided by the number of gallons delivered" (H Corporations; Tue, Apr 3).
  • H7590: Adds arboriculture and production of wood mulch to the "Right to Farm" section of state law (H Environment and Natural Resources; Thu, Apr 5).
  • H7674: The base used for pre-calculated gratuities at restaurants is not to include "any applicable taxes" (H Corporations; Wed, Apr 4).
  • S2703: A rewrite of horse racing, jai alai and other gaming regulations submitted by the Attorney General (S Special Legislation and Veterans Affairs; Wed, Apr 4).
  • S2691: Employers would be given the option of observing holidays that fall on Sundays on a later date in the calendar year (S Labor; Wed, Apr 4).

18. S2270/S2271/S2272: Changes to the state's motion-picture tax credits (S Finance; Thu, Apr 5).

17. H7801: Provisions for the removal of derelict and abandoned vessels in state waterways (H Environment and Natural Resources; Thu, Apr 5). You mean we don't have provisions for this already?

16. H7193: Prohibits "educational level or homeowner status" from being used in the determination of automobile insurance rates (H Corporations; Wed, Apr 4).

15. S2307: Repeal of the section of the law allowing pay-day lenders to operate in Rhode Island; S2832: would allow pay-day lenders to continue to operate, while tightening their regulation (S Corporations; Tue, Apr 3).

14. H7282/H7357: Prohibits charging fees for debit card usage (H Corporations; Wed, Apr 4).

13B. H7359: Allows out-of-state businesses to operate in RI during a declared disaster without being immediately treated, for purposes of taxation and regulation, as having opened a branch office in RI (H Corporations; Wed, Apr 4).

13A. H7409: A prohibition on price gouging of essential commodities "upon a declaration of a state of emergency by the governor, or federal disaster declaration by the president, or during an actual or anticipated market emergency" (H Corporations; Wed, Apr 4).

12. H7060: An extension of parts of campaign finance regulation to local financial town meetings and referendums (H Judiciary; Tue, Apr 3).

11. S2318: Changes the allocation of state aid to charter schools for capital costs (S Finance; Tue, Apr 3).

10. S2374: Raises the minimum wage to $7.75 per hour beginning in 2014, then raises it on an annual basis according to the rate of inflation (S Labor; Wed, Apr 4).

9. Several bills submitted at the request of the Attorney General, including increased sentences for crimes committed in association with "criminal street gangs" (H7843), the use of an "ignition interlock system" being part of the possible sentence for driving-under-the-influence (H7332), and a new section of law defining crimes against the public trust which carry penalties of up to 10 years in prison and a $150,000 fine (H7755) (H Judiciary; Wed, Apr 4).


March 26, 2012


Coming up in Committee: Thirteen Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, March 27 - March 29

Carroll Andrew Morse

Local Impact: Bristol, Coventry 2 , Pawtucket 2 3, Providence, Warwick (at least that's where I suspect, based on the sponsors), Westerly, West Greenwich 2.

13. S2752: Opens the William M. Davies vocational technical school and the Metropolitan Career and Technical School to all students in Rhode Island, on a permanent basis (S Education; Wed, Mar 28)

12. H7260: Requires vehicles owned by any corporation, association, etc. authorized to do business in Rhode Island and used on RI highways for 30 days or more to be registered in RI (H Corporations; wed, Mar 28).

11. H7411: Prohibits credit-rating from being used in the determination of an individual's automobile insurance rate (H Corporations; wed, Mar 28).

10. H7055: Changes election rules from requiring that "substantially not more than nineteen hundred voters shall be served by the same polling place", to requiring that "voting districts" shall be limited to 4,000 voters (S Judiciary, Thu, Mar 29). There's also a 3,000 voter limit that's been proposed in this session.

9. H7760: "No application for any license or employment from any public agency or private employer shall be denied by reason of the applicant's having been previously convicted of one or more criminal offenses", with some exceptions. Also, H7864 prohibits disqualifying someone for employment "solely because of a BCI report" (H Labor; Wed, Mar 28).

8. Tax credit for the installation of alternative fuel dispensers (S2125) and an excise tax exemption for plug-in electric vehicles (S2123) (S Finance; Thu, Mar 29).

7.  Either decriminalization (S2253), or legalization of the "constructive" use (S2367), of a little bit of marijuana (S Judiciary; Tue, Mar 27).

6. H7797: Creates a process for reviewing and retiring health insurance mandates (H Corporations; Tue, Mar 27).

5. H7769: Reduces benefits paid to municipal disability pensioners, if the total of disability benefits plus other income would exceed the original base salary of the pensioner (H Municipal Government; Thursday, March 29).

4. S2695: Process for authorizing a full casino at Newport Grand, including a statewide constitutional amendment ballot question and a local referendum in Newport (S Special Legislation and Veterans Affairs; Wed, Mar 28).

3. H7863: Changes public school teacher tenure qualification from having been a party to "three annual contracts within five successive school years" to receiving "three consecutive ratings of effective or higher under the district evaluation system" (H Labor; Thu, Mar 29).

2. New layers of bureaucracy added to every level of health care delivery. H7621 creates a binding arbitration process for "any hospital or health care insurer participating in negotiation of a hospital/insurer contract" and if I am reading the bill correctly, I think that only one party has to declare an impasse for the matter to go to arbitration; H7687 institutes a requirement that all healthcare plan participants in Rhode Island designate a primary care provider; H7790 instructs the state health insurance commissioner to phase out the use of fee-for-service medicine in Rhode Island and H7784 creates a workgroup "for the purpose of coordinating the development of processes, guidelines, and standards to streamline health care administration that are to be adopted by payors and providers of health care services operating in the state” (H Corporations; Tue, Mar 27).

1B. H7315: Writes into the law the provisions of the 2008 executive order on illegal immigration (since repealed by Governor Chafee) requiring RI executive branch agencies and contractors to use E-verify, relevant state agencies to notify victims of identity theft, the State Police to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Department of Corrections and the state parole board to work towards deporting illegal immigrants convicted of crimes (H Labor; Tue, Mar 27).

1A. H7927: Requires all employers in Rhode Island (employing 3 or more persons) to participate in E-verify by 2014 (H Labor; Tue, Mar 27).


March 23, 2012


Governor Chafee's Municipal Relief Package

Carroll Andrew Morse

Governor Lincoln Chafee's municipal relief bills are now available at the Rhode Island General Assembly website. The Senate sponsors are Finance Chairman Daniel DaPonte and Senator David Bates of Barrington/Bristol.

Here are some excerpts from the submitted text:

S2823 ("RELATING TO EDUCATION -- FOUNDATION LEVEL SCHOOL SUPPORT"):

16-2-9.4. School district accounting compliance. -- (e) The department of elementary and secondary education shall conduct periodic reviews and analysis of school revenues and expenses. The department shall also review and monitor compliance with the approved budget model and best practices. The department shall identify those local education agencies considered to be at risk of a year-end deficit or a structural deficit that could impact future years. Such potential deficits shall be identified based on the periodic reviews, which may also include on-site visits and reporting in accordance with the provisions of section 45-12-22.2. Potential deficits shall be reported to the office of municipal finance, office of auditor general, superintendent, chairman of the school committee, mayor or town manager, and the president of the town council, of the applicable school district, regional school district, or state school, and/or for a charter school, to the board of trustees or directors, as applicable.
S2824 ("RELATING TO TOWNS AND CITIES"):
45-21.4-3. Limits on retirement benefits. -- Notwithstanding any general law or special law of the state of Rhode Island to the contrary no current municipal ordinance, collective bargaining agreement, or interest arbitration award shall require employee retirement benefits that exceed the actuarial value of benefits afforded under state law for those municipal employees who participate in the municipal employees retirement system as authorized by chapters 45-21, 45-21.1, and 45-21.2 of the Rhode Island general laws. For employees who have not already reached their vesting date in a pension plan that provides benefits with greater actuarial value under the municipal employees retirement system as authorized by chapters 45-21, 45-21.1, and 45-21.2 of the Rhode Island general laws, and except as further limited by this chapter, town and city councils following normal procedures for approval of an ordinance are authorized to amend the retirement benefits for new and non-vested employees and such action shall take precedence over existing collective bargaining agreements for new and non-1 vested employees.
S2825 ("RELATING TO TOWNS AND CITIES - CRITICAL PLAN EMPOWERMENT ACT - MUNICIPAL PENSIONS"):
45-65.1-3. Definitions. -- (3) “Critical status” means that, as determined by its actuary, as of the beginning of the 19 plan year, a plan’s funded percentage for such plan year is less than sixty percent (60%)...

45-65.1-5. Benefit adjustment suspension. -- Notwithstanding the provisions of any other statute, ordinance, interest arbitration award, or collective bargaining agreement to the contrary, a municipality in critical status shall not be required to provide benefit adjustments, pursuant to the provisions of this chapter. Once the municipality is no longer in critical status, it shall resume providing cost of living adjustments, but such adjustments shall not exceed the consumer price index for all urban consumers (CPI-U) as published by the United States department of labor statistics determined as of September 30 of the prior calendar year until the actuarial value of the locally administered plan’s assets is one hundred percent (100%) of the actuarial value of such plan’s liabilities, using actuarial assumptions made by the actuary in good faith and in accordance with accepted actuarial standards.

45-65.1-6. Mandatory reinvestment. -- At least fifty percent (50%) of funds resulting from benefit adjustments suspended pursuant to this chapter shall be reinvested exclusively to increase a plan’s funded percentage, at least until the plan is no longer in critical status.

S2826 ("RELATING TO TOWNS AND CITIES -- DISTRESSED COMMUNITIES"):

This is the longest of the individual bills. A major chunk of the bill is built around this section...

45-13.2-6. Relief provisions. -- During any fiscal year in which a municipality is designated as a highly distressed community pursuant to section 45-13.2-4 and for two (2) years after it is no longer so designated, its municipal council shall be authorized and empowered to adopt an ordinance or charter amendment specifying any of the following relief provisions (which relief provisions shall be automatically repealed, and shall have no legal force or effect, as of two (2) years after the date that the municipality is no longer designated as a highly distressed community)...
The bill then lists 12 areas for relief provisions: (1) Purchasing; (2) Continuance of contractual provisions; (3) Retirement of sick or injured police officers and fire fighters; (4) Educational incentive pay; (5) Consolidation of administrative functions; (6) Municipal budget and contract approvals; (7) Teacher step increases; (8) Certified nurses; (9) School bus monitors; (10) Transportation to nonpublic schools; (11) Health insurance cost sharing and plan design; (12) Public safety collective bargaining.

S2827 ("RELATING TO EDUCATION -- STATE AID PROGRAMS"):

The official explanation provided by the legislative council is the best summary of this bill...

This act would change the dates for payment of the state’s share of the 1 basic program for foundational level school support and approved expenditures. It would also change the percentage of the aid due for both the July payment and the August through September payment which is payable based upon the data for the reference year. This act would also provide for payments to be made to each eligible community each August from the distressed community relief fund.
S2828 ("RELATING TO TOWNS AND CITIES -- ACCIDENTAL DISABILITY ALLOWANCE"):
45-21-22. Accidental disability allowance. -- (b) Upon any application for accidental disability submitted on or after July 1, 2012, if the member has been found to be permanently and totally disabled from service but has not been found by the board to be permanently and totally disabled from any employment as a result of his/her accidental disability, a member shall receive a retirement allowance equal to fifty percent (50%) of the rate of the member's compensation at the date of the member's retirement...

(c) Upon retirement for accidental disability that has been found by the board to be permanently and totally disabling from any employment, a member shall receive a retirement allowance equal to sixty-six and two-thirds percent (66 2/3%) of the rate 1 of the member's compensation at the date of the member's retirement...

S2829 ("RELATING TO EDUCATION -- FOUNDATION LEVEL SCHOOL SUPPORT"):
16-7-23.2. School deficit reduction -- Maintenance of effort provision. -- A city, town, or regional school district appropriating authority may appropriate supplemental funds to eliminate or reduce a school budget deficit. To the extent that such a supplemental appropriation represents payment of past annual expenditure, the payment shall not be used in the computation of the maintenance of effort requirements established by section 16-7-23.


March 19, 2012


Coming up in Committee: Twelve Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, March 20 - March 22

Carroll Andrew Morse

Local Impact: Central Falls, Glocester, Middletown/Newport, New Shoreham, Pawtucket 2, Portsmouth 2, Providence, Smithfield.

12. I've never been sure if the high-profile tension in Rhode Island between auto body shops and insurance companies is an "only in Rhode Island thing" or if it's connected to some broader trend; whatever the answer, here is this year's raft of bills on the subject: H7688, H7690, H7692, H7782, H7783, H7787, H7789 (H Corporations; Tue, Mar 20).

11B. H7885: Allows employees of the RI Resource Recovery Corporation to unionize (H Labor; Wed, Mar 21). Noted because it seems a little unusual that 4 representatives from one community (Johnston) are sponsors of this bill...

11A ...speaking of which, 5 Senators from Providence would like to make a change in the state law on infrastructure rights (S2601), to extend it to telecommunications, cable and satellite services (S Corporations; Thu Mar, 22).

10. H7796: Mandates that all health insurance plans issued in Rhode Island include a "telehealth" component, defined as "the mode of delivering health care services and public health via information and communication technologies to facilitate the diagnosis, consultation, treatment, education, care management, and self-management of a patient’s health care while the patient is at the originating site and the health care provider is at a distant site" (H Corporations; Wed, Mar 21).

9. Bud Art 7, secs 3-5: Special obligation bond issues for the Airport Corporation, the Quonset Development Corporation and the Resource Recovery Corporation. All 3 sections contain a variation on a statement that "none of the bonds or the loan agreements shall constitute indebtedness of the state or a debt for which the full faith and credit of the state is pledged" (H Finance; Wed, Mar 21).

8. H7794: Requires insurers to reimburse the full amount to healthcare providers and then go get the deductible from the insured party (H Corporations; Wed, Mar 21).

7. S2489: Changes election rules from requiring that "substantially not more than nineteen hundred voters shall be served by the same polling place", to requiring that "voting districts" shall be limited to 3,000 voters (S Judiciary, Tue Mar 20) This is a sub-A version of the bill -- suggesting that the legislature is serious about passing it -- where the limit has been knocked down from the 4,000 voters in the original.

6. H7582: The official description says this bill "legalizes marijuana and establishes regulations associated with legalization". It leans heavily towards regulation, legalizing only the activity of "constructively using, obtaining, purchasing, transporting, or possessing one ounce or less of marijuana" with regards to direct usage (H Judiciary; Wed, Mar 21).

5. H7873: "Health insurers shall reimburse eligible physicians, no less than one hundred forty percent (140%) of what Medicare would pay the physician for providing the same service", with eligible physicians defined as physicians who "provide medical services within a designated medically underserved practice area", provide 5% of their care free and meet a few other conditions (H Corporations; Wed, Mar 21). Supporters of this bill will then go on to claim, with a straight face, that government-provided health care is inherently cheaper.

4. S2604: Allows out-of-state businesses to operate in RI during a declared disaster without being immediately treated, for purposes of taxation and regulation, as having opened a branch office in RI (S Corporations; Tue, Mar 20).

3. H7797: Creates a process for reviewing and retiring health insurance mandates (H Corporations; Wed, Mar 21).

2. H7892/H7909: Various measures, sponsored by the Lieutenant Governor, to establish "health insurance standards in addition to, but not inconsistent with" Obamacare, including a prohibition on limiting or excluding healthcare coverage based on pre-existing conditions and the establishment of a a single, statewide community rating for small-employer plans (H Corporations; Wed, Mar 21). Of course, if Obamacare is repealed or declared unconstitutional, Rhode Island would still have to live under any of its provisions that are passed into state law.

1C. H7272: Moves layoff notice date for public school teachers from March 1 to June 1 (H Labor; Tue, Mar 20).

1B. H7286: Teachers' right-to-work bill, prohibiting membership in a labor organization from being a condition of employment for teachers, teachers aids or specialists who work in an educational setting (H Labor; Tue, Mar 20).

1A. H7757: Repeals the Caruolo Act and requires that municipal education contracts be ratified by a city or town council (H Labor; Tue, Mar 20).


March 12, 2012


Coming up in Committee: Sixteen Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, March 13 - March 15, Part 2

Carroll Andrew Morse

6. H7519: Creates a fee-based restricted-receipt state-government account, with proceeds to be used for the creation of a "uniform, statewide electronic plan review, permit management and inspection system" (H Corporations; Tue, Mar 13). But is a technical fix what's needed to solve Rhode Island's problems with inefficient permitting, or is there a more systemic problem?

5. A series of special education bills; concerning treatment of dyslexic students (H7541, H7542), an exemption from staff certification requirements for non-public schools used by public school districts to provide the appropriate education to students with disabilities that districts cannot provide (H7655), a transferal of hearing jurisdiction for "resolving disputes relating to the identification, evaluation or educational placement of children with disabilities and providing a free and appropriate education" to the Department of Health (H7829), and administrative processes for altering a disabled student's education program (H7217, H7218) (H Health, Education and Welfare; Wed, Mar 14).

4. S2658: Establishes a fairly lengthy list of "defects or omissions" that a mortgage agreement may contain and still be considered valid (S Judiciary; Tue, Mar 13) and someone with industry knowledge should review this list, and tell us if the defects truly are minor enough to be considered inconsequential.

3. H7110: Requires a search warrant for the search of any "portable electronic device" in the possession of an individual who has been arrested (H Judiciary; Tue, Mar 13).

2. S2695/H7543: Process for authorizing a full casino at Newport Grand, including a statewide constitutional amendment ballot question, and a local referendum in Newport (S Special Legislation and Veterans Affairs; Wed, Mar 14).

1. H7413: Among other provisions, a prohibition of standardized tests from being used as a requirement for high-school graduation (H Health, Education and Welfare; Wed, Mar 14).



Coming up in Committee: Sixteen Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, March 13 - March 15, Part 1

Carroll Andrew Morse

Local Impact: Johnston, Middletown/Newport, North Kingstown, North Providence, North Smithfield, Pawtucket 2 3 4, Providence 2, Tiverton 2, Westerly.

16. H7882: Adds the Governor's Office to the list of government departments that can participate in the operation of a State House gift shop (H Municipal Government; Thu, Mar 15).

15. H7687: Requirement that all healthcare plan participants in Rhode Island designate a primary care provider (H Corporations; Tue, Mar 13). Perhaps a step in changing the standard delivery model for healthcare in Rhode Island to something more HMO-like?

14. Bud Art. 24, Sec 3: Extends, for the next 10 years, a sales tax exemption for Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation projects, but excludes retail projects and specifically retail banking from being granted sales tax or any other tax benefits by the EDC (H Finance; Wed, Mar 14). Added to the list, because it seems as if a specific project or two is being removed from the list of possible tax exmeptees.

13. S2606: A vaguely-worded prohibition on price gouging of essential commodities; price gouging would be prohibited not only during a "a declaration of a state of emergency by the governor, or federal disaster declaration by the president", but also during any "actual or anticipated market emergency or economic emergency" (S Corporations; Tue, Mar 13). Do the past several years count as an economic emergency that would trigger this bill?

12. H7650: Prohibits the Department of Human Services from requiring Medicaid beneficiaries to use "any alternative brand name prescription drug" prior to using another brand-name drug. (Generic drugs could still be given preference) (H Health, Education and Welfare; Wed, Mar 14).

11. Budget articles relating to state personnel, including Article 13 authorizing the department of administration "to adjust the salaries of directors of state executive departments in an amount comparable to monetary adjustments for cost of living provided to classified state employees as a result of the most recent collective bargaining agreement", and Article 33 removing election day from the list of state employee holidays (H Finance; Thu, Mar 15).

10. H7474: Allows motor vehicle registration renewals to be submitted to city/town clerks, if authorized by an individual municipality (H Municipal Government; Thu, Mar 15).

9. S2226: One of many bills on the issue of workers' compensation being heard by the Senate Labor Committee on Wed, Mar 14; this particular bill repeals a large section of the law related to "partial incapacity".

8. S2343: Establishes conditions that must be met, which go beyond the IRS regulations currently in use, for someone being paid to be considered a contractor and not an employee (S Labor; Wed, Mar 14).

7. H7045: Requires that cities and towns change auditors every 3 years (H Municipal Government; Thu, Mar 15).


March 5, 2012


Coming up in Committee: Fourteen Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, March 6 - March 8, Part 2

Carroll Andrew Morse

3C. H7462/H7465: Constitutional Amendment whereby the Governor and Lieutenant Governor of Rhode Island would be chosen together (H Judiciary; Tue, Mar 6).

3B. H7219: Repeal of the voter ID law (H Judiciary; Tue, Mar 6).

3A. H7426/S2060: Elimination of the master lever from Rhode Island general election ballots (H Judiciary; Tue, Mar 6 & S Judiciary; Tue, Mar 6). S2059, striking additional mentions of the master lever in Rhode Island law, is being heard in Sentate Judiciary on the same day.

2. Bud Art. 24, section 2, 5 & 6: Expansion of the hotel tax to 1-room bed and breakfasts (currently 3 rooms have to be available at a B&B for it to be taxed as a hotel) and the increase in the meals and beverage tax (H Finance; Wed, Mar 7 & S Finance; Tue, Mar 6).

1C. Contract terms for firefighters (H7618) and police officers (H7619) would not expire until a new contract is reached (H Labor; Thu, Mar 8).

1B. H7620: Permanent contracts and binding arbitration for municipal employees (H Labor; Thu, Mar 8). The combination of this item with the previous one is also known as "Donald Lally's Festival of Municipal Contracting".

1A. H7617: Binding arbitration for school teachers (H Labor; Thu, Mar 8). The bill includes a provision reading that "no certified public school teacher shall participate in a strike". This presumably replaces the current section of RI law which reads "nothing contained in this chapter shall be construed to accord to certified public school teachers the right to strike". Is this kind of trade what RI teacher's unions refer to as bargaining in good faith?



Coming up in Committee: Fourteen Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, March 6 - March 8, Part 1

Carroll Andrew Morse

With many bills of significant impact being heard by General Assembly committees this week, the weekly review will be split into two sections. Here is part 1:

Local impact: Little Compton 2, Portsmouth, Smithfield 2

14. S2489: Changes election rules from requiring that "substantially not more than nineteen hundred voters shall be served by the same polling place", to requiring that "voting districts" shall be limited to 4,000 voters (in the absence of special approvals) (S Judiciary; Tue, Mar 6).

13. S2336: An extension of parts of campaign finance regulation to local financial town meetings & referendums (S Judiciary; Tue, Mar 6).

12. S2434: As per the official description: "This act would repeal the requirement that utility customers contribute to a fund to pay utility bills for those whose bills are unpaid" (S Corporations; Tue, Mar 6).

11. H7181: Repeals the current prohibition on classified state employees running for elected state office (H Judiciary; Tue, Mar 6).

10. Two bond issues: the section of Bud Art. 5 placing $21,500,000 for "Transportation" on the 2012 general election ballot for voter approval, and the section of Bud Art 7 "reallocating bond proceeds" to the New Sakonnet Bridge and the Washington Bridge (H Finance; Thu, Mar 8).

9. H7533: On its surface, an obvious statement of what should already be required under existing contract law: "A health care entity or health plan shall be required to pay for health care services ordered by a health care provider if: (1) The services are a covered benefit under the insured’s health benefit plan; and (2) The services are medically necessary". However, I am fairly certain that this bill relates to the unintended consequences that Federal ERISA law has had on medical insurance, and will either allow the state of Rhode Island to regulate employee health benefits in a way that ERISA has closed off, or it will be preempted by ERISA and have no impact at all (H Corporations; Wed, Mar 7).

8. H7393: Immediate driver's license suspension, for anyone charged with driving under the influence (H Judiciary; Wed, Mar 7). Aren't there serious constitutional problems here, with handing out a penalty before the courts have resolved a case?

7. Price controls on healthcare insurance policies (H7530) and prescription drugs (H7573) (H Corporations; Wed, Mar 7).

6. S2333: Requires the state legislature to disregard the choice for President made by Rhode Island voters, and assign Presidential electors to the winner of the popular vote as determined by other states instead (S Judiciary; Tue, Mar 6).

5. H7256: "The Comprehensive Racial Profiling Act of 2012", including such provisions as requiring police officers to contact "a dispatcher or supervising officer" (where practicable) before conducting a "reasonable suspicion" or "probable cause" search, barring police officers from requesting identification during a traffic stop (a clear sanctuary for illegal immigrants provision), and charging the Department of Transportation with studying racial data on traffic stops by all PDs in Rhode Island (H Judiciary; Wed, Mar 7).

4. S2569: An attempt to bring independent electioneering expenditures under a campaign-finance regime. Anyone -- including individuals, not just corporations -- who wants to independently spend more than $250 in a calendar year supporting/opposing a candidate for office or a position in a referendum would have to register with the Board of Elections (H Judiciary; Tue, Mar 6).


February 27, 2012


Coming up in Committee: Fourteen Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, February 28 - March 1

Carroll Andrew Morse

The prologue to this week's list of General Assembly bills to be heard in committee is a bumper crop of local impact bills. I can't say for certain if they are all sinister or sensible, but folks interested in the goings-on in Cranston, Cumberland 2, Middletown/Newport, New Shoreham, North Providence, North Smithfield, Pawtucket 2 3 4 5 6, Portsmouth 2 and Warren might want to take a look at the one or more bills that specifically impact their communities.

And now on to the regular list...

14. H7406: Sets a minimum price of $35.00 for transportation provided by "public motor vehicles", i.e. privately owned non-taxicabs hired for individual trips (H Corporations; Tue, Feb 28).

13. H7371: Requires that all wood burned in wood stoves be "clean wood". No, I am not making this up. Also requires any new wood stoves installed in 2013 or after to be 50ft from the owner's lot-line and 200ft from the nearest neighbor's dwelling, with the intention of prohibiting them from being installed in densely populated areas (H Environment and Natural Resources; Thu, Mar 1). Addendum: Commenter tcc3 points out that the law also prohibits the sale or rental of a home that has a wood stove closer than 50ft from the lot line or 200ft from the nearest neighbor.

12. H7220: "Only state or federal elected officials, General assembly employees or retained consultants and their employees shall be required to testify under oath when addressing the reapportionment commission. All others shall not be compelled to present sworn testimony to the reapportionment commission" (H Judiciary; Tue, Feb 28).

11. S2391: Adds to the charter of Johnson and Wales that "the real and personal property of the corporation shall be exempt from state and local taxes" (S Corporations; Tue, Feb 28). Ed note: What are the possible interactions, between this bill and other state and municipal efforts to tax non-profits?

10. Bud Art. 13: Authorizes the department of administration "to adjust the salaries of directors of state executive departments, in an amount comparable to monetary adjustments for cost of living provided to classified state employees as a result of the most recent collective bargaining agreement" (S Finance; Tue, Feb 28).

9. The H Small Business agenda for Wed, Feb 29, which includes bills to try to help Rhode Island businesses in various ways, including creating loan funds (H7230), loan (H7354) and other capital access (H7513) assistance programs, regular review of government regulations (H7770), and requirements for state government to give priority to RI businesses (H7771).

8. Bud Art. 33: Removes election day from the list of state employee holidays (S Finance; Tue, Feb 28).

7. Bud Art. 12: A host of education issues, including changes in state aid for capital projects and for Central Falls, and the elimination of the "textbook reimbursement fund" (H Finance; Thu, Mar 1).

6. H7204: Expands the penalty for texting-while-driving to include a "mandatory requirement that a device which prevents text messaging and cell phone calls be installed" in the vehicle of the perpetrator (H Judiciary; Tue, Feb 28). Ed note: I didn't know such devices already existed.

5. H7172/H7290 Statements of "apology, sympathy, compassion, condolence, or benevolence relating to the pain, suffering, or death of a patient" made by a healthcare provider would be inadmissable as evidence in a legal claim or civil actions against that provider (H Judiciary; Wed Feb 29).

4. H7151: Prohibits different rates from being charged to health insurance customers on the basis of gender (H Corporations; Tue, Feb 28). (Ed. note: This bill is an indication of the progressive inability to realize the difference between actual insurance and the subsidizing of predictable costs).

3. Bud Art. 5: Bond issues for the 2012 general election ballot: $109,900,000 for "Higher Education Facilities", $21,500,000 for "Transportation", $20,000,000 for a "Clean Water Finance Agency", $25,000,000 for "Environmental Management" and $25,000,000 for "Affordable Housing" (S Finance; Thu, Mar 1).

2. H7543: Process for authorizing a full casino at Newport Grand, including a statewide constitutional amendment ballot question, and a local referendum in Newport (H Finance; Wed, Feb 29).

1. H7556: A non-binding resolution stating "this House of Representatives hereby respectfully requests the President and Congress of the United States to refrain from enacting or imposing any law or regulation that is beyond the scope of these constitutionally delegated powers or that would diminish the rights of the people of Rhode Island to govern themselves as a free, sovereign, and independent state" (H Judiciary; Tue, Feb 28).


February 13, 2012


Coming up in Committee: Ten Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, February 14 - February 16

Carroll Andrew Morse

10. Bud Art. 27: Creates a restricted-receipt account for historic preservation tax-credit processing fees, to be used for reimbursing historic tax-credit processing fees (H Finance; Tue, Feb 14). Ed. note: Rational government budgeting at its finest?

9. H7406, aka the strange regulatory bill of the week: Sets a minimum price of $35.00 for transportation provided by "public motor vehicles", which are privately owned non-taxicabs hired for individual trips (H Corporations; Tue, Feb 14). Ed. note: Does RI have a strong taxicab lobby?

8. Bud Art. 26/Bud Art. 28: Various municipal impact articles, including an extension of gambling appropriations to distressed communities, an extra-constitutional appropriation of local revenue in Central Falls, and a statutory exemption allowing a receiver to agree to longer contracts than democratically governed municipalities can (H Finance; Wed, Feb 15).

7. S2158: Moves layoff notice date for public school teachers from March 1 to June 1 (S Labor; Wed, Feb 15).

6. Bud Art. 4, Sec. 3: Creates an Office of Management and Budget within the Rhode Island Department of Administration, including a newly created director-level position to be appointed by the Director of Administration. The new OMB is given lots of responsibilities for seeking out and administering Federal grants and, as far as I can determine, there's no offsetting reduction or consolidation of other departments related to its creation (H Finance; Thu, Feb 16).

5. H7349: Card-check unions for public employees, with a definition of "public employee" that expressly includes quasi-public entities (H Labor; Tue, Feb 14).

4. H7390: Establishes a fairly lengthy list of "defects or omissions" that a mortgage agreement may contain and still be considered valid. Somebody with knowledge of real-estate transactions should review this list, and determine if they really are all the "minor defects" that the official description claims they are (H Judiciary; Tue, Feb 14).

3. The entire House Judiciary agenda for Wed, Feb 15:

  • H7060: An extension of parts of campaign finance regulation to local financial town meetings & referendums.
  • H7086: Moves the power to nominate judicial magistrates to the Governor, away from Supreme Court justices/Superior Court and other judges where it currently resides.
  • H7089: Allowing voters to choose their political party on the day of the primary, instead of having to be registered 90-days beforehand.
  • H7388: Requires the legislature to disregard the choice for President made by Rhode Island voters, and assign Presidential electors to the winner of the popular vote as determined by other states instead.

2B. H7201: Requires the faculty of Mayoral Academies to join the state teachers' retirement system (H Health Education and Welfare; Wed, Feb 15). Patrick's earlier take on the bill is available here.

2A. H7344: Requires that students be assigned to Mayoral academies based on randomized offers (H Health Education and Welfare; Wed, Feb 15). Ed. note: I notice that 3 of the sponsors on this bill are from Providence. Where is their companion bill, requiring that students be assigned to Classical High at random?

1. H7286/S2258: Teachers' right-to-work bill, prohibiting membership in a labor organization from being a condition of employment for teachers, teachers aids or specialists who work in an educational setting (H Health Education and Welfare; Wed, Feb 15 & S Labor; Wed, Feb 15).


February 6, 2012


Coming up in Committee: Nine Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, February 7 - February 9

Carroll Andrew Morse

9. H7343: Allows school districts to replace school bus monitors on K through 5 buses with a suitable technical monitoring system (H Health, Education and Welfare; Wed, Feb 8).

8. Bud Art. 28: In addition to involving some specific financial details relating to Central Falls, including an extra-constitutional appropriation of local revenue, this article also gives municipal receivers the power to negotiate contracts of 5 years in duration in any community where they have been installed. (Current Rhode Island law says that municipal contracts cannot extend beyond three years, though this law is routinely ignored in practice) (S Finance; Thu, Feb 9).

7. S2121: "With respect to police officers employed by the town of Johnston, only those police officers hired on or after July 1,2011 shall be eligible to be members of the Municipal Employees’ Retirement System of the state of Rhode Island" (S Finance; Thu, Feb 9). (Still have the same question here: Isn't the MERS system the pension system in Rhode Island considered to be the one in the best shape?)

6. H7059: Makes the intent to defraud in a residential mortgage transaction into a crime, whether or not "any particular person was harmed financially in the transaction". The bill also extends the statute of limitations for various crimes, including residential mortgage fraud, making false statements to obtain a loan or credit and "bank fraud", to 10 years (H Judiciary; Wed, Feb 8).

5. Bud Art. 12/Bud Art. 26: Changes the state-aid allocation to municipalities, including how local capital education expenses are reimbursed, how Central Falls education expenses are funded by the state, and a one-year extension on a "temporary" appropriation of gambling revenue to distressed communities (S Finance; Thu, Feb 9).

4. H7317: "Legal fees pertaining to a labor contract entered into by a city or town, shall not exceed two tenths of one percent (0.2%) of the value of the contract". (H Labor; Tue, Feb 7) (Editorial Note: Justin's view on the problem with this bill is available here).

3. H7283/S2180: Replaces a 5-section/7-subsection part of the law prohibiting for-profit "corporations, subsidiaries, or affiliates" from applying to "convert" more than 1 hospital in a 3-year period, with 1 section (sans subsections) expressly stating that for-profits can apply to "convert" more than one hospital per year (H Corporations; Tue, Feb 7 & S Health and Human Services; Wed Feb 8).

2. H7316: Prohibits municipal governments (including school committees and fire districts) from modifying or negotiating collective bargaining agreements after a primary election, until after the officials chosen in the associated general election have taken office (H Labor; Tue, Feb 7).

1. H7112: Eliminates good-behavior reduction of prison sentences for individuals convicted under sections 11-23-1 (Murder), 11-26-1.4 (Kidnapping of a minor), 11-37-2 (First degree sexual assault), 11-37-8.1 (First degree child molestation sexual assault) or 11-37-8.3 (Second degree child molestation sexual assault) of Rhode Island law (H Judiciary; Wed, Feb 8).


February 2, 2012


Legislation to Beat Cities and Towns Senseless with Their Own Amputated Legs

Justin Katz

Fresh on the heels of Governor Chafee's declaration of the Year of the Cities and Towns, Reps. Scott Guthrie (D, Coventry), Roberto DaSilva (D, East Prov., Pawtucket), and John Savage (R, East Prov.) have introduced legislation (H7317) that may win the sure-to-be-tough contest for union-loving lunacy:

28-7-7.1. Representation of towns and cities - maximum legal fees. — Notwithstanding any provision of law to the contrary contained in any general or public law, rule or regulation, legal fees pertaining to a labor contract entered into by a city or town, shall not exceed two tenths of one percent (0.2%) of the value of the contract.

Says Guthrie in the associated press release:

"My legislation is not intended to interfere with contract negotiations, or muddle the legal process associated with them... My legislation is intended to be a form of property tax relief, by setting a specific monetary cap on legal fees so they do not grow and grow like top seed."

One needn't be but so cynical to think that his legislation just might be intended to add a restraint on the employer in negotiations. They have to fight with the knowledge that a buzzer will eventually go off requiring them to lower their gloves and take whatever beating is coming their way.

Then again, given the lack of a "what then" in the legislation, a municipality surely would gain some immunity to accusations of unfair negotiation tactics if it unilaterally imposes contract terms the day that the law says its paid advocate has to go home.


January 31, 2012


Senate Education Committee First to Fully Comply with Rules On Publication of Committee Votes

Carroll Andrew Morse

Let's give immediate credit to the Rhode Island Senate Education Committee, led by Chairwoman Hanna Gallo (D-Cranston), for being the first RI General Assembly Committee, definitely in this session and maybe ever, to post its votes to hold bills for further study to the "Committee Votes" section of the General Assembly website, providing the public with a more complete record of what occurs during committee sessions than previously has been done.

In the other chamber, although 16 bills have already been "held for further study" by House committees as of the end of last week, no record of those votes appears on the General Assembly's website at the present time.


January 30, 2012


Coming up in Committee: Seven Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, January 31 - February 2

Carroll Andrew Morse

7. The House Corporations Committee will be considering a typically eclectic set of regulatory bills on Wed, Feb 1, on subjects such as allowing "hospitals and treatment centers located in Providence to calibrate scales within their facilities" (H7231) and requiring flashing lights on snow-removal equipment, in addition to snow plows (H7230). It's always both fun and informative to look in on the agenda of this committee, to get a sense of the things that RI government likes to regulate. However, I do wonder what problems are anticipated by H7229, which states that in civil lawsuits against the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority, "any damages recovered therein shall not exceed the sum of one hundred thousand dollars".

6. S2052: A statutory "bill of rights" for homeless individuals, including "the right to fair, decent and affordable housing in the community of his or her choosing, and access to safe and proximate shelter until such housing can be attained". (S Housing and Municipal Gov; Tue, Jan 31) (Question: Could an unlimited number of people use this section of the proposed law to sue for their right to housing in New Shoreham?)

5. H7055: Changes election rules from requiring that "substantially not more than nineteen hundred voters shall be served by the same polling place", to requiring that "voting districts" shall be limited to 4,000 voters (in the absence of special approvals). (H Finance; Tue, Jan 31)

4. H7186/S2121: "With respect to police officers employed by the town of Johnston, only those police officers hired on or after July 1,2011 shall be eligible to be members of the Municipal Employees’ Retirement System of the state of Rhode Island". (H Municipal Gov; Tue, Jan 31 & S Finance; Thu, Feb 2) (Question: Isn't the MERS system the pension system in Rhode Island that's considered to be in the best shape?)

3. H7225 provides for stays of foreclosure for active duty or deployed armed service members. H7274 creates a specific process for resolving child custody and visitation matters "when a parent receives temporary duty, deployment, or mobilization orders from the military". (H Veterans' Affairs; Thu, Feb 2)

2. H7272: Changes date of layoff notices for public school teachers from March 1 to June 1 (H Labor; Wed, Feb 1) (Editorial note: The date change is literally the only change in the law made by this bill).

1. H7250: Terms of teacher contracts would remain in force after they have expired, if no new contract has been ratified. (H Labor; Wed, Feb 1)


January 21, 2012


Assembly Can't Have It Both Ways

Patrick Laverty

Monique's post today about her attempt to get in touch with State Rep Charlene Lima via email made me think that it's pretty interesting that Reps and Senators don't want to be bothered by non-constituents. Last June, Jim Hummel came to the same conclusion, with Rep. Lima again the poster child for this type of (lack of) response.

They'll claim to be too busy, too overwhelmed with email to have time to read it all from everyone. They get email from non-constituents from other districts in Rhode Island and they also claim they get email from people from out of state. They really only have time to respond to and interact with their own constituents. After all, that's who they're representing, right? Those are the people that the Assembly member spends their time up on Smith Hill to represent.

I have to say "hang on a moment" here. That's not exactly true. If you have a severe case of insomnia some time, or you're just a big time nerd like me, try randomly reading through State House bills. Pay special attention to those that affect either one town, a couple of towns or even just specific institutions. Shouldn't the Assembly member who is representing those issues be the one who submits bill for those specific areas?

Want an example? Remember back in 2008 when the Assembly passed a law allowing both Twin River and Newport Grand to stay open 24 hours a day? Who sponsored that bill in the Senate? Was it a Senator from Lincoln or Newport? No. It was Paul Moura, then a Senator for East Providence. East Providence?!? What does he have to do with Twin River or Newport Grand?

This isn't the only time this has happened. If you read through the bills, you'll see it happens quite frequently, actually. I have no definite reason as to why.

The Assembly members want to submit legislation that affects people in a certain part of the state that they don't represent, however based on Jim Hummel and Monique's experiences, these Assembly members don't want to respond or even read email from people that their legislation affects. It would seem to me that if you're going to submit a bill that affects certain people in this state, you should at least be willing to accept contact from them. It's just good government. Which is yet again, something Rhode Island needs a lot more of.


January 19, 2012


Welcome to the 2012 Edition of the Journal of Held For Further Study

Carroll Andrew Morse

I attended last night's hearing of the Rhode Island House of Representatives Municipal Government Committee on House Bill H7098, which would change the way that vehicles are valued for purposes of assessing the state’s car tax.

Municipal Government Committee Chairman Jon Brien (D-Woonsocket) gaveled the meeting to order, took the roll, and asked Rep. Joseph McNamara (D-Warwick), the primary sponsor of H7098, to begin the discussion of the bill, which was the only item on last night's committee agenda. Less than a minute into Rep. McNamara's testimony, Chairman Brien politely interrupted Rep. McNamara, to ask for a vote to hold the bill for further study. The committee voted to do so and the meeting went on.

Now, I am not suggesting that yesterday’s immediate vote to hold for "further study" means that something untoward is occurring with the car-tax bill. The earliness in the legislative session(especially by Rhode Island standards) with which Chairman Brien, the bill’s sponsors, and the Municipal Government Committee have taken up this matter, as well as the wide range of people who participated in the hearing, makes plain that the House is giving serious consideration to this bill, and the practice of automatically holding bills for "further study" is not a central roadblock to passing meaningful reforms on an issue like the car-tax, where there is a reasonably broad consensus about changes that need to be made.

However, politics and policy making will inevitably involve issues where consensus is harder to achieve. In such cases, respecting the principle that legislatures by their nature must be governed by majority rule, not by any one individual, is of the utmost importance to the functioning of representative democracy. Unfortunately, the Rhode Island practice of holding bills for “further study” concentrates legislative power in the hands of a few members, whether or not they represent the majority view of the legislature as a whole.

* * *

1. By voting to hold a bill for further study as its first order of business, members of a committee immediately surrender to leadership their right to determine if a bill will ever get a floor vote. The relevant rule in the House of Representatives is rule 12(f)...

Committee Chairs shall bring reports of committee actions to the floor no later than two (2) weeks following the committee votes thereon, provided that this shall not apply to the Committee on Finance, nor shall it apply to bills being held for further study under subdivision (e)(v).
A vote to hold a bill for further study counts as the one vote to which every bill is entitled, but also means that a bill does not have to be seen or heard from ever again. Before the decision to hold for further study, a committee has the discretion to send a bill to the full house for consideration, regardless of how the Speaker or a committee chair would like to see it disposed of. After the decision is made to hold for further study, a committee’s ability to send a bill to the floor depends on first getting the Speaker's and the committee chair's permission to put it back on the agenda for another vote.

2. At the risk of sounding redundant, holding a bill for further study requires a vote to be taken. However, if you look at the General Assembly website, you will see that no vote was reported from the House Municipal Government committee from yesterday. The House is in violation of its own rules here, specifically rule 13(c)...

The Speaker shall formulate a plan for the publication of committee votes and work to implement the plan so committee votes appear online in a prominent and conspicuous location on the General Assembly website prior to the floor votes of the bill occurring: Online committee votes shall be available publicly no later than May 1, 2011.
Votes in committee to hold for further study are committee votes. This means, according to the rules, they should be published on the GA website in a timely fashion. They should be published so that the citizens of Rhode Island can know which representatives reflexively surrender their right to decide the fate of bills in committee in every case, and which do not.

3. Opposing the current practice of automatically holding bills for further study as the first order of committee business does not imply that a final decision has to be made on a bill in the first committee session where it is heard. For a concrete example of this, we can turn to the Rhode Island Senate. When a bill is held for further study by a House or Senate committee, a specific note of that fact is made on the "Bill Status" section of the General Assembly website. Here's an example from last year's session...

Senate Bill No. 314 SUB A
Chapter 326
BY McCaffrey, Lynch
ENTITLED, AN ACT RELATING TO STATE AFFAIRS AND GOVERNMENT -- RHODE ISLAND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION (would require all board members of the Rhode Island airport corporation to be appointed by the governor with the advice and consent of the senate)
{LC511/A/1}
02/16/2011 Introduced, referred to Senate Judiciary
03/03/2011 Scheduled for hearing and/or consideration
03/03/2011 Committee recommended measure be held for further study
04/26/2011 Scheduled for consideration
04/26/2011 Committee recommends passage of Sub A
However, examining the travail of some of the other legislation considered by the RI Senate last session shows that legislative committees already use options other than holding for further study to continue business from one meeting to the next. Here's how the I-195 redevelopment bill worked its way through the Senate Housing and Municipal Government Committee...
Senate Bill No. 114 SUB B as amended
Chapter 267
BY Ruggerio, Goodwin, Jabour, Perry, Ciccone
ENTITLED, AN ACT RELATING TO PUBLIC PROPERTY AND WORKS
{LC144/B/3}
01/27/2011 Introduced, referred to Senate Housing and Municipal Government
04/14/2011 Scheduled for hearing
04/14/2011 Committee continued
05/26/2011 Scheduled for hearing and/or consideration
05/26/2011 Committee continued
05/31/2011 Scheduled for consideration
05/31/2011 Committee continued
06/02/2011 Scheduled for consideration
06/02/2011 Committee recommends passage of Sub A as amended...
At three separate meetings, the committee postponed making a final decision on the I-195 bill, without formally holding it for further study. This meant that the committee was able, by a majority decision, to resume consideration of the bill without having to get permission from the Senate President or the committee chair. For whatever reason, the committee members decided that they didn't want to go through a process of sending the I-195 bill to the Senate leadership and waiting for them to send it back, in order to be able to consider the bill at a future meeting.

No slight is intended to Speaker of the House Gordon Fox by pointing out the problems with the Rhode Island legislature's further study system, but the simple fact of the matter is that any legislative body is going to have to deal with issues where the majority wants to move in a different direction from the leadership. We recently saw an example of this, also from the Rhode Island Senate, where the Senate leadership used parliamentary trickery to deny a roll call floor vote on an E-Verify bill that was supported by a large number of Senators and that might have passed (we don’t know for sure, because the Senate President didn’t take a roll call vote).

Under the rules of the Rhode Island legislature that are already in place, Senators or Representatives are not constrained to follow only the agenda that leadership sets for them. They already have the formal authority they need to bring votes to the floor, with or without leadership sanction. All they need is a willingness to use the authority that the people have entrusted to them.


January 18, 2012


"It's Legal" Doesn't Make It Right

Patrick Laverty

Two stories in the Providence Journal lately have me lamenting more of the same in Rhode Island. More of lack of strong leadership and more disregard for the people and the spirit of law.

Last Thursday, they reported that Senators Paiva-Weed, Ruggerio and Goodwin were invited to the Senate Presidents Forum in Key West. The RI Senate President was invited in order to speak about the RI pension reform bill that recently passed. Additionally, the conference paid for a portion of the costs. The other portion, thankfully, was not paid by taxpayers but instead by the campaign account of Senator Paiva-Weed.

Apparently, this is legal:

(b)(4) Travel expenses for an officeholder, provided that the travel is undertaken as an ordinary and necessary expense of seeking, holding, or maintaining public office, or seeking, holding, or maintaining a position within the legislature or other publicly elected body. If a candidate or officeholder uses campaign funds to pay expenses associated with travel that involves both personal activities and campaign or officeholder activities, the incremental expenses that result from the personal activities are personal use, unless the person(s) benefiting from this use reimburse(s) the campaign account within thirty (30) days for the amount of the incremental expenses;
Was this trip a part of their holding the office? Yes. However, I do wonder if the senators would have no problem with looking a donor in the eye and explaining to them that their $20 donation could go toward the Senator's trip to Key West. How many donors think of it that way? I'm guessing they more think their money is going toward yard signs or newspaper advertising or any of the other various expenses that come up in the course of a campaign. I doubt many think "Sure, I'll give this senator my money so they can go on a trip to Key West, Florida."

Also in the Journal was an article about various lobbyists who purchased advertising space in newspapers owned by State Senator John Tassoni. Apparently, most of the lobbyists who made this purchase did not report this expenditure by the required deadline. When Sen. Tassoni was asked about this, he said

“It’s not my responsibility. It’s the responsibility of the people that buy the ads to fill out the proper documents.”
Which is true, it's not his responsibility to fill out forms for the state or disclose that information, it's the lobbyists' job. However, a state senator should be interested in good government and transparent government. If something isn't right that is related to a business that he owns, he should be ready to step up and take a stronger stand against the lobbyists that aren't adhering to the state's expenditure laws, and not simply wave his hands and claim "Not my fault."

In both of these cases, while no senator has done anything illegal, they just don't really pass the smell test. Neither one really feels right, neither one feels like the senators are showing leadership and promoting good government and representation in Rhode Island. That is something that the state still needs a lot more of.


January 4, 2012


What's Old Is New Again

Patrick Laverty

Just when I started to think that maybe Speaker Gordon Fox gets it. Maybe he is going to lead in the right direction. Some recent examples included his decision to put bills to a House floor vote when they're ready, not at the last minute. Or his decision to contact the US Justice Department and find out what steps the state needs to take to open legal medical marijuana dispensaries, even though Governor Chafee ran scared from the issue.

But then, Speaker Fox shows that he still doesn't get it. On the very first night of session, he described his legislative priorities to Ian Donnis over at the Rhode Island Public Radio (RIPR) On Politics blog.

Fox told me these are his top three goals for the session:
The first thing we have to do is get redistricting done. I think the next thing we have to do is deal with the municipal situation – figure out what’s going on with that – and I think we really have to put the foundation in with the casino vote that’s coming up in November.
Wait, what? Did I miss something? Did I miss where Rhode Island's unemployment rate was magically fixed? Did I misunderstand one of those goals to really mean "to help get Rhode Islanders back to work and create a better business atmosphere for every citizen of the state?"

Speaker Fox, where is the desire to fix this major problem? This is worse than the state pension situation was. You fix this unemployment and bad business climate then everything else falls into place.

Additionally, Donnis mentions:

It’s an election year, of course, in which some observers think the legislature will avoid controversy, steer clear of upsetting public safety unions, and make a relatively fast exit.
Very nice. No controversy, don't upset any unions and get out fast so they can go bang on doors and serve spaghetti in the late summer and early fall.

Speaker Fox, please add this as your fourth important issue for this session. Don't be afraid to make the hard decisions, regardless of who gets angry, because the people who will be happy are those who are still sitting home, out of a job. And I guess if you don't do anything about the unemployment rate, more people will be home to greet the door to door campaigning.


January 3, 2012


Welcome Back General Assembly

Patrick Laverty

Today is the first Tuesday in January, which means by the state's constitution, the General Assembly is back in session. While I'm not sure why they need to meet every year in a state the size of Rhode Island (in Texas they meet every odd numbered year) it sure helps bloggers to come up with more material while they're in session.

A couple sources today talked about some of the things we can expect to see addressed in the next six months or so. First and foremost, we'll hear about municipal pension reform. The Assembly just finished up one round of pension reform on the state level, but this time, they'll be discussing how to help all the cities and towns of RI fix their problems. Some, like General Treasurer Gina Raimondo felt there were too many different plans and issues for the state bill to handle the plans held by all 39 municipalities. They all have their own challenges. One of the biggest issues we'll hear discussed with the local pension reform will be for the city of Cranston. Last year, I spoke with Mayor Fung about his unique situation.

Then, when reading the various articles talking about what the Assembly will be tackling, I get a bit disappointed, put it mildly. Dan McGowan puts numbers next to each of the issues that he brings out. I'm not sure if this was intended as having any meaning, but I see "Job Creation" with a number 9 next to it. In an AP story found in the Boston Globe (h/t Ted Nesi) (wouldn't that be great if we didn't have to find Providence news in the Boston Globe?), "Economy" is mentioned after "Budget Deficit", "Taxes", "Municipal Pensions", and ahead of "Education", "Nursing School" and "Civil Unions."

To me, this is proof that people just don't get it. Look at all of those things except for civil unions. Every single one of those is budgetary and financial. They all have to do with money in one direction or the other. The number one, biggest, most important thing this General Assembly can do for the next six months is to focus on one thing. Build an environment in Rhode Island that promotes job creation. All of those other issues mentioned get easier when you have people working and paying their income taxes.

The Assembly needs to create an environment that continues to build on the national buzz that Rhode Island is getting. Some can debate whether it is deserved, but Rhode Island is getting a lot of national attention from the media for the pension reform that just passed. What happens then is business owners will look at that and start to put a bug in their head about whether Rhode Island will be a good move for them. So they'll investigate further. What's the business climate like?

If this General Assembly can build on the buzz by creating more national attention through creating a better atmosphere for business, it will only accelerate the state's recovery. And this is a problem that the General Assembly can fix, if they choose to. How else can anyone explain why all of RI's neighboring states have a much lower unemployment rate? Look at this graph.

The Assembly members all have their own pet projects they want to work on and we do have some big issues that need to be addressed. However, if this downward spiral of people leaving and jobs leaving the state is not reversed and reversed now, then changes need to be made in leadership. When Assembly candidates come knocking on our doors in the fall, we should be asking them one question only, "What did you do to create an environment for jobs for Rhode Island?"

I'd ask them all today, on their first day back to work. What are you going to do, today, to create a climate for job growth in Rhode Island? I'm listening.


January 1, 2012


Passing Bills On Their Own Merit?

Patrick Laverty

In Sunday's Nesi's Notes, Ted has a story about Speaker of the House, Gordon Fox trying to make what would actually be a major change in how the House operates. Fox is looking to change an old practice of holding the vast majority of the bills for a floor vote until the final days of the legislative session.

“I strongly believe that if bills, particularly non-budgetary items, are introduced earlier in the session it helps the House of Representatives to vet and consider the information in an orderly manner,” Fox wrote in a Dec. 1 letter to Governor Chafee obtained by WPRI.com. “It also prevents or lessens the chances of bills not being given the due consideration that they deserve before the General Assembly session ends.”
It often seemed in the past that all bills were being held for reasons of political power. Horse trading. When it comes down to some of the bigger bills that need to pass at the end of a session, such as the budget, a Speaker could hold other bills over legislators' heads. It's a way of keeping others in line.

Amazingly, it's looking like Fox is willing to hand over some of this power. What he's risking is letting some legislator's bill come up for a floor vote when it's ready, whether that's in February or May, and not having that carrot to dangle later when the Speaker needs help in getting a bill passed. I believe this is an example of better government that Fox should be given credit for.

Those of us who have watched some of those contentious final nights of the legislative session have seen tempers grow hotter than the inside of the building in late June. We hear calls for debate to be cut off because of things like having been at the State House for ten or more hours that day or it's 2 am and time to go home and everyone's tired. I never seem to have much sympathy for them, they create that problem by holding all the bills to the end. This move by the Speaker seems as though it will lessen that burden and let the legislators have the appropriate amount of time to review the proposals in front of them.

The article has one other point of interest to me that I've had a hard time understanding.

The General Assembly frequently suspended its own rules and violated the state’s open meetings law during the last two weeks of its half-year sessions over the past decade, according to a Common Cause Rhode Island study
I think logically, one could say that they really have no rules if they can simply vote to suspend the rules. That just seems wrong. If you're going to have a rule, keep it in effect at all times. The same with the open meetings rules and with the amount of time that a bill must be posted before it can be voted on.

These actions just seem to lead to mistakes and bad government. One thing they can do to make their rules "real" would be to pass a new law that says the only way to change the rules after they are approved for the current session is by a vote of the electorate. That sets things in stone. Then again, the Assembly could pass a new law that invalidates that one. When you make the rules, technically it's impossible to run afoul of them.


October 14, 2011


The Legislative Response Rate on Tuition

Justin Katz

There are two major takeaways from the Providence Journal's poll of RI legislators on the matter of in-state tuition for illegal immigrants:

  1. 55% of senators and 37% of representatives were willing to go on the record opposing it even though there is no vote currently before them.
  2. 24% of senators and 41% of representatives didn't even respond to the question; add in "undecideds" and the percentages are 32% and 52%.

This issue comes up regularly, and it has been pretty heavily covered in the media, lately. How is it possible not to have an opinion?

The third takeaway, of course, is whether your own senator and representative responded in the way that you would like him or her to... whether he or she responded at all is also an important fact to keep in mind next time you're voting.


September 28, 2011


The General Assembly Line for Pensions

Justin Katz

Have you spotted the line of argument that members of the General Assembly have devised for explaining why legislators who benefit from public-sector pensions are free to vote to changes to the system? Here's retired NEA member and recently elected representative from East Providence (whose pension comes in at $54,512, annually):

Echoed Duffy Messier: "Everyone I talk to understands that something's got to be done and ... if the COLA is reduced or frozen for a while, if that's the worst, then they are fine with it."

Duffy Messier said she would have qualms voting if it "was going to affect me positively," but that is not what she anticipates.

And here it's put a little differently:

Dawson Hodgson, R-North Kingstown, acknowledged that "nothing compels" a legislator to do [recuse], and that several legislators have publicly indicated their intention "to do the right thing and ... vote against their self-interest," which was how he described a vote to suspend or reduce, at least temporarily, the annual cost-of-living increases of up to 3 percent the state currently provides its retirees.

The problem is that a suspension or reduction in cost of living adjustments (COLAs) is nowhere near adequate, so self-interested legislators would, in effect, be voting in a way that affects them positively by voting for a measure that isn't as dramatic as it really has to be. The question isn't giving pensioners more versus giving them less; it's the amount of negative change.

Sadly, even Hodgson appears to be indicating that my predictions for the General Assembly's "reform" might be more accurate than I'd like:

... reamortization with some sort of tax increase (perhaps pushed through local governments and property taxes) and a mild reduction in benefit levels for future retirees — such as an additional year or two before they can retire or a couple more years of salary folded into the calculation for benefit amount.

I should have added some adjustment to COLAs, but doing so doesn't change the overall... bleak... picture.


September 27, 2011


How Much Time Will There Be To Read the Pension Bill, Before Voting on the Pension Bill?

Carroll Andrew Morse

At the John Loughlin fundraiser held in East Providence on Sunday evening, I was able to ask several of the sitting legislators in attendance about the highly anticipated special legislative session on pension reform. In particular, I asked House Minority Leader Brian Newberry and Senators Frank Maher and Nick Kettle about how much time they expected to have between being presented with a complete pension reform plan and being asked to vote on it.

Each of the legislators that I talked to had detailed and pointed thoughts on this issue...


 
Representative Brian Newberry: What I've been hearing is that's there are some tensions between the leadership on perhaps both the House and Senate sides and the Treasurer's office as to what's going to happen. As I understand it, the Democratic leadership wants the Treasurer to propose a solution that is actuarially sound, in a complete package. My understanding is the Treasurer's office -- and this goes back many months -- had wanted really to come forth with a slew of potential options and allow the legislature to choose from them. You can see the political advantages to both sides for that.
 
Audio: 1m 9 sec
To get something passed realistically, one of the things that will happen, no matter what gets proposed, is that there will be a series of floor amendments. There always is, on something of this magnitude. And if I were the Democratic leadership, I'd want something where I could come forward and say 'listen, this is the solution'. 'If you change it, and you don't have actuarial support for your changes, that's going to completely alter the equation and mess up the entire solution'. I suspect what we're going to ultimately see --and I don't have any knowledge if it's going to happen one way or the other -- but I think we're going to see the Treasurer's office put forward a solution, and whether it's a real solution or not we'll have to analyze, but they're going to put forward a package and ask the legislature to pass the package intact. I suspect that's what's going to happen.
 
 
Senator Frank Maher: That's a good question. That was one of the very concerns I had had a couple of weeks ago, when the House and the Senate got together for a pension briefing that was put on by leadership. I proposed the question of how exactly was this pension reform going to be given to us, and we were told it was going to be given to us in a legislative bill per se. When I asked who was going to be the sponsor of that bill, the reply that I received was "we don't know". And I said is it going to originate in the House or the Senate? And they said "we don't know". And I said, the Senate being the upper chamber, are we going to have the final say, depending on where the bill originates, of what the final proposal will be, taking into consideration the ideas that are given to us by the General Treasurer and the actuaries that are working with her? Once again, the response was "I don't know".
 
Audio: 2m 14 sec
So at this point, I am very concerned about not only how the pension reform is going to be put together in a legislative package and given to us, but I'm also very concerned, especially being part of the minority party, that we may not know until literally the last minute, and be told to vote on a bill that could literally be hundreds of pages long. And the example I give to reference that is not so much the budget but going back to when we had the Deepwater issue. That bill was a very, very extensive, complicated piece of legislation, and it came down to the last day of the vote. We were literally voting on floor amendments with no PA system working in the chamber, and being told we had to make a decision right then and there as to whether we were going to support it or not support it.
 
 
So I think that everybody agrees at this point that we have to have pension reform. I've been told that the Senate leadership is on board with pension reform one-hundred percent. But I hope that the political will is there to 1) do it comprehensively and 2) make sure that we're given enough time to digest and realize exactly what the ramifications are going to be once they decide the form that the legislation is going to take and how it's going to be passed.
 
 
Senator Nick Kettle: Echoing the same concerns as Senator Maher, I believe that we are not going to be given a proper amount of time to review the bill as it will be very extensive, and we won't know the full ramifications and implications for all the state workers and the taxpayers. And it's the taxpayers who we need to know how this is going to impact them. Unfortunately, the unions and the state workers are going to have to start paying their fair share. I don't know if the political will is in either chamber to actually do comprehensive pension reform, and I'm afraid that within two or three years, we're going to be back doing the same thing again. So I want to see pension reform happen this once, as Gina Raimondo has promised, and that's it, never come back to this issue again. It needs to be comprehensive, but unfortunately I don't see the will right now to do it. Audio: 49 sec


September 23, 2011


And Now About the Military Record...

Justin Katz

It looks like the next domino is falling for Rep. Dan Gordon (R, Portsmouth, Tiverton, Little Compton):

Military service records for a Rhode Island lawmaker who has said he sustained combat injuries in the 1991 Gulf War do not list a Purple Heart award or any Middle East deployments.

State Rep. Daniel Gordon's Marine Corps records, obtained by The Associated Press, list him as an aircraft technician who served from 1987 to 1991 in the U.S. and Japan. Gordon has said his leg was injured by shrapnel outside Baghdad.

This could be a paperwork mix-up, I suppose, but if so, the representative has really spectacularly bad luck.


September 20, 2011


Should Rep. Dan Gordon Be Forced Out?

Patrick Laverty

Dan Gordon is the embattled RI State Representative from District 71, representing Portsmouth, Tiverton and Little Compton now facing calls for his resignation. According to the Providence Journal, he will "absolutely not" step down.

That would seem there are only a couple other options to forcibly remove him from office. There was previously some mention of a 2/3 vote (of whom?) that could remove him. I cannot find any mention of this in the RIGL or the RI House Rules that would allow the General Assembly or just the House to take a vote and remove Gordon from office. I do see that the Ethics Commission may remove someone by way of a 2/3 vote of the Commission. However, former Senator William Irons' court case basically gutted the Commission of its power and in response, the Commission hasn't been taking on big issues since. Plus, the Ethics Commission's focus has been on when politicians financially benefit from their position in power. That does not appear to be the case here.
The other option would be for the voters of his district to request a recall election. The rules for such are spelled out in the RI Constitution in Article IV, Section 1. One of the stated requirements for a recall is

Recall is authorized in the case of a general officer who has been indicted or informed against for a felony, convicted of a misdemeanor, or against whom a finding of probable cause of violation of the code of ethics has been made by the ethics commission.
Also, the time frame for recalling a State Rep is extremely small.
Recall shall not, however be instituted at any time during the first six (6) months or the last year of an individual's term of office.
So based on that timeframe, recall is out of the question from January to June of this year and from January to December of 2012. That leaves a timeframe of July 1 to December 31 of this year.

I am not advocating for the recall of Gordon, but I think if he is no longer in office, it should only be by one of two ways, voluntary resignation or the voters of his district make the choice.

It seems that the situation happening is conflating multiple charges. The most serious charges against him were lodged and some later dropped, and his time in prison was all before he was elected. Did the voters of District 71 know about that when they chose him? I can't answer for each one, but this is yet another example of misinformed voters and apathetic voters. It's a shame when voters go to the polls and vote with very little information, often not much more than looking at the party designation. If voters aren't going to do their homework on their candidates, that's on them.

Lastly, what are the charges that are causing such a stir now? What has risen to the point where both Gordon Fox and Brian Newberry have called for Dan Gordon's ouster? According to the Providence Journal

eluding the police and three other motor vehicle violations.
So let's be serious here. These are two separate issues. The voters elected him with the serious charges and jail time, in his past. The current charges are motor vehicle violations, and still, he hasn't even been convicted. That is what we want to remove an elected representative over?

Should Gordon be forced out of office? That's not for me to decide. That's for the people he represents, the people of RI House District 71.

Updated: Andrew and commenter John Marion informed me that the House can in fact remove a member by a 2/3 vote according to Article VI, Section 7

Rules of houses -- Contempt. -- Each house may determine its rules of proceeding, punish contempts, punish its members for disorderly behavior, and, with the concurrence of two-thirds, expel a member; but not a second time for the same cause.
However, my point stands, based on the current charges, I believe the only ones to remove Gordon from office should be either Gordon himself or the people who elected him.


September 1, 2011


Using the Legislature to Increase Union Leverage

Justin Katz

Senator Frank Ciccone, who was a leading voice for legislation to generate some monopoly business for a particular media purchase agent and who makes $161,168 working for the Laborers' State Council, wants to provide micromanagement-level oversight of quasi-public entities:

In a letter that went out to the top administrators of these agencies on Aug. 25, Ciccone posed a series of questions, such as this: Does the agency give bonuses to any of its employees? Does it pay overtime?

Does it provide any form of compensation to its board members, including "travel, lodging, meals, training and, or education and if so, please provide a list of all compensation and/or reimbursement that board members received in FY 2011?"

Does the agency make "charitable and non-charitable contributions" and, if so, did its "employees or board members receive any benefits from [these] contributions, such as tickets, meals or golfing?"

Each letter also asks the administrator of each agency to "please list all gifts, benefits or other compensation that vendors or consultants gave to employees or board members in FY 2011."

That looks to me like an information-gathering effort for his union employer and its other allies in labor. Just another indication of why it doesn't have to be illegal to be corruption in Rhode Island.

It occurs to me, incidentally, that public-sector unions are essentially quasi-public entities, inasmuch as they collect their revenue directly from government revenue and conduct their activities with in and for the purpose of government operations. Surely, they should be receiving bullying letters and demands from legislative boards, especially considering the recent antics of executives in the National Education Association Rhode Island.


August 29, 2011


Car Tax Shame All Around

Justin Katz

It's always appropriate to call for a greater sense of shame among Rhode Island's politicians, but Ed Achorn was a little too specific in his column, last week:

The politicians of Rhode Island would be ashamed of themselves, had they not lost the capacity for feeling shame long ago. Their determination to balance their enormous budgets, larded with stunning benefits for special interests, on the breaking backs of struggling working people is outrageous.

I write of the General Assembly's action in permitting cities and towns to hike property taxes on the most shabby motor vehicles. Now, some municipalities are hammering people who own anything valued at $500 or more (according to the municipalities' highly skewed definition).

The reality must be acknowledged that municipal governments didn't have to increase their revenue from the car tax. Other means exist for them to absorb losses in money that the state, in its mismanagement, is unable to provide. For one, lost revenue is among the exemptions that allow them to raise property taxes beyond the cap; going that route would have given residents a stronger sense and say in whether their hometowns raised taxes at all. More wisely, local governments could simply have cut back spending, even though it might mean reducing the scope of their activities. We can't forget that the General Assembly also gave cities and towns permission to reduce school budgets for a couple of years, temporarily disengaging the statutory ratchet that requires school spending to go in no direction but up.

Yes, state legislators ought to feel shame that the tools that they leave to municipalities to balance budgets are so limited. Taxing clunkers was the easiest and most visible means of compensating for losses in state aid, and the General Assembly should have taken the opportunity of hardship to tone down the demands that it makes on local governments, from minimum manning to basic education plan (BEP) requirements to the way in which labor contracts must be negotiated.

The real shame, however, belongs with the people of Rhode Island, who continue to accept government as it is. Apathetic or on the take, too many voters implicitly agree that this is the way things ought to be.


July 26, 2011


The Privilege of One-Party Rule

Justin Katz

Throughout the legislative session just ended, the Providence Journal has been checking in with four freshman legislators, one of them being North Kingstown Republican Doreen Costa. This snippet, from the end-of-session iteration, points to one of Rhode Island's major political problems, and the consequence of indomitable one-party rule:

Lesson number two: Don't "question or argue" with the speaker, "privately, or on the floor."

"You just don't," she said. "You know you're not going to get anywhere if you argue with the speaker."

It just isn't right, nor indicative of a healthy political culture, for legislators to feel that way.


July 6, 2011


Gimme that Old-Tyme Constitutionalism!

Carroll Andrew Morse

The passage of the state budget, followed by a flurry of bills passed and not passed in the last week of the 2011 Rhode Island General Assembly session, were clear demonstrations of the value and the wisdom of two foundational principles of American constitutional governance.

1. The Division of Powers, more commonly referred to as the "Separation of Powers": In American-style constitutional systems, the Governor and the legislature both have a role in the making of laws, and it was this division of the lawmaking power that prevented an executive elected only by a plurality from imposing a tax policy that was unpopular with the majority. The legislature did their job of representing the 64% of the population who didn't vote for the current Governor or his program, accurately reflecting the fact that the Governor's high-profile taxation proposal was not popular or desired by the citizens of Rhode Island.

2. Bicameralism, Baby! The structure of two legislative chambers, neither of which owes its power to the other and both comprised of members who are electorally accountable to the people, was key in slowing down or stopping some of the legislation (the I-195 bill, binding arbitration) that otherwise would likely have been passed into law without appropriate time for public deliberation. Think how much different the outcome of the legislative session might have looked, if one individual like Majority Leader Dominick Ruggerio could extend the power he holds over the Senate to the entire legislature. It is the bicameral structure of the legislature that prevents this from easily occurring.

There are often feelings that "old" structures of governance have only limited application in the modern world, but sometimes the structures of a venerable and tested system are exactly what is required to keep government responsive to the people.

Federalist 51 hits both the principles of the division of powers and bicameralism, for anyone interested in further thoughts on the subject.


July 5, 2011


A Legislature Shouldn't Be Speaker Plus Advisers

Justin Katz

We're all rightly pleased that binding arbitration for teachers didn't make it into law, but there's something in the Rhode Island Statewide Coalition's post-victory press release that taps into a disconcerting aspect of the process:

"We commend Speaker Fox for giving this legislation the burial it deserves in the final hours of the session but we also recognize the 17 Senators who truly began the momentum to kill this bill with their courageous votes against it on the Senate floor Wednesday," states RISC Executive Director Harriet Lloyd.

As much as we may want a particular bill to go away, we'd do well to avoid acceptance of the the lopsided power of Rhode Island's Speaker of the House. The Providence Journal story on the bill's death calls it "his decision," and one wonders why legislators were shielded from a vote. Just as higher profile candidates spread political contributions around to lesser allies, the Speaker appears to have determined that he had some political capital to expend.

It's not, by the way, just a question of the Speaker putting aside a bill that he believes needs better vetting (and better timing for the outcome that he likely favors). The aspect appears again in this Providence Journal summary of the legislative session's final days (emphasis added):

"My staff and I worked extremely hard to reach a compromise on the health exchange legislation and I am hopeful that we can work things out for potential passage in the future," House Speaker Gordon D. Fox, D-Providence, said Friday. "However, I was unwilling to accept the Senate version of the bill, which included the pro-life language."

To make the process look even worse, the article describes a period during which the House's computers weren't able to access the bills and "lawmakers complained they were being asked to vote on bills they could not see." One wonders whether it's appropriate for legislators to read bills just before voting on them, anyway. Shouldn't they have at least a basic familiarity with them before the debate begins?

On the other hand, given the dynamics of the General Assembly's leadership team, it's a question whether legislators really need to read the bills, at all; they allow a small group so much power to control their activities. In that regard, another ally of the the center-right movement also offers disconcerting remarks:

"I can walk out that door and feel proud that we did what needed to be done for this state," [Warwick Republican Joe] Trillo said. "It is your leadership, Mr. Speaker. You have stepped up to the plate. You have proven that you understand what this state needed."

Bull. The legislature did was it always does and squeaked through with a budget that solves no real problems and ratchets the damaging regulator and taxation regimes just a bit more, in ways direct and indirect. Here's one of the latter, with a bit of guffaw-worthy rhetoric from the majority leader:

Republicans criticized the potential surcharge on electricity and natural gas bills to fund the [low-income utility aid] plan. "Let's be honest. We are voting on a $7-million tax increase," said House Minority Leader Brian C. Newberry, R-North Smithfield. "Let's call it what it is and vote it up or down."

Responded House Majority Leader Nicholas Mattiello, D-Cranston: "Twenty dollars per year per ratepayer. Do you consider that a tax increase? I don't. That is our obligation to take care of those amongst us that are meek."

Rhode Island so loves its meek that it has developed a civic structure and employment environment that makes it unduly difficult for them to cease being meek. Consequently, those who wish to improve their station in life must go elsewhere. Until legislators address that problem, we'll continue down this road of annual difficulties — annual attempts to slow our decline. Perhaps substantive, positive change can come at the behest of unreasonably powerful legislative leaders, but more likely than not, they'll have to be knocked down a few pegs before the system receives the hard shakes that it so desperately needs.


June 30, 2011


UPDATE: Providence Schools at the Center of the End of the Legislative Session

Carroll Andrew Morse

Earlier today, Providence Mayor Angel Tavares came out in favor of an amended version of the 195 Commission bill being considered in the RI House of Representatives.

This evening, the 195 bill passed, first the House Finance committee, then the full House. The Senate vote is still pending.

On the very next floor vote following the 195 commission vote, the House passed a bill granting mayors of cities with appointed school committees the power to directly negotiate teacher's contracts, relieving the school committee of power in this area entirely. The Senate vote on this bill is also pending.

The city of Providence has an appointed school committee.

Remember where you read it all first.



Providence Schools at the Center of the End of the Legislative Session?

Carroll Andrew Morse

At 10:22 this morning, notice was posted of a bill (S1062) to be heard by the House Finance Committee at noon today which would grant "the chief executive officer of any municipality having an appointed school committee" most of the same contract-negotiating powers that are held by elected school committees.

Some pure speculation on my part: In return or going along with the I-195 bill, could the powers-that-be in the Providence Mayor's office (and their allies in the RI House) be asking for much more direct power over the Providence school system?

And some speculation-squared: Would those same powers-that-be in the Providence Mayor's office be happy getting what they asked for, only to immediately lose it to a binding arbitrator?


June 29, 2011


Status of I-195 and Binding Arb Bills in the House

Carroll Andrew Morse

As indicated earlier in the evening, the House version of the binding arbitration bill has been held for further study...

House Bill No.5961
BY McCauley, Savage, Blazejewski, Lally, Carnevale
ENTITLED, AN ACT RELATING TO LABOR AND LABOR RELATIONS -- SCHOOL EMPLOYEE ARBITRATION
{LC2213/1}
03/22/2011 Introduced, referred to House Labor
03/29/2011 Scheduled for hearing and/or consideration
03/29/2011 Committee recommended measure be held for further study
06/29/2011 Scheduled for hearing and/or consideration
06/29/2011 Committee recommended measure be held for further study
Interestingly, the I-195 bill was also held for further study earlier in the evening, but has already been scheduled for another hearing and vote tomorrow (notice of a Thursday 12:00 PM meeting posted Wednesday, at 8:54 PM)...
Senate Bill No. 0114 SUB A as amended
BY Ruggerio, Goodwin, Jabour, Perry, Ciccone
ENTITLED, AN ACT RELATING TO PUBLIC PROPERTY AND WORKS {LC144}
01/27/2011 Introduced, referred to Senate Housing and Municipal Government
04/14/2011 Scheduled for hearing
04/14/2011 Committee continued
05/26/2011 Scheduled for hearing and/or consideration
05/26/2011 Committee continued
05/31/2011 Scheduled for consideration
05/31/2011 Committee continued
06/02/2011 Scheduled for consideration
06/02/2011 Committee recommends passage of Sub A as amended
06/07/2011 Placed on Senate Calendar
06/09/2011 Senate passed Sub A as amended
06/14/2011 Referred to House Finance
06/29/2011 Scheduled for hearing and/or consideration
06/29/2011 Committee recommended measure be held for further study
06/30/2011 Scheduled for hearing and/or consideration



Re: Binding Arbitration Bill Made Public

Carroll Andrew Morse

This is the current language in Rhode Island law on the right of public school teachers to strike...

"Certified School Teachers' Arbitration", 28-9.3-1(b) It is declared to be the public policy of this state to accord to certified public school teachers the right to organize, to be represented, to negotiate professionally, and to bargain on a collective basis with school committees covering hours, salary, working conditions, and other terms of professional employment; provided, that nothing contained in this chapter shall be construed to accord to certified public school teachers the right to strike.
This is the proposed language in the binding arbitration bill being heard in House and Senate committee hearings today...
28-9.3-9.2 Conduct of teachers during arbitration -- Proceedings -- (a) No certified public school teacher shall participate in a strike.
There is very little difference.

The deal being offered to RI taxpayers is that, in return for being stripped of their rights to have democratically accountable representatives determine how money is to be spent on public schools, they will receive absolutely nothing. This is, of course, what RI teachers' unions refer to as taking a "bargaining" position in good faith.



Standards for State Employment? Who'd Have Thought?

Justin Katz

An op-ed from Common Cause Rhode Island Executive Director John Marion raises one of those issues that is apt to make the average Rhode Islander wonder why things don't work that way already:

The key to solving this [hiring] problem [in the General Assembly] is to put in place sound human-resources practices — in this case an employee-classification plan. This plan would contain a salary structure to be used to guide who is paid how much, and for what work. With this plan in place the public could hold the General Assembly responsible for any raises that deviated from the salary structure for any given job. ...

Determining what is necessary to do a job requires you to look at the job content, the job context, the intensity of the mental processes required and the effect of the work on results. The content of a job includes which knowledge and skills are necessary to complete the work, including any specialized knowledge. The job context includes the conditions the person works in, such as the seasonal nature of different tasks. Looking at those factors you can create a job description to then be used in recruitment or performance evaluation for that position. Those who do the hiring, in this case the leadership of the General Assembly, would have to justify hires, raises or promotions on the basis of objective qualifications for the position.

In areas dealing with union labor, the contracts do some of that work, but that only highlights additional ways in which such a system would benefit the public — by moving matters of employment further from the negotiating table.

In any event, the reform is so obvious and straightforward that it would surely require a concerted fight over at least a decade to even bring it into the realm of possibility. For the time being, we should just try to make names like that of Senate Majority Leader Dominique Ruggerio's special assistant, union-boss son Stephen Iannazzi infamous.


June 28, 2011


Everybody Wants Action

Justin Katz

Everybody's telling us to call our legislators. An email from the Rhode Island Statewide Coalition (RISC):

THE WORST SCENARIO IS NOW UPON US, AS RISC HAS WARNED. IF THERE WERE EVER A TIME TO PICK UP YOUR PHONE OR EMAIL YOUR LEGISLATOR, IT IS NOW!

THE LABOR UNIONS HAVE STRUCK A DEAL WITH HOUSE AND SENATE LABOR COMMITTEES TO PASS BINDING ARBITRATION.

HERE'S THE BOTTOM LINE:

Binding Arbitration means even more crushing property taxes...RHODE ISLANDERS ARE ALREADY HURTING WITH HIGH TAXES, BUT THIS UNION POWER GRAB WILL FORCE THEM FROM THEIR HOMES AND CAUSE FISCAL CHAOS IN OUR LOCAL CITIES AND TOWNS.

CALL TODAY AND SHOW UP AT THE STATE HOUSE TOMORROW! IF THIS PASSES, RI TAXPAYERS ARE TOAST. IT COULDN'T BE MORE SERIOUS.

Later, from Ken Block and the Moderate Party:

Binding arbitration is back - and the stakes are huge.

There could not be a worse time for our legislature to consider tieing the hands of local elected leaders by removing from their toolbox the ability to negotiate local labor contracts.

Binding arbitration places the responsibility for negotiating local labor contracts with an unelected third party. We can ill afford to allow an outsider to determine local tax rates, which is in effect what will happen if the expansion of binding arbitration is allowed to proceed.

In a sane polity — and I offer this as a suggestion to those who remain sane around here — any legislator who plays any role in advancing binding arbitration would be considered forever unelectable no matter what he or she might subsequently say or do. But this isn't a sane polity; it's Rhode Island, and if (as rumors suggest) Democrats and labor leaders exchanged a mere wince at the end of state-employee longevity payments for binding arbitration, then they've merely found another variation of the one-time fix.

With binding arbitration, your elected officials cease to be the ones with the final say on expenditures of your money confiscated via taxation. If this is the deal that's been struck, then all Rhode Islanders for whom leaving is a realistic possibility should probably do so.

That conclusion comes, not the least, because only with the death of binding arbitration can there be considered to exist a glimmer of hope that the the state's civic culture could right itself. If binding arbitration comes to be, the wave of groups — from RISC to the Moderate Party to the Ocean State Policy Research Institute (OSPRI) to the RIGOP to Anchor Rising — are no longer "reform groups," but must be considered the voices of a subversive minority, fighting a rear-guard action mainly so that historians can report that some lone voices warned the state.


June 26, 2011


Bills Posted Yesterday (Yes, Saturday) For Hearings on Monday or Tuesday

Carroll Andrew Morse

On Saturday, a bunch of bills were posted for RI House committee hearings on Monday or Tuesday. Many of the bills, on the surface, look somewhere between innocuous and silly (e.g. H0623, which increases the weigh-in period for mixed martial arts matches from 24 to 36 hours), but folks knowledgeable in the ways of the RI legislature may be interested in going through the list, and letting us know if there's anything that would qualify as an attempt to slip a bill through the legislature, before the public has become fully aware of its content...

House Finance Bills
House Health, Education and Welfare Bills
House Corporations Bills
House Environment and Natural Resources Bills


June 24, 2011


B-Day Casino Article

Carroll Andrew Morse

Introduced by Helio Melo.

It would be Twin River only. The operator versus the state's take would be decided by the legislature next year.

Brian Newberry states support for a Casino in principle, but has concerns about this article. Because of Federal law, if RI opens itself up to "Class 3" gaming, than Indian tribes gain certain rights with regards to Class 3 gaming.

Newberry begins to discuss the 195 land. John Carnavale raises a point of order, saying it's not relevant. Fox upholds the point of order.

Peter Petrarca says anyone could have come to the Finance Committee meeting and heard the content of this bill.

Rene Menard says we have has to pass this to help our pahtnah make money and raise revenue for the state.

Joe Trillo says the place for a casino is Quonset.

Mike Chippendale says 50% of the language in this new -- it hasn't been seen by the Reps before. And why are we going to put on the ballot what been on the ballot 4 times before and never won?

Helio Melo: You didn't get the bill an hour-and-a-half ago, you got it a couple of hours ago. And the only reason we're voting on this late in the night is because you insisted on debating other bills.

William San Bento asks for no more debate tonight. Not passing this would be stupid.

Michael Marcello: My constituents oppose this.

Lisa Baldelli-Hunt: An incremenal approach won't work. We need to build a destination resort, with a coherent plan. We are puting something before the voters, without giving them the information that they need. Plus we need a plan that we are absolutely sure is constitutional.

Pat Morgan: She wants to vote for this, but expresses concern about the interaction of this law and Federal Indian gaming law and what it might enable the Narragansetts to do.

Peter Palumbo: Quotes B. Cianci as saying "Rhode Island will get into the casino business when it is no longer profitable", and doesn't want to see that happen.

Peter Martin: Why do we have to vote tonight on something that won't be voted on until 2012? And we need a better answer than predatory gambling to our fiscal problems.

Nicholas Mattiello: We need to protect our 3rd largest revenue source from competition from Massachusetts. And the referendum changes the Constitution.

Brian Newberry expresses concerns about unintended consequences with this bill.

Charlene Lima says the job of the legislature isn't to protect Twin River or the state's "partners"; it's to protect the taxpayers.

J. Russell Jackson supports the bill because it is equitable to Newport, despite his reservations about gambling in general.

The Article passes, 62-9.



It's B-Day, Part 2

Carroll Andrew Morse

[9:18] Ian Donnis tweets...

Reps are wondering what they'll be voting on with the Twin River amendment.

[9:22] Article 19 is up. This is the bulk of tax and fee changes, including some business taxes and the sales tax changes...

[9:24] Speaker Fox to William San Bento after he seconds a motion: "You don't get up very often, I didn't even know you could get up".

[9:26] Helio Melo offers an amendment clarifying that a) the tour tax only applies to tours in Rhode Island, not tours bought in Rhode Island of places outside RI b) the digital download tax applies mainly to pre-written software.

[9:29] Bob Watson: Out of a 7 billion dollar budget, we can't find 17 million more to cut, to avoid raising any taxes at all?

[9:31] Charlene Lima: What's the logic in taxing something like Norton, which is almost a necessity for computers, versus taxing iTune song downloads, which is a luxury? Melo reiterates the pre-written distinction, and that it matches Massachusetts tax policy.

[9:39] Pat Morgan asks if we could run the Convention Center more effectively (and not lose $25 million a year on it) could we avoid raising taxes? Helio Melo answers he had not considered this in the context of Article 19.

[9:42] Lisa Tomasso asks about the insurance proceeds tax. I can't say that I fully understand how it works, based on Melo's answer.

[9:49] Peter Petrarca is trying to convince Charlene Lima that the state will get its insurance proceeds tax, but the consumer won't feel any impact. I still don't get this.

[9:51] Mike Chippendale proposes eliminating the over-the-counter drug tax (8.6 million dollars), and making up the difference with a cut to departmental operating budgets and grants.

[9:55] Melo speaks against the amendment. Departments have already been cut enough (10%), plus it's really 12 million that would need to be cut, based on a full year worth of spending.

[9:57] Amendment fails 21 - 43. (And 43 reps go on record, specifically as being in favor of taxing over-the-counter drugs).

[9:59] Joe Trillo offers an amendment to eliminate the $17 million in tax increases, by cutting $17 million from uncompensated care to hospitals. And by the way, an exec from Lifespan got a $9+ million severance package. Also, he believes hospitals game the prices they charge for uncompensated care.

[10:06] Amendment fails 7-60.

[10:07] Karen MacBeth: Will the tour-tax apply to children going to see Santa Claus on the polar express? Helio Melo: Yes. MacBeth: Do we want to be known as the state that taxes Santa Claus?

[10:12] Article 19 passes. Now back to Article 13, some changes to vehicle registrations. It gets passed without debate.

[10:15] Article 20, changes to corrections policy, mostly relating to allowing medical paroles for prisoners who are severely ill.

[10:24] Doreen Costa says the AG oppposes Article 20.

[10:25] Article 20 passes, 43-26.

[10:26] Weird (to my mind) admonishment from Speaker Fox. If you are in your seat, it is your duty to vote. If you don't want to vote, get up and leave. No voting "present" says Speaker Fox!

[10:27] While I was writing the 10:26 entry, Article 24 was read and passed, 66 - 1.

[10:32] Article 22, which is supposed to begin to eliminate the state's dependence on bonded debt for paying for transportation projects, is on the floor. Jerimiah O'Grady mentions that 50% of gas tax revenue is now going to pay for debt service.

[10:39] Article 22 passes after a short debate.

[10:45] Article 12, amongst other things, allows cities and towns to require their retirees to enroll in Medicare, changes disability appeal procedures, places a 3 year moratorium on library construction, and requires municipalities to inform the state if they are likely to incur a debt.

[10:48] Jon Brien says the Medicare provision means that local taxpayers won't have to subsidize lieftime retiree healthcare benefits -- and that is real savings for cities and towns in the future.

[10:51] Rene Menard wants to know how this Article will impact the Blue Cross for life he receives as a retired, disabled firefighter. Helio Melo says he could be changed to Medicare by age 65.

[10:53] Menard takes exception to communities saying they cannot afford their disability costs anymore. Don't blame the people receiving disability benefits, blame the administrations awarding them.

[10:56] Brian Newberry discusses how healthcare for life was awarded by arbitrators in the 1980s, when its true cost was unforseen, and this article begins to undo a burden on the taxpayers that was never intended.

[11:06] House members are now debating the provision in the Article eliminating the requirement that school committees publish notice of their meetings in a newspaper.

[11:19] Dan Gordon just got applause for saying "I've been uncharacteristically silent this evening", beginning his statement on the subject of the library construction moratorium.

[11:22] Roberto DaSilva says the Medicare provision is an attack on collective bargaining. This is at least the third budget item he has described in that way. Scott Slater and Arthur Handy challenge DaSilva's perspective.

[11:25] Jon Brien: We need to provide what we can afford, and we cannot afford locally-funded healthcare for life.

[11:27] Article 12 passes in sections, on separate votes.

[11:28] Article 23, changes to various human services programs. Floor manager Eileen Naughton offers an immediate amendment related to prescription drugs for the elderly.

[11:30] Maria Cimini objects to a cut in supplemental security income payments to elderly recipients.

[11:31] Article 23 passes, 60-8.



It's B-Day!

Carroll Andrew Morse

Just got in front of a TV showing RI Captiol TV, showing the House Floor budget debate. We're in the middle of Article 8, the budget article on longevity payments.

[5:58] Article 8 passed -- blatantly stealing a description from Ian Donnis' Twitter Feed...

Article 8 cutting new longevity pay for RI state workers passes, 43-27

[6:07] Article 9 is being discussed now. It involves some structural reorganization of state government.

[6:11] Charlene Lima is questioning the wisdom of placing the state's sheriffs under the State Police, which this bill does. Helio Melo answers that they're all under the Commissioner of Public Safety anyway.

Greg Schadone wants to vote on the provision concerning the Sheriffs separately from the rest of the bill. Speaker Fox says "we'll get back to you"...

[6:17] Alert commenter Ken. Dan Reilly just stated that the only other state in the US with a statewide Sheriff's Dept. is Hawaii. Also, Reilly is opposed to putting the Sheriff''s under the State police. Speaker Fox is still trying to figure out if they can vote on that part separately. Apparently, the Sheriff's stuff is comingled with some Elderly Affairs reorganization stuff.

[6:22] Hey, RI legislators, if you actually conducted your business in the sunlight, you'd actually catch some of these problems in committee, before the floor vote.

[6:27] I think the whole article passed, including the Sheriff's dept. reorg, but on separate votes.

[6:28] Article 10: Changes in school bus regulations and funding for Davies technical academy...

[6:30] Edith Ajello wants an amendment to make sure potential bus drivers who fail a criminal background check can discuss and/or appeal the decision. Stephen Ucci thinks this is already covered in other areas of the law, and the amendment should be rejected.

[6:34] Frank Ferri thinks this amendment should go through the committee process. Perhaps a theme emerges...

[6:39] J. Patrick O'Neill says the issue is who is responsible for explaining the details of a criminal background check, the person doing the check, or the person being checked out?

[6:45] Ajello's amendment gets crushed, 7-63. You never would have guessed that was coming, from the preceding debate.

Article 10 passes unanimously. Article 11 is under discussion, which increases an annual assessment on insurers used to pay for children's health services, i.e. it is literally for the children.

[6:53] Article 11 passes. We jump ahead to Article 14, which changes nursing home reimbursement.

[6:55] 14 passed. On to Article 15, which fixes Medicaid payment rates. Speaker Fox blitzes through an amendment which only James McLaughlin votes against.

[6:59] Samuel Azzinaro introduces an amendment saying don't raise "certificate of need" requirements right now. Leo Medina says, I think, raising the CON requirement reduces the bureaucratic hurdles RI hospitals have to jump through, in order to grow.

[7:06] Teresa Tanzi thinks we may have too many hospitals in this state. Don't you just love progressive attitudes towards healthcare? Can you even understand them?

[7:07] Nicholas Mattiello makes the same argument as Medina, let hospitals purchase equipment without jumping through bureaucratic hoops. Pat Morgan, who has been on the right side of most issues since being elected to the House, is arguing that we need more central planning for our medical system, to keep costs down. Helio Melo argures this is just an adjustment for inflation.

[7:14] OK, what am I missing? Mike Chippendale, who has also been very good on many issues, argues that we shouldn't raise the size of equipment purchases that require state permission. Leo Medina says the Massachusetts CON requirement is about $15 million. Pat Morgan says Massachusetts is not RI, because it has universal healthcare.

[7:23] Article 15 passes, with the raised limit.

[7:29] Article 16, "The department of humans services will make the necessary changes to raise the RIte Care monthly cost sharing requirement to five percent (5%) of family income"... passes 49-20.

[7:33] Article 17, relating to DCYF is up. This content of this article seems less like a budget article than some general changes in DCYF policy to me.

[7:40] Article 17 passes with two votes against.

[7:45] Article 18 paying for uncompensated care at RI hospitals is up. An amendment rejiggers the amounts specified in the initial bill. Helio Melo answers a question from Joe Trillo, as to why amounts for South County and Westerly hospitals are being adjusted -- the answer is that the bureaucratic formulas for Medicaid uncompensated care unjustly punish these two hospitals.

[7:52] Article 18, with the South County/Westerly amendment, passes.

[7:53] Dinner break.


June 23, 2011


Rhode Island Budgeting: Increases Mean Cuts

Justin Katz

Ted Nesi's post, "What the heck is going on inside the new House budget?" prodded me to take a little bit of a closer look at the state's latest budget proposal, particularly when I read the following:

The House doesn't cut social services much more than Chafee. The Finance Committee budget would cut human-service programs like Medicaid by $78 million from this year's level; Chafee wanted to cut them by $71 million. So the House only made $7 million more in cuts than Chafee did in that area.

I just don't believe that the state government would do any such thing, so I asked Ted for his source, which he kindly forwarded: it's a hasty sheet that House Finance Chairman Helio Melo provided explaining his deficit solution as compared with the governor's. The $78 million, that is, doesn't appear to represent a cut from last year, but a reduction according to the department's initially requested budget for FY12. As Melo notes:

Deficit is difference between current law revenues and expected expenditures with no changes.

An excellent example of what this means is available with the first specific claim supporting that $78.1 million reduction: namely, that $19.1 million of it comes from the Department of Human Services. According to the supplemental midyear budget act (PDF), the state government appropriated for that department $2.285 billion in FY11, which it reduced to $2.223 midyear. Governor Chafee's FY12 budget act (PDF) brought the number back up to $2.240 billion, and the House Finance Committee (PDF) pushed it all the way to $2.368 billion — more, even, than last year's initial appropriation.

In other words, the House Finance Committee had to cut $19.1 million from the Dept. of Human Services in order to increase its budget by $83 million. Put more plainly, the department simply didn't get its full budget request, but will get 81% of the increase that it wanted, which amounts to 6.5% more than it received last year.

That method doesn't apply across the board, for every department (if I had the time I'd go through line by line), but as I noted to Ted, it is well worked into government processes to make budgets as confusing as possible so that nobody knows what's going on. There are multiple funds, multiple revenue sources, various forms of aid coming and going, everything's broken up differently in every list; one doesn't know if increases are compared to last year, the governor's proposal, or some requested budget proposed by department heads; and so on. Moreover, there isn't much transparency into the justifications for various estimates of revenue and requirements.

The following bullet list provides the bottom line for statewide totals:

  • FY11 Enacted:
    • General state revenue: $2,942 million
    • Federal funds: $2,903 million
    • Restricted receipts: $180 million
    • Other funds: $1,838 million
  • FY11 Revised:
    • General revenue: $2,965
    • Federal funds: $3,011 million
    • Restricted receipts: $179 million
    • Other funds: $1,956 million
  • FY12 Governor's Budget:
    • General revenue: $3,170 million
    • Federal funds: $2,557 million
    • Restricted receipts: $209 million
    • Other funds: $1,725 million
  • FY12 House Finance Budget:
    • General revenue: $3,145 million
    • Federal funds: $2,606 million
    • Restricted receipts: $189 million
    • Other funds: $1,763 million

When it comes to the amount that Rhode Islander's pay for their government (excluding the amount that we pay through the federal government), the House Labor Committee changed Governor Chafee's $4 million increase to a $3 million decrease. Removing the ambiguously named "other funds," it's increases from both: $235 million proposed by the governor, and $190 million by the legislators.

This is how our elected officials ought to look at their budgets, rather than the current scheme of requesting as much as politically feasible and calling smaller increases "cuts."


June 22, 2011


Looking for the Cuts

Justin Katz

First above-the-fold headline in yesterday's Providence Journal: "Cuts trump expanded sales tax in House plan." The lead is: "Finance Committee's $7.7-billion budget trims spending by $160 million, curtails sales-tax growth." The only cut that the story provides as an example, however, is $1.6 million "in state spending from programs affecting low-income families, the disabled and the elderly."

The rest of the story describes tax increases and budget increases (as to education) that are still planned. Where's the other 99% of the supposed cut? Well, here's a clue:

It also takes advantage of improving revenue projections and makes cuts to close next year's projected budget gap. While details remained unclear Monday, the cuts include some $160 million in reductions relative to Chafee's proposal, including $31 million in transportation, higher education, corrections and human services, said House Finance Chairman Helio M. Melo.

The "cuts" are mostly to the governor's wild-spending proposal.

And even so, it appears that the largest part of the General Assembly's adjustment to Governor Chafee's budget came in not finding new expenditures to eat up improvements in revenue projections. Legislators cover another big chunk with $17 million from newly taxed sales items (e.g., over-the-counter drugs, digital downloads, insurance proceeds, and travel tours).

In other words, the Providence Journal is mainly passing along the spin of politicians who want to appear more responsible. Little wonder the general public is so ill informed.


June 19, 2011


House Minority Leader Brian Newberry's View of the Budget

Carroll Andrew Morse

Rhode Island House of Representatives Minority Leader Brian Newberry (who prior to the last election, by the way, scored 10 out of a possible 10 in the Anchor Rising legislative ratings, which were based on fiscal and governance issues) has posted a review of the state budget to his State-Rep Facebook site.

Rep. Newberry offers this official position on the budget in its current form...

As I write this I have not yet had the opportunity to consult with all the members of the Republican caucus. I think it would be improper as the Minority Leader to take a public position on the budget at this time. As noted, there are many things about this budget that are a net positive for the state. There are also things that are a net negative. The biggest negative lies not in what the budget does but in what it fails to do. The ultimate question is whether should this budget fail to achieve the necessary votes in the House for passage, the resulting alternative would be an improvement.
Here is a large-size excerpt on what the Minority Leader sees as the major substantive points. All of the details are relevant, so it is worth reading, as is the entire FB post...
I begin with the conclusion because this update will be lengthy. As detailed below, I believe this to be a flawed budget. That said, there are numerous provisions in this budget which represent sound public policy. There are indeed several items in this budget that Republicans have been pushing for, in some cases for years. There are also some not insignificant social services spending cuts in the budget. They are not as deep as I would advocate. Nonetheless, they are a step in the right direction. There are also certain structural reforms that will allow municipalities more flexibility in their budgeting. There is also an end to the "longevity increases" paid state employees that have been the subject of so much controversy this spring.

Most importantly, this budget completely rejects the philosophy of Governor Chafee. His $165 million proposed sales tax increase has been eliminated. Unfortunately, there are $17.3 million in proposed tax increases related to several relatively minor items. Considering that the projected deficit two months ago was $331 million, it is hardly a bad thing (if imperfect) for a budget proposal to close that gap while including only $17 million in tax increases.

Finally, unlike far too many budgets passed by the Assembly in recent years, this budget (for the most part) does not rely on one time revenue sources and gimmicks. All budgets seem to have some, shall we say, rose colored projections on the margins, but there is no tobacco money, no so-called “stimulus” funding, no sale of state properties, no sin taxes that will raise less money than projected because they kill the affected industry etc. etc. Instead, it is an attempt to begin to grapple with some long term issues.

Unfortunately, there are several items missing from the budget that I would have liked to see. To use a cliché, the proposed budget closes the deficit primarily by taking a scalpel to any number of different state programs and agencies where in my view a meat cleaver would have been more appropriate. For example, based upon information we obtained through the Department of Health and Human Services, changing RIte Care eligibility for adults from 175% of poverty level to 133% of poverty level would have saved $15 million in the coming fiscal year (originally incorrectly reported as $26 million) with larger savings in projected years. Likewise, cutting a variety of optional Medicaid services and providing Medicaid in accordance only with federal mandates, would have saved $75 million in the coming fiscal year with again increased savings in years to come. Other potential savings included nearly $11 million with widespread cuts to the legislative and departmental grant programs. These include not only the notorious "legislative grants" but cuts to a number of community service grants that are routinely provided through different state agencies on an annual basis. The actual budget trims these grant programs by 10% across-the-board from department to department but elimination of most of them would have led to far more significant savings. In addition, the budget also includes increased spending in a few areas suggested by Governor Chafee. In my view some of these actually make sense from a policy point of view but I am not certain that this is the economic and fiscal climate in which to enact them. In short, the tax increases in the budget are not necessary from a policy point of view – though they may be necessary from a political point of view to get the necessary votes for passage from enough Democrats.


June 18, 2011


Another Rabbit Hat Budget

Justin Katz

The late-Friday release of the RI House's budget proposal is in keeping with the overall impression one gets at first glance. At least Gov. Chafee's budget tried to do something. The General Assembly looks most inclined not to ruffle the feathers of any significant (read: "powerful") constituencies, and thereby continues the ratcheting effect that has brought the Rhode Island to its current condition.

Most sharply, that observation arises from the high-profile matter of the sales tax: with no reductions in rates, but with nonprescription drugs, digitally downloads (including software and other downloadable goods, travel agency services, and medical marijuana added to the list of taxable items. One can discern that the budget is a fraud simply by the fact that no controversies are immediately sparked, as if there really is no systemic problem with the way in which Rhode Island does business.

That mirage comes at the cost of gradual dehydration of our lives, as it were. Yes, that means the incremental increases in taxes and fees. It also means the way our laws affect our lives. If you find yourself unemployed, for example, the amount of the unemployment payments that you can expect are set to decrease by about one fifth. Currently, the weekly payable benefit rate is 4.65% of your highest-paid calendar quarter. Thus, if you were earning $45,000 per year, you would receive $523 per week when unemployed. This budget decreases that percentage to 3.85% over a couple of years such that, if you lose that same job after July 1, 2014, you will receive $433 per week.

What if you decide to join with an acquaintance and start a new business? Well, the budget avoided implementing combined reporting for multistate companies (although it greased the skids for future imposition). But it also adds limited liability partnerships and limited partnerships to the list of entities subject to the state's $500 minimum corporate tax. Thus, the risk, expense, and complication of directly growing the state's economy from the bottom up is increased at a time when people not employed by others are being pinched by high unemployment and (potentially) decreasing unemployment benefits.

If the General Assembly had attempted to pull a rabbit from its magic budgetary hat, it might have sparked some outrage and effected change (or, less likely, actually changed the state for the better). Instead, the trick is to create the illusion that nothing significant has been done at all. The danger is that, when it comes time to get off the stage and go about the business of life, the people of Rhode Island may find the rabbit dead, and of a communicable disease.


June 17, 2011


The Budget Emerges...

Carroll Andrew Morse

Ted Nesi's Twitter Feed is one of the places to be for emerging details on the budget.

UPDATE:

And Philip Marcelo has the Projo's report already up.


June 16, 2011


What We Expect from Our Leaders

Justin Katz

On last night's Matt Allen Show, Matt and I talked about expectations for the forthcoming budget, speeding tickets, and things on the blog. Stream by clicking here, or download it.


June 13, 2011


Coming up in Committee: Thirteen Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, June 14 - June 16

Carroll Andrew Morse

Here's your warm-act for the presentation of the budget. Note that at the time of this post, there are no committee meetings scheduled for Thursday afternoon.


13. H6104/H6222: Changes in regulations regarding distributed generation of electricity from renewable sources. (Senate Environment and Agriculture, June 15)

12. Traffic law changes, including making seat-belt violations a primary offense (S0022), license revocation for two years for "leaving the scene of an accident resulting in serious bodily injury" (S0027), and a ban on the use of non-hands free cell phones by minors while driving (S0346). (Senate Judiciary, June 14)

11. H6188: "Notwithstanding any state law, resolution, rule, regulation or code to the contrary, the city of Pawtucket may use money in its Fire Prevention Fund and its Cemetery Perpetual Care Fund for deficit reduction purposes in Fiscal Year 2011". (House Finance, June 14)

10. Three bills from the department of I wonder exactly who it is that they have in mind: "No individual or entity shall own or have an interest in an entity or entities that own more than twenty-five percent (25%) of the boat slips located in the State of Rhode Island" (H6203, House Corporations, June 14); a bill keeping some old rules for judicial nominations in place for another year (S0686, Senate Judiciary, June 14); and a bill requiring sellers of "tools or electronic equipment readily identifiable with a serial number" in Rhode Island to have a license from the Attorney General. (H5807, House Judiciary, June 15)

9. H5161: Several changes to campaign finance law, including making the qualifying rules for matching funds for independent candidates identical to those for party candidates, and the elimination of a section of the law entitling candidates who comply with the public financing of election campaigns "to accept a contribution or contributions that in the aggregate do not exceed two thousand dollars ($2,000) from any person or political action committee within a calendar year". The official description of the bill describes this last section as the removal of a limit. (House Finance, June 14)

8. S0289: Subjects the appointment of the state education commissioner to the advice and consent of the Senate. (Senate Education, June 14)

7. S0658: According to the official description, "this act would allow the family court judge who finds a minor delinquent for the commission of a gang-related offense to order the minor's parents or guardian to attend anti-gang violence parenting classes". (Senate Judiciary, June 14)

6. H5276: A pilot project for "Patient Centered Medical Homes". This bill appears to be founded on the assumption that system failures created by regulation can be fixed by piling new regulations on top of the broken ones. (Senate Health and Human Services, June 15)

5D. S0399: Moves-up vaarious deadlines in the process of qualifying for a Presidential primary. (House Judiciary, June 15)

5C. S0341/H5661: Polling hours in every place in RI not named "New Shoreham" would be between 7am and 8pm. (Currently, polls close at 9pm, with opening times that vary by community. New Shoreham polls would open at 9am under both the old and the new law). (House Judiciary, June 15)

5B. S0924: Establishes the electoral reapportionment commission for Rhode Island (House Finance, June 14)

5A. H6176: A study commission on a system for determining "the winner of [an] election by majority vote" including but not limited to "instant runoff voting, approval voting, range voting, and proportional voting". (Senate Judiciary, June 14)

4. S0867: Requires all Rhode Island hospitals to submit "evidence of participation in a high-quality comprehensive discharge planning and transitions improvement project operated by a nonprofit organization in this state" or "a plan for the provision of comprehensive discharge planning and information to be shared with patients transitioning from the hospitals care" to the director of the state department of health. (House Health, Education and Welfare, June 15)

3. H5644: Creates a new section of the law regarding "crimes against the public trust", including sections on "bribery in official and political matters", "selling political endorsements", "speculating or wagering on official action or information" and "theft of honest services", as well as the creation of a "public corruption and white collar crime unit". Introduced at the request of the Attorney General. (House Finance, June 14)

2. S0483: Changes the scope of the "Teachers' Health Insurance Board" -- half of whose membership is appointed by directly by labor organizations -- from being able to impose binding rules on elected school committees, to a purely advisory capacity. (House Health, Education and Welfare, June 15)

1. H6052: Would limit the powers of a municipal receiver to those powers "related specifically to the fiscal stability of the city or town", and would prohibit a receiver from "from preventing or prohibiting a city or town's elected officials or city or town manager, or administrator from conducting their ordinary and customary duties with respect to the daily operation of the city or town". (House Finance, June 14)


June 9, 2011


More Commentary on Stephen Iannazzi

Justin Katz

My situation may be unique (although I doubt it), but one of the consequences of Rhode Island's political and economic structure is that it is so darn difficult just to get by and raise a family that little time remains to keep a consistently watchful eye on local political corruption. Such has been the case in my efforts to garner commentary on the union-rep nepotism that brought 25-year-old Stephen Iannazzi into a $90,000 State House job.

But the responses have come trickling in, nonetheless.

To recap, young Iannazzi's boss, Senate Majority Leader Dominique Ruggerio has defended the hiring in no uncertain terms. East Bay state Senator Louis DiPalma defended it, as well. Responding to an inquiry from me, several local elected officials took varying positions. Since then, Tiverton Town Council Member Rob Coulter sent the following:

Thank you for calling this to my attention. I agree that the qualification profile and the close relationships connected with such a highly paid public position are grounds for serious concern and further inquiry.

While obviously this involves a state – not Tiverton – position, we all share a common interest in transparent, efficient government. With Rhode Island suffering from the third worst unemployment rate in the nation, I’d say taxpayers, and other state employees for that matter, deserve a thorough confirmation of whether this $88,000 position was, and still is, appropriately filled. Perhaps a more thorough explanation will satisfy these questions which have been fairly raised, and I hope that our Senate delegation will take the appropriate steps to ensure public confidence in the integrity of the public hiring system and that taxpayer dollars are being spent fairly and wisely.

Coulter's fellow Tiverton Town Council member Joan Chabot looked into general salary levels:

I have reviewed the Providence Journal article that you indicated in this email and conducted some research into JCLS. I couldn't easily find hiring/compensation procedures for the JCLS, but found only that it should be similar to the procedures used by the executive branch.

I also researched salary information for a legislative assistant/legislative aide position to get an idea of the "going" rate. That research produced an average salary of $46,000 for a legislative assistant/aide at the state level.

Based on this research, I think it is very suspicious that a person with no experience and no college degree could qualify for a legislative aide position with a starting salary of $88,112. Common sense dictates that this issue deserves further explanation and scrutiny.

Many questions come to mind... What was the hiring process? Were there other applicants for this position? Were interviews conducted? What are the salaries of other legislative assistants/aides? Is this person’s salary in range of the other assistants/aides? If it is, why is the salary range so high?

This should certainly send up a red flag in government spending at a time when the state can least afford an $88K legislative aide. I’m certain we can find several college graduates that would take the job for half the salary. Our state legislators should be questioning this issue and pushing for answers from the JCLS now that they are aware of the situation. And if irregularities are found, then the situation must be addressed.

From the RI House, Representative Dan Gordon (R, Portsmouth, Tiverton, Little Compton) responded as follows:

I believe that at a bare minimum, the questions that have been posed by the media and the public regarding the hiring of Mr. Iannazzi must be answered. The lack of responses thus far are certainly lending to the cloud of suspicion.

As a State Representative and custodian of taxpayer dollars, it is troubling to me that there are obvious family and labor ties involved in hiring this young man. I’m certain the people would like to see his resume, what exactly are the job duties of a Senate Aide that justify an $88,112 salary with state benefits, how the position was advertised, and the resumes of the other applicants. I know for a fact that highly qualified degree holders have offered to do the job for half the salary. Let’s see some transparency from the Senate chamber.

And Rep. John Edwards (D, Tiverton, Portsmouth) mailed the following on House stationery:

Thank you for contacting me in reference to Senator DiPalma's remarks concerning a recent hire by the Senate Majority Leader. While I do not know this particular individual or of his qualifications, I was surprised to read that someone so young was so well compensated.

My experience has been that the level of income this young man receives is normally reserved for someone more experienced in their field. Again, I will re-iterate that I have no knowledge of his qualifications.

The hiring and personnel process in the General Assembly should be addressed to bring more transparency to it, to allow more people to apply for these positions. I have spoken to Speaker Fox, concerning the recent pay raises he has given to a number of House employees. I expressed my disagreement with his decision and shared the many outraged calls and emails I received from my constituents. The leadership of the General Assembly needs to be sensitive to the concerns of our constituents on this matter, especially in the midst of this deep and long recession.

So, I've not yet found another elected official willing to take DiPalma's astonishing step of defending Ruggerio's hire of his union pal's son at an absurdly high salary, but I've also not seen indication of any sparks for further action. I'll soon be posting a chart of people I've contacted and their responses (or lack thereof), as well as contacting more elected officials and other people involved in state and local politics.


June 6, 2011


The Fox Designing the Hen House

Justin Katz

Redistricting must occur, I suppose, and a process must obviously be in place to handle it, but Rhode Island's proposed process doesn't even have much of a pretense of different voices and token opposition:

House Bill 6096, which now goes to the House floor, places the state's once-each-decade redistricting process in the hands of an 18-member commission, with two-thirds of the seats going to state lawmakers and six to “members of the general public."

The public members would be chosen by the same people who also would choose the most of the lawmakers — House Speaker Gordon D. Fox and Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed.

If one were writing a fictional story about corrupt government, using Rhode Island as a model would make everything seem too overdrawn. When Common Cause Rhode Island Executive Director John Marion testified that "Rhode Island has arguably the most partisan process," House Finance Committee Chairman Heliio Melo "interrupted and suggested that Marion raise his concerns with the commission, once it is formed." In other words, Marion should bring his concerns to the biased, unaccountable group once it had been formed.

Such is corruption in Rhode Island: structural and rotten to its core.


June 4, 2011


Coming up in Committee: Twelve Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, June 7 - June 9

Carroll Andrew Morse

12. H5133: Repeals the prohibition against "classified" state employees from running for state office. (House Labor, June 7)

11. S0858: All agencies, authorities, commissions, boards, municipalities, political subdivisions, and other public units of the state would be able to contribute funds to a pool that the General Treasurer would invest for them. Introduced at the request of the General Treasurer. (Senate Finance, June 7)

10. S0699/H5944: Exempts members of the "International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers and its signatory contractors jointly participating in the IMPACT National Substance Abuse Program" from state job-site drug testing laws. (Senate Labor, June 8)

9. H6098: Tax credits for expenses incurred in the substantial rehabilitation of "a certified historic structure, provided the rehabilitation meets standards consistent with the standards of the Secretary of the United States Department of the Interior for rehabilitation". (House Finance, June 7)

8. S0770: A pilot project for "Patient Centered Medical Homes". This bill appears to be founded on the assumption that system failures created by regulation can be fixed by piling new regulations on top of the broken ones. (House Corporations, June 7)

7. H6176: A study commission on a system for determining "the winner of [an] election by majority vote" including but not limited to "instant runoff voting, approval voting, range voting, and proportional voting". (House Judiciary, June 7)

6. H5225: Prohibits the state and any RI municipality from requiring an "employer to use an electronic employment verification system...as a condition of receiving a government contract or applying for or maintaining a business license". (House Labor, June 7)

5. H6193/H6209: Reduces a municipal disability pension in a given year to an amount where the sum of the pension and the other income does not exceed "the base salary rate of compensation in effect for the classification that the disability recipient held prior to retirement", and allows a disability pension to be revoked if the pensioner works a job similar to the one he or she is disabled from. (House Finance, June 8)

4. H6116: Medical contracts that include a rate of payment for a service that exceed a percentage of what Medicaid pays for the same service, said percentage to determined by the State Health Insurance Commissioner, "shall be presumptively disapproved". (House Corporations, June 7)

3. S0492/S0927: Authorizes a statewide referendum and a local referendum in Lincoln to be held as part of the 2012 general election to approve or reject adding table games to "the facility known as 'Twin River'". (Senate Special Legislation and Veterans' Affairs, June 8)

2. H5659: Joins Rhode Island to an interstate compact where the RI legislature agrees to disregard the choice for President made by Rhode Island voters, and allocate RI's electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote instead. (House Judiciary, June 7 and it's already passed in Senate Committee)

1. H6194/H6210: "Every state or municipal retiree shall, as a condition of receiving or continuing to receive retirement payments and benefits, enroll in Medicare as soon as he or she is eligible"... (House Finance, June 8)



Five Other Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, June 7 - June 9

Carroll Andrew Morse

...and here's a few more with impacts that are less-than-clear.

H5939/H6104/H6222: Lots of technical changes to regulations over "distributed generatation capacity and resources" of electric utilities. (House Environment and Natural Resources, June 7)

H6076/S0790: From the official description: "This act would transfer many of the powers, duties and responsibilities from the [and] change the state standards for apprenticeship programs to satisfy federal laws and regulations". (Senate Labor, June 8)

H6142: From the official descritption: "This act would allow credit unions to purchase, sell, and pledge loans or groups of loans under certain circumstances and would provide for conflicts of interest provisions with respect to the foregoing"... (House Corporations, June 7)

S0288: Changes in payday loan regulations. (Senate Corporations, June 7)

S0629: "Any single family owner-occupied property which is encumbered by a covenant recorded in the land evidence records in favor of a governmental unit, the State of Rhode Island housing resource commission or Rhode Island housing and mortgage finance corporation restricting the sale price during the effective period of covenant ("affordability period") shall be assessed by taking into account the effect of the covenant on the value of the property". (Senate Finance, June 9)


June 2, 2011


Re: The 195 Redevelopment Commission Bill and the Ethics Commission

Carroll Andrew Morse

A few people that I have talked to about the proposed I-195 redevelopment commission law tell me that evading Ethics Committee jurisdiction is not as easy as I had originally thought it was.

The question of whether appointed commissioners would be subject to Ethics Commission jurisdiction over "state or municipal appointed officials", despite the proposed saying that the commission is not part of any city or the state, brings the definitions section of the current Rhode Island Ethics law (36-14-2) into play...

(9) "State or municipal appointed official" means any officer or member of a state or municipal agency as defined herein who is appointed for a term of office specified by the constitution or a statute of this state or a charter or ordinance of any city or town or who is appointed by or through the governing body or highest official of state or municipal government;
So at the state level, anyone appointed by the Governor is subject to Ethics Committee jurisdiction, even if other parts of the law say that the board on which an appointee serves is separate from the state. That actually makes sense.

A second definition applies to the question of whether employees of the proposed commision would be covered by Ethics Commission jurisdiction over "employees of state and local government, of boards, Commissions, and agencies". A more detailed definition of to whom this applies is also contained in section 36-14-2...

(4) "Employees of state and local government, of boards, commissions and agencies" means any full time or part time employees in the classified, nonclassified and unclassified service of the state or of any city or town within the state, any individuals serving in any appointed state or municipal position, and any employees of any public or quasi-public state or municipal board, commission, or corporation;
The proposed redevelopment district is formally defined as "an independent public instrumentality and body corporate and politic" that includes a "commission" with "the powers to achieve the purposes" of the authorizing legislation. Can the individual words be pieced together to reach a conclusion, obvious enough for a Rhode Island court to accept, that the 195 redevelopment commission is a "public commission or corporation", which the Ethics Commission obviously has jurisdiction over? I would hope that that the answer is yes, with the mention of "public" "boards" in the state's ethics law recognized as meaning that the legislature doesn't have the power to set-up free floating units of government -- but even if this is indeed the case, there is still a lingering question of why our legislators feel the need to create so many layers of indirection, in order to develop the former highway land.


June 1, 2011


This Is Consolidation

Justin Katz

The Providence Journal editorial board highlights a piece of legislation that, while unlikely to become law, illustrates the potential consequences of consolidation for the sake of efficiency and ease:

... Sen. John Tassoni (D.-Smithfield) — a member of the state's AFL-CIO executive board, former business agent for the state's largest public-employees union, AFSCME Council 94, and the publisher of a union newspaper — wants to use his public power to oust Ms. Gallo. He also wants to replace the Board of Trustees that voted to fire those teachers. ...

Clearly, [Tassoni's rhetoric] can be taken with a grain of salt, given that he had not bothered to discuss his concerns with Ms. Gallo, and he has an obvious huge conflict of interest as a union official, elected to public office with the strong financial backing of government unions to promote their economic interests.

Hey, if the state can insert a municipal dictator (popularly known as a "receiver") to oust the elected mayor and make the elected city council less than an advisory body, then why shouldn't it also pass judgment on superintendents and school boards? That's consolidation.

The lesson extends even to less brazen steps. The farther governance moves from voters, as from local development of school policies among neighbors to regional and statewide implementation of policies, the more incentive special interests (notably unions) will have to fill elected positions with the likes of Tassoni. As the Projo editors note, Governor Chafee has already "removed several of the student-focused reformers... from the state Board of Regents," even though large segments of the state did not vote for this governor's election.


May 31, 2011


Two Major Defects in the 195 Redevelopment Commission Bill

Carroll Andrew Morse

The very large bill on developing the land freed-up by the relocation of Interstate 195 in Providence will be heard by the Senate Committee on Housing and Municipal Government today. Since the amended 59-page bill replacing a 26-page original was released on a pre-long weekend Friday and isn't linked at the GA website yet, let's help our Senators with a review of a couple of serious defects in the amended bill that should prevent it from being passed in its current form. All legislative excerpts below are taken from the amended bill, which I will link to as soon as it appears in its proper location on the GA website.


Defect #1. The bill specifically tries to place the "I-195 Redevelopment Commission" -- a body which will be making large dollar land-deals -- beyond the reach of the State Ethics Commission, as well as other portions of state law.

The beginning of the proposed section 42-64.14-5 of the law reads...

The I-195 redevelopment district is hereby constituted an independent public instrumentality and body corporate and politic for the purposes set forth in this chapter with a separate legal existence from the city and from the state...
Got that? The bill says that the Rhode Island state legislature will be creating a new government organ, but one that is not part of state or city government. This highly unusual proposition is intended to establish a claim that the Redevelopment Commission and its employees are exempt from important sections of state law. For the clearest and perhaps most important example of old law that the new law seeks to circumvent, consider how the new law would interact with the definition of jurisdiction contained in the Rhode Island Code of Ethics...
The following persons shall be subject to the provisions of the Rhode Island Code of Ethics in government:

(1) State and municipal elected officials;

(2) State and municipal appointed officials; and

(3) Employees of state and local government, of boards, Commissions, and agencies.

In other words, since the appointed Redevelopment Commissioners are not state or municipal officials -- the law says that in so many words -- the jurisdiciton of the Ethics Commission would not extend to them, nor is it clear that the Ethics Commission's jurisdiction over the employees of boards, commissions and agencies covers the employees of an "independent public instrumentality and body corporate and politic", especially when it is the Rhode Island Court system that would be making a final determination on this question. The proposed law also sets up its own set of very fuzzy ethics definitions to be applied to redevelopment commissioners (warning: this section is a little thick)...
Notwithstanding any other law to the contrary, it shall not be or constitute a conflict of interest for a director, officer, or employee of any financial institution, investment banking firm, brokerage firm, commercial bank, trust company, building-loan association, architecture firm, insurance company, or any other firm, person, or corporation to serve as a commissioner...

...nor shall any contract or transaction between the commission and a financial institution, investment banking firm, brokerage firm, commercial bank, trust company, building-loan association, architecture firm, insurance company, or other firm, person, or corporation be void or voidable by reason of that service as director of the commission.

If any commissioner, officer, or employee of the commission shall be interested either directly or indirectly, or shall be a director, officer, or employee of or have an ownership interest (other than as the owner of less than one percent (1%) of the shares of a publicly-held corporation) in any firm or corporation interested directly or indirectly in any contract with the commission, that interest shall be disclosed to the commission and set forth in the minutes of the commission, and the commissioner, officer, or employee having that ownership interest shall not participate on behalf of the commission in the authorization of that contract. Interested commissioners may be counted in determining the presence of a quorum at a meeting of the commission which authorizes the contract or transaction.

The question that supporters of the bill need to answer is why, in order to help effectively dispose of the former I-195 land, does ethics oversight need to be loosened over a group of individuals who are politically connected enough to get appointed to a redevelopment commission, and who will be given the power to create "indirect" benefits for themselves through their work on that commission?


Defect #2: The amended version of the redevelopment bill specifies an electorate within the redevelopment district that is different from the usual definition of electorate under state law...

(e) Electors and elections. The electors of the district shall include electors of the city and/or owners of real property of the city and/or district ratepayers. In the event that exercise of any powers of the district requires approval by vote within the district, the commission shall have the power to organize and conduct such election in a manner consistent with requirements of law and in conjunction with the city, as necessary or appropriate.
I can't find in the amended bill exactly what election the electorate defined above is supposed to take part in, nor have I actually traced the fourteen page description of the proposed redevelopment district on a map (at one point, the legislation describes a segment of the boundary line that is 5.4 inches long), so I am not sure what the exact population of the "redevelopment district" currently is, but assuming that the boundary has been drawn around actually former highway land, there shouldn't be many, if any, current residents there now. This implies that when an "election" is needed to approve something in the early phases of the project, the "electors" are likely to be mostly landowners and rate-payers who were allowed to get into the project early.

The Rhode Island Constitution does specify that elections are needed when the General Assembly wants to take direct action on certain local-impact issues...

The general assembly shall also have the power to act in relation to the property, affairs and government of a particular city or town provided that such legislative action shall become effective only upon approval by a majority of the qualified electors of the said city or town voting at a general or special election...
A question that needs to be asked to Senator Ruggerio and other supporters of this bill is exactly what activities they anticipate needing de jure electoral approval for under their unique definition of the electorate -- a definition which may restrict the "electorate" to just a few developer-type individuals.



First Responses to DiPalma Inquiry

Justin Katz

The responses have begun to trickle in to my inquiry about the support that Sen. Louis DiPalma (D, Little Compton, Tiverton, Portsmouth, Middletown, Newport) has expressed for Senate Majority Leader Dominique Ruggerio's hiring of a union pal's son at a very high salary. So far, I've sent (or attempted to send) variations of the following note to members of Tiverton's State House delegation and to town council members from each of the municipalities that DiPalma represents:

As a resident of Tiverton, I've taken a particular interest in statements that Senator Louis DiPalma has made with regard to Senate Majority Leader Dominique Ruggerio's hiring of Stephen Iannazzi. Therefore, I am seeking comment from various organizations and elected officials from towns that Mr. DiPalma represents for publication on AnchorRising.com. (Absence of comment will also be noted.) When the content justifies, I will write a summary essay, which I will submit to every appropriate state and local publication.

If you haven't come across this story, the short version is that Mr. Iannazzi is 25 years old and holds no college degree (with credits in "labor studies" from Rhode Island College), yet he makes nearly $90,000 as a "special assistant" in Mr. Ruggerio's legislative office. Stephen is the son of Donald Iannazzi, a business manager for Local 1033 of the Laborers International Union affiliate, which employs Mr. Ruggerio's son, Charles. Sen. Ruggerio also works for another arm of the Laborers International Union.

In response to an inquiry from Providence Journal columnist Edward Achorn, Senator DiPalma replied as follows:

"Since joining the RI Senate some 2 years ago, I have seen the leadership, with the Senate President at the helm, attract, nurture and retain top talent with extensive capability and capacity," he wrote.

"With respect to Mr. Stephen Ianazzi [sic], I have interacted with him on a regular basis. Stephen has performed admirably on each of his assigned tasks. From the results he has produced . . . Stephen is qualified to serve in his current capacity. I look forward to his continued results-based performance providing real value to the R.I. Senate and all its members. He certainly has a bright future," wrote Senator DiPalma.

My question to you, as an elected public official in a municipality that Sen. DiPalma represents is: Do you believe that such a suspicious hiring requires a more detailed justification?

At the time of my sending the question, the City of Newport's Web site was completely down, and four of the email addresses that Little Compton provides for its council members bounced back.

The first response came from Middletown Town Councilor Antone Viveiros:

All I can do is wonder if Senator DiPalma , as a manager at Raytheon, would hire, then defend his hiring of someone with such qualification/experience, to his superiors, and pay him or her nearly $90,000, without having a job description or having advertized the position, or would refuse to explain the need for such a position, if it was corporate funds, instead of taxpayer funds?

Tiverton Town Councilor David Nelson, who is also president of the local good-government reform group, Tiverton Citizens for Change, was even more pointed:

The hiring was WRONG. No job description, fair posting, screening and interviewing of applicants, or any semblance of fairness. Since this is a publicly funded position, paid for by the taxpayers of RI, we deserve a fair and transparent approach. There are plenty of qualified persons who would do the job for less. Mr Stephen Iannazzi has not earned anywhere near the salary he's been paid, and he does not deserve this, nor has he earned it. The cost of the fringe benefits per RI Department of Revenue is 58%. So with pension contribution, Social Security, health insurance, etc., the cost to the taxpayer for this position becomes $132,000. This is a scam, which in a transparent society would be reversed.

Councilor Chris Semonelli, of Middletown, by contrast, appears to be ambivalent about the hiring:

I am not familiar with the individuals mentioned in the Providence Journal article, in your note below and the potential situation mentioned.

However, I am familiar with Senator Lou Di Palma and have the utmost admiration for his integrity, abilities and accomplishments to date.

Senator Di Palma has been instrumental in developing many efforts to help get our state out of a lot of its historical quagmires.

I have not only been personally impressed, I repeatedly hear from his constituents and colleagues that he has either helped them with his follow through efforts or developed laws to help those less fortunate in the State of Rhode Island as either a Senator or a Town Councilor .

You can see by his track record on record with the state that this is indeed the case.

I feel we are very luck to have the Senator representing the people of Rhode Island and hope that he continues to represent the Great State of Rhode Island for many years to come.

I also want to thank you for your research efforts we do need these ongoing efforts to keep all activities transparent in government and to protect its integrity .

Meanwhile, the president of Middletown's Council, Arthur Weber, was even more ambivalent:

This is a senate issue, no other comments.

Given reductions in state aid to Rhode Island's cities and towns, not to mention the effect that State House spending and policies have on every Rhode Islander, one would think that a council president could at least summon an expression of concern.

Next up will be a table of the responses and non-responses thus far, and I'll be broadening the field of those whom I ask for comment.


May 29, 2011


Nine Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, May 31 - June 2

Carroll Andrew Morse

Underneath the regular countdown of General Assembly bills coming up for committee hearings this week, I am going to post a second, unordered list of bills, also scheduled to be heard this week, whose practical impact is not immediately obvious but might involve some significant changes to the law. There seemed to be an unusually large number of this kind of bill on the committee calendars this week.

Input on anything listed, and indeed on anything expected to happen at the GA, is encouraged and appreciated.


9. S0595: Adds "urban collaboratives" to list of education-aid funding-formula recipients. (Senate Finance, May 31)

8. H5133: Repeals the prohibition against "classified" state employees from running for state office. (House Labor, June 2)

7. H5824: Bans foreclosures on the residences of deployed active duty armed-services personnel. (House Veterans Affairs, June 1)

6. H6177: Consolidates the "the powers, duties, functions, and personnel" of the Board of Governors for Higher Education and the Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education. (House Finance, June 2); I wonder how many state legislators might claim they are master "consolidators" based on a vote in favor of this bill, at the same time they would vote in favor of S0720, creating a new 21-member Family Engagement Advisory Council "to serve as an advisory body to the governor, the department of education, the board of regents, and to school districts". (Senate Education, June 1)

5. Two commissions related to RI elections: the census-based redistricting commission required to produce an immediate plan (H6096, House Finance, June 1, but why is the bill under the jurisdiction of the Finance committee?) and a study commission on a system for determining "the winner of [an] election by majority vote" including but not limited to "instant runoff voting, approval voting, range voting, and proportional voting". (H6176, House Judiciary, May 31).

4. H5225: Prohibits the state and any RI municipality from requiring an "employer to use an electronic employment verification system...as a condition of receiving a government contract or applying for or maintaining a business license". (House Labor, June 2)

3. H6118: Creates a "care center" demonstration program under the auspices of the state's Medicaid Global Waiver, to provide "primary care benefits to uninsured adults without children whose income is equal to or less than one hundred thirty-three percent (133%) of the federal poverty level". (House Judiciary, June 1)

2. S0114: The Ruggerio Route-195 land-use bill. (Senate Housing and Municipal Government, May 31)

1. S0164: Joins Rhode Island to an interstate compact where the RI legislature agrees to disregard the choice for President made by Rhode Island voters, and allocate RI's electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote instead. (Senate Judiciary, May 31)



Six Other Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, May 31 - June 2

Carroll Andrew Morse

S0353: Creates a business-entity called a "low-profit limited liability company". The snarky angle on this bill would be to wonder why Rhode Island needs a separate category for low-profit ventures. (House Corporations, May 31)

S0855: Projects "to be financed with bonds issued by an issuer that does not have jurisdiction over the location of those facilities" would be require "prior host approval from the governor of the state". This bill is somewhat unusual, in that it assigns a new power to the Governor directly, and not to an executive branch department head. (Senate Finance, May 31)

H5161: Various changes to Rhode Island's campaign finance laws. The official description says "this act would eliminate the additional qualification requirements of independent candidates who wish to participate in the matching public funds program, clarify the time frame in which any candidate may apply for the matching public funds program, eliminate the two thousand dollar ($2,000) maximum annual contributions limit from any individual or political action committee and apply equally the minimum requirements for participation in matching funds for nominated and independent candidates. It would eliminate the requirement for an independent advocate to notify the candidate or political party committee on whose behalf the expenditure or contribution is made". (House Finance, May 31)

H5276: A pilot project for "Patient Centered Medical Homes". This bill appears to be founded on the assumption that system failures created by regulation can be fixed by piling new regulations on top of the broken ones. (House Coroporations, May 31)

H6143: Defines the car tax reimbursement in terms of "a rate that shall be determined by computing each municipalities percentage of the total assessed value of all motor vehicles and trailers in the state". I believe this is intended to smooth out the impact that different community tax-rates can have on how much an individual is reimbursed. (House Finance, May 31)


May 26, 2011


No Place Screws Up the Concept of Fiscal Responsibility Quite Like Rhode Island Does

Carroll Andrew Morse

The bill being heard today by the House Finance Committee that would give municipal bondholders a "first lien" on local government treasuries (H5376), introduced on behalf of the Rhode Island Department of Revenue and already passed by the Senate Finance committee (S0614), should not be passed into law. Peder Schaefer of the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns, which has taken a position against the bill, relays a key rationale being advanced by its supporters, as offered at the Senate Finance hearing: "A bond lawyer retained by the Department of Revenue testified that the real reason for the bill was in the event of a Federal Bankruptcy in Central Falls. She testified that if this were to occur, bond holders would not have a first lien on city revenues. She believes that the language of the act would improve the credit quality of all municipal bonds in the state".

In other words, the Chafee administration Department of Revenue believes that a community should not be allowed to drastically restructure its finances to deal with a financial meltdown until the bondholders are taken care of. The bondholders come first, and then everyone else can fight over what's left.

But even those who don't believe that full-blown bankruptcy for Central Falls or any other Rhode Island community is likely should be troubled by this bill.

1. Allowing "first liens" on general tax-revenue does damage to the underpinnings of democratic governance. Tax revenue is taken from the income and/or wealth of taxpayers; revenue doesn't magically fall out of the sky, despite what some government officials might believe. To create a bondholder lien on general tax revenue is to create a bondholder lien on taxpayers, i.e. to grant one group of people long-term, legally enforceable claims on the incomes and wealth of another. This is less compatible with modern than with medieval concepts of government and property rights, and I don't think there's any case to be made that we will do any better than our ancestors did under a system where regular citizens can find a portion of their incomes automatically claimed by a class of people who assert their superior position in the order of things.

2. Consider possibile outcomes, short of Federal bankruptcy, in the case of Central Falls. Section 45-9 of RI law (already in place) gives a receiver the power to issue bonds on behalf of his municipality including the power to use them to fund a deficit or to fund pension obligations. (Regular municipal governments are barred from issuing bonds to cover a deficit; the current bill reinforces that a receiver is immune from this limitation). The receiver cannot break collectively bargained contracts, so union benefits are locked in. And if this bill is passed, bond-holding financiers will be locked in too -- which means that it's the people in-between who will absorb the entire burden of government's inability to rationally finance itself, as everyone else will have to be paid first, before regular citizens get anything from government. Except the bill, of course.

3. I know there is a group of people who believe that financial efficiency is the primary issue that needs to be addressed by government, and who aren't much concerned with the undemocratic system being installed for dealing with Rhode Island's financial mess (I think there may be more than a few of these folks in the Chafee administration). But even those who believe in nothing but the brutal efficiency of markets should be troubled by the imbalance created by this bill. If government writes into law that bondholders have a direct legal claim to money in the public treasury, then there is little to no risk of them not receiving their scheduled payments, and every bond covered by the law should be given the highest possible rating with lowest possible interest. Financiers who want to assert a legal claim over a portion of the tax levy and a right to take money through legal compulsion are not assuming true market risks, and should be paid accordingly.

In a special report put out last November, the Fitch Ratings service concurred with the idea that "first lien" bonds involve very limited risk, because people are required to pay whatever amount government demands of them...

Question: Given the strained finances of most state and local governments, and the likelihood of continued difficult times to come, why do Fitch’s ratings suggest confidence in the ability of most to meet their debt?

Answer:...Other commonly issued municipal bonds are secured by a first lien on sales or income taxes, where there is little if any legal discretion for the taxpayer to choose not to remit the taxes owed to the government.

The attitude reflected above, by the way, is why you should never trust the "financial efficiency is everything" crowd to run the government.

Once upon time, in the Western tradition of democracy and self-government, it was understood that government's ability to compel people to surrender a portion of the fruits of their labor was a critical reason for limiting government claims on the property of the citizenry and to err on the side of the taxpayer. Rhode Island is sadly leading the way in eroding this tradition, asserting instead that government power to compel payment of taxes is a valid reason for allowing groups of people favored by the political class to make near-permanent claims on the livelihoods of average taxpayers.



Commentary on "Top Talent"

Justin Katz

Noting that one of the North Providence councilmen who, in the words of U.S. District Judge Mary Lisi, ran the city as "nothing more than a criminal organization" was also among the state legislature's crew of crack employees, Ed Achorn tells readers that he's still waiting for substantive response regarding Senate Majority Leader Dominique Ruggerio's hiring of 25-year-old college dropout Stephen Iannazzi to a $90,000-per-year job in his legislative office.

As a resident of Tiverton, I particularly took note of some extremely supportive (of Iannazzi) feedback from Sen. Louis DiPalma (D, Little Compton, Tiverton, Newport, Middletown, Portsmouth) and asked the senator for more detailed comment. In response, he sent me the full text of his note to Achorn:

Since joining the RI Senate some 2 years ago, I have seen the leadership, with the Senate President at the helm, attract, nurture and retain top talent with extensive capability and capacity. This professional staff has been instrumental to the proper running of the legislative body. With the performance-based culture, people are held accountable, being measured and rewarded based on the results produced and not just effort expended.

With respect to Mr. Stephen Ianazzi, I have interacted with him on a regular basis. Stephen has performed admirably on each of his assigned tasks. From the results he has produced prior to leaving the Senate in 2010, and the last several months in his current role, Stephen is qualified to serve in his current capacity. I look forward to his continued results-based performance providing real value to the RI Senate and all its members. He certainly has a bright future.

The Senate President has my full support...

Look, this one ought to be easy. A young man with no clear credentials and apparently embodying the practice of quid pro quo nepotism is making a very high salary. Even legislators who don't want (or don't feel at liberty) to express suspicion ought to be able to muster some variation of: "I can see why this hiring might raise concerns, and I will seek a more full explanation from Senate leaders." That Ruggerio and, now, DiPalma are instead inclined to dig in, pretending that inquiries are in no way justified, is evidence that the ruling class of Rhode Island has no sense of what reasonable ethical boundaries might entail.

I'm in the process of contacting every relevant elected official and citizen group in the municipalities that Sen. DiPalma represents to see if perhaps that sense exists on the lower tiers of government, and I'll report back to you as responses come in.


May 22, 2011


Coming up in Committee: Eleven Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, May 24 - May 26

Carroll Andrew Morse

My impression is that the General Assembly is finally beginning to get a little more focused on addressing the fiscal and governance problems of Rhode Island...


11. H5608: Dedicates 10% of state gambling revenue to the payment of debt service on state bonds. (House Finance, May 24)

10. H5368: Replaces the exemption on the first $850,000 of property subject to the estate tax from the estate-tax for estates valued at less than $850,000 with a tax-credit of $25,200. Does anyone know what purpose is served, by changing from an exemption to a tax-credit? (A possible answer is discussed in the comments). (House Finance, May 24)

9. Two bills affecting armed-services personnel; a state income-tax exemption for military pensions for persons 65 and older (S0100, Senate Finance, May 24) and a ban on foreclosures on the residences of deployed active duty personnel (S0703, Senate Special Legislation and Veterans' Affairs, May 25).

8. S0619: A bill clarifying 1) that, once a municipal receiver takes over a Rhode Island municipality, any "powers of the city or town council exercisable by resolution or ordinance shall be exercised by order of the receiver" 2) that the former government of the city or town "shall not rescind or take any action contrary to such action by the receiver so long as the receivership continues to exist", and 3) that in towns where a budget commission, a fiscal overseer, or a receiver has been appointed, elected officials are personally liable for the amounts they overspend. The receiver and any other state appointed officials, of course, are above this last provision of the law -- if the receiver says it is necessary, then it is by definition not overspending! (Senate Finance, May 24)

7. H5736/S0614: Local governments must appropriate money to pay debt service on general obligation bonds and notes before any other item can be appropriated. Local officials who do not carry this out, apparently at either the appropriations or the expenditure stage, can be removed from office by the Superior court. (Note to the state Department of Revenue, who is listed as having requested this bill: if this is supposed to be some sort of best-practices technocratic fix, you shouldn't load up the House sponsorship with a list of crazy left-wingers, which could create an impression that one purpose of this bill is to open the door to local officials being sued, if they refuse to vote for tax-increases). (Senate Finance, May 24; House Finance, May 26)

6. H5245: In-state college tuition for illegal immigrants. (House Finance, May 26)

5. S0189: Freezes the bonus for regional districts in the new state education "funding formula" at a permanent value of 2%. (Senate Finance, May 24)

4. H6095: 4% additional income tax, creating a marginal rate of 10%, on individual incomes over $200,000, and on married-couple incomes over $250,000. (House Finance, May 26)

3. H5840: Eliminates cost-of-living pension increases for any newly hired judges, justices, teachers and state employees. (House Finance, May 24)

2. H6146: Contracts for municipal employees do not expire until a new contract is agreed upon. (House Labor, May 24)

1. H6085: Authorizes a statewide referendum and a local referendum in Lincoln to be held as part of the 2012 general election to approve or reject adding table games to "the facility known as 'Twin River'". (House Finance, May 25)


May 18, 2011


Legislative Alerts from the RI Tea Party, May 18 - 19

Carroll Andrew Morse

Because the RI General Assembly website was down all weekend and then again for at least some period of time of Monday night, I wasn't able to produce my summary of bills on the usual schedule, and a few other commitments this week are preventing me from catching up in a timely fashion, so in order to provide a brief update on what is happening on Smith Hill (beyond the passage of the civil unions bill in House committee last evening) I will pass along the Rhode Island Tea Party's alerts on what's happening in legislative committees this week...

S0896:
A Bill to lock down retired employee benefits as property rights...[and] end-run around the unsettled matter of law regarding property rights of retiree benefits. (Senate Labor Committee, May 18)

S0147:
A Bill to Exempt $2 Million from Estate Tax. (Senate Finance Committee, May 19)

S0058:
A Bill to increase estate tax exemption from $850,000 to $1,500,000 (Senate Finance Committee, May 19)

H5738:
A Bill to combine corporate tax reporting with other states (House Finance Committee, May 19)



May 13, 2011


An Endurance Contest in Futility

Justin Katz

For the benefit of those who've never done so, Harry Staley, Chairman of the Rhode Island Statewide Coalition, describes the experience of testifying (or trying to) before a General Assembly committee:

Ask anyone, other than a union or welfare-industry lobbyist, who has testified on legislation of major statewide interest in the "people’s house," also known as the Rhode Island State House. It is an endurance contest prefaced by the chairman's notification that, with the exception of two people, the proponent of the bill and one opponent, everyone else will have from 1.5 to 2 minutes to speak. ...

It is common for a hearing that everyone knows will draw an outsized crowd to be convened in a room inadequate to accommodate those who attend. Most people must stand before and during the hearing, and the overflow must stand in the hall outside the room. Among them are the elderly, the physically challenged; everyone must literally "suffer" to be heard. Three hours of standing is an ordeal that drives some to give up and leave. Is it any wonder that there are those who suspect that this is a planned procedure?

Add an observation from former state representative Rod Driver regarding the held for further study mess:

After voting to "hold the bills for further study," many committee members go home. Why waste their time listening to testimony? There may be only four or five members of a 15-member committee still present when citizens who have waited hours to testify for or against a bill finally get their chance.

In the narrow scope, the system is designed to put decisions in the hands of a few legislative leaders, and in the broader scope, it's designed to make voters feel as if they're standing against the inevitable, making participation quaint, but futile. Even advances in transparency — such as videotaping hearings — can contribute to the sense that the public's role is just to watch, not to participate.

What would happen were public disapproval of that fact to swell, I don't know. It'd be nice to think that pressure would inspire change, but as experience with separation of powers suggests, we'd be looking at a decade of intricate political maneuvers just to get minor improvements in the system... that wouldn't be followed for another decade while uniquely interested citizens pursued measures to force compliance. And as the generally high level of apathy illustrates, it'd be surprising if there were a swell over hearings that most Rhode Islanders don't know occur in the first place.


May 11, 2011


Four New Faces... Same Old Media

Justin Katz

An interesting feature in Monday's Providence Journal came as four short reports about new legislators in the General Assembly: Rep. Dan Reilly (R, Portsmouth), Rep. Doreen Costa (R, North Kingstown), Sen. Nick Kettle (R, Coventry), and Rep. Chris Blazejewski (D, Providence). The way they're framed from the beginning tells readers a great deal about the perspective from which the Projo is written:

  • Reilly is learning how much work it is to be a legislator.
  • Costa is "a bona fide right winger, a Tea Party member who wanted to restrict abortions, preserve traditional marriage and 'cut, cut, cut' the state budget," who is having fun in both the legislative and community-involvement aspects of her new job.
  • Kettle sent a poorly considered email to "Tea Party supporters" concerning a hearing on homelessness.
  • But Blazejewski, ah well, Blazejewski "may well be the House freshman who most bears watching," and he's not a "bona fide left winger," but rather "a self-described progressive Democrat" (which sounds so much more pleasant and less extreme."

Frankly, I'm tempted to agree that it's worth watching Blazejewski, albeit in a different sense than that intended by reporter Randal Edgar. One of the featured bills on which he's a lead sponsor (PDF) would unionize any group of public employees without secret ballots if 70% sign authorization cards. Query: Why would nearly three quarters of a workforce sign authorization cards even when 50% plus 1 won't vote in secret toward the same end? Perhaps unions prefer their odds when they can intimidate.

Be that as it may, based on these four articles, I find the other three more interesting. Consider Reilly's excellent response to Governor Chafee's "show me a better budget" challenge:

"I'm not a huge fan of them saying, 'Well, we've done our job, now you come up with the rest of it.' As if we have the resources to do these studies. I wasn't elected governor."

The real story of the Journal's series, although the reporters don't emphasize it, arises in a cross-article fashion from Costa to Kettle. Regarding a bill that Costa supported to eliminate "held for further study" from the GA leadership arsenal:

"This is not really going to change too much," she said as she summed up her argument. "It's just going to give us a chance to get the bills voted on quicker and get them to the House floor quicker."

The Kettle article illustrates what, precisely, would change were "held for further study" no longer a technicality by which every piece of legislation gets its legally required committee vote:

About four months into the session, Kettle says he regrets having voted for Democrat M. Teresa Paiva Weed for another term as Senate president, a move that he hoped would earn him at least a committee hearing on some of his proposed legislation this year.

To date, none of the eight bills Kettle has submitted — including one that would eliminate the state’s $500-minimum business corporation tax — have been subject to a public hearing. Those hearings are generally granted at the discretion of the Senate leadership. "Clearly, that did not pan out as I hoped," he says.

In stark contrast to the Providence Journal, Andrew Morse has done an excellent job following and explaining how it is that the "further study" trap door transfers power from individual legislators to House and Senate leaders. With the power to control legislation in hand, the Senate president and House speaker can extract votes and favors, as Kettle illustrated with his assumption that backing the right president would increase his odds of legislative success.

That concentration of power isn't going to go away unless the next wave of new legislators willing to challenge the status quo is much larger than the last one.


May 10, 2011


Open Thread #2: Coming Up In the Senate Labor Committee

Carroll Andrew Morse

The Rhode Island Tea Party provides a late-breaking update on several state Senate bills, posted on Monday, coming up for hearings in the Senate Labor Committee on Wednesday (h/t Lisa Blais)...

Senate Labor will entertain yet again bills to extend terms of unaffordable and unsustainable contracts, legislate an end-run around the unsettled matter of law regarding property rights of retiree benefits and consider card check that strips people of the right to cast private ballots when voting for or against union representation.

Please attend these hearings, Senate Labor Committee. Let them know what you think!

S0404: A Bill to allow perpetual contracts for firefighters.

S0423: A Bill to allow card check for public employees.

S0789: A Bill for evergreen (perpetual) police contracts with binding arbitration.

S0896: A Bill that locks down retired employee benefits as property rights.


May 8, 2011


Coming up in Committee: Sixteen Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, May 10 - May 12

Carroll Andrew Morse

Here are a few of interesting bills scheduled, so far, to be heard by General Assembly committees this week. If any other interesting bills are posted for hearings during the day on Monday, I will run an updated post on Monday evening.


16. S0729: Vehicles with more than two axles may not cross the Pawtucket River or Sakonnet River Bridges, with the exception of a) truck tractors, b) any emergency vehicle, or c) any other state or municipal owned vehicle. Submitted at the request of the Department of Transportation. (Senate Housing and Municipal Government, May 10)

15. S0645: Requires tangible property taxes to be paid, immediately upon the sale of "a major part in value" of a business. (Senate Judiciary, May 10)

14. H5790: Requires that "75% of all classes taught at each public institution of higher education be taught by full-time, tenured or tenure-track faculty" by the year 2017. (House Finance, May 12)

13. S0348: Statements of apology or sympathy by medical providers would be inadmissible as evidence in lawsuits. (Senate Judiciary, May 10)

12. H5804: Increases the (approximate) maximum size of voting districts in RI from 1,900 to 4,000 voters, maintaining the provision that no voting district can include more than one ward. (House Judiciary, May 10)

11. H5264: Adds "cyberstalking and cyberharassment" to the crimes defined as domestic violence. (House Judiciary, May 10)

10. S0644: Allows a law enforcement officer to require a breath analysis of any individual under 21 whom he or she believes to be under the influence of alcohol. (Senate Judiciary, May 10)

9. H5785: Subjects colleges, universities and hospitals to a local property taxes "for essential services on a pro rata basis according to assessed property value serviced" of up to one-quarter of their assessed property value. (House Finance, May 11)

8. H5644: Creates a new section of criminal law that defines crimes against the public trust. Introduced at the request of the Attorney General. (House Finance, May 11)

7. You thought the annual funding-formula follies had gone away, just because we passed the magic funding formula that would forever be used to distribute state education aid? H5246 would freeze the regionalization bonus in the new state education "funding formula" at a permanent value of 2%, H5399 would require "a separate specific appropriation to each regional school district", H5843 would add "urban collaboratives" to list of funding-formula money recipients, and H5491 and H5492 would make changes related to school housing aid. (House Finance, May 12)

6. H5837: Restores the Rhode Island car tax to its pre-1998 condition, which I think means there would be no state reimbursement and that cities and towns would all be free to set their own rates. (House Finance, May 11)

5. H5596: "Notwithstanding any provision in the general laws to the contrary, the general assembly shall not authorize, award or allow legislative grants. Legislative grants are hereby defined as monetary awards to nongovernmental, or nonquasi-governmental, entities". (House Finance, May 11)

4. H5614: Limits the amount of general public assistance to be paid to an aid-recipient to the amount determined at the initial application for assistance, regardless of the birth of additional children. (House Finance, May 12)

3. S0243: If the Mortgage Registration Electronic Systems appear "in the chain of the title of a mortgaged estate", then statutory power of sale laws do not apply, which means that the party holding the mortgage has to get judicial approval in order to foreclose. Some detail on what MERS is is available here, from the Wall Street Journal. This is a short but specific bill, with some potentially very important property rights ramifications. (Senate Judiciary, May 10)

2. H5849: If a school committee overspends its budget, "authority for expenditure of funds, including the entering into contracts for goods and services and collective bargaining agreements" is transferred to the city or town council for 5 years. (House Finance, May 12)

1. H6103: The civil unions bill. (House Judiciary, May 11)


May 5, 2011


The 25-Year-Old Keeping the Senate Together

Justin Katz

To hear RI Senate Majority Leader Dominick Ruggerio (D, Providence) tell it, Rhode Island's legislature is practically run by 25-year-old Stephen Iannazzi (son of the highest-paid union boss in the state... in the same union for which Mr. Ruggerio makes a hefty salary, as well):

Mr. Iannazzi showed extreme competence and was an invaluable asset to the Senate and the people of Rhode Island, whom we serve. While not seeking to give an exhaustive list of Mr. Iannazzi's credentials in this space; it is these qualifications which have come under attack. I therefore find it important to note just how well-qualified Mr. Iannazzi is for the specialized role he has been asked to fill.

Well, if young Iannazzi's "competence" was "extreme," how can anybody argue against his receiving $90,000 of taxpayer dollars in salary? Of course, in the manner typical of hyperbolic letters of recommendation, Ruggerio lists a number of initiatives in which Iannazzi played a role, but doesn't go into detail about the actual tasks that he completed.

For example, Iannazzi helped staff the Senate's Small Business Task Force. Does that mean that he reviewed the experience of every potential candidate and made recommendations, or that he called the assistants of legislators on a list that he was given? He helped draft various bits of legislation (which, having read through many bills, I don't take to be inherently impressive), but does that mean that he did legal research concerning the law to be changed and comparable laws in other states, or that he typed in changes to laws that others had reviewed?

Even so, by what calculation did Ruggerio arrive at a salary? The quarter-century kid wouldn't work for a penny less? Sorry: It still looks like a corrupt transfer of public money to a union pal's son. In keeping with his specific avoidance of details, Ruggerio asserts that "numerous senators and other government officials have voluntarily approached [him] to praise Stephen's ability, work ethic, and knowledge of the issues facing the Senate." Well, let those legislators and officials come out from behind the vague reference and publicly stake their reputations on the capabilities of a young high-school graduate hired at a high-end salary in the midst of a continuing recession and with the state facing massive deficits year after year.

Then let the public watch Mr. Iannazzi and be wowed.


May 3, 2011


Coming up in Committee: Fourteen Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, May 3 - May 5

Carroll Andrew Morse

14. S0319: Subjects the appointment of the RI Commissioner of Higher Education to the advice and consent of the Senate. (Senate Education, May 4)

13. S0867: Requires all Rhode Island hospitals to submit "evidence of participation in a high-quality comprehensive discharge planning and transitions improvement project operated by a nonprofit organization in this state" or "a plan for the provision of comprehensive discharge planning and information to be shared with patients transitioning from the hospitals care" to the director of the state department of health. (Senate Health & Human Services, May 4)

12. S0295: Imposes a tax of 1 cent per ounce on bottled soft drinks. (Senate Finance, May 3)

11. H5157: Reduces the state gas tax from 32 to 27 cents per gallon. (House Finance, May 5)

10. S0521/S0524: Increases in the number of hours of instruction required during a kindergarten day. (Senate Education, May 4)

9. S0833: Rewrites Rhode Island's law on sexual offender registration, in order to implement the Federal Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act. Introduced at the request of the Attorney General. (Senate Judiciary, May 3)

8. Various traffic law changes, ranging from making use of a non-hands free cell phone illegal when driving (S0269) and not wearing your seat-belt into a primary traffic law violation (S0022), to increased penalties for refusing to submit to a chemical substance-use test (S0028, S0235) and increased penalties for causing an accident that results in bodily injury (S0118). (Senate Judiciary, May 5)

7. H5743: Requires state agencies (RIDE, DHS, DCYF, RI health agencies and hospitals involved with immunizations, and the state police and office of public safety) to "track ethnic communities". The bill then goes on to list certain ethnicities that should be tracked. Why some ethnicities should be singled out in the law is not clear. (House Finance, May 4)

6. S0432: Gives the Board of Regents for Secondary and Elementary education the power to grant waivers from state mandates, when petitioned by local school committees. (Senate Education, May 4)

5. S0827: Creates a new section of criminal law that defines crimes against the public trust. Introduced at the request of the Attorney General. (Senate Judiciary, May 3)

4. H5431: Establishes an Inspector General's office in the State of Rhode Island. (House Finance, May 4)

3. S0400: Requires either a photo ID or a document such as a birth certificate, social security card, etc. to be used as a voter-ID at a polling place. In the event that a voter does not have a required form of ID, he or she would cast a "provisional ballot", where a comparison to the signature in the voting record would be used to determine if the ballot would be counted. Introduced at the request of the Secretary of State. (Senate Judiciary, May 3)

2. H5848: Creates a tax-credit for service stations that install alternative fuel pumps. (This is much more important bill than H5847, the excise tax exemption for certain electric vehicles). (House Finance, May 5)

1C. S0415: Standalone bill (see the last two bills on the list, for the context of "standalone") making teachers' strikes illegal in Rhode Island. (Senate Labor, May 4)

1B. S0413: Terms of expired teachers' contract would continue, until a new contract agreement is reached. (Senate Labor, May 4)

1A. S0794: Binding arbitration for teachers contracts on all issues, including salary issues. Also says teachers' can't strike and the unaccountable arbitrator must consider a municipality's "ability to pay". Apparently, in the progressive thought-process, writing into the law fact that the government doesn't have an absolute right to all of the people's income is considered a compromise. (Senate Labor, May 4)


April 26, 2011


Robert Watson's Original Political Encounter With Medical Marijuana

Carroll Andrew Morse

Republican Minority Leader Robert Watson was one of the House sponsors of Rhode Island's medical marijuana law passed in 2005 (H6052). Rep. Watson's name is listed as second sponsor on both the original bill and the as-amended bill that passed the RI House with his vote on June 22 of the 2005 session.

However, he then voted against the veto override that eventually made the bill into law (it had been vetoed by Republican Governor Donald Carcieri). The switch is recognizable to Rhode Island political-watchers as part of the enduring mystery of the leadership of Bob Watson.

And now prepare watch progressives turn on a dime, away from the hypocrisy argument to "he was just sponsoring a law to benefit himself" argument...

UPDATE:

A second medical marijuana bill, this one with a Senate number (S0710), also made its way through the RI legislature in 2005. Again, Rep. Watson voted for the original bill (June 24, 2005) but against making it into law over the Governor's veto.



Coming up in Committee: Thirteen Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, April 26 - April 28

Carroll Andrew Morse

A little behind schedule due to Holy Week, here's the list of some of the interesting bills going before General Assembly committees this week...


13. S0699: Exempts members of the "International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers and its signatory contractors jointly participating in the IMPACT National Substance Abuse Program" from state job-site drug testing laws. One guess as to who the primary sponsor of this bill is. (Senate Labor, April 27)

12. S0182: Would allow the length of the public school year to be counted as 1080 hours instead of 180 days. (Senate Education, April 27)

11. H5254: A ban on under-21 nightclubs. (House Judiciary, April 27)

10. S0874: A bill from the Lieutenant Governor requiring that individuals who purchase medical insurance in Rhode Island specify a primary-care physician to their insurance company. (Senate Health and Human Services, April 27)

9. H5502: Bans food-service establishments from using "artificial trans-fats" in foods that they serve, with an exception for "food that is being served directly to patrons in a manufacturer's original sealed package". (House Health, Education and Welfare, April 27)

8. H5508: A resolution requesting that "the President and Congress of the United States to refrain from enacting or imposing any law or regulation that is beyond the scope of these constitutionally delegated powers or that would diminish the rights of the people of Rhode Island to govern themselves as a free, sovereign, and independent state". (House Judiciary, April 27)

7. S0876: Requires health insurance co-payments and deductibles to be paid to medical service providers directly by insurance companies, with the insurance company being responsible for collecting the funds from the patients. (Senate Health and Human Services, April 27)

6. S0046: Raises the age of required school attendance from age 16 to 18 (or until the completion of high-school or several alternatives). (Senate Education, April 27)

5. H5340/H5456: Requires roll-call votes from General Assembly committees to be posted online, and for committee and floor votes to be posted in a format organized by Senator/Representative. (House Judiciary, April 28)

4. S0400: Requires either a photo ID or a document such as a birth certificate, social security card, etc. to be used as a voter-ID at a polling place. In the event that a voter does not have a required form of ID, he or she would cast a "provisional ballot", where a comparison to the signature in the voting record would be used to determine if the ballot would be counted. (Senate Judiciary, April 26)

3. Senate Hearing on the Department of Human Services Budget. The proposed Human Services budget contains a 130 million dollar general-revenue increase from last year, going mostly to fund "grants and benefits assistance" under the "Medical Benefits" heading. (Senate Finance, April 28)

2. H5407: "No official or agency of this state, city, town or other political subdivision of this state may limit or restrict the enforcement of federal immigration laws to less than the full extent permitted by federal law", and the establishment of immigration enforcement procedures for state and local authorities to follow. (House Judiciary, April 27)

1. A group of bills on the subject of abortion, including a bill to provide public funding for abortions (H5180), a ban on abortions for sex-selection (H5530), a bill requiring that ultrasound images be provided prior to an abortion (H5691), a bill banning state or local governments from interfering in decisions related to pregnancy prior to "fetal viability" (H5752), a definition of the crime of murder of an unborn child (H5125) and a few others. (House Judiciary, April 26)


April 22, 2011


Dumb Legislation at the Speed of Text

Justin Katz

Now here's a wrong way to address the complexities of society in the Information Age:

Under the legislation students could still carry phones in school, but they couldn't use them during school hours, including study hall and lunch. A first offense results in a warning. A second violation would lead to administrators confiscating the phone for three days. The third time, the phone would be kept for five days. Exceptions would be made for emergencies.

Sen. John Tassoni Jr., D-Smithfield, introduced the bill after leading a legislative task force investigating cyberbullying. The work led Tassoni to conclude that cellular prohibition is the best way to ensure students are focusing on a textbook, not Facebook.

Why is this a legitimate activity for a state legislature that currently has government-shaking deficits and structural deficiencies to address? Of course, legislation that would prevent Tassoni from operating his voting button while the General Assembly is in session might be worth a look...


April 12, 2011


A Union Ratchet

Justin Katz

Yes, a bill is a long way from a law, and this one, which Andrew caught the other day, has only one sponsor, Spenser Dickinson (D, South Kingstown), but it really is quite a suggestion:

When a contractor employing members of a recognized union and providing services for more than twenty (20) hours a week to another person, firm, or corporation is replaced, and a new contractor engaged, the employees of the succeeding contractor will be admitted to membership in the union representing the employees of the prior contractor unless already unionized, as set forth herein.

The bill goes on and on, encompassing every conceivable scenario: not only spanning the completion of one contract to the beginning of another, but also requiring that the full-time employees that a company might hire after having contracted for unionized services immediately become part of the union.

One suspects that Mr. Dickinson's contracting company is a union shop, and although I'd wager we won't see this particular bill become law, it's helpful to have a glimpse, every now and then, of the sorts of goals that shrewder and more subtle political minds have targeted.


April 10, 2011


Seventeen Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by RI General Assembly Committees, April 12 - April 14, Numbers 1 through 5

Carroll Andrew Morse

5. S0760: "No person holding a position in state government which requires confirmation by or the advice and consent of the senate shall engage in lobbying or permitted to register as a lobbyist" aka "a Caruolo Act for the 21st-Century". (Senate Judiciary, April 12).

4B. S0823: Ethics Commission appointments would be subject to advice and consent of the Senate. (Senate Judiciary, April 12).

4A. H5410/S0634: Constitutional Amendment to bring state legislators under Ethics Commission jurisdiction. (House Judiciary, April 13; Senate Judiciary, April 12).

3. H6017: If I am reading this right, this bill says that if a business replaces a union contractor with a non-union contractor after the completion of a contract, the employees of the new contractor are forced to join the union that was there previously. (House Labor, April 13).

2B. H5873: Requires all cities and towns to participate in the "secure communities" program. (House Judiciary, April 13).

2A. H5312/H5225: H5312 requires participation in E-Verify by all Rhode Island employers with 3 or more employees. H5225 would prohibit use of an "electronic employment verification system" as a condition of receiving a government contract or maintaining a business license. They are not sponsored by the same group of Reps. (House Labor, April 12).

1. Bud Art 26: Governor Chafee's sales-tax expansion. (House Finance, April 13 @ 11:00 AM! -- an excellent time for professional activists and the unemployed to have unfettered access to the Finance Committee).



Seventeen Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by RI General Assembly Committees, April 12 - April 14, Numbers 6 through 10

Carroll Andrew Morse

10. H5529: Directs the Department of Children, Youth and Families to disclose findings of abuse at a "family day care home, group family day care home or day care center", provided that no personal information is disclosed about anyone involved (House Judiciary, April 12).

9. H5498: Sets up the Obamacare "exchange" in Rhode Island (House Health, Education and Welfare, April 13).

8. S0438: Authorizes school districts to assess fees and accept donations for extracurricular activities (Senate Education, April 13).

7. S0547: Would restrict the applicability of the state fire code to structures that are "highly trafficked, populated or congested and present a clear public safety risk" (Senate Municipal Government, April 12).

6. H5712: Creates an "Interlocal Regional Services Commission" that can "operate and administer various municipal operations [that] may include, but shall not be limited to, tax collection or assessment activities, public works operations sewer and water treatment and distribution systems, police services, library services, and fire and rescue services" for combinations of 2 or more cities and towns whose city or town councils who authorize a "regional program or project" (House Municipal Government, April 14).



Seventeen Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by RI General Assembly Committees, April 12 - April 14, Numbers 11 through 17

Carroll Andrew Morse

Lots of very interesting bills are being heard by General Assembly committees in the upcoming week. I'll put up the list in three separate posts; here's part 1 or part 3, depending on your personal preference for numbering conventions...


17. H5310: Prohibits rental agreements from containing clauses that prohibit tenants from inviting contractors onto a rental property to conduct repairs. A sentence that makes you wonder what the backstory is is included at the end: "This prohibition shall extend to rental agreements for docks, piers and marina slips" (House Corporations, April 12).

16. H6032: Creates a licensing board for orthotists or prosthetists, where the Rhode Island Society of Orthotists and Prosthetists gets to appoint 2 of the 3 members. A clear separation of powers violation (House Corporations, April 12).

15. H5664: Requires colleges and universities provide information about graduating students to the Secretary of State on an annual basis, to assist him in keeping voter rolls updated. No one is automatically removed from the voter registration list as the result of this bill (House Judicary, April 13).

14. H5458: From the official description: "This act would make any financial town meeting or referendum to set a city or town's budget or tax rate subject to state election laws" (House Judiciary, April 13).

13B. H5804/H5813: Would either increase (H5804) or entirely remove (H5813) the maximum number of voters that can be assigned to a single polling place, maintaining the restriction that no polling place can span more than a single ward (House Judiciary, April 13).

13A. H5511/H5661: Both bills would move the poll closing time in Rhode Island elections from 9pm to 8pm. H5661 would also make poll opening times uniform across RI communities, at 7 am (House Judiciary, April 13).

12. H5884: Various changes to the municipal pension system (House Municipal Government, April 14)

11. Bud Art 7,: The Senate's crack at the strange new tax on wireless equipment (Senate Finance, April 12).


April 1, 2011


Ten Bills Scheduled to be Heard by RI General Assembly Committees, April 5 - April 7

Carroll Andrew Morse

10. H5830: Requires real estate commissions to be paid at the closing. (House Corporations, April 5)

9. H5575: From the official description: "This act would affirm the use in state legal proceedings of unsworn declarations made by declarations who are physically outside the boundaries of the United States when making the declaration". (House Corporations, April 5)

8. H5384:/H5471: Two of several bills related to auto-body shops. I know this isn't the most pressing issue facing Rhode Island, but if anyone has any insights into whether the long running public relations battle between auto insurance companies and auto body shops in this state for hearts, minds and dollars is something that happens everywhere, or is a uniquely Rhode Island thing, here's an excuse to tell people about it. (House Corporations, April 6)

7. Bud Art. 7: If I am reading this right, this would change the law so that in addition to each "telephone access line" into a residence or business being assessed a surcharge, as is currently the case, any wireless device would also be assessed a separate surcharge. It's another aspect of Governor Chafee's lower and broaden method for increasing taxes. (House Finance, April 7)

6. H5905: "No police department within this state, including the state police, shall use any checkpoint, random or otherwise, as an investigative measure in the detection and apprehension of motorists who may be under the influence". (House Judiciary, April 6)

5. H5366: "Custodial interrogations" in cases where a potential criminal sentence is life imprisonment must be recorded to be admissible as evidence. (House Judiciary, April 6)

4. H5887: Establishes state limits on "greenhouse gas" emissions that are "equivalent to twenty percent (20%) below the 1990 level, to be achieved by 2020, and...eighty percent (80%) below the 1990 level, to be achieved by 2050". (House Environment, April 7)

3. H5904: Establishes civil unions for "any two unmarried persons who are excluded from entering into a valid marriage under the marriage laws of this state". (House Judiciary, April 5)

2. Bud Art. 25: Changes to Rhode Island's business taxation system, e.g. combined reporting, minimum franchise tax, etc. (House Finance, April 6)

1. H5092: Incarcerated individuals who go before Rhode Island courts on criminal matters would be required to have their immigration status verified. (House Judiciary, April 6)


March 31, 2011


Politics on Voter-ID

Justin Katz

Two interesting points are buried within Randal Edgar and Philip Marcelo's article on voter-ID legislation currently under consideration in the Rhode Island House. The first is the degree to which Rhode Island ACLU Executive Director Steven Brown's inane argument implies ulterior, political motives:

"When we have no charges filed, when we have no convictions filed against anybody for this very serious felony, one just has to wonder how rampant can this really be," he said, questioning an assertion made by a representative from the secretary of state's office at the hearing that voter fraud in which a person impersonates another is "rampant."

Brown noted that the last conviction for voter fraud in the state dealt with persons voting from a place other than his or her permanent residence — not impersonating someone else.

If poll workers aren't required, or allowed, to check identification, how are they supposed to catch impersonators? Even if the criminal is so inept as to be impersonating somebody who is not dead or known not to be voting, when the impersonatee comes to vote, there would be no way to track the impersonator.

The second point has to do with the big deal that the journalists make about the broad support within the House for a voter-ID law:

It's not every day that House Speaker Gordon D. Fox adds his name to a bill with Republican Joseph A. Trillo or even fellow Democrat Jon D. Brien.

But Fox and House Majority Whip J. Patrick O'Neill, along with Brien, Trillo and Republican Tea Party member Doreen Costa, have joined together to support a bill that would require voters to show photo identification at the polls.

Of course, we learn farther along:

[Senator Harold] Metts' bill was held for further study last week by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

So the Senate killed the issue, leaving House members free to posture and gain political talking points on it, even if they ultimately wouldn't wish for it to make it to the governor's desk.


March 29, 2011


Representatives Karen MacBeth and Dan Gordon Prove the Unthinkable -- Bills Don't Have to be Held for Further Study!

Carroll Andrew Morse

While the story of legislators looking for ways to advance a bill that apparently cannot get committee approval on its own merits was playing out at the RI Statehouse last week, in another part of the building, according to accounts that have been provided to me from several sources, a group of Representatives was working in the sunshine of an open-to-the-public committee process to bring a bill to a vote, in spite of the General Assembly's usual practices intended to obstruct legislators not aligned with leadership from having a say on the agenda.

Last Thursday, the agenda of the RI House of Representatives Veterans' Affairs Committee included bills that would establish an official memorial flag for members of the Armed Forces who lose their lives in the line of duty (H5890), and that would create a legislative commission to study locating a center to assist veterans at one or more of Rhode Island's public colleges (H5724). Representative Karen MacBeth (D-Cumberland) -- who is not a favorite of the House Democratic leadership (I don't think I'm giving away any secrets by writing that) -- had been working to have these bills given real consideration as soon as possible in the legislative session. She had agreed to withdraw a version of the memorial flag bill where she was the primary sponsor (H5892) and to support a version with Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Raymond Gallison (D-Bristol/Portsmouth) as primary sponsor, as long as the substance from her original bills would get a real vote in committee. At the Thursday meeting, the Veterans' Affairs Committee deliberated H5890 and sent it to the House Floor with a recommendation for passage.

But based on the flow of the committee meeting, Rep. MacBeth sensed that the veterans' center study-commission bill was not going to get the substantive consideration she had sought, so she quickly made a motion that it be considered for passage. Representative Dan Gordon (R-Portsmouth/Tiverton/Little Compton) seconded. A short debate ensued. Chairman Gallison tried to talk Rep. MacBeth out of pressing for a vote for passage at this hearing; there were issues around Federal dollars that would take some time to consider, etc. Rep. MacBeth responded that H5724 was only a resolution for a study commission and there was nothing about the bill that couldn't be decided by the committee right away.

Seeing Rep. MacBeth unwilling to relent, Chairman Gallison called for a vote on the bill -- to hold it for further study. Rep. Gordon raised a point-of-order: there was already a motion before the committee to send H5724 to the House floor with a recommendation for passage, and that motion had to be disposed of before a new main motion could be introduced. The Chair recognized that Rep. Gordon was correct, and then called for a vote of everyone opposed to passage of H5724. The committee was silent. Then the chairman called for votes in favor of passage, and the bill was passed by the Veterans' Affairs Committee by a majority vote.

And that, citizens of Rhode Island, is all it really takes to end the "held for further study" madness at the Statehouse -- not major rules reform or arcane parliamentary trickery, but legislators who ask for their bills to be considered and voted on by the appropriate committees, and committees who make decisions on the merits of a bill without waiting for leadership to grant them permission to vote in favor of the bills they support (even though, in the short term, it might mean an extra walk from a faraway parking space or other such inconveniences for legislators who choose to place a higher priority on representing their constituents than following partisan marching orders when considering bills).

According to this year's House rules, beginning on May 1, Rhode Island House committees are supposed to begin posting their roll call votes publicly. My suspicion is that, once committee-level information becomes part of an easily accessible public-record, explanations to constituents that "I voted for further study on every bill that came before me because the leadership told me I had to" are not going to win over many undecided voters during election campaigns. Add to this the fact that, over the last two or three election cycles, a group of legislators have been elected who are unwilling to accept the go-along-to-get-along top-down discipline model for running a legislature that has quiescently been accepted by older generations of RI legislators, and the result is that a new way of doing business at the Rhode Island Statehouse is going to be defined very soon -- and is maybe already starting in the House Veterans' Affairs Committee.



The Sign of Leadership

Justin Katz

Last week, the RI House Labor Committee reviewed two bills:

In both cases, the views were sharply divided, with labor supporting and cities and towns opposing a bill that would allow municipal employee collective-bargaining contract terms to continue after a contract expires and also allow monetary issues in those contracts to be decided in binding arbitration.

The positions were reversed on the prevailing wage bill, with cities and towns supporting and labor opposing a change that would raise the threshold at which the state and municipalities must pay prevailing wages from jobs costing more than $1,000 — a figure set decades ago — to those costing more than $500,000.

The latter bill would have allowed local governments to hire labor at the actual prevailing wage — that which the market had determined for a particular occupation and which most purchasers of the particular service (those not subject to union political pressure) typically pay. The former bill would have been a marker of the end of Rhode Island.

Of course, the article ends with that marker of Rhode Island leadership:

The committee held both bills for further study.

And so, we'll stagger along, neither improving our civic circumstances nor opting for a quick death. Perhaps the state should change its motto to "held for further study."


March 28, 2011


My Social Cause for Your Law and Order

Justin Katz

Most people probably have an idealized image of the legislative process as one in which legislators draft bills that they desire, other legislators sign on as they're interested, and everybody votes according to their understanding of the consequences. It seems somehow foreign to everyday life to trade votes on unrelated issues and such, but in a vote-counting occupation like lawmaking, it's inevitable.

And so, state representative Doreen Costa (R, Exeter, North Kingstown) is surely doing no more than offering a look into the regular processes of the General Assembly by going public with one example:

The bill's main sponsor, state Rep Teresa Tanzi last week asked Doreen Costa if she wanted one of the five coveted spots as an official co-sponsor. The legislation is meant to prevent people like Michael Woodmansee---who killed a 5-year-old boy in the 1970s---from leaving prison early. Tanzi, a Democrat, represents South Kingstown, where the boy lived. ...

"I have to horse trade," Tanzi replied, according to Costa. "She said, 'You have to vote gay marriage out of committee.'"

In one sense, there's nothing surprising about this at all. Tanzi has a desirable legislative property, and she wishes to trade partial ownership of it to remove a roadblock on an issue about which she's interested, for whatever reason. In a practical sense, also, there's little to remark. As Costa makes clear, co-sponsorship is not a prerequisite for her vote, so the offer does not affect the likelihood of the bill's final passage.

Still, when we reapply the context, the matter takes on a distasteful aroma. Tanzi has under her control a sensitive issue concerning the gruesome murder of a young child and the ability of victims to be assured that dangerous killers will not roam the streets again while still relatively young. Using that ownership to buy votes for a long-discussed and still-controversial issue like same-sex marriage is cynical, to say the least.


March 25, 2011


Eleven Bills Scheduled to be Heard by RI General Assembly Committees, March 29 - March 31

Carroll Andrew Morse

New plan. Better plan. Instead of trying to post something on all of the bills that have been submitted during a week, the week after they have been submitted (which, to be honest, was an interesting experience but was starting to make my eyeballs bleed from too much staring at the computer), I will post a list of the most interesting and impactful bills, in the week before they are scheduled for their committee hearings. Consider these posts an open thread for trying out and/or pondering arguments that might be heard in committee for or against upcoming legislation.

All the usual disclaimers about the choice of which bills are important being solely at the discretion of the author of the post apply. I'm not going to try and strike any a-priori balance between the House and the Senate, so if there are more bills from one chamber than the other, it's because, in my opinion, one chamber is hearing more interesting stuff that week.


11. S0348: Statements of apology or sympathy by medical providers would be inadmissiable as evidence in lawsuits. (Senate Judiciary, March 29)

10. H5941: "Safe school act" that redefines bullying and defines cyberbullying in Rhode Island law. (House Health, Education and Welfare, March 30)

9. Bud Art. 39: Creates a "Municipal Accountability, Stability, and Transparency Fund" that provides state aid to cities and towns if they meet certain fiscal requirements. (House Finance, March 30)

8. H5646: Creates a legislative commission to study the public funding of elections. (House Judiciary, March 29)

7. H5091: Magistrates would be appointed by the Governor from a list of candidates drafted by a judicial nominating commission, instead of by high-ranking judges. (House Judiciary, March 30)

6. Bud Art. 13: Increases the employee contribution for teachers and state employees from 8.75% to 11.75%. (House Finance, March 31)

5. S0087/H5797: The Senate bill would begin to institute the Obamacare "exchange" in Rhode Island. (Senate Health and Human Services, March 30). The House bill "urges Governor Lincoln Chafee to refrain from implementing all aspects of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act with the exception of provisions on health care exchanges until such time as the United States Supreme Court has rendered its opinion on the constitutionality of the provisions mandated by this statute. (House Health, Education and Welfare, March 30)

4. H5374: From the official description: "This act would provide that if during any fiscal year the state reimbursement to cities and towns and school districts is insufficient to cover the costs of state mandates as reported by the department of revenue, those affected cities, towns and school districts may cease implementation of state mandates at their discretion up to fifty percent (50%) of the value of the reimbursement shortfall". (House Municipal Government, March 31)

3. H5513/H5127: "No person holding a position in state government which requires confirmation by or the advice and consent of the senate shall engage in lobbying or permitted to register as a lobbyist" (House Judiciary, March 30) and no one "employed by the department of administration in a decision-making position or capacity or influence over legislation with the executive branch" can become a lobbyist "until such time as a new governor shall be elected". (House Judiciary, March 30)

2. H5410: Proposed Constitutional amendment extending Ethics Commission jurisdiction to legislators. (House Judiciary, March 30)

1. H5961: Binding arbitration for teachers. (House Labor, March 29)


March 22, 2011


At Least It's Being Considered

Justin Katz

The legislation has so little chance of coming anywhere close to enactment that proposing it is mainly theatrics, but it's definitely a show worth performing, if only to remind people that the process exists to make it happen:

[The bill by Rep. Joe Trillo (R, Warwick)] would rewrite the rulebook on negotiations with public-employee unions, limiting contracts to one year, limiting talks to the issue of wages, making all contract provisions "null and void" when a contract expires and requiring city or town council approval of contracts negotiated by school committees.

The bill would also end payments for unused sick time, bar unions from deducting dues from members' wages, require an employee to work at least 30 hours a week to receive health care and retirement benefits and put all new hires into a 401(k)-style defined-contribution retirement system, like those common in the public sector.

Labor's choke-hold on Rhode Island has to be loosened, but for any catalyst to have a chance, it will have to be much more subtle. Of course, that means that, even if enacted, it would be much too slow.


March 18, 2011


Everybody's Representative?

Justin Katz

It doesn't quite rise to the level of Whitehousian attack, but RI House Representative John Edwards (D, Portsmouth, Tiverton) does give a tax reformer reason to wonder how evenly his representation applies:

"There is a loophole in that law that some groups have been employing to avoid reporting campaign activities around a Financial Town Meeting," he said. "This legislation will close that loophole."

Edwards said Tiverton Citizens for Change spent campaign funds on "robocalls" and sent cards in the mail to residents, campaigning for particular positions at the Financial Town Meeting.

"Then, when we went to check their campaign finance report, they did not file it," Edwards said. "They did not file the work they did at the FTM. The campaign finance laws are pretty clear, and I was surprised a PAC was able to float the law."

To understand the nature of the wicked "loophole," one must consider the clear law; I've italicized the parts that the sneaky residents leveraged in order to work their evil machinations:

(1) "Election" means the filling of any public office or the determination of any public question by vote of the electorate, and includes without limitation any state, town, or city office or question, and any political party primary election for the nomination of any candidate for public office; except that it shall not include a financial town meeting or a meeting to elect officers of a fire, water, or sewer district; ...

(6) "Local election" means any election limited to the electorate of any city or town, or any part, at which any city, town, ward, or district officers are to be chosen, or any elective meeting at which a question is to be submitted to the voters of a city, town, or any subdivision of a city or town, but it shall not include a financial town meeting;

Look, if Edwards doesn't believe previous legislators acted appropriately in explicitly excepting financial town meetings from the definition of "elections," then he should by all means submit legislation to change the law. But he shouldn't pretend that one group alone has been so sneaky as to follow the law.

How can residents trust his leadership when his rhetoric as an elected official is indistinguishable from the rhetoric of local partisans? Note especially the statement that "we went to check their campaign finance report." By "we," does he mean the General Assembly? No, he means the local Democrat Town Committee, and it's not unreasonable to feel as if that's whom he ultimately represents.


February 22, 2011


Free Care and Process

Justin Katz

Although his bill has entered the limbo of "held for further study," state Representative Brian Newberry (R, North Smithfield) deserves recognition for submitting it. An article about the bill's hearing raises two points that merit comment:

The committee ultimately held the bill for further study, a move that Committee Chairman Helio Melo said will allow members to do their homework and hear testimony on similar bills before making a decision.

That sounds reasonable enough, but one has to wonder: Shouldn't committee members, in general, do their homework before the public hearing? Presumably interested stakeholders and informed members of the public will appear before committees for hearings; how are legislators going to ask them intelligent, productive questions if they do not address their ignorance beforehand? And, more to the specific point, what homework could there possibly remain to be done on such a simple — and long-mentioned — change of policy?

The second point addresses the other side:

The other speaker, Deloris Issler, representing the Cranston Tea Party, said her local group opposes the bill, not because a 20-percent co-share "would be bad, but it stops way short of what it needs to do" at a time when many small-business owners can't afford health insurance, yet are expected to subsidize plans for part-time lawmakers.

"We would call on all of you to end the benefits," she said.

I've said it before: Representatives and Senators put in a fair bit of time, over the course of the year, much of it at inconvenient hours, and it's reasonable to compensate them. My fellow Tea Party types rightly make much of the fact that, for example, the unions were able to rally during the workday in Wisconsin, while the taxpayer groups had to wait until the weekend because they had to work. The same applies to government office.

If we rely purely on civic responsibility to draw citizens to public office, we'll wind up with leaders who have some method of profiting from their offices in some indirect way. That tends to be an insidious species of corruption.


February 17, 2011


Ending the Caruolo Act

Justin Katz

This being Rhode Island, one expects it to be a long shot, but it's worth noting that Patricia Morgan (R, Coventry, Warwick, West Warwick) has filed legislation to repeal the Caruolo Act:

The Caruolo Act allows school committees to file suit against their taxpayers when they overspend their budgets. Rep. Morgan’s legislation would eliminate this costly and lengthy method of resolving funding disputes.

"Quite simply, the Caruolo Act has been a costly and detrimental policy," said Representative Morgan. "What this law has done is increase the cities' and towns' costs of education, reduce their councils' ability to control spending, and drive up property taxes. It has done nothing to promote accountability for the efficient and effective education of our children. I believe that continuing this failed policy is foolish and the time has come to repeal it."

Her preemptive reply to those who might criticize her lack of alternative is that school committees should learn to live within their budgets. I'm not sure that goes far enough. As former Majority Leader George Caruolo has argued that the law that his displaced put judicial authority on these matters in the hands of the Department of Education, which is likely where school districts would argue it should return upon repeal of Caruolo.

The current and perennial makeup of the General Assembly (not to mention the governor) likely puts Caruolo beyond reach, but raising the subject of its repeal is a start to a start of some fiscal sanity for municipalities. Another route, or perhaps a next step, would be to put the taxing and spending authority in the same hands — whether with school committees or town councils — thus allowing more direct control by local taxpayers of school budgets.


February 14, 2011


The First Vote on Same-Sex Marriage Gets Airbrushed

Carroll Andrew Morse

How powerful are the Rhode Island Speaker of the House and Senate President? Not only have they convinced their respective legislative bodies that every bill must have their approval when no such requirement exists in the rules, but they can even erase from the minds of other legislators -- and of newspaper reporters -- memories of votes that have already been taken!

Here is Katherine Gregg of the Projo describing the status of one of the same-sex marriage bills (H5012) being considered in the Rhode Island House of Representatives…

After chairing an 8 1/2-hour hearing the night before on a proposal to legalize same-sex marriage in Rhode Island, House Judiciary Chairwoman Edith Ajello was hoping on Thursday to have her committee vote on the bill next week.

“The next logical step would be a committee vote,” said Ajello on the day after the hearing that drew hundreds of people on both sides of the deep divide to the State House for a high-pitched rally and hearing. “I would hope that it would be next week,” she said.

In actuality, despite the fact that neither Rep. Ajello in her quotes or Katherine Gregg in her reporting acknowledges it, a committee vote on the bill has already been held according to the current status report available from the RI General Assembly website
House Bill No.5012
BY Handy, Fox, Ajello, Ferri, Ruggiero
ENTITLED, AN ACT RELATING TO DOMESTIC RELATIONS -- PERSONS ELIGIBLE TO MARRY
(would broaden the definition of persons eligible to marry to include persons of the same gender / members of the clergy would not be required to officiate at any particular marriage)
{LC162/1}
01/11/2011 Introduced, referred to House Judiciary
02/02/2011 Scheduled for hearing and/or consideration
02/02/2011 Meeting postponed
02/09/2011 Scheduled for hearing and/or consideration
02/09/2011 Committee recommended measure be held for further study
The record shows that the Judiciary Committee did vote on the same-sex marriage bill on Thursday, choosing to “hold it for further study” (thereby giving the Speaker of the House sole discretion on whether the bill can be brought back to committee for a second consideration) and not to send it to the full house for consideration, though sending it to the full House was clearly in the committee’s power.

To be fair, there may be valid tactical reasons for same-sex marriage supporters to have delayed a vote at this time (at least, that is what Scott MacKay of WRNI’s On Politics blog is hearing) -- but that does not mean that Thursday night’s vote did not happen, or that the results of that vote should not be reported. Yet the strange idea that the leader of a legislative chamber should have absolute control over what bills are considered has such a powerful hold on the minds of Rhode Island’s political class -- statehouse reporters included, apparently – events where committee members give away their right to make decisions on bills are regularly ignored and airbrushed from public accounts of what transpires at the legislature.

It is bad enough that the elected representatives of the people regularly surrender their right to decide on which bills will be considered. It is even worse when the media quietly acquiesces to this practice.

(By the way, Karen Lee Ziner did something similar in her coverage of the illegal immigration executive order bill last week. Her report makes no mention of the fact that that the House Labor Committee voted on the bill and chose not to send it to the House floor for a full vote. That’s like writing a sports story and not including the final score).


February 10, 2011


Signs of Life in Committee: Four Reps Oppose Holding the Illegal Immigration Bill "For Further Study"

Carroll Andrew Morse

A source who was at Tuesday's night hearing of the Labor Committee of the Rhode Island House of Representatives informs me that the decision "to hold for further study" the bill that would write former Governor Donald Carcieri's illegal immigration executive order into law passed by a vote of only 8 - 4 (one committee member was absent). Representatives Deborah Fellela (D-Johnston), Brian Newberry (R-North Smithfield/Burrillville), Robert Phillips (D-Woonsocket) and Jack Savage (R-East Providence) were the votes against further study.

Let's review exactly what it was that 8 members of the Labor committee voted for, in voting for "further study": By voting "to hold for further study", the majority on the Labor Committee voted against giving the full House of Representatives a definitive opportunity to vote on the illegal immigration bill, and instead voted in favor of giving the Speaker of the House the power to decide whether this bill should receive any further attention during this legislative session.

Given the committee's disposition of the immigration bill, no one outside of the 4 Representatives who voted against "further study" can be considered amongst its supporters. Certainly some members of the House Labor Committee, such Chairwoman Anastasia Williams (D-Providence), have given unmistakable indications of opposing the bill on its merits. But it would definitely be of interest to constituents of the Labor Committee members who voted for "further study" to find out if their Rep opposed the bill because of its substance, or because they were told they were not allowed to send it to the House floor for a vote at this time, even if they did support it.

Remember, asking legislators to vote in committee for bills that they support isn't asking for an arcane parliamentary trick. It's simply asking legislators to do the job they were elected to do, and not give away their representation of their constituents to someone else.


February 8, 2011


How To End the Tyranny of "Held For Further Study" II

Carroll Andrew Morse

Three high-profile bills go before their Rhode Island House of Representatives committees this week, 1) the bill, referred to the Labor Committee to be heard today, that would make the provisions of former Governor Carcieri's executive order on illegal immigration into law, and 2 and 3) bills, referred to the Judiciary Committee to be heard on Wednesday, one establishing same-sex marriage at the statutory level, the other defining marriage as being between a man and a woman at the Constitutional level. (h/t Ian Donnis)

Given the recent history of legislature action in Rhode Island, the question is, once these bills go to committee, who will make the decision on whether they are eventually sent to the full House for a floor vote: the members of the committee together, or the Speaker of the House alone? Does a committee decide what happens to the bill referred to it, or does a committee immediately hand bills back to the Speaker of the House and say "you tell us what to do"?

I have no inside information on what the majority committee positions are in the case of the immigration and the same-sex marriage bills, but they are certainly not instances where straight party-line votes are expected. And if any RI Representative believes that that a majority of a committee on which they serve would decide the fate of a bill differently from what the House leadership would allow, there are the procedures she or he can follow (consistent with Mason's Manual of Legislative Procedure, referenced in the House Rules) to help a bill get its rightful consideration.

  1. If the committee meeting begins, as is common practice in Rhode Island legislative committee meetings, with a motion to hold every bill on the current agenda for "further study", any representative can make a motion to "divide the question", and have the bill they are interested in (same-sex marriage, immigration, etc.) considered as a separate vote.
  2. If the legislature follows its own customs and practice, the motion to divide the question should be granted by the committee chair automatically, without a vote being needed. If you check the Journals of proceedings on the House floor, motions to divide the question are routinely granted without a vote being taken, as long as the Speaker rules that a question is divisible. There is absolutely no question that a motion to vote on multiple bills at the same time is divisible into separate votes.
  3. Then when the bill of interest comes up for its separate consideration, if a motion to "hold it for further study" is immediately made, that motion opens the question for debate (it the language of parliamentary law, any motion that would send the bill out of committee falls into the category of a "main motion" which opens general debate on the subject). Any representative who wants to speak on the substance of the question should be afforded the opportunity to do so, before any vote is taken, and the debate should follow the same rules that are followed when bills that have been blessed by the Speaker and the Committee chair are considered. However, just as importantly...
  4. Motions to either postpone definitely, or to lay the bill on the table (two separate options) are now in order. The important difference between a vote to "hold for further study" and a vote for "to postpone definitely" is that further study sends a bill back to the full House, where its fate is placed into the hands of the Speaker, while "definite postponement" keeps the bill in committee, where its fate must still be decided at a later time by a majority vote of the committee, no matter what the Speaker or the committee chairperson thinks.

    A motion for definite postponement could take the form, for example, of a motion to postpone consideration of bill until after the people who have come to testify on that day have been heard, or until the next committee meeting, or until the first committee meeting after witnesses have been heard, etc. Also, according to Mason's Manual, the motion for definite postponement is debatable to the degree that the "propriety of the postponement" is discussed, meaning that it would be perfectly in order for the Rep who made the motion (or any other Rep on the committee) to explain to the other members of the committee (and the audience for the hearing) during their speaking time how this motion keeps the fate of the bill in the hands of the committee, instead of transferring it to the Speaker. (The first time this procedure is used, this might also make for some interesting blank and confused stares on the faces of certain legislators).

  5. The motion to postpone definitely does have to be voted on -- which means the real question about invoking this process centers on whether the members of a committee charged with considering a bill believe that the Speaker of the House would make the same decision on the bill that they would. If they think the Speaker would not allow a bill to get a vote on the House floor, even though a majority of the committee would supports it, then they should follow the procedure described above.
Look, I know that the 19th century language used as the names for some of these motions can make parts of the process sound arcane, but this is not parliamentary trickery being sketched out. This is, in fact just the opposite, a review of some accepted and staid rules, adopted over the centuries of American democracy, to ensure that legislatures are run as the gatherings of equally-ranked representatives of the people that they are intended to be. In the specific context of the RI legislature, those particular principles that need protecting are...
  1. That legislatures make decisions on substantive matters by majority vote.
  2. That legislators cannot be forced to vote on substantive matters, before they have had an opportunity to deliberate them.
  3. That legislators cannot be required to consider unrelated bills at the same time.
If you think those principles are unreasonable, then the form of government you believe in is something other than democratic.


February 7, 2011


Proposed Constitutional Amendments Introduced to the RI House, January 25 - February 3

Carroll Andrew Morse

Because of the snowstorms, the Rhode Island General Assembly has only been in session for three days over the past two weeks, just one legislative week in official "calendar time", but allowing plenty of time for bills to be introduced and processed.

In addition to regular legislation, three Constitutional Amendments on high-profile topics were introduced during this period in the Rhode Island House:

Proposed Contitutional Amendments

H5156Would limit the annual increase in state spending to the increase in the Consumer Price Index or 3%, whichever is lower.
H5177Governor and Lieutenant Governor would be elected as a ticket.
H5260Would define marriage as being between a man and a woman.

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February 5, 2011


The Health of the Legislature

Justin Katz

Katherine Gregg has checked in on the latest tally of RI legislators' voluntary healthcare contributions:

More and more of the state's 113 legislators have "volunteered" over the years to pay a portion of the premiums for the health, dental and vision benefits they receive, which currently cost the state $19,004 a year for a family plan and $6,800 for individual coverage. ...

As of Wednesday of this week, only 6 of the 38 senators, and 7 of the 75 House members had advised the legislative business office that they were willing to pay a 20-percent share of the premiums for their coverage. The majority of those paying a portion pay less.

As I've noted, before, I differ from many of my fellow right-reformers in believing that it's worth considering a change to the General Assembly such that it wouldn't be prohibitive to those whose careers aren't flexible or who don't stand to profit from the disruptive part-time job by much more than their nominal salaries and benefits.

Also in the print edition of the paper (although not online, that I could quickly find) was a table of some of the top Assembly campaign spenders, topping out at $1,021,018 for Steven Constantino (who ran for Providence mayor) and $131,003 for Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed, as well as a story about Patrick Lynch's campaign spending even while he wasn't campaigning for anything. It's quite a commitment to hold public office, and a sense of civic responsibility will carry potential candidates so far. Public dollars for public jobs represent a much cleaner deal than a system that relies upon the sideline of special-interest campaign donations and the extra-official perks and income that derive from political connections.

Of course, paying legislators more won't prevent their continuing to peddle their authority for corrupt benefits, but it will increase the competition for their offices.


February 3, 2011


How a Bill Gets a Hearing

Justin Katz

Matt gave Andrew some running room, on last night's Matt Allen Show, to explain his findings on how the General Assembly can be made to operate a bit more like a real legislature. Stream by clicking here, or download it.

Imagine how much more of this sort of thing we could do if we didn't have to spend all day doing something else. Please email or call (401-835-7156) me to pledge financial support — as subscriptions, donations, or advertising — for 2011 to help us create a full-time job within Anchor Rising.


February 2, 2011


How To End the Tyranny of "Held For Further Study", Beginning Immediately

Carroll Andrew Morse

It is essential, not only for new but for all Rhode Island legislators, as well as for Rhode Island citizens, to understand that the ability of the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Senate President to exercise near-total control over which bills receive hearings and make it to the floor is not something expressly written into the legislative rules. Any bill must be given a hearing and a vote at the request of its sponsor (provided it is filed early enough in the session), according to the rules of both the House and Senate. Here is the House version of the rule...

13 (e) Upon receipt of a written request from the principal House sponsor of a bill or resolution, a copy of which is to be given to the recording clerk, the committee shall grant to said principal House sponsor a hearing on any said bill or resolution within thirty (30) calendar days of the request, and provided further, that said committee shall grant to the principal House sponsor consideration of his or her bill or resolution prior to the deadline for committee action on such bill or resolution. The principal sponsor, with the concurrence of the Chair, may cancel a scheduled hearing with twenty-four (24) hours’ notice to the Chair, which notice shall be posted electronically. A hearing postponed twice at the sponsor’s request need not be re-scheduled. For the purpose of the rule, consideration shall mean a majority vote on one (1) of the following:
(i) a motion to report the bill or resolution to the House with a recommendation of passage; (ii) a motion to report the bill or resolution as amended, or in substitute form, to the House with a recommendation of passage; or
(iii) a motion to report the bill or resolution to the House without recommendation; or
(iv) a motion to report the bill or resolution to the House with a recommendation of no passage; or
(v) a motion to report the bill or resolution to the House with a recommendation that it be held for further study.
According to the letter of this rule and its Senate analog, neither the Speaker of the House, the Senate President, nor any committee chair can singlehandedly block a bill from being considered while remaining in compliance with the rules of their respective bodies.

For at least for the past decade or so, the leadership in the Rhode Island legislature has kept its control over what actually gets to the floor through a parliamentary trick which was described by former State Representative Rod Driver in a Warwick Beacon op-ed last year...
When a committee meets to hear testimony on bills, the first thing it does – before any bill is discussed – is vote to “hold for further study” all bills on the agenda....

After voting to “hold the bills for further study,” many committee members go home. Why waste their time listening to testimony? There may be only four or five members of a 15-member committee still present when citizens who have waited hours to testify for or against a bill finally get their chance.

Even when a vote on a bill is taken immediately and without deliberation, that vote still satisfies the requirement of giving a bill its consideration.

After a bill is held for further study, there is very little specificity in the rules about what happens next. The practice has been to leave the House Speaker or Senate President to decide if it goes back to committee for an actual hearing and informed vote, meaning that just one person in each body gets to control the entire agenda. That is not the way the legislatures are supposed to work.

Fortunately, legislators who oppose this method of disposing of the Rhode Island legislature's business do have recourse, under the standard rules of parliamentary law (The RI House references Mason's Manual of Parliamentary Procedure as its source, the RI Senate mentions Roberts' Rules of Order).

1. First off, the idea of voting on multiple bills at the same time is poor practice for any decision-making body, and is recognized as such by Mason's Manual...

Sec. 56 An important principle is that only one proposition can be considered at a time. This should appear too logical and fundamental even to require statement, but confusion frequently results from members attempting to discuss different questions at the same time.
2. If a Rhode Island Senator or Representative doesn't want to see a particular bill thrown into a collective and generic "further study" pile, she or he can make a motion to have that bill considered separately, after the motion to hold everything before the committee for further study is made. The technical term is a motion to "divide the question"...
Sec. 352 Where there is no rule giving members the right to vote separately on each proposition, a member still has the right to submit a motion to divide a question when it contains two or more distinct propositions
After the question is divided, a separate vote must be held on the bill (or the set of bills) that was divided out. (And combining 56 and 352, there is nothing preventing further division of a question that contains multiple bills). Doing this in the case of major bills would be an improvement over the current procedure, because committee members would have their votes recorded on whether they supported throwing that bill down the memory hole or not.

3. After the question has been divided, the committee then needs to consider the separate parts in some order, taking up either the single bill first and then the rest of the group, or vice-versa.

4. When the single bill comes up for consideration (or the package of other bills, for that matter), an individual committee member can then make a motion to temporarily postpone its consideration, known in the language of parliamentary law as "a motion to lay on the table"...

Sec. 332 The motion to lay on the table is in order immediately after the stating of a question and before a member entitled to prior recognition has been recognized, or at any time thereafter, while the question is still before the body...
The 1989 version of Mason's Manual suggested this language for the motion...
"I move that consideration [of H5xxx] be postponed temporarily."
It's important to note -- especially in the anti-deliberative atmosphere created in the Rhode Island Senate by current Senate President Teresa Paiva-Weed -- that Mason's Manual stresses that this motion is not debatable. In a rational world, this makes some sense, presuming that discussion of a bill is going to take place proximately before a votes on the matter is taken. However, that concept is likely to confuse some of the denizens of the Bizarro World of Rhode Island politics, where voting first and deciding what to debate later is considered the natural way of doing things.

5. At this point, you may ask what is achieved if a motion to "lay a bill on the table" rather than to "hold it for further study" succeeds (besides compiling a count of who voted to make some specific bills disappear). The answer is that while the vote "to hold for further study" counts as the one vote any bill is required to get according to House rule 13, the committee vote to lay a bill on the table does not. If you read the description of what holding for further study is closely, you see that it technically sends the bill back to the House floor...

(v) a motion to report the bill or resolution to the House with a recommendation that it be held for further study.
...which is the action that puts its fate in the hands of the Speaker, as Rep. Driver mentioned. The motion to lay on the table, on the other hand, keeps the bill in committee and, as long as a bill remains in committee, it can be recalled by a majority vote of the committee, without the approval of the Speaker of the House or of a committee chair being required. And according to rule 13 in the House, at some point during the session, a bill laid on the table in committee must be recalled, so it can get its required substantive vote.

5A. In the Senate, the situation is a little more ambiguous, as the rules specify that "indefinite postponement" counts as an option for consideration. However, nothing in Senate rules contradicts the premise that "indefinite postponement" keeps a bill within the jurisdiction of a committee, meaning it should be able to be recalled at a later time for consideration by a majority vote of the committee, without permission from the Senate President or a committee chair.

Knowing that well-established and respected processes like these exist will not be enough by itself to fix the problems of the Rhode Island legislature. I expect that the first few times this procedure is tried, if it is tried, the pathway could be a bit bumpy; it might be difficult to find a majority of current members on some committees who want to make decisions for themselves, rather than having the leadership make decisions for them.

But I believe that Rhode Island has come to a point where the necessary components for restoring small-d democratic practice within the Statehouse are ready to come together, i.e. a set of legislators who want to see the Rhode Island General Assembly run less hierarchically and more like the deliberative body that it is supposed to be, a group of citizens who believe the same and who will be willing to bring public attention to the situation, if leadership outright abuses the process in order to hold on to the old ways of doing things, and at least an issue or two in the public spotlight where the position of the leadership differs from that of a majority of members of a committee, or even from the majority of an entire chamber.

Anybody want to nominate a bill that the leadership opposes, but that a majority of the relevant committee might support, to go first?

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January 6, 2011


Happy New Year, Commissioner

Justin Katz

We may look back at the fifth day of January as the first instance of Education Commissioner Deborah Gist's changed work environment, thanks to a press release by Sen. James Sheehan (D, Narragansett, North Kingstown):

"If good teachers are the most important element to education, the Department of Education shouldn't allow uncertified individuals to teach at Democracy Prep school in Cumberland, says Sen. James C. Sheehan.

"It's a contradiction to say that qualified teachers are critical to each child's education, but then allow exceptions at one school. The students at Democracy Prep are just as deserving of certified teachers as other students around the state. To allow a group of uncertified teachers to teach at that school is to put the education of the students there at risk," said Senator Sheehan, a Democrat who represents District 36 in North Kingstown and Narragansett.

"If we truly believe qualified teachers are important, the state is putting the students at Democracy Prep at an educational disadvantage by allowing them to be taught by uncertified teachers," he said, "and the Education Commissioner's actions are a contradiction of her own terms and stated educational goals."

Anybody who wonders why an elected official from Narragansett/North Kingstown would be especially concerned about a charter school in Cumberland needs only to check the Senator's bio page, which notes his occupation as a teacher in Warwick (specifically, high school history), which makes him a dues-paying member of the Warwick Teachers Union, a Rhode Island Federation of Teachers affiliate.

As we hear so frequently, the objective of charter schools is to act as "laboratories of excellence" (or any such catch phrase), operating under loosened rules compared with the public school system generally. Of course, that notion has been under constant assault, with labor restraints still existing, most of the time, and repeated questioning of whether offering the same education at a lower cost counts as a successful experiment. It would certainly be against Sheehan's professional and, presumably, union-mindset interests for an experiment of hiring teachers without regard to official certification to succeed. Rather, for it to succeed without permitting the obfuscations that typically meet such success among private schools.

Unfortunately for Gist, it appears unlikely that she'll have the same strong backing that she enjoyed from Governor Carcieri... and just wait until Governor Chafee turns his attention to the Board of Regents.


January 4, 2011


Letting the Scam's Legislative Architect Run the Budget

Justin Katz

Here's a worrying tidbit about a frontrunner for the open House Finance Committee chairmanship in the General Assembly:

[Rep. Helio Melo (D, East Providence)] is the current deputy Finance Committee chairman, and House leaders signaled their confidence in him by letting him take the lead on last year's big end-of-session, income-tax overhaul.

I suppose that the experience ushering into law a reform that took Rhode Island's tax policy in the wrong direction while making it appear to do the opposite will be a valuable point of reference when making the state's budget appear to be balanced when there is no way it could be.


December 8, 2010


Update on the General Assembly's Staff Budget

Justin Katz

In response to my post about Democrat RI House Speaker Gordon Fox's reshuffling of General Assembly staff, a legislator whom I'd count among the good guys emails a mitigating consideration:

I see the budget is projected to increase by $1.6 million over last year. However, I also understand that the re-districting process is slated to cost $1.5 million so most of that increase is for a once a decade thing.

He does, however, wonder why last year's actual expenditure was lower than was projected and why this years can't be the same. "Not to mention why we have 300 employees at the State House in the first place."


December 6, 2010


An Indication of the View from the Top

Justin Katz

Anybody who wonders what lesson the General Assembly's Democrats took from the last election need only read this:

"In our effort to achieve savings, we have worked diligently to manage the legislative department within the enacted budget levels without seriously impacting day-to-day operations," wrote [House Speaker Gordon] Fox in a cover letter that also spelled out his bid to increase the part-time legislature's budget from $38.7 million this year, with 299 staffers, to $40.3 million in the new budget year that begins on July 1, 2011, with the same number of employees.

In dollars alone, this would mark a 20-percent increase — $6.8 million — over the $33.5 million the General Assembly actually spent in the fiscal year that ended on June 30, 2009, according the budget filing.

Most of the proposed increase over the three-year span is attributed to "salary/wages and benefits."

Those paragraphs come at the end of an article about Fox's sweeping of some political opposition out of the General Assembly's paid staff. Clearly, the Speaker took the election as evidence that his backers have a lock on the state. I suspect that the next two years will show us the repercussions when that's the case.

ADDENDUM:

See here for a mitigating consideration. Much of the increase in the budget might be attributable to a required redistricting expense.


November 3, 2010


UPDATED: RI House Summary

Justin Katz

The RI House now has 9 Republicans (ten, if you include John Savage, from East Providence). 12% is better than nothing, I guess.

At least both chambers will have heckling sections, now that Rhode Islanders have given the Democrats the run of Rhode Island, with Linc Chafee as a governor alternately to cheer buffoonishly as he spearheads reckless policies and to blame as a "former Republican" when the state continues to deteriorate.

The outcome brings to mind the conclusion of my Providence Monthly essay from last year:

If former Cranston Mayor Stephen Laffey was correct, when he withdrew from the state and from speculative candidacy, that Rhode Islanders simply do not want to bring the feast to an end, then his opponent in the last Republican U.S. Senate primaries will prove to have the perfect head for that three-belled cap. Lincoln Chafee is an "independent" still bearing the stain of his years as a nominal Republican. His pretentions toward fiscal conservatism will make a target of free-market and small-government principles, even as his actual liberalism clears the way for increasing burdens on taxpayers and businesses and facilitates a drunken lurch toward the libertine left in the dark hours of apocalyptic night.

In any case, conservatives might find new liberty in lacking an ally in the hall of power; we'll be free to venture out and rebuild the kingdom from the frontiers in.

All that's left to us, now, is to begin rebuilding the shires, as it were, while the state continues to limp along toward wounded delirium. Too many potential reformers have made the calculation that leaving is the wisest course, and as other states pull out of the recession, leaving Rhode Island behind, that skew will only worsen.

ADDENDUM:

Providence Journal reporter Gene Emery did me the honor of a personal PolitiFact check by email and corrected me on my total, above. The problem wasn't that I miscounted, though; it was that, in my haste to move on to other investigations, I forgot to add the parenthetical note about John Savage that now appears in my first paragraph.


November 2, 2010


Tiverton Helps Itself, but Not Rhode Island

Justin Katz

With 100% of the precincts reported, Tiverton put nearly every candidate endorsed by Tiverton Citizens for Change on the Town Council. That should make for a very interesting dynamic. More interesting, although less encouraging, is that the group left the School Committee and the Budget Committee (but for one endorsement) to the opposition. At the very least, one can predict that harmony will not be the keyword of the town for the next two years.

It appears, however, that my fellow townsfolk haven't applied the local lessons to the state, yet. The typical RI two-thirds sent Walter Felag (D) back to the state senate, while Louis DiPalma (D) was unopposed for his senate seat. In the RI House, incumbent John Edwards (D) retained his seat.

Luckily, although Tiverton went for the Democrat, George Alzaibak, for John Loughlin's former seat, Republican Dan Gordon appears to have managed a victory by four votes.


October 7, 2010


The Best and the Worst of the Legislature

Justin Katz

Last night, Andrew was in studio for the Matt Allen Show, talking about his review of General Assembly votes on several important bills. Stream by clicking here, or download it.


August 31, 2010


Even Unto the Primaries

Justin Katz

It's hard enough to get people motivated about learning about and voting for General Assembly candidates in the general election; the primaries require a whole 'nother level of commitment, but just as important, in some cases. I bring that up because Jim Hummel recently noted that a North Kingstown candidate running in the Republican primary has appeared in his investigative reporting before:

Three years ago North Kingstown's school superintendent was forced out by the school committee under a cloud of controversy. The state Department of Education determined his administration improperly spent nearly a quarter of a million dollars of restricted special education grant money. Now, James Halley is back, asking the voters of North Kingstown to send him to the General Assembly.

Apart from the risk of new-boss-same-as-the-old-boss legislators on an individual basis, such controversies can create weak links for broader initiatives, like the Clean Slate campaign for Republican and independent candidates. The corruptibility of public office is already too great a concern even without candidates with a record.


July 7, 2010


The Inconvenient Seat of Power

Justin Katz

As one learns the "how it works" of Rhode Island, becomes increasingly convinced that it doesn't work, and considers taking steps to change things, one striking lesson is the rigged nature of the General Assembly. In aggregate, legislators are the core of power, in the state, yet individually, the rewards are so minimal and the schedule so inconvenient that mostly people with careers conspicuously conducive to special interests find it manageable. (In "special interests," we should include legislators, especially lawyers, who constitute a special interest of one.) It's entirely understandable that people who've had enough might wish to run for offices that offer full-time jobs.

Therefore, it's quite a thing to see so many people throwing their names into the hat for General Assembly seats, and last Friday's Providence Journal reported on two right next to each other. First:

Republican mayoral candidate Daniel S. Harrop withdrew from the race to succeed Mayor David N. Cicilline on Thursday and will instead challenge state Rep. Edith Ajello after being appointed to fill a vacant ballot slot by state Republican Chairman Giovanni Cicione. ...

"We have been talking about this for a while now. I am happy with the wide range of candidates that have entered the race, giving the people of Providence a clear choice in November," Harrop said of the mayor's race. "This allows me to help the GOP by challenging a long time incumbent in the State House who needs to answer to the voters for the financial damage that she and her colleagues have done to our state."

One could quip that Harrop didn't have a chance in the mayoral race, so he's switched to an office that he might be able to win, but that calculation arguably doesn't apply. Mayor is a career change; state representative career hindrance.

Second:

Jim Quinlan resigned Wednesday from his role as Republican City Committee chairman — a day after declaring his intention to run against Nicholas A. Mattiello, the majority leader for the Rhode Island House of Representatives, in District 15.

Quinlan, a retail consultant for True Value Co., had taken over the chairmanship in January 2009. ...

"It's going to be a heck of a race," Quinlan said. "I want to make sure that I can focus on that and not have [the race] affect the" work of the city committee.

In this case, the candidate is clearly increasing his investment in civic activity. Political committees, groups, and (yes) blogs are manageable in spare hours of the workday. The General Assembly's schedule appears designed to overlap with hours that are not typically spare.


June 23, 2010


Let Them Drink Pina Colatas

Justin Katz

The article's about Governor Carcieri's failure to nominate a candidate to replace Child Advocate Jametta Alston, but this is the line that stands out:

"I don't expect we'll be back," [Senate President Teresa Paiva-Weed (D., Newport) said. "I really want to enjoy the summer."

One wonders if that was the impetus for the mysterious feeling of House Speaker Gordon Fox (D., Providence) that the legislation had to come to an abrupt ending, this year.


June 22, 2010


The Much-Smarter-than-Unicameral Legislative Reform Plan II

Carroll Andrew Morse

I'm not sure if the idea put forth by potential Lieutenant Governor candidate Robert Tingle (h/t Steve Peoples) for reducing the size of the legislature involves eliminating an entire chamber as does Patrick Lynch's, but for fans of unicameralism for the State of Rhode Island, allow me to counter with the concise rationale for a bicameral legislature offered by either James Madison or Alexander Hamilton in Federalist 51...

In republican government, the legislative authority necessarily predominates. The remedy for this inconveniency is to divide the legislature into different branches; and to render them, by different modes of election and different principles of action, as little connected with each other as the nature of their common functions and their common dependence on the society will admit.
As has been noted before here at Anchor Rising, the spirit of this check is not fully implemented in Rhode Island state government, as the modes of election and the principles of action of our House and Senate are nearly, if not exactly, identical.

This is, of course, a flaw that would be fixed with the alternative legislative plan outlined here, which re-differentiates the roles of the RI House and the RI Senate, while increasing accountability to the voters (with annual elections for Representatives) and weakening Federal dominance over state elections (with elections in odd-numbered years).


June 14, 2010


The Mysterious Activities of Our Betters

Justin Katz

An exchange that Ed Fitzpatrick reports from the floor of the General Assembly speaks volumes about legislators' view of their role in this state:

When the funding-formula bill came up Thursday, [Rod Driver, D-Richmond] asked, "Why do we have to do this right away, the moment we see it?"

House Speaker Gordon D. Fox, D-Providence, replied, "Today's the last day. If you hold it over, you effectively kill it, and I don't think you want to do it."

Driver said, "I'm wondering why today is the last day. Is it in the Constitution?"

Fox said, "There comes a time, you just know it's time. It's time."

Mr. Fox, it would seem, views legislators less as a body of officials elected by residents of Rhode Island to represent their interests and conduct their business in the course of governing themselves than as an almost priestly class of aristocrats interpreting the will of some political deity. As history proves, a secular emphasis amplifies, rather than mitigates, such classes' tendency to insert their own will as the divine.

In other words, they wish to get on with their summer breaks, and furthermore, they find it politically expedient to rush important legislation into law (or direct it into the grave) in a massive push that prevents public involvement in the debate, gives legislators' an excuse to suspend all rules, and makes it more difficult for voters to determine who took what position when. If the voters weren't so complicit in electing their representatives out of corrupt self-interest and dogmatic habit, one might question whether democracy exists in Rhode Island.

As it is, the real question is whether democracy can be made to serve the general interests. As long as the likes of Fox run the show, the answer can only be negative.



The Much-Smarter-than-Unicameral Legislative Reform Plan

Carroll Andrew Morse

Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Patrick Lynch mentioned the idea of moving to a unicameral legislature in Rhode Island during last Thursday's gubernatorial debate. He's even tweeted about it...

RI government needs to change the way we do biz. It takes a total overhaul. Let's start with unicameral legislature
But if we are going to discuss a large-scale overhaul of the structure of state-government, I've got a much better reform plan, one that can garner support from those enamored by the idea of a full-time legislature as well as from those who believe that increasing the accountability of Rhode Island's elected representatives is sorely necessary. (Though, in the spirit of truth-in-advertising, I have to say that there's nothing in this for those who believe in the boneheaded idea that creating a unicameral legislature will be an improvement over what we have now).

For those who think a full-time legislature is the answer to Rhode Island's governance problems, we will invoke the spirit of Federalist 62, and make the Senate full time, with Senators serving three-year terms, with 1/3 up for election every year the same way 1/3 of the Federal Senate stands for election every two years. Now Rhode Island will have a body of professional legislators that in theory can devote more time and energy to deliberating and crafting legislation. (My mention of this theory does not mean that I necessarily believe that this is necessarily how things would really turn out, nor that it is my opinion that not having a full-time legislature is a significant problem for RI. I'm compromising with the full-time legislature advocates here).

However, to address the problems of a further diverging of interests between the people and the governing class that a full-time Senate would almost certainly exacerbate, we will compensate by providing more opportunities for the popular will to discipline the House of Representatives, by having all representatives stand for election on an annual basis, enhancing what is supposed to be a tradition of the House of Representatives being the province of true citizen-legislators, and avoiding the creation of a legislative system where the passage of laws may depend solely upon legislators whose entire livelihood depends on pleasing the special interests that help get them elected.

As an added bonus, there will be elections held in the odd-numbered years under this system, breaking the link between Federal and state elections and creating a series of electoral choices where state issues will be the issues of broadest scope on the Rhode Island ballot.

Finally, we can add another set of changes addressing Rhode Island's specific problems of legislation being passed in dark-of-night marathon sessions, without either adequate deliberation between members or information about what is about to become law being shared with the public. If the leadership wants to introduce a bill, hold its committee hearings, change the original bill through amendments and put the result to a floor vote all in the same week, a 2/3 majority will be required to pass the House. In fact, a 2/3 requirement will be applied to any bill introduced for the first time to the Senate and the House in the same session. However, if a bill first passes the Senate at least three-weeks prior to a general election, thereby providing the people with an opportunity to vote for or against their reps based on positions on pending Senate bills, a bill can then be passed in the next session by a simple majority of the House. And at the other end of the calendar, since we will be requiring the House to adjourn by June 30 each year, Senate floor action between the months of July and December sending a bill to the governor will only be possible on bills that have already passed the House earlier in the session, with no last-minute, vote on this 5-minutes after you've seen it amendments possible.

This is a straightforward and simple set of changes that restores meaning to having two separate legislative houses, and that strengthens the mechanism of accountability of representatives to their constituents, all while preserving the representative nature of democracy in state government. It wouldn't take a whole lot changes to the Rhode Island state Constitution to implement all of this. An example of how specific amendments could be written is below the fold...

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June 12, 2010


A Familiar Face Running for Office

Justin Katz

Karin Gorman (daughter-in-law of Terry) has tended to be just outside the spotlight's range, in Rhode Island politics, but anybody who attends right-of-center public events related to government will recognize her. Her visibility will increase, no doubt, when she wins a seat in the General Assembly:

Karin Gorman, director and vice president of Rhode Islanders for Immigration Law Enforcement (RIILE), has announced she is running for state representative in District 43, Johnston, as an independent candidate. Gorman, a political newcomer, hopes to unseat two-term incumbent Deborah A. Fellela.

Gorman will officially launch her campaign during a coffee hour at 10 a.m. Sunday at Brewed Awakenings, 1395 Atwood Ave.. The public is invited.


June 11, 2010


A Formula, but It's Just Numbers

Justin Katz

It looks like the General Assembly actually did get around to passing a state aid formula for Rhode Island's schools. As we've been pointing out all along, folks at the local level have seemed to assume that a "fair funding formula" would be one that gives them, specifically, more money, and this legislation does acknowledge some districts as "over funded," therefore reducing their aid.

From a taxpayer perspective, though, this is a critical component:

Besides correcting inequities in state aid distribution, the legislation would help local communities by providing predictability for school district and local budget planners. Without a predictable formula, school districts and municipalities have been forced to guess at the amount they will receive when they are preparing their budgets each spring. Their budgets must be created in time for the start of the fiscal year on July 1, but the amount of state aid they can expect to receive is in flux until the General Assembly passes the state budget, which usually happens in late June.

In Tiverton, for example, the School Committee predicted a low aid number and frightened parents into believing that schools were going to be closed and every program cut. As it turns out, our 8% tax increase could have been almost to the state cap of 4.5% without a change in the practical outcome. Now, ostensibly, school districts will have to find other ways of creating doomsday scenarios to shake down property owners for money to keep up with the promises of inadvisable contracts. In particular, it will be more difficult for districts to compensate for losses in "restricted" — about which they tend to be less vocal — without acknowledging that they are doing so.

There is a reason for concern, though. The current system hasn't been unpredictable because the General Assembly has heard pleas from individual districts and shifted money around on a whim. It's been unpredictable because the state is in perpetual deficit and long-term economic decline, leaving the state government ever in need of places to cut. Although the existence of a big scary formula might make legislators a little more timid about reducing aid to cities and towns, it will hardly prevent them from doing so, whether on a permanent or this-year-only basis.


June 9, 2010


An Establishment Rebel in the State House

Justin Katz

Ed Fitzpatrick catches a telling rhetorical cliché in a column about state representative and congressional candidate David Segal (D., Providence) (emphasis added):

"I have a constituency in (his House district) that voted for me at a 70/30 rate over the years in primaries, and I think that I will be framed as a progressive as such," Segal said in fielding questions from journalists before Wednesday's event. "But I think the issues that I talk about, when people care to listen — banking reform, jobs, the environment, insurance reform and structural reform — are almost non-ideological issues at this point. They are things almost everybody agrees need to happen. I think people are fed up with the status quo and want somebody who has not been a political insider for his whole life."

Segal, 30, has been a politician most of his adult life, having served four years on the Providence City Council and four years in the General Assembly.

As somebody who comes from money, as I understand, Segal has gone through the Ivy League, served on a city council and in the General Assembly, started a blog, and is employed by a fellow State House Democrat. One doesn't get much more insider than that, at his age.

Segal argues that he's not "exactly accepted by the political establishment," but he's a political insider in a more essential sense than his connections clearly prove: almost nothing he has ever done — at least that would make the short-list biography of a columnist — involved action outside of government or (at broadest) a political movement with deep ties to powerful local forces. That's not entirely a slight — accomplishment is accomplishment — but it does speak to a perspective on what it means to "make it" that is antipathetic to the fading strain of American culture that so needs reinforcement at every political level, at this juncture in history.


June 5, 2010


UPDATED: Every Which Way They Can Stick It to You Slyly

Justin Katz

So, yeah, the General Assembly has managed to keep its hands pretty clean when it comes to raising taxes, but Rhode Islanders shouldn't expect to have more money in their pockets — at least not unless they get involved in local government right now. As we've seen, in Tiverton, the state bureaucracy is willing to be complicit in complete flouting of the law and regulations when it comes to local officials' desire to tax residents more.

Now, as Marc mentioned, yesterday, the General Assembly has removed almost all of the exemption that prevents towns from taxing the first $6,000 of your car's value, enabling town governments to increase taxes almost passively. In Tiverton, that means another $105.27 per year on cars valued over that amount.

But here's an interesting edit of the legislation, on the General Assembly's part:

The excise tax rates and ratios of assessment shall be maintained at a level identical to the level in effect for fiscal year 1998 for each city, town, and fire district; provided, in the town of Johnston the excise tax rate and ratios of assessment shall be maintained at a level identical to the level in effect for fiscal year 1999 levels and in no event shall the final taxable value of a vehicle be higher than assessed in the prior fiscal year, and the levy of a city, town, or fire district shall be limited to the lesser of the maximum taxable value or net assessed value for purposes of collecting the tax in any given year.

Inasmuch as there's no language restricting increased assessments to classics, it would appear that a town now has the ability to decide that your car is worth more than it was last year. Presumably if the mileage goes down or you remodel its kitchen.

ADDENDUM:

In the comments, John offers the explanation:

The language was changed because the taxable value of most cars will necessarily increase due to the lowering of the exemption. My $15,000 car would have a $9,000 taxable value with a $6,000 exemption. When the exemption drops to $500, the taxable value is increased to $14,500. Therefore, if the locals are to tax the vehicle at the higher "taxable value", the law needed to be amended.

May 29, 2010


Another Wishful Rhode Island Thinking Budget

Justin Katz

Every year, the General Assembly's budget is full of optimistic assumptions meant to make the budget seem balanced on paper, with hundreds of millions of dollars to be found or taken throughout the year. This time around, though, we've reached the level of parody:

As initially proposed by Carcieri, the Assembly's budget plugs deficits with more than $100 million in federal Medicaid funding currently contained in Congress' jobs bill. The Associated Press reported at 7 p.m. that leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives, facing opposition from within the Democratic Party on the cost of the legislation, had stripped Rhode Island's funding along with $24 billion slated to go to states across the country.

Confronted with the news reports during a break in committee action, Costantino phoned the office of U.S. Sen. Jack Reed. After a lengthy conversation, Costantino acknowledged that the increased Medicaid funding had been withdrawn from the jobs bill.

"It's an unresolved issue," Costantino said. "If in the next week we get more information, we will act responsibly. What that is, I don't know."

Those who run this state plan their budgets much like drug-addicted gamblers. They count on money they may not get; they cash in one-time sources of revenue even though it ends up costing them huge sums in the long run; they put off payments, at a cost; they take on debt, at a cost. One suspects that they know what the state needs to do — cut taxes, rein in regulations, erase mandates — but they lack the political will (or financial independence) to budget and legislate responsibly.

Yeah, Costantino promises to adjust as information filters down from the feds, but the one-time windfall shouldn't be part of Rhode Island's structural operations in the first place.


April 23, 2010


Re: The Biggest Faction in the General Assembly

Justin Katz

The comments to Marc's post on the number of General Assembly members who benefit from public pensions are understandable, but most miss the point. Cutting the General Assembly's pay and authority isn't going to address the essential problem — namely, that an official position that doesn't pay much will attract those who have other motivations, including other ways to profit. It's nice to think that "community service" will suffice, but devoting so many hours to such a position over a limited number of months per year puts quite a cost on that service. Retired teachers and such whose unions have given them so much have motivation to put in time for "union service," but most Rhode Islanders simply cannot justify the time.

As to cutting the legislature's authority, while that may be a laudable goal, we'd have to begin by cutting the government's authority. Otherwise the power currently held by a large number of legislators would be given to a handful of administrators and bureaucrats. In other words, change in that direction would have to go in the other direction.

Frankly, I'd be willing to argue for paying the General Assembly members more given two reforms:

  • Representation is aligned directly with cities and towns, making it clear whom members represent, and providing a clear path from local politics to state politics.
  • The "part-time" of the legislature is spread out across the entire year, with fewer hours per week. In other words, make the schedule more in line with what working people can manage.

Unfortunately, the people who would have to enact such changes like their current advantage, so such reforms would be the project of decades, and I'm not sure Rhode Island has that long.


April 18, 2010


Re: Cognitive Dissonance with Charlene Lima

Monique Chartier

Justin, along with many of us avid watchers of the State House, was a little startled to learn that former Speaker Pro Tem Charlene Lima (D, Cranston) had not only dropped by the Tea Party Thursday but had offered expressions of camaraderie.

Converted politicians are certainly welcome to the good government cause. It is difficult, however, not to be a little non-plussed by the presence of Rep. Lima inasmuch as she has a multi-year record of voting for exactly the sort of things that the Tea Party and other good government organizations oppose.

Additionally, as Andrew references, what to make of her recent falling out with leadership? If it has caused her to permanently see the light, terrific. But will the Speaker, occupier of the most powerful political office in the state, offer her something that brings her in due course back into the fold? And who could blame him, by the way? This year, with a record number of rank and file members looking at a stark choice of political survival or adherence to a big government philosophy that is distinctly out of favor with voters, leaders on both Smith and Capitol Hill will need to count and curry their political allies more assiduously than they have in a very long time.

It would be wonderful if Rep. Lima's conversion is genuine. I hope that it is. I also hope that she will forgive us if we are a little wide-eyed in her presence until her voting record catches up with her new words.


April 17, 2010


Cognitive Dissonance with Charlene Lima

Justin Katz

Have I been missing something, all these years, or does the appearance of Rep. Charlene Lima (D., Cranston) in this article about the Tax Day Tea Party seem a bit disorienting?

State Rep. Charlene M. Lima, D-Cranston, stopped by after the Assembly finished its business for the day. She said that lawmakers couldn't hear the protest from inside the building.

"I am here to pick up ideas. I like to read the signs," she said looking out at posters like, "Save the trees. Stop printing money," and "I blew my middle class tax cut on this sign."

"We have to take the state back," Lima continued. "We have to do what the people want."

Who is "we" to Charlene Lima, and from whom does she want to retrieve the state? Puzzling political questions, indeed.


April 15, 2010


Favor Factory Skullduggery

Justin Katz

I'm of the opinion that Rhode Island doesn't need to spend any public dollars on economic expansion — unless you're one of those who calls it "spending" when the government doesn't take as much from other people's earnings. Cut taxes; eliminate mandates; lighten regulations. Even from that position, though, it seems as if there must be something more to this:

Over the strenuous objections from some Republicans, the House approved the creation of a $125-million state-backed loan-guarantee program within the state's Economic Development Corporation.

The legislation is aimed at projects that create permanent, full-time jobs that pay at least two-and-a-half times the minimum wage, with priority going to entities that "expand high-wage jobs in knowledge industry growth clusters."

While it was described by House Finance Chairman Costantino as a jobs-guarantee program, it was denounced by House Minority Leader Watson as a scandal waiting to happen.

"If you don't want it to be a favor factory, kill the article," Watson, R-East Greenwich, said. "This is like an attractive nuisance for all sorts of skullduggery."

Rep. Charlene Lima, D-Cranston, sought disclosure of the "name, and the office, held, by any elected official who contacts the RIEDC in support of a business seeking monies" under a facet of the new program, but the proposal went down 46 to 25.

Of course, "a favor factory" is precisely what the General Assembly wishes to be. What's the point of being a part-time legislator in New England's hub of political corruption unless one can transform political clout into economic reward by way of dispensing favors? I'd say that Rhode Islanders will have to keep a close watch on this program, but lawmakers have created such a plentiful field of dark corners that concerned residents are apt to go cross-eyed trying to keep track of questionable activities.


April 14, 2010


The Little Policy Details That Say So Much

Justin Katz

Sometimes, in the noise and rancor of politics and budgeting, one's attention becomes monopolized by particular details. Consider the following:

[The state's public-employee unions'] chief target: a proposal to limit annual pension increases to the first $35,000 in retirement pay initially. The $35,000 would go up each year, in keeping with the Consumer Price Index, and legislative budget writers stripped from their final bill a provision that Carcieri sought — to reinforce a right they already have to adjust these cost of living adjustments of up to 3 percent annually.

By way of comparison, Massachusetts has, for more than a decade, limited its annual pension increases to the first $12,000 in retirement pay.

There's no excuse for so much of what goes on in Rhode Island. Oh, there are rationalizations and complaints, and they'll continue to float to the surface as bubbles long after the state has drifted to the bottom. But the poor leadership and self-serving lobbying have no justification but greed and corruption. One class rallies and demands the continuation of ill-advised and unsustainable handouts, and another class suffers until its members reach the threshold of whatever's keeping them in the state.

The cycle continues, and down we go.


April 8, 2010


Can You Hear the Sly Taxation?

Justin Katz

Here they go again:

Bills have been introduced by Sen. William A. Walaska (D-Dist. 30, Warwick) to increase medical insurance coverage for hearing aids and to require insurance coverage for surgery and services associated with hearing aid implants.

Without a doubt, hearing loss increases the difficulty of one's life. So does poor eye sight and any number of other ailments and disabilities. There are two problems with this continuing trend of legislating mandatory insurance coverage for related aids, medication, and surgeries:

  1. It essentially turns insurance premiums into a tax to fund redistributed wealth, without allowing voters a direct influence on those increasing the cost/tax. In other words, the government is making the insurance companies levy a tax and block the political heat.
  2. Determining how much addressing each health difficulty is worth works best on a case-by-case basis, and when somebody else is forced to pay for the remedy, nobody in the chain from provider to patient has significant incentive to make actual, often difficult decisions, thus driving up costs all around.

But, as I said, there's a firewall against political heat built into this practice, so the politicians will keep doing it until we all decide to reassert basic principles of good governance.