— Rhode Island Senate —

September 12, 2012

RE: The Senate District 29 "Bellwether"

Marc Comtois

Just a follow up on yesterday's post regarding the Senate-29 Democratic primary race between incumbent Michael McCaffrey and challenger Lisa Pisaturo, which McCaffrey won by 6% in a low turnout election. A Pisaturo win would have undoubtedly been taken as a sign that the Rhode Island electorate was ready to embrace gay marriage. But what about a loss? It depended on the margin and turnout, I thought. Let's see. Dan McGowan played it straight:

The Senate Judiciary chairman [McCaffrey] got his first real challenge in years, but was able to hold off Laura Pisaturo, who had strong backing from the marriage equality group, Fight Back RI.
David Scharfenberg:
Tonight's Democratic primaries were not kind to gay marriage supporters, who claimed just one of six key state senate races....After tonight, then, it is hard to see a significant change in the balance of power in a state senate where about half of current members are opposed to gay marriage, a third are in support, and the rest are in the toss-up category...The only consolation for advocates is that none of the races - with the possible exception of Pisaturo's challenge to state Senator Michael McCaffrey - can be read as a referendum on gay marriage, which was little mentioned on the campaign trail. Indeed, public polling suggests solid majority support for same-sex nuptials in Rhode Island, which bodes well in the long term.
So the results weren't good for gay marriage advocates but that doesn't matter because only one race (McCaffrey/Pisaturo) really highlighted it....and polling! Okay. Bob Plain went with the "noble loss" theme:
While both Lauara Pisaturo, of Warwick, and Bob DaSilva, of East Providence, lost, they both had strong showings and only lost to powerful incumbents by a total of of less than 300 votes. That doesn’t speak well for Michael McCaffrey or Dan DaPonte, who beat them, both who are committee chairmen and are in the good graces of leadership. Their votes may not change on marriage equality because of the nail-biting victories (though DaPonte was on the fence) others may swing once they see that even powerful incumbents can be vulnerable.
I'm sure they're a-scared now. Interestingly, Plain didn't talk much about how Pisaturo and the other hyped gay marriage candidates got substantial, late-in-the-game funding from what is essentially a one-man evil--no it's not, it's for a progressive cause! Super-PAC, as reported by Scharfenberg:
Tim Gill, a reclusive technology magnate from the Centennial State, is the leading figure in a nationwide network of gay rights activists who have been funding state-level legislative races for years now in a bid to tip the balance on same-sex marriage and other gay rights issues. He recently poured $20,000 into a group called People for Rhode Island's Future that is backing six pro-gay marriage state senate candidates.
Finally, Warwick Beacon reporter Kim Kalunian tweeted this from Pisaturo's concession speech:"fear and hate...put into people's minds on marriage equality" created a "backlash".

Conclusion? While six gay marriage supporting Democrats received funds from a single-issue Super PAC, only Pisaturo's race (and maybe DaSilva's) was actually a referendum on gay marriage. Their close losses prove that powerful, connected pro-union but socially conservative politicians--who rely on "fear and hate"--should be on the lookout next time around. Got it?

September 11, 2012

Senate District 29: Bellwether....until it's not?

Marc Comtois

The local media and gay marriage advocates are tabbing Rhode Island Senate District 29 in Warwick as "one to watch" as a mini-referendum on gay marriage in the state. David Scharfenberg sums it up:

Laura Pisaturo, a lesbian lawyer who backs same-sex nuptals, is facing off against Senator Michael McCaffrey, a Warwick Democrat who opposes gay marriage and holds a critical post as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The committee has jurisdiction over the same-sex marriage bill. McCaffrey's re-election could have long-term ramifications since he is considered a possible successor to Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed.
Ted Nesi is a good gauge on the local media's conventional wisdom:
One of the most closely watched races in the state. Gay-marriage supporters are gunning for Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Mike McCaffrey, another veteran accused of being out-of-touch with his district. Their candidate is Laura Pisaturo, a self-assured lawyer who’s become the face of Fight Back RI’s push to overthrow the Senate status quo. McCaffrey is clearly in some trouble, but he’s been around for a long time and has union support after sponsoring a bill to give teachers binding arbitration. The ground game will decide his fate, and that’s the strong suit of Pisaturo operative Ray Sullivan; are McCaffrey supporters energized enough to show up, particularly without much else on the ballot?
While reliably progressive Bob Plain observes:
As the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, [McCaffery] and Paiva Weed have been close allies in their quest to keep gay couples from enjoying the same marital rights as others. Being popular with leadership doesn’t always translate to strength in the district and Warwick may well be ready for a change. Pisaturo enjoys the support of the progressive community and she’s been working hard to get out the vote. McCaffery, who sponsored the binding arbitration bill, has the support of the NEA. Some handicappers think Pisaturo could squeak out a victory; everyone seems to agree it will be close.
My analysis is based simply on the fact that I live in the district. Both will run strong in their own neighborhoods (Hoxsie, Cole Farm & Conimicut for Mcaffrey; Governor Francis area for Pisaturo), but I think McCaffrey's support is deeper throughout the district than many pundits apparently (or want to) believe. He's a prototypical socially conservative, pro-union Democrat who mirrors his mostly working-class district.

While both Nesi and Plain mention that he has the support of the NEA (no word on AFT, though, which is the union that Warwick teachers belong to), McCaffrey also garnered support of several other unions--Rhode Island Council 94, AFSCME, AFL-CIO, Rhode Island Construction and Building Trades Council, Carpenter’s Union Local 94, International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 57. And believe me, Police and Fire will also support him. While McCaffrey's list of endorsements reads like an alphabet-soup laundry list of unions, Pisaturo's reads like a progressive's dream--National Association of Social Workers, Clean Water Action, Marriage Equality Rhode Island, Fight Back RI, The Victory Fund, Planned Parenthood Votes! and National Organization for Women.

Again, as his endorsements indicate, McCaffrey mirrors his district while Pisaturo is reflective of a socially liberal tablet that, to my experience, doesn't really exist in most of District 29. However, there is a "live and let live" attitude and, as in so many other districts, McCaffrey will need both union Democrats and non-affiliated "traditionalists" to come out. He can't count on any Republican cross-overs in a primary. Nonetheless, while it will come down to the ground game, in the end I think McCaffrey wins comfortably.

If McCaffrey loses or it's close (either way), then I think it will be because not enough voters were motivated in the primary (we'll be able to tell by turnout). Thus, a close Pisaturo win in a light-turnout primary won't strike me as any sort of groundswell endorsement for gay marriage, at least in this District. But it sure will be spun that way. On the other hand, if I'm right and McCaffrey wins comfortably, will this race still be considered the gay marriage bellwether that so many progressive have touted? Somehow, I doubt it.

April 4, 2012

Notes on Senator Ciccone's Demotion

Carroll Andrew Morse

1. By now, you've probably heard one of the media reports on Rhode Island State Senator Frank Ciccone being removed from/giving up (more on the slash in point 4) his Chairmanship of the Senate Government Oversight Committee and his membership on the Senate Finance Committee. He kept his assignment as Vice-Chairman of the Labor Committee.

2. Government Oversight is the committee which gets the first crack at gubernatorial appointments, and the Finance Committees of the Rhode Island General Assembly are special positions within the legislature because of their role (or at least their potential role) in the annual budgetary process, so these are more than cosmetic changes.

3. Rhode Island Senate Rule 5.2 states that...

Each senator other than the president and the majority and minority leaders, shall serve as a member of one of the following standing committees: committee on housing and municipal government; committee on corporations; committee on finance; committee on the judiciary.
...so technically speaking, Senator Ciccone can't serve only on the Labor Committee (is this waivable with the Senator's consent?). However, the larger point is that, according to Senate Rules as well as general legislative practice, every Senator must be allowed to sit on at least one committee; the Senator cannot be stripped of all committee assignments.

4. Philip Marcelo's report in the Projo mentions that the decision on which committee assignments to give up was "mutual" between Senator Ciccone and Senate President Teresa Paiva-Weed. This too is consistent with Senate Rule 5.2...

Each of the standing committees of the senate shall consist of the president of the senate and the majority and minority leaders of the senate, ex officio, with voting rights, and senators appointed by the president of the senate, each to serve until January 1, 2013. Provided, however, that the president of the senate may change the committee assignment of a member with the member's consent.
This is actually a pretty decent rule, protecting Senators from having their committee assignments changed if the Senate President decides she doesn't like how votes are being cast during a session.

5. In the reaction to Senator Ciccone's demotion given to Ted Nesi of WPRI-TV (CBS 12), Rhode Island Common Cause Executive Director John Marion mentioned the ethics legislation pending before the RI Senate...

John Marion, executive director of good-government group Common Cause Rhode Island, told WPRI.com that stripping Ciccone of two key committee assignments should only be a first step by Paiva Weed.

"Common Cause is pleased that Senator Ciccone was held responsible for attempting to abuse his power as a state senator," Marion said. "We hope the Senate leadership continues to support accountability by letting the voters restore the jurisdiction of the Ethics Commission over the General Assembly this November."

...but Senator Ciccone's behavior in office should also bring to mind the persistence of the master lever straight-party voting option in Rhode Island elections. Whether Senator Ciccone will retain his right to sit on at least one Senate committee and participate in Senate floor actions after 2012 will depend on whether the voters of his district put him back in office or not -- and if the argument is that Senator Ciccone should be able to personally wield governing power for as long as the voters in his district assent to his holding office, and that nothing else really matters, then it is not unreasonable to require that he be personally selected by a plurality of the voters in his district.

A bill to eliminate the master lever (S2060) has been introduced to the Rhode Island Senate. It is being held by Senate Leadership for further study, which means it can be brought back to committee for a vote in this session.


On the less procedurally-oriented side of the story, Ian Donnis of Rhode Island Public Radio has discovered two arrests (that did not lead to felony convictions) in Senator Ciccone's past, which according to a Providence Journal from the early 1990s, involved activities such as "carrying a loaded shotgun in a moving car and smashing a window at a bar" and "punch[ing] a cab driver and his passenger". Donnis also reports that Ciccone "testified under immunity against the late former state Supreme Court chief justice Joseph A. Bevilacqua during his 1986 impeachment trial".

February 1, 2012

Publishing Votes to Hold for Further Study is the Official RI Senate Policy

Carroll Andrew Morse

Rhode Island Senate Director of Communications Greg Pare informs me, in response to an inquiry, that Senate Committees have been publishing the committee votes to hold bills for further study since last year (he sent along a few examples, available here, here, here, and here), as part of a set of rules changes supported by Senate President Teresa Paiva-Weed that include...

  • Requiring that electronic votes taken on the floor of the Senate be posted online in real time
  • Requiring that work continue towards placing committee votes online in a timely manner; and
  • Calling for greater use of technology to broadcast Senate activities, such as committee hearings.

July 19, 2011

Stephen Iannazzi Will Bravely Scrape by Without His (Second) 3% Raise

Monique Chartier
Why stay in college? Why go to night school?

Talking Heads, "Life During Wartime"

Late this afternoon, the ProJo's Kathy Gregg broke the latest development in the matter of the Senate Majority Leader's degree-less Special Assistant.

Stephen Iannazzi, the $88,112-a-year aide to Senate Majority Leader Dominick Ruggerio who became a focus of public ire over legislative staff raises, has turned down the latest 3-percent raise that went to most other state employees on July 1.

Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed's chief of staff sent an e-mail, conveying that information, to every member of the Senate Tuesday, after Iannazzi was described, in a Journal editorial, as the poster child for a political system "that seems designed to reward insiders and special interests.''

The author of that editorial is Ed Achorn, who helpfully pointed out today that Mr. Iannazzi was slated to make a cool $90,755 per annum - plus bennies of $4,352 - with this second-in-six-months 3% raise for state workers. Mr. Achorn also referenced an item that is undoubtedly completely unrelated to the circumstances of Mr. Iannazzi's pay and employment.

Could it be because Stephen is the son of Donald Iannazzi, business manager for Local 1033, the Laborers’ International Union affiliate that employs the senator’s own 30-year-old lawyer son, Charles Ruggerio? (Senator Ruggerio himself works for an arm of the Laborers’ union.)

However, with today's announcement, Mr. Iannazzi's salary will fall back to its post-first raise level of $88,112. How fortuitous then, that, in an e-mail appeal today, Travis Rowley and the RI Young Republicans had started a whip-round for young Mr. Iannazzi. All the more will it be needed now ...

Rowley, however, insists that 90,755 is still not enough. So the RI Young Republicans are organizing a charitable campaign for Iannazzi. "Stephen needs more of the taxpayers' money. It's that simple." Rowley continued, "Listen, it's our responsibility to take care of the most vulnerable in our community. When a neighbor is struggling, we should help him out." ... Interested Rhode Island taxpayers with any money left should contact the RI Young Republican offices.

June 29, 2011

Binding Arbitration Bill Made Public

Marc Comtois

The arbitration bill has been made public (PDF) along with a press release explaining the rationale. A "Last Best Offer - Final Package" model has been added:

The legislation changes the arbitration process to one in which the complete “Last Best Offer” from both teachers’ unions and management is considered in its entirety, as opposed to the current approach in which various elements of proposals are considered individually. It extends matters eligible for arbitration to wages, and changes the manner in which arbitrators are selected. Under the current system, one arbitrator is chosen by each side in negotiations, and the third arbitrator is selected from the American Arbitration Association. The new legislation proposes that the third arbitrator would be selected instead by the Presiding Justice of the Superior Court from a list of retired judges and justices.
The legislation also outlines what the arbitration panel is supposed to consider before making a decision:
28-9.3-9.2.1 Factors to be considered by the arbitration board. – The arbitrators shall conduct the hearing and render their decision upon the basis of a prompt, peaceful and just settlement of wage or hour disputes or working conditions and terms and conditions of professional employment between the teachers and the school committee by which they are employed. The factors to be considered by the arbitration board shall include, but are not limited to, the following:
(1) The interest and welfare of the students, teachers, and taxpayers;
(2) The city or town’s ability to pay;
(3) Comparison of compensation, benefits and conditions of employment of the school
district in question with compensation, benefits and conditions of employment maintained for other Rhode Island public school teachers;
(4) Comparison of compensation, benefits and conditions of employment of the school
district in question with compensation, benefits and conditions of employment maintained for the same or similar skills under the same or similar working conditions in the local operating area involved; and
(5) Comparison of education qualification and professional development requirements in regard to other professions.
According to various reports, mayors, the Rhode Island Association of School Committees, Education Commissioner Deborah Gist, the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns, RISC, the Moderate Party, the RI Tea Party and others are against the legislation. For example:
The bill’s opponents say they are concerned that the expansion of binding arbitration would instead place job protections for teachers ahead of sound educational policy.

“The temptation for an arbitrator to look at financial issues — to the detriment of the contract overall — is overwhelming,” said Tim Duffy, executive director of the Rhode Island Association of School Committees.

“If the union says they are willing to freeze pay and give an additional 5 percent to health care, but insist on no changes to existing language that protects, for example, 30 paid days of teacher sick leave each year, will an arbitrator say, ‘Well it’s a good financial deal?’ ” Duffy said.

“Our concern is, the unions understand the difficult environment for wages right now, so what they will use binding arbitration for is to dig in on the contract language they want to protect....We know teacher unions are worried about teacher seniority and teacher evaluations,” Duffy said. “Binding arbitration is a way of handcuffing the entire education-reform movement.”

The only apparent supporters of this legislation are teacher unions. Why?

Are pensioned and retired judges the best people to assess whether the contract proposals offered by municipalities are a result of fiscal reality? Will communities be more generous than otherwise in hopes of possibly "winning" the "last best offer" showdown? What will inevitably happen is that both union and community proposals will mean more dollars for the unions. Like I said before: binding arbitration = tax hike.

Finally, the whole concept of binding arbitration provides an "out" for our elected officials, making it easier for them to avoid really negotiating when that is a major part of the job that we elect them to do. "It wasn't us, the arbitrator made the decision."

May 31, 2011

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 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.

February 14, 2011

Bills Introduced to the Rhode Island Senate (Judiciary Committee), February 8-10

Carroll Andrew Morse

Significant Rewrites with Statewide Impact

S0214Prohibits landlords from asking about immigration status.
S0216Allows expungement of a criminal record in 5 years instead of 10 under certain circumstances.
S0219From the official description: "This act would amend the law banning racial profiling in traffic stops by state and municipal law enforcement agencies by imposing additional requirements upon law enforcement agencies to collect data and complete regular reports of findings and statistics regarding traffic stops". Companion to H5263
S0220"An applicant for an operator's or chauffeur's license shall be required to present an identity document, a document with the applicant's signature, and two (2) documents providing proof of residency in Rhode Island".
S0222Privileges communications between public-safety personnel and their "critical incident stress management team or peer-support members". Companion to H5308.
S0224From the official description: "This act would prohibit an employer from refusing to hire a person...or for a governmental agency from denying an individual a license to work in a particular trade or business based solely on that individual having a criminal record, with certain exceptions".
S0228Changes to regulations on historical cemeteries.
S0233Changes to campaign finance law.
S0242From the official description: "This act would make unlawful the use of a non-hands-free mobile telephone while operating a motor vehicle, except for public safety personnel".
S0248Requires the Rhode Island Broadcasters association to establish a website for the publication of legal notices, and all members to announce the website at least once per day.
S0270Makes possession of less than an ounce of marijuana into a civil offense.

Targeted Changes with Statewide Impact

S0210Prisoners must be paid interest on the earnings while in prison when released.
S0211A police officer in his or her jurisdiction with the intent to stop someone from a motor vehicle violation has authority to do so, if during pursuit they cross into another jurisdiction. (As the law is currently written, the officer must already have the intent to arrest the operator, in order to retain authority when crossing out of his or her municipality.
S0215Makes the entirety of employment contracts with the government part of the public record.
S0217Choking someone is a felony, even if it does not result in serious bodily injury. Companion to H5087
S0218Extends the life of a task force working on the improvement of lineup procedures in RI. Companion to H5090.
S0221An ambiguous change to election law that I can't quite decipher.
S0223Makes clear that any party to a civil action who is over 65 years age can request an acceleration of the action. Companion to H5259
S0225Prevents landlords from refusing tenants on the basis of "government assistance recipient status" (with an exception for owner occupied properties of 3 or fewer units).
S0226Increases the (approximate) maximum size of voting districts in RI from 1,900 to 3,000 voters.
S0227Exempts cemeteries from adverse possession laws.
S0229Administrators and magistrates, currently appointed by judges, would be appointed by the Governor from a list of candidates selected by a judicial nominating commission. Companion to H5091.
S0230From the official description: "This act would establish a putative father registry establishing procedures relating to paternity".
S0231Allows school committees to publish notice of their meetings electronically.
S0232Ends the master lever, version I
S0234A conservation or preservation restriction may not be terminated or amended...without the prior approval of the superior court in an action in which the attorney general has been made a party.
S0235Increases the term of imprisonment for a third violation of driving under the influence of liquor or drugs. (Also extends the window for defining a third violation from 5 to 25 years).
S0236Applicants for DCYF jobs would be required to undergo a BCI check. Companion to H5222
S0238Ends the master lever, version II
S0239The official description says: "This act would clarify that conservation easements are not terminated if a property is merged or sold at a tax sale", but rather unusually for legislative language, the actual bill adds an example to some very technical legal language. Companion to H5309
S0240Smoking is prohibited in vehicles where there is a child who is required to be in a car-seat. (But why is this going to the Judiciary committee?)
S0241Increases term of imprisonment for a second violation for "driving under the influence of liquor or drugs, resulting in serious bodily injury"
S0244Redefines "first-time offender" for purposes of expungement.
S0245From the official description: "This act would reduce the statutory interest in civil actions from twelve percent (12%) to six percent (6%)".
S0246Parents cannot legally allow their children to use or consume alcohol "in any establishment licensed to sell or serve alcoholic beverages".
S0247From the official description: "This act would limit liability of a tortfeasor to only several damages if it is found that the defendant is no more than twenty-five percent (25%) liable".
S0248Requires the Rhode Island Broadcasters association to establish a website for the publication of legal notices, and all members to announce the website at least once per day.
S0249"In computing the term of any parole, or probation under this chapter, a prisoner or parolee shall be entitled to a sentence reduction of up to fifteen (15) days for every month of parole or probation completed without incident to be determined by the parole board".
S0269Imposes fines and possible suspensions for motor vehicle accidents caused by drivers who stuff themselves into an intersection trying to beat the light (and also if they just outright ran the light).

Bills Introduced to the Rhode Island Senate (Education Committee, Special Legislation Committee and Housing and Muncipal Government Committee), February 8-10

Carroll Andrew Morse

Targeted Changes with Statewide Impact (Education Committee)

S0181The appointment of the State Education Commissioner by the Board of regents would require Senate confirmation.
S0182School districts could count time-in-school in hours, instead of days, and thereby a longer school day to meet minimum requirements.
S0183The state will pay 100% of costs for students attending vocational schools operated by "a state municipality". Companion to H5058

Significant Rewrites with Statewide Impact (Special Legislation Committee)

S0254Authorizes a special Knights of Columbus Choose Life license plate.
S0255Modifies certain Alcohol Server Training requirements.
S0256Total prohibition on "alcohol energy drinks" in Rhode Island

Targeted Changes with Statewide Impact (Special Legislation Committee)

S0253Reduces the registration fee for vehicles weighing between 4000 and 5000 pounds to $30 (the same as the fee for vehicles under 4000 pounds).

Targeted Changes with Statewide Impact (Housing and Municipal Government Committee)

S0206From the official description: This act would authorize and direct the state building code standards committee to update the state building code so as to be consistent with the revisions to the Americans with Disabilities Act. Companion to H5284
S0207Repeals the requirement that municipalities and other state agencies report disability parking enforcement to the "the governor's commission on disabilities". Companion to H5300
S0208Extends "tolling" ("the suspension or temporary stopping of the running of the applicable permit or approval period") from 2011 to 2013. (Paging someone knowledgeable about legal terminology, to help us with "tolling".)

Bills Introduced to the Rhode Island Senate (Environment & Agriculture Committee), February 8-10

Carroll Andrew Morse

Significant Rewrites with Statewide Impact

S0185From the official description: "This act would establish procedures and requirements for the recycling of used or waste cooking oil..." Companion to H5203
S0186Changes various exemptions to the "Hazardous Waste Cleanup" law. Companion to H5287
S0188New rules for recycling dry-cell batteries.
S0266Prohibits surgical "debarking" or silencing of dogs and cats.

Targeted Changes with Statewide Impact

S0184Allows municipalities to regulate "construction and demolition debris processing facilities"
S0187Removes from the law the specific amounts that electric and gas companies are to charge their customers for "demand side management programs". Companion to H5281

Bills Introduced to the Rhode Island Senate (Health and Human Services Committee), February 8-10

Carroll Andrew Morse

Significant Rewrites with Statewide Impact

S0204From the official description: "This act would make various changes to the medical marijuana act..."
S0268From the official description: "This act would eliminate the state coordinating committee on disability rights".

Targeted Changes with Statewide Impact

S0200Physicians are required to screen newborns for conditions including assessment for developmental risk for which there is a medical benefit to the early detection and treatment of the disorder, and an assessment for developmental risk.
S0201From the official description: "This act would prevent disclosure of a patient's health care information through ex parte contacts with a health care provider by persons other than the patient or his or her legal representative".
S0202Adds shared living programs to the list of programs covered by the "Long-Term Care Ombudsperson Act of 1995". Companion to H5278.
S0203Adds home nursing care providers, home care providers and hospice providers to the list of facilities that have to get state permission for equipment or service expansion expenditures over certain amounts (in our unbridled free-market system of medical care.)
S0267"Allegations of physical and/or sexual assault" made by nursing home patients must be reported to the authorities within 24 hours of their being made.

Bills Introduced to the Rhode Island Senate (Labor Committee), February 8-10

Carroll Andrew Morse

Significant Rewrites with Statewide Impact

S0271From the official description: "Repeals the section of the Rhode Island General Laws relating to continuation of workers' compensation benefits for partial incapacity".
S0273Again, from the official description: "This act would change the spendable base wage calculation from seventy-five percent (75%) to eighty-five percent (85%) under the workers’ compensation law. This act would also make additional changes to the law relating to partial incapacity".

Targeted Changes with Statewide Impact

S0250Increases fines for violations of the laws involving electricians.
S0251Highway maintenance operatiors who perform "snow removal and emergency operations" can take sick leave and get overtime during the same pay period.
S0252From the official description: "This act would expand the types of buildings which would be exempt from the state mandated requirements of boiler and pressure system inspections, based on the size of the water heater".
S0272Creates a "a chief prevailing wage investigator" position within the department of labor and training. (Also known as "the George Nee Economic Development Act").
S0274Requires employers to pay for transportation to health providers treating compensible injuries.

Bills Introduced to the Rhode Island Senate (Corporations Committee), February 8-10

Carroll Andrew Morse

Significant Rewrites with Statewide Impact

S0178"No singular entity, company or qualified business" can receive more than 5 million dollars under the Economic Development Corporation Job Creation Guaranty Program. (Would this be related to Curt Schilling deal?)

Targeted Changes with Statewide Impact

S0179Prohibits a business from asking for any part of a person's social security number as part of a transaction, unless it's a type of business specifically allowed to by law. Companion to H5202
S0180"All financial institutions and credit unions shall continuously maintain security video cameras covering all customer doors, automatic teller machines, and night deposit repositories." (Comment: Quite a windfall, for vendors in the security camera business.) Companion to H5147
S0265Public utilities commission approval is not required, if a telecommunications utility wants to offer a retail discount to business customers.

Bills Introduced to the Rhode Island Senate (Finance Committee), February 8-10

Carroll Andrew Morse

Significant Rewrites with Statewide Impact

S0195Provides for biannual budgeting, two new committees in each chamber with budgetary duties, new legislative staff for reviewing the budget, and changes in the Governor's role in budgeting.

Targeted Changes with Statewide Impact

S0189Makes an additional 2% bonus, on top of the calculated amount for regional school districts, a permanent part of the state education aid "funding formula". Companion to H5246
S0190Applies the same sales-tax exemptions to pickup trucks under 10,000 lbs that are applied to automobiles. Companion to H5250
S0191From the official description: "This act would increase the refundable state earned income credit from fifteen percent (15%) to one hundred percent (100%)".
S0192Authorizes the town of Coventry to issue bonds "to pay the uninsured portion of any [non-pension related] court judgment or settlement". Companion to H5233
S0193Business tax changes (to be discussed more, stay tuned).
S0194Would allow municipalities to tax "real and personal property" of colleges and universities within their borders.
S0196From the official description: "This act would subject the recording of attachments, executions and mechanics' liens to a $4.00 surcharge for the benefit of the Rhode Island Historical Records Trust".
S0197"Senators, representatives and general office holders shall contribute twenty percent (20%) towards the premium for health care coverage paid for by the State of Rhode Island".
S0198Adds an additional 3% income tax on income greater than $500,000.
S0199Business tax changes (to be discussed more, stay tuned).

January 24, 2011

Bills Introduced in the Rhode Island Senate, January 18-20

Carroll Andrew Morse

Significant Rewrites with Statewide Impact

S0045Changes to the "disclosure, transparency, and accountability" requirements for life insurance.
S0047Regulates emissions from outdoor wood-burning boilers or outdoor wood boilers (aka "outdoor wood-fired hydronic heaters").
S0050Allows insurance corporations created by town councils or school committees to manage trusts for paying for "other post-employment benefits".(Comment 1: Is there a good reason for this change (from the taxpayer perspective), or does it mainly give business to someone who couldn't otherwise take it? Comment 2: Can you spot the single word that is changed, and its effect, as a result of the modifications between lines 18 and 25 on page 2? )
S0051More changes, related to "other post-employment benefits", similar to S0050.
S0052Creates a uniform system of accounting for municipal finances and allows state aid to be withheld, if a municipality does not comply with said system.
S0061Licensing of genetic counselors

Targeted Changes with Statewide Impact

S0046Raises age of mandatory public school attendance from 16 to 18 (with provisions for students on alternative learning plans). Companion to H5061
S0048The Director of Environmental Management must inform the appropriate city or town council when an application for development impacting freshwater wetlands is made. (City or town councils already have the right to disapprove of the project).
S0056The state mandated "reference resource center" for RI's library system is no longer required to be at the Providence public library, but at a public library to be chosen on an annual basis.
S0060Charges the Department of Health with developing a women's cardiovascular disease screening pilot program in Pawtucket, Providence, Woonsocket, Newport, West Warwick and Central Falls.
S0062Prohibits medical laboratory tests not authorized by a physician. (Comment: Actually, it's a physician or "other person authorized by law to use the findings of such laboratory examination". Does this mean that the law assumes that individuals need to get legal authorization to be able to use information that is pertinent to his or her own body and physical condition?)
S0066Registrar of Deeds can set document formatting standards, subject to approval by the Secretary of State.
S0067Requires a uniformed police officer paid for by the Board of Elections to be at every polling place during a general election.
S0068School committees don't have publish a notice of their meetings in a dead-tree newspaper. (Comment: This is different from H5064, in that it does not include a mandate requiring electronic notification, in place of newspaper notification).
S0070"Petty misdemeanors" involving domestic violence can trigger enhanced penalties.
S0071Moves the date for notifying teachers of dismissal or suspension from March 1 to June 1.
S0072Shared jobs for teachers only count towards retirement service time if they involve "a school district" (Comment: Is this an attempt to make implementing charter schools more difficult?).
S0073Arbitrators in cases involving police officers and firefighters can bring a "bargaining agreement up to date, regardless of the amount of years in question", contingent on agreement by both parties. (Comment: I know this may seem like a silly question, but if the parties can agree to let an arbitrator bring the agreement up to date, how come they can't directly agree on new terms? What's the catch here?)
S0074Requires bidders on public contracts to supply a list of all subcontractors they plan to use.
S0075Places the following non-binding question on the next general election ballot: "Shall the State of Rhode Island pursue the facilitation of shared municipal services for the purposes of achieving more economic, efficient and effective management of the state's overall resources?"

Changes with Local Impact

S0049(West Kingston Fire District) Changes in the terms of bonds that have been issued.
S0063(Burrillville) Final ratification of charter amendments.

Bills Introduced in the Rhode Island Senate (Taxation Focus), January 18-20

Carroll Andrew Morse

Targeted Changes with Statewide Impact

S0053Lowers the gas tax from 32 to 28 cents per gallon.
S0054No tolls for crossing the Mt. Hope Bridge (Comment: Unless, of course, the legislature approves them in the future by repealing this change.) Companion to H5056
S0055Would impose the state's sales-tax on clothing items costing more than $500.
S0057Applies the state sales tax to "storage, use, or other consumption in this state of any new or used boat". (Comment: Has this been cleared with John Kerry?).
S0058Raises the estate tax threshold to $1.5 million from $850 thousand beginning in 2013, and then indexes it to inflation.
S0059According to the official explanation, this bill is supposed to exempt gum, candy, confectionaries and soft drinks sold through vending machines and priced less than $3 from the sales tax. However, given the way the bill is actually worded, it also removes the sales tax exemption from "prepared foods" that are currently exempt AND exempts the "prepared foods" that are currently not exempt. (Comment: Whichever young legislator made this apparent error may want to seek the advice of the Majority Leader, on avoiding such missteps in the future. Oh, wait...)

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January 19, 2011

Bills Introduced in the Rhode Island Senate (Regulatory Emphasis), January 11-13

Carroll Andrew Morse

This is the first in what is intended to be a regular series on the legislation submitted to the Senate in the prior week. (An abbreviated introduction to the series is part of the post; the full intro is here.)

My hope is that this can become not just a one-way or even a two-way street for discussions on pending legislation, but one of those five-way Rhode Island intersections, navigable without major damage on regular basis with a little bit of practice, even when the rest of the drivers are other Rhode Islanders. Think of this as the opportunity to help crowdsource the equivalent of a staff position or two that could be an aid to your legislator (though I can't offer you a state pension for contributing to the crowdsourcing effort). Citizens can make their cases for why the rest of Rhode Island should be concerned about certain bills, either why they should not be relegated to the black hole of "being held for further study" or, alternatively, why some of the bills introduced are terrible ideas that should not passed into law.

The floor will also always be open for advocates of bills, inside and outside of the legislature, to explain the meaning and rationale of particular legislation, to explain which matters are active in the backroom legislative processes that often determine which bills actually make it to the floor and possibly to suggest when citizen voices, at legislative hearings or through other means, could have a significant impact.

This series of posts will be regularly pushed out to the Anchor Rising Facebook site, so individuals who want to comment on the legislation in a less-anonymous forum will have the opportunity to do so.

The first raft of Senate bills is immediately below...

Significant Rewrites with Statewide Impact

S0021Changes long-term land use planning requirements imposed by the state.

Targeted Changes with Statewide Impact

S0005Moves Capitol Television under the control of the Rhode Island Public Telecommunications Authority (more colloquially, RI PBS).
S0006Public utilities have to pay for costs incurred during "maintenance, construction or reconstruction or any municipal right-of-way" done by a "municipal corporation".
S0007Landscape gardeners have to register and be licensed and, by the way, buy insurance. (Comment: The bill mentions specifically individuals "engaged either part-time or full-time in the cutting of grass". What if want to hire the kid across the street to do my lawn? Can he do that without a license under this law?)
S0009From the official explanation: "This act would provide that public water systems would reduce radon levels in drinking water to a maximum of four thousand (4,000) pCi/L no later than January 1, 2014."
S0019Requires motorcycle parking spots at public buildings.
S0020"The state building standards committee shall be responsible for the publication of the state building code and shall post the entire state building code on the Internet making it available to the general public at no cost."
S0025Adds cemeteries to properties exempt from "adverse possession" laws (Comment: Any lawyers with knowledge of land use want to help us with the technical terms here?).
S0026a) Rent overdue by 10 days can trigger eviction proceedings (it is currently 15) b) tenants no longer responsible for costs of having their property removed during an eviction, and c) possessions of a tenant still on the premises after eviction are deemed forfeited.
S0034Hourly-wage employees don't have to be paid on a weekly basis by their employers, if the employer is " in the financial services or investment advisory", "the employer and its affiliates have more than 2,000 employees located in Rhode Island", and "the employer's average payroll exceeds 125% of the average compensation of all employees in the state". (Comment: But I'm sure this is not the result of some big company in Rhode Island lobbying for its own exemption to the rules).

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Bills Introduced in the Rhode Island Senate, January 11-13

Carroll Andrew Morse

Significant Rewrites with Statewide Impact

S0008Creates an "artificial reef" program for Rhode Island.
S0013Authorizes the Rhode Island National Guard to create an academy "for the purpose of providing at-risk youth with a program to help them obtain a GED, and/or high school diploma, increase their employment potential, and enhance their education and life skills.
S0014Increases funding for the University of Rhode Island for agricultural and environmental programs.
S0028Mainly, this bill allows a refusal to take a chemical sobriety test associated with a traffic violation to be introduced in court, and specifies a separate set of penalties depending on whether an individual submitted to a test or not. (Comment: Is this all Constitutional?)
S0029Same-sex marriage (companion to H5012)

Targeted Changes with Statewide Impact

S0010Allows state police members to purchase pension credits for up to 4 years of service in the armed forces (up from a maximum of 2). (Comment: This should go through an actuarial analysis. But here's the best part: The law explicitly states that the money used to purchase the pension credits doesn't actually go to the pension fund -- it goes to the general fund!
S0011Allows the Rhode Island National Guard to participate in asset forfeitures that occur as a result of enforcement of drug laws.
S0012Allows the head of the Rhode Island National Guard to "administer monetary contributions from donors to charitable organizations for and on behalf of the Rhode Island National Guard that benefit state military programs".
S0015Allows any city or town to exempt disabled veterans from property taxes.
S0016Prohibits tolls from being used to pay for the maintenance/upgrade of the Sakonnet River Bridge. (Comment: In reality, this means no tolls without the approval the legislature for paying for the Sakonnet River bridge, since one of those "nowithstanding any other law" clauses could be written into a future law.
S0017Allows retired state nurses to earn up to $24,000 working as part-time nurses for the state (currently, the limit is $12,000).
S0018Property seized during police actions that is unclaimed after six months becomes property of the local police agency (instead of the state).
S0022You can be stopped while driving for not wearing your seatbelt as long as "constitutional standards are satisfied" (Comment: Where exactly can the legislature write laws where that assume the constitution can be ignored. Oh that's right, the Central Falls Receivership and the Teacher's Health Retirement Board.)
S0023Reduces the amount of unpaid child support classified as a felony from $10,000 to $5,000.
S0024Being deployed out-of-state as part of military service cannot by itself be the cause of modifying a child-custody order.
S0027Increases penalties for hit-and-run.
S0032Changes who can be a lawyer for the Rhode Island National Guard; it's not just for RI Bar members anymore (if the bill passes).
S0033Increase penalties for desecrating graves an other public monuments. (Also changes the word "inclosure" to "enclosure" everywhere in the affected chapters of RI law).
S0040From the official explanation: "This act would authorize the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training to use one million nine hundred thousand dollars ($1,900,000) of its Unemployment Compensation Modernization Incentive Payments received from the federal government under Public Law 111-4 for the costs associated with the administration of its Unemployment Compensation law".

Changes with Local Impact

S0031(Charlestown) Gives the Charlestown Town Council greater control over the jurisdiction of the Charlestown traffic and parking court. (Companion to H5020)

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January 5, 2011

Test-Driving the General Assembly's New Instant Vote-Reporting System, and Discussing the Vote for Senate President

Carroll Andrew Morse

The Rhode Island Senate's first vote of the 2011 session was to select its President. Senator Teresa Paiva-Weed of Newport/Jamestown won by a vote of 33-5. (Vote reported courtesy of the Rhode Island legislature's new instant vote-reporting system).

Senator Marc Cote of Woonsocket/North Smithfield was one of the five Seantors -- and the only Democrat -- who did not cast their votes for Sen. Paiva-Weed. Senator Cote, you may recall, was the primary Senate sponsor of the the E-verify bill in the last session; he had consulted with President Paiva-Weed and the Majority Leader about bringing the bill to the floor, only to have had them table the bill without discussion and, even more egregiously, without an accurate count of whether a majority of Senators supported the bill or not. Senator Cote deserves credit for being the lone Democrat unwilling to contribute to an illusion of collegiality in a body whose current leader has conclusively demonstrated through her actions that collegiality does not exist.

The four Republicans who did not vote for Senator Paiva-Weed were Senator Frank Maher of Charlestown/Exeter/Hopkinton/Richmond/West Greenwich, and freshmen Senators Beth Moura of Cumberland/Lincoln, Glen Shibley of Coventry/East Greenwich/Warwick/West Warwick, and Dawson Hodgson of East Greenwich/North Kingstown/Warwick, perhaps providing us with an early indication of who the stalwarts in the new Senate session will be -- though I will also make note of the fact that one Republican who voted for Senator Paiva-Weed, Senator David Bates of Barrington/Bristol, responded to a question asked during the campaign about Governor Chafee's proposed sales tax increase by saying that...

There is no way in hell that I would support Chafee's tax increase,
...which was roughly the same way that Senators Maher, Hodgson, and Moura responded, suggesting that it is premature to infer that the leadership vote will be a predictor of major policy votes.

October 31, 2010

An Incumbent State Senator, on the Chafee Promise that the General Assembly Will Pass His Tax Increase

Carroll Andrew Morse

Responding via the comments section to the public assurance put forth by independent candidate Lincoln Chafee during Friday night's WJAR-TV (NBC 10) gubernatioral debate, that the state legislature will go along with his proposal to extend the Rhode Island sales tax to items currently not taxed...

If the governor is leading the way on a tax increase...the General Assembly is going to go along. That's the governor's leadership. That's his plan and they can go along with it. That's going to happen.
...District 32 State Senator David Bates (Barrington/Bristol), who is running for reelection, offers the following response...
There is no way in hell that I would support Chafee's tax increase.

October 30, 2010

Lincoln Chafee Promises that the General Assembly Will Pass His Tax Increase. Another Dissent from a State Senate Candidate.

Carroll Andrew Morse

Senate District 19 candidate Beth Moura (Cumberland), who is running for the open seat being vacated by outgoing Senate Majority leader "the rules say we can't count the votes" Dan Connors, has this to say about independent Gubernatorial candidate Lincoln Chafee's proposal to expand the Rhode Island sales tax to goods currently not taxed...

We've been raising taxes for decades. If raising taxes is the answer, HOW is it possible that our state is in the fiscal position it is? The reason for the outrageous taxes must be addressed, and that is simply not being done by our Democratic-controlled general assembly.

Lincoln Chafee Promises that the General Assembly Will Pass His Tax Increase. Another Potential State Senator Disagrees.

Carroll Andrew Morse

During Friday's night's Rhode Island Gubernatorial debate broadcast on WJAR-TV (NBC 10), independent candidate Lincoln Chafee rather blithely asserted that the General Assembly would go along with his plan to extend a 1% sales tax to items currently not taxed in Rhode Island...

If the governor is leading the way on a tax increase...the General Assembly is going to go along. That's the governor's leadership. That's his plan and they can go along with it. That's going to happen.
As State Senator Frank Maher pointed out in the previous post, Mr. Chafee's is making a promise and/or prediction about a body that has yet to be elected and whose composition is therefore unknown.

If Sean Gately is elected as a State Senator -- he's the Republican candidate from District 26 (Cranston) -- he will be one Senator not supporting the expansion of the sales tax, offering this position on the issue...

I oppose it.
I presume that answer applies, whoever it is that proposes a sales tax expansion, Governor included.

August 26, 2010

Senator Frank Maher on the Counting of the Votes on the Senate Floor

Carroll Andrew Morse

If you don't believe that the Rhode Island legislature is fundamentally broken, click on the video below, compiled by Operation Clean Government, which shines the light of day on how far Rhode Island's ruling Democratic-Party oligarchy will go to dispose of legislation that they do not want passed (in this case, the E-Verify bill).

I've cued the link to a spot where it should take viewers who possess any sense of honesty or fairness all of 20 seconds to realize that the most basic norms of democratic governance are not respected by the ruling majority in the Rhode Island legislature.

At Saturday's Tenth Amendment Rally at the Rhode Island statehouse, I asked Senator Frank Maher (R - Charlestown/Exeter/Hopkinton/Richmond/West Greenwich), as someone who was on the Senate floor when it happened, if he wanted to offer any comment on the disposition of the E-Verify bill. The Senator articulated multiple problems that he has with the Democratic leadership's way of running a legislative body...

"I don't know of anybody who can really determine whether or not the yays or the nays had it. It certainly seemed to me and a lot of others that I've spoke to that the nays were louder than the yays. Well, if that's the case, and you can't differentiate exactly between who won the vote based on the voice vote, as Senator O'Neill and I and other members of the chamber did, we wanted to make sure everybody was logged as to what their vote was. And that was not allowed."Audio: 25 sec

"As a freshman legislator, especially in the Senate, I felt very disappointed in the process. I felt that the Senators in the room were not allowed to be heard, which meant that their constituencies were not represented. And at the end of the day, it's really a shame that we were not able to get a vote, to find out exactly who was going to support it and who was going to support it, and who was not going to support it...because I can say all day long that I support it, but until it actually comes to a vote, where you actually have to hit that button, either red for no, or green for yes, how do you really know what somebody's position is..."Audio: 1m 6 sec

"And I hope that that never happens again, on any piece of legislation, and I hope that Senator Cote [the bill's sponsor] decides that he wants to submit that bill again in 2011, should he have the pleasure of being re-elected, and I know if I have the pleasure of being reelected to serve the people in District 34, I know I will be seeking him out to make sure that I co-sponsor it next year..."Audio: 51 sec

July 13, 2010

Signature Coverage of Beth Moura, Senate Candidate in Rhode Island District 19

Carroll Andrew Morse

Beth Moura is running for the Rhode Island Senate seat in District 19 (Cumberland, Lincoln), currently held by Senate Majority Leader Daniel Connors, who is not seeking re-election...

Anchor Rising: You've picked a time to run for office in state government, when there a lot of problems that need to be solved, and it won't necessarily be easy to do what needs to be done. What's motivating you to run now?

Senate District 19 Candidate Beth Moura: "Problems in our state government, I don't think it's a new thing. That's been going on for a very long time. Basically, it has had to get this bad for people to realize where the problems lie...I know that I have the courage and the integrity to do what needs to be done when I get there and also to address the tough issues that a lot of our legislators -- most, I should say -- don't want to address. They don't want to address the failures in the social programs, they don't want to address the failures in the pension system, they don't want to address failures in immigration law enforcement..." (Audio: 1 min 1 sec)

AR: You are running for a Senate seat. For a long time, the impression the people have had is that Senate goes along with what the House does in a lot of fiscal and public policy areas. How do you see the role of a Senator?

BM: "...if [a bill] passes the House it is kind of like code to pass the Senate. If you notice the Senate, they're in and they're out of there very quickly when they're in session...depending on how many people get elected, it's going to change business as usual between the House and the Senate, because you are going to have people that aren't going to play along anymore, and they are going to actually represent their districts. What a concept." (Audio: 1 min 11 sec)

AR: And what would your top priorities be, if you were to be elected?

BM: "My top priorities are going to be addressing some of the difficult fiscal issues that, like I said, a lot of them don't have the courage to address, one being the welfare system, our social programs..." (Audio: 1 min 27 sec)

June 3, 2010

Don't Believe Senate President Paiva-Weed; the Judiciary Committee Was Not Circumvented, It Chose Not to Act on the E-Verify Bill

Carroll Andrew Morse

On Wednesday morning's John DePetro Show (WPRO 630AM), Senate President Teresa Paiva-Weed described Senator Marc Cote's efforts to bring the E-verify bill to the Senate floor as being a circumvention of the hearing process in the Senate Judiciary Committee -- meaning either that Senator Paiva-Weed is unfamiliar with Senate procedures or that she is intentionally attempting to mislead the public.

Senate rule 6.5, utilized by Senator Cote to advance the e-verify bill, did not prevent committee action. Once the Senator notified the Senate Secretary that he was invoking his right to have the e-verify bill follow the process laid out in 6.5, Judiciary Chairman Michael McCaffrey had eight legislative days to schedule a hearing, then another eight legislative days following the hearing to act on the bill. If the hearing had been held and the committee had voted to defeat or table the bill (i.e. "to hold it for further study"), it would have been done for the session. Instead, the bill moved directly to the Senate floor, only because the Committee chairman failed to schedule a hearing for it.

Ultimately, the final decision not to go through the regular committee process was made not by Senator Cote, but by Chairman McCaffrey (or by whoever gives Chairman McCaffrey his orders). All Senator Cote did was trigger a safety-valve built into the Senate rules that is intended to prevent the leadership from being able to make a bill disappear through inaction, without any record of who was for or against it ever being reported to the public.

Senate Rule 6.5. is a more-than-reasonable check on the formal power of a small number of legislative leaders to control the entire legislative agenda, but a check that has been rarely used in the State Senate, because in the Bizarro World of the Rhode Island Democratic Party's political leadership, giving one or two people the power to make a bill disappear is the preferred way of doing things, while involving everyone in decision making and putting their votes into the public record is considered a parliamentary trick. Rhode Island Senators and Representatives -- and the voters who give them their jobs -- need to make a decision on how much undemocratic behavior from the Bizarro World they are willing to tolerate, especially given that they have the power to change things by choosing different leaders.

June 2, 2010

Re: The Legislative Leadership Is Not Nearly As Powerful as our Rank and File Legislators Let Them Be

Carroll Andrew Morse

According to Karen Lee Ziner of the Projo, the e-verify bill that was recommitted to the Rhode Island Senate Judiciary Committee last evening had 19 co-sponsors, exactly half of our 38-member Senate...

[Senator Marc Cote] said he felt so strongly about, and had such support for his bill (19 co-sponsors) that he decided to invoke a parliamentary procedure apparently last used in 1995. That rule, 6.5, allowed him to put the bill on the calendar without committee deliberations, circumventing years of resistance to a floor vote.
A few Senators were absent from the floor session last evening, so we don't know if supporters of the bill comprised a majority of those present and voting, but we do know that a roll-call vote should be used when the numbers are this close. The question is, besides waiting for the Peter Palumbos and the Marc Cotes to wait too long to take action yet again next year, can anything be done now?

Here are a few suggestions:

  1. The antidote to politics is often politics. If the 19 co-sponsors are serious about their responsibilities as elected members of a legislature which is supposed to be engaged in deliberative decision making, they should announce publicly that they can no longer support current Senate President Teresa Paiva-Weed in any future Senate leadership election, on the grounds that she is unable to carry out the basic responsibilities of her position in a manner consistent with the principles of majority rule.

    Of course, this will not occur if we have a bunch of Senators who are happy to give away to someone else the legislative responsibilities that they have been entrusted with by their constituents, in which case the willingness of legislative candidates to support leaders who will not allow their votes to be counted becomes a legitimate campaign issue, i.e. a vote for Christopher Maselli is a vote for Teresa Paiva-Weed, and a vote to let Teresa Paiva-Weed make all of the important decisions that Christopher Maselli should be making.

  2. However, Senator Marc Cote and the other primary sponsors of this year's e-verify bill (including Republicans Leo Blais and David Bates) need to be asked why they were unprepared to exercise their rights to have their votes included as part of the record, and specifically, if they really had a majority, why they did not bring the e-verify bill out of committee via the procedure specified in Senate rule 6.10, which would have required that every Senator wanting to speak on the subject to be heard at least once, before a vote on a motion to recommit could be taken.

  3. Finally, it is worth making a note of a quirk of the Senate rules, which Senators who are serious about the principle that votes need be counted when a legislative body makes a decision (if there are any) could use today. RI Senate rules allow for a motion to reconsider a bill. However, the rules are explicit that a motion to reconsider must be offered on the same legislative day that the original vote was taken, so this is not what I am suggesting. There is also a provision in the Senate rules allowing a Senator to change his or her vote (with permission of the majority of the Senate) again provided that the request for a change is made on the same day as the original vote. And there is also a provision in the Senate rules that allows any Senator to have his vote recorded in the Senate Journal on matters where the roll was not called but without any expressed time-limit on when this right can be invoked. So if there are a majority of Rhode Island State Senators who wanted to pass the e-verify bill that was killed by the leadership last night, they should at the earliest available opportunity exercise their right to enter into the Senate Journal how they voted, and make the Senate leadership's undemocratic action a part of the official public record.

    This assumes, of course, that we have Senators who are more interested in good government than in obedience to Senate leadership. But if nothing else, wouldn't you like to see Democratic Majority Leader Daniel Connors respond to Senators asking to have their votes recorded by hopping out of his seat and shouting that counting votes is out of order in the Rhode Island legislature; individual votes don't matter here.

June 1, 2010

Stop This. The Legislative Leadership Is Not Nearly As Powerful as our Rank and File Legislators Let Them Be.

Carroll Andrew Morse

I watched the Capitol TV replay of the recommission of the E-verify bill to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senate President Teresa Paiva-Weed announced the bill, Majority Leader Daniel Connors immediately made the motion to recommit, and a voice vote was taken. Senator Connors was correct in saying that Senate rules do not allow any debate on a motion to recommit.

However, as is frequently the case in the Rhode Island legislature, the commands of the leadership are not nearly as final as the legislators we elect allow them to be.

There were at least two fundamental actions that E-verify supporters, supporters of democracy and supporters of the general principle of counting votes had available to them to make sure that the E-Verify bill was not disposed of via unilateral leadership action.

  1. According to Senate rule 8.1, just one (1) Senator requesting a roll call vote would have made the roll call vote a requirement...
    Method of Voting. The electronic roll of the senate shall be called upon any vote pertaining to a public bill and for passage of the consent calendar and on any other vote at the request of any senator present; otherwise, votes shall be put by yeas and nays. In naming sums or numbers, and fixing times, the largest sum or longest time shall be put first.
    ...but no Senator made that request.
  2. According to Senate rule 8.8.2, even when an issue is decided by a yays-and-nays vote, any Senator has the right to have his or her vote entered into the Senate Journal...
    Upon request, on any non-recorded vote, any senator shall have his or her vote recorded so that it shall appear in the journal of the senate.
    ...which raises an interesting possibility: what would happen if, after a voice vote was declared by the leadership to have passed, a majority of Senators immediately followed by requesting that their individual votes be recorded in the negative (that is, what would happen to the bill, after the leadership immediately resigned in disgrace)?
Alas, we will never find out the answer to this question, as long as we keep electing Senators (and Representatives) who choose not making waves with the leadership when it really matters over presenting their views on important legislation to their constituents and to the general public.

November 6, 2008

The Next Senate President?

Monique Chartier

Following upon the defeat of Joseph Montalbano by Edward O'Neill (I) of Lincoln, rumors are flying that Senate Majority Leader Teresa Paiva-Weed (D), she who denied the will of a substantial majority in the House and the Senate by killing the e-verify legislation during the last two General Assembly sessions, is slated to be the next Senate President.

Members of the Senate will choose their next President. Seniority is nice and all. But shouldn't leaders listen to the wishes of the rank and file? Senator Paiva-Weed has not shown such an inclination. Further, is it even possible to view a vote for Senator Paiva-Weed as anything other than a vote against legal immigration, against legal employment, against non-exploitative working conditions, against fair wages, against law-abiding employers?

In short, isn't the senator who votes for Senator Paiva-Weed voting against everyone in the state, citizens and more recent arrivals, who follows our laws and does things right?

October 16, 2008

RI Supreme Court Denies Alves' Appeal

Carroll Andrew Morse

Mike McKinney of the Projo has the details.

October 8, 2008

This Pinga/Alves Moment Brought to You by the Numbers Ten and Fifteen

Monique Chartier

When the RI Supreme Court decides tomorrow whether to take Senator Stephen Alves' appeal for a do-over of the September 9 Democrat primary, perhaps we can also learn the source of the senator's quizzical statement that fifteen Republicans voted in that election.

Alves has asked the state Supreme Court to order an entirely new election. His appeal is based on 18 questionable ballots that were cast in the primary election — 15 of which were cast by Republicans voting in the Democratic primary. And there were three fewer signed voter forms than there were ballots cast.

In fact, the West Warwick Board of Canvassers has officially stated that only ten Republicans voted in that primary.

Are those five phantom voters the manifestation of some repressed regret on the part of Senator Alves who perhaps feels more strongly about staying in office than he has publicly disclaimed?

October 2, 2008

Pinga/Alves: Latest from the Board of Elections II

Monique Chartier

The Rhode Island Board of Elections advised today that a second recount of the Pinga/Alves primary election will take place tomorrow at 1:00 pm. All ballots, including mail-in and provisional, will be counted.

In another contested primary, the Lynch/Bennett race will be recounted at 9:00 am. This ProJo article states that the RI Supreme Court ordered a recount for the Lynch/Bennett race but not the Pinga/Alves race. Unless the ProJo article is in error, BOE has apparently ordered the Pinga/Alves recount on its own initiative.

Side question: don't provisional ballots have to be verified after they are cast? If they are then verified, don't they cease being "provisional"?

October 1, 2008

Pinga/Alves: Latest from the Board of Elections

Monique Chartier

At around 10:10 this morning, I spoke with Mr. Robert Kando, Executive Director of the Rhode Island Board of Elections. He advised the following:

> No recount of the Pinga/Alves election is scheduled or contemplated at this point.

> The BOE met in conference with a Rhode Island Supreme Court Justice and certain other parties. [Sorry, I didn't get the date of that conference.]

> At that meeting, the matter of the mail-in and provisional ballots and, more specifically, the "Larissa" decision of two years ago, which has a bearing upon mail-in and provisional ballots, were raised. [No link to provide to the Larissa decision. Larisa Decision here - thanks to commenter Brassband for providing.]

> As a result of this conference, the BOE will be meeting in closed Executive Session tomorrow to determine if they will reconsider their decision in the Pinga/Alves matter in the light of the Larissa decision. To be clear, during this Executive Session tomorrow, they are not undertaking to reconsider their decision. They will decide whether to reconsider it.

> Yes, this matter is still pending before the Supreme Court.

End of Mr. Kando's remarks.

Two editorial guesses by yours truly:

1.) Presumably, if the BOE does decide to reconsider their decision, it will be taken up at a future meeting or hearing to be scheduled, not during the same Executive Session tomorrow.

2.) It sounds like the Supreme Court is holding itself in abeyance until the BOE makes their decision tomorrow. Going further out on a limb, they will probably continue to hold themselves in abeyance if the BOE decides to revisit their own decision tomorrow and the matter is reopened at the BOE.

"Fixing" Rhode Island

Justin Katz

In a comment to my post on Bob Kerr's column, Aldo writes:

Not so fast.....

Alves' Election Appeal Update - Your taxes at work!

Quick update on the fiasco in the RI Supreme Court ....

All parties involved in Alves' appeal were supposed to have submitted their briefs / supporting documentation by 4:30 on Friday as Justice Robinson was going to review it over the weekend.

On Monday morning, the news is that there has been a change, it's now Justice Goldberg vice Robinson and she wanted a mtg of all the lawyers involved at the RI Supreme Court at 4PM.

Of note, Alves' attorney failed to provide a copy of the transcript / tape of Board of Elections' hearing as required by RI law. This alone should have been enough for her to deny his appeal.

Instead of denying Alves' appeal, Goldberg apparently wants all 5 members of the RISC to rule on this.

The full court will discuss this matter in closed chambers on Thursday 9 Oct.

Why is the court even considering intervening in an election?

Remember, according to the law, this is only supposed to cover what transpired since the election. It seems as though Alves now wants to raise any issue he possibly can even though that is not in accordance with RI law.

What is going on here?

This is a travesty

Alves' attorney didn’t even comply with RI law in submitting his appeal concerning the BOE hearing and now it seems that RI taxpayers are going to have to cover some of the cost of providing the information that Alves was required to submit.

How much are the taxpayers paying for this nonsense?

Don't we have a budget problem?

In the interim, the Board of Elections will begin printing the other ballots.

If the Court rules in Alves' favor, then the taxpayers would have to cover the cost of a new primary in November AFTER the General Election and another Election in December.

If I were a betting man, I'd say that they will grant him his request. Not based upon the law but because of political pressure....

They will find some excuse to defer to him but one has to ask if any other RI taxpayer would be accorded the same privileges that are being extended to Senator Alves.

And now for the latest. The Board of Elections will conduct another recount on Thursday 2 Oct.

There are a few questions though.

1. On whose authority?

2. What will be recounted?

3. If Goldberg issued a stay pending a review by the entire court, why is there another recount?

4. The law states that the appeal is to be based upon the evidence presented to date. Why is the BOE doing this?

Anyone really think that the RISC will not rule in Alves' favor?

Add the increasingly probable bailout of Senator Alves to the as-yet unlit conflagration in Rhode Island.

September 18, 2008

Who'll Be the New King of the RI Senate's Financial Hill?

Carroll Andrew Morse

It looks like speculation can officially begin: Who's going to be the new chair of the Rhode Island Senate Finance Committee?

The current members (minus those not returning) are...

Senator Stephen D. AlvesChairperson
Senator Frank A. Ciccone IIIMember
Senator Walter S. Felag Jr.1st Vice Chairperson
Senator Hanna M. GalloSecretary
Senator June N. GibbsMember
Senator Maryellen GoodwinMember
Senator Beatrice A. Lanzi2nd Vice Chairperson
Senator Paul E. MouraMember
Senator Juan M. PichardoMember
Senator Dominick J. RuggerioMember

September 14, 2008

Meet West Warwick's "David": Michael Pinga, Baker and presumptive Senator-Elect

Monique Chartier

This week, WPRO's Dan Yorke interviewed Michael Pinga of West Warwick. Subject to the recount taking place tomorrow, Mr. Pinga won an upset victory over incumbent state Senator and Senate Finance Committee Chair Stephen Alves in Tuesday's primary. Because Mr. Pinga will be the only candidate on the ballot for Senate District 9 come November, Mr. Pinga is also the presumptive Senator for that district. Senator Alves has called the recount a "long shot" but says he "owes it to his supporters".

Below are some excerpts from Dan Yorke's interview. Audio of the complete interview available here.

Yorke: Why did you run?

Pinga: I ran because I'm a small business man and I'm fed up with the high taxes. The representation we have for West Warwick ... I feel that they're up there, most of the representatives & senators, for themselves, self interest and personal gain. They haven't done much for the town of West Warwick.

* * * *

[Yorke reads this Pinga ad, a compilation of headlines referencing many of Senator Alves' escapades.]

Mr. Pinga: [dryly] He's running on his experience. That's why I listed his experience.

* * * *

Yorke: Tell me about your mission. What is it that really moves you to run for office and what do you think you are going to be able to accomplish in our Rhode Island State Senate?

Pinga: It's no big secret that the state is in financial crisis. For years, been reading in the newspaper ... for example, the tobacco settlement money. They used that money. We had a settlement of roughly $1.2b. They sold that off for $600m. One time fix. They took that money. They plugged the budget. They used it for the operations of the state. You know, that's no different than me hitting the lottery to meet payroll this week. It's not going to happen every week for 52 weeks. I'm sorry. Instead of grabbing the bull by the horns and say, look, we're in trouble, something has to be done, they didn't do that. They just continued to go on and on and on. They're counting on the lead paint money. They should have had some fiscal responsibility, that's what I mean.

Anyone there, the representatives, all senators at the State House, anyone there longer than ten years, they're part of the problem. They saw this coming, they chose to do nothing about it. They just kept it going. And now we're what, five-six hundred million in the hole.

* * * *

Yorke: Will you support Joe Montelbano as President?

Pinga: [emphatically] No.

Yorke: A no vote for Joe Montalbano from Michael Pinga?

Pinga: Yes. I may be running for Senate President myself

Yorke: Is that right.

Pinga: Yes.

Yorke: Well, first tell me why you don't have the thought to support Joe Montalbano.

Pinga: I think that there's one clique up there and that's the clique we have to get rid of. Same old politics; same group of guys. You know, just doing whatever they want to do. I represent honest, clean government. I don't owe anybody any favors. I'm not givng anybody jobs. I'm not looking to get anybody jobs. Don't ask me to get a number plate for you! No favors.

* * * *

Yorke: Have you talked to some of the other players on the other Chamber, State House, the Speaker of the House?

Pinga: Yeah, I know Bill Murphy. He sent out a letter this weekend endorsing Senator Alves. That's fine.

Yorke: What about Mr. Williamson, another big player in West Warwick?

Pinga: Yes, I spoke to him. I believe he's part of the problem also.

Yorke: Did you tell him that?

Pinga: Yes, I did. He's been there too long.

Yorke: What was his reaction?

Pinga: Wasn't happy. Tried to mimic me. That doesn't phase me.

Yorke: I cannot believe that Tim Williamson tried to mimic you. That's just not in his ... that's just not in [laughing] his demeanor.

Pinga: On election day, he's worried about me wearing a suit and tie. I had a tee shirt on and shorts. I says, I'm not about the fluff. This is me. I'm the real person.

Yorke: You were out there ... Well, Laffey ran for Senate in a sweaty shirt all day long. What the hell, he almost pulled it off.

Pinga: Well, I guess for some reason, Mr. Williamson feels you have to be dressed up to win. Not the case, Timmy.

I'd also like to make a note that the Chairman of the Democratic party in West Warwick, after I submitted my papers to run, he told me in the parking lot that he doesn't care about the state level, just the local level. They all thought it was a joke.

Yorke: That you were running.

Pinga: Yes. That Stephen's unbeatable, too strong, knows too many people. Impossible. I'm going to get slaughtered.

It's not about me and it's not about him. It's about what the people want. And the people have spoken. They're sick and tired of it. They want change.

* * * *

Yorke: Did I read that Council 94 endorsed you?

Pinga: Yes.

Yorke: What's that all about?

Pinga: I went there. I went for an interview and they endorsed me, I believe, because they can see that I'm a fair person. And I told them I would lead by example. I would not ask a person to take a cut if I'm not willing to take a cut. I was always brought up, never ask somebody to do something I'm not willing to do myself. I wold be the first one to take a 10% cut on anything before I ask you to take a 5% cut.

And I believe all the representatives and all the senators up there ... Senator Alves killed the bill to pay 10% of his health care. "Needs more study." What do you have to study? All it comes down to is greed. You just wanted to save the 10% for yourself. Yet you have the audacity to ask these people that have a contract to take a cut. Absolutely wrong in my eyes.

Mr. Pinga's website available here.

August 13, 2008

Meet Donna Perry - Live and In Person

Monique Chartier

... in Jamestown this evening at the Portuguese American Club. 134 Narragansett Avenue. 5:30 - 8:00. Details and her website here.

Donna is running against Senate Majority Leader Teresa Paiva-Weed, who resolutely continues to point blame elsewhere for the death of the e-verify bill last session.

July 3, 2008

RI Senate Discovers Secret of Time Compression

Marc Comtois

Christine Lopes of Common Cause Rhode Island had an op-ed in today's ProJo detailing the hurdles, hell, "rhode blocks" that RI citizens encounter when trying to find out various bits of info related to state boards. She takes both the Governor and Legislature to task, and explains that CC uncovered this interesting bit of Senatorial calendar-keeping:

We discovered something interesting about how the Senate records its activities. State law provides that if the Senate does not act on a gubernatorial appointment within 60 legislative days, the appointment will take effect as if confirmed. A typical session lasts about 60 legislative days. However, the Senate routinely “bundles” multiple meeting days into one official journal, which is then counted as a single legislative day.

In 2005, 16 days the Senate actually met were reduced to six legislative days. In 2007, four days the Senate met were reduced to two legislative days. The stratagem has been used once so far in 2008. This practice postpones the deadline when an appointment would automatically take effect, thus allowing the Senate to “stall” an appointment past the end of the session in which it was made.

Artificially reducing legislative days in this manner creates the strong impression that the Senate is playing games with the statutory deadlines governing its advice-and-consent responsibilities.

Ya think? The entire report, “Democracy Deferred II,” can be found here.

June 23, 2008

(Almost Certain) Breaking News Out of East Providence

Monique Chartier

As with candidacies throughout the state, the moment of truth will be Thursday morning and that final run down of filings. But the rumor that Senator Paul Moura (D) may not seek re-election has been given legs today with the filing of Declaration of Candidacy papers by the Democrat Mayor of East Providence, Isadore S. Ramos (PhD), for Senate District 18. If Senator Moura intended to run again, party courtesy would presumably have restrained Dr. Ramos from challenging him. [Thanks to Will Ricci of The Ocean State Republican for the scoop.]

By the way, if you're mad about Rhode Island politics and/or interested in furthering good government in the state, the procedure to kick off your campaign is here. The deadline is Wednesday at 4:00 pm. [Tax-happy Democrats interested in running should click here.]

And returning to East Providence for a moment, anyone wishing to help the East Providence GOP continue their excellent party building works and get the latest news on Senate District 18 (and other Senate and House races) is invited to attend their annual fundraiser at the Crescent View Avenue Knights of Columbus Hall in Riverside this Thursday at 6:30 pm.

July 3, 2007

RE: DCYF's Problems

Marc Comtois

Pat Crowley--who throws ad hominem attacks around like a Fenway Park Vendor throws peanuts (though they're more accurate)--has peeked in to drop a couple bombs concerning my DCYF post. However, he did attempt a more substantive critique at Kmareka (a post which Justin already mentioned). Crowley thinks that my calculations don't take into account compounding of salaries--"each year the raises are on the raises from the prior year"--and that they "are skewed because they count certain things twice....Vacation, for example. If I get to take a week off, I get paid right? But I don’t get paid twice. AR...count[s] my regular salary AND my vacation pay… they count it twice, in other words."

To start with, there was no intention to shape the stats to fit my argument, as he implied. I kept hearing how the overall budget has increased so much since 1998, that I got the State Budge docs from as far back as I could (2001) and proceeded from there. My "technique" was simple: crunch some numbers in a straightforward way and post the results. The 29% increase in salary per position since 2001 was derived from the difference of the average DCYF salary then ($47,500) until now ($61,300). But the increase in the total amount devoted to salary from year to year is only part of it: the other part is the reduction in the number of positions and how, taken together, there has actually been an overall increase of salary per position.

I think most people would ask: has my salary increased 29% ($13,800) since 2001? But let me amend that: these increases are for positions, not people. A better question would be: has my salary increased 29% ($13,800) since 2001 even though I've never been promoted?

OK, you asked for it: more fun with tables. As they say, there are lies, damn lies and statistics, right? Well, here is a year-to-year breakdown that may assuage Crowley's compounded concerns.

DCYF - Year to Year Salary Increases
Year# FTE's% Change # FTE'sTotal Salary ($Mil)% Change Ttl. Sal.Avg. FTE Salary% ChangeInflation Rate

As the table shows, calculating things in a slightly different way reveals that changes in total salary for the entire DCYF aren't exactly the same as changes in the average salary per FTE position. If anyone wants to suggest alternate methods, feel free.

Crowley's example re:vacation might be applicable when calculating total payroll (salary and benefits). I used the budget numbers by the state to calculate total payroll per Full Time Equivalent position. Genuine question: Is he saying the State--including the Budget office and the Legislature--has been using faulty math for at least the past decade in calculating those numbers?

ADDENDUM: In the comments, "Bobby O" believes I'm excluding important comparative data. I've added Inflation rate to the above table. Bobby also believes that I'm not taking into the number of caseloads. Well, according to RI Kids Count:

Between 2000 and 2005, in Rhode Island, the total Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) caseload remained relatively constant at around 8,000 cases. In 2006, the number of children on the DCYF caseload increased to 9,414, a 19% increase from 2005.
That's the most up-to-date I can find. Bobby ties the high caseloads to the need for the State to make an attractive compensation package to lure workers. My first thought was, "where are all of the altruistic RIC grads?", but the question really goes back to the argument made before: slightly less compensation = a few more workers = lighter caseloads = better service.

Hey Bobby, here's a thought. If you want to cut jobs in one place to add more workers at DCYF, why not turn your eyes to the Legislature? (Hey, I can play this game all day).

Legislature Increases - 2001 ->2008
20012008Change (Value)% Change
Total FTE's260298.2+38.2+11%
Total Salaries$12,223,039$18,952,525+$6,729,486 +55%
Total Salary/FTE$47,012$63,556+$16,544+35%
Total Salary+Benefits$18,952,525$29,396,150+$10,443,625+55%
Total S+B / FTE$64,463$98,579+$34,116+53%

The numbers speak for themselves.

May 16, 2007

Ethics Complaint Round-Up

Marc Comtois

An update on the status of two old and one new ethics complaints, both reported by the ProJo's Bruce Landis. First the new, from the ProJo's :

State Sen. Frank A. Ciccone III yesterday denied parts of the ethics complaint filed against him the day before and said that one element of it, his failure to disclose his union jobs in an Ethics Commission filing, was an oversight.

Ciccone, a Providence Democrat, was the target of a complaint filed by Operation Clean Government President Arthur C. “Chuck” Barton III the day before accusing him of sponsoring legislation favoring his union, not disclosing that source of income, and potentially benefiting unionized employees by participating in a legislative investigation of the Carcieri administration’s hiring of temporary workers.

Ciccone said he has two paying union jobs, one as a field representative of Local 808 of the Rhode Island Laborers International Union and another as business manager of the local. He acknowledged that he omitted them from his last two years’ financial disclosure reports, which are intended to let the public detect conflicts of interest among public officials.

“I made a mistake,” he said. “It was inadvertent.”

Sounds familiar....Which brings us to an update on two "older" cases. First, in case you forgot:
[Senator President Joseph] Montalbano is accused of violating the ethics code by failing to report tens of thousands of dollars in income from West Warwick for legal work associated with the Narragansett Indians’ failed casino proposal there. He’s also accused of participating in Senate votes when he had a clear conflict of interest.
Montalbano also claimed it was an "oversight", and has decided to take the unprecedented step of asking for a jury trial instead of a hearing in front of the state Ethics Commission. Well, they're not going for it.
[T]he commission and its staff wrangled for more than an hour yesterday with Montalbano’s lawyer, Max Wistow....Commission prosecutor Dianne L. Leyden said Wistow was merely trying to delay the case and the hearing, scheduled for June 5 and 6. She opposed the jury trial demand, and said the commission doesn’t have the legal authority to hold one even if it wanted to.

The commission’s independent legal counsel, Kathleen Managhan, agreed that the state Constitution and state law don’t provide for Ethics Commission jury trials, but she said the commission can rule on whether an accused official has a right to one.

If officials accused of ethics violations were regularly tried before a judge and jury, and not the commission, it would take away the commission’s greatest power, the job of enforcing the Code of Ethics, which is given to it in the state Constitution.

After Leyden repeatedly accused Wistow of using “delaying tactics,” Wistow said that he doesn’t think it’s his job to help make the process run smoothly. “It’s not my place to make things easier for the prosecution or even for the commission,” he said. To the contrary, he said, “I have a sacred obligation to my client to make things as difficult as possible for the prosecution.”

That approach appeared to annoy some commission members. James C. Segovis objected to “this fractured use of English” and, a few minutes later, said of what went on yesterday, “It’s an abuse of our time and our process.” George Weavill Jr., another commission member, remarked that “a lot of what Mr. Wistow has raised has been smoke and mirrors.”

“I‘ve apparently antagonized two members of the commission,” Wistow said a few moments later. He said he had only been trying to assert Montalbano’s rights.

Finally, the ProJo's Landis also reports that former Senate President William Irons, "accused of breaking the ethics laws by using his office for financial gain and by voting on pharmacy legislation where he had a substantial conflict of interest," is trying to go the "jury trial" route. Now, why do you suppose this novel idea is being suggested? Unfortunately, I'd say that the lawyers for both Irons and Montalbano are confident that they can confuse the average citizen juror enough to get an acquittal. I expect that they won't confuse the Ethics Commission so easily.

May 1, 2007

RI Senate Voting on Various Election Reform Bills

Marc Comtois

Perhaps I should say "election change"...? Today, the RI Senate is supposed to discuss and vote on:

S0020 - "This act would reduce the waiting period required for disaffiliation with a political party from 90 days to 29 days."

S0760 - "...an individual cannot file a declaration of candidacy for more than one elected public office, either state or local, in the same election cycle and the filing of a declaration thereby withdraws any previously filed declarations for an elected public office, either state or local, in said election cycle."

S0740A - "...move the primary date for election of delegates to national conventions from the first Tuesday in March to the first Tuesday in February beginning with 2008 and every fourth year thereafter."

S0725 - "...limit political party committees from contributing more than $25,000 to any group of candidates as opposed to present law which limits such amounts to any one candidate. In addition, it would limit it to one thousand dollars ($1,000) the maximum allowed contribution that a political party committee can make to any candidate more in any one calendar year."

S0189 - "...prevent employees of local canvassing authorities from serving on local canvassing boards."

Stay tuned...

February 13, 2007

Watching the Senate: Recapturing Charitable Giving

Marc Comtois

On the face of it, the concurrent efforts of Senate Majority Leader Paiva-Weed (PDF) and House Speaker Gordon Fox (PDF) to promote charitable giving by ex-pat Rhode Islanders is a good bit of pragmatic lawmaking:

The legislation would prevent the state from considering a person’s charitable donations as evidence when determining for tax purposes whether that person’s primary residence is in Rhode Island. Many accountants and tax advisors discourage part-time Rhode Island residents from giving to charities out of fear that the donation could be used as evidence against them if the state ever challenges their residency.
This is probably good for the state's charities, but it still doesn't get to the root-cause of the problem, now, does it? Instead of dealing with the "truth" of why so many Rhode Islanders move away, they are attempting to mitigate the effects of the "consequences." Just more evidence that, as Thomas Sowell would say, they aren't Thinking Beyond Stage One.

February 11, 2007

Watching the Senate: Election Reform

Marc Comtois

The Senate appears to be willing to tackle a couple issues that certainly seem to foster political corruption. S 0283, proposed by Senators Gibbs, Bates, Cote, Blais, and Breene, would amend the currently defined procedure for voting:

Each person desiring to vote shall, before receiving his or her ballot, state his or her name and residence, including that person's street address, if he or she has any, and shall present one form of identification that bears the name, address and photograph of the person desiring to vote or two (2) different forms of identification that bear the name and address of such person to the pair of bi-partisan supervisors, who shall then announce the name and residence in a loud and distinct voice, clear and audible. {New language in italics}
Additionally, the same group of senators has also proposed a new non-binding referendum, S 0293:
There shall be submitted to the qualified electors of the state of Rhode
Island at the next general election for their approval the following non-binding referendum question: "Shall 'straight party master levers' and 'straight party computer ballot marks' and all programming equipment related thereto, be removed from all voting equipment?"
Now, the first is clearly an idea whose time as come. As for the second, while I'd rather see the "straight party" thing go away now, I will give it to this group of senators for their willingness to put it before the voters. In fact, I'd say these senators, many of who also sponsored legislation on illegal immigration and charter schools, are some of the more forward-thinking in the senate. That being said, I'll pass final judgment when and if these measures are enacted.

Watching the Senate: Illegal Immigration Relief Act

Marc Comtois

S 0271, proposed by Senators Maselli, Cote, Raptakis, and Felag, seeks to establish the Illegal Immigration Relief Act:

It is hereby found and declared as follows:

(a) That state and federal law require that certain conditions be met before a person may be authorized to work or reside in this country.
(b) The unlawful workers and illegal aliens, as defined by this chapter and federal law, do not normally meet such conditions as a matter of law when present in the state of Rhode Island.
(c) That unlawful employment, the harboring of illegal aliens in dwelling units in Rhode Island, and crime committed by illegal aliens harm the health, safety and welfare of authorized United States workers and legal residents. Illegal immigration leads to higher crime rates, subjects our hospitals to fiscal hardship and legal residents to substandard quality of care, contributes to other burdens on public services, increasing their cost and diminishing their availability to legal residents, and diminishes our overall quality of life.
(d) That the state is authorized to abate public nuisances and empowered and mandated to abate the nuisance of illegal immigration by diligently prohibiting the acts and policies that facilitate illegal immigration in a manner consistent with federal law.
(e) That United States Code Title 8, subsection 1324(a)(1)(A) prohibits the harboring of illegal aliens. The provision of housing to illegal aliens is a fundamental component of harboring.
(f) This chapter seeks to secure to those lawfully present in the United States and this state, whether or not they are citizens of the United States, the right to live in peace free of the threat crime, to enjoy the public services provided by this state without being burdened by the cost of providing goods, support and services to aliens unlawfully present in the United States, and to be free of the debilitating effects on their economic and social well being imposed by the influx of illegal aliens to the fullest extent that these goals can be achieved consistent with the Constitution and Laws of the United States and the state of Rhode Island.
(g) Provided, however, that this chapter shall not prohibit the rendering of emergency medical care, emergency assistance, or legal assistance to any person.

Take this in conjunction with the action in House, and it looks like there may be some serious effort being put forward to stop illegal immigrants and the businesses that employ them from unfairly using the resources of the State. At least we can hope.

UPDATE: I should have noticed earlier that S 0352 is the Senate version of H 3592 (referred to earlier), both of which seeks to put the pressure on employers to run background checks on prospective employees. I guess that's why they issue press releases.

Watching the Senate: Charter Schools

Marc Comtois

It looks like the Senate is where momentum is building towards a decision on whether or not to allow more charter schools in the state. Right now, there are three bills on the table (that I've found, anyway). S 0238 was proposed by Senator Leo R. Blais (Deputy Senate Pro-Tempore) and simply seeks to revoke the current moratorium on the establishment of charter schools in the state by removing section (h) of the current law, which states:

Notwithstanding the provisions of this section, the Board of Regents shall not grant final approval for any new charter school to begin operations in the 2006-2007 or 2007-2008 school year.
Then there is the more restrictive S 0239, proposed by Senators Issa, Cote, Doyle, and Badeau, which seeks to amend that portion of the law and make the following exception:
Notwithstanding the provisions of this section, the Board of Regents shall not grant final approval for any new charter school to begin operations in the 2006-2007 or 2007-2008 school year. except the board of regents may grant final approval for new charter schools to begin operations in the urban school districts of Providence, Woonsocket, Pawtucket and Central Falls in the 2008-2009 school year.
Finally, there is the middle-ground proposal--S 0240--offered by Senators Doyle, Bates, Cote, Breene (Minority Whip), and Lenihan:
Notwithstanding the provisions of this section, the Board of Regents shall not grant final approval for any new charter school to begin operations in the 2006-2007 or 2007-2008 school year in school districts that enroll less than nine thousand (9,000) students. The board of regents may grant final approval for new charter schools to begin operations in school districts that enroll nine thousand (9,000) or more students.
Senators Doyle and Cote signed-on to both of the latter two proposals. Senator Blais, who represents a more rural district (Coventry, Foster, Scituate)--which probably doesn't meet the population requirement laid out in S 0240--is clearly concerned that all of Rhode Island's students and parents get the same opportunity as those in the more urban and populated districts. As for S 0240, it is written so that it will encompass many of the suburban districts as well as the so-called "urban core." Note that all of these are Democratic sponsored bills. Hopefully, this is a signal that, finally, something will get done to allow more charter schools in the state.

Then there is the "however." S 0436, proposed by Senators Senators Connors (Deputy President Pro Tempore), Goodwin, and Maselli, seeks to amend the current Charter School Establishment law by adding:

A charter public school shall recognize an employee organization designated by the authorization cards of sixty percent (60%) of its employees in the appropriate bargaining unit as the exclusive representative of all the employees in such unit for the purpose of collective bargaining.
Currently, there is no provision in the law that specifically spells out whether or not a Charter school can be unionized if collective bargaining is permissible. This would "rectify" that situation.

UPDATE: In the comments section, Andrew adds a very important point concerning the S 0436:

"S0436 is even worse than you suggest. The bit about 'designated by the authorization cards' is a big change in the law hidden in some bland language. The authorization card provision, a.k.a. 'card check', eliminates the requirement that a union be approved by a secret ballot, meaning that at every step in the organizing process, union organizers and (possible future union officials) have access to a list of who supports them and who doesn't. This puts employees in the position of having to weigh whether they think unionizing is a good idea against the knowledge that union leadership -- not exactly famous for their protection of the rights of the minority and their toleration of dissenting opinions -- may hold a grudge, if a union is eventually approved."

Let's just call S 0436 the "Charter School Unionization Act", then, shall we?