OpEd: Lessons from Harvey: R.I. must plan with flooding in mind

carson.jpgby Rep. Lauren H. Carson

In recent days we’ve seen harrowing images of Texans carrying their children, belongings and pets against strong currents in chest-deep waters, and heard the heartbreaking stories of loss as one of the most-damaging storms in history wreaked its havoc on the Gulf coast.

Here in the Ocean State, we must take heed. We may be 1,800 miles away, but we are similarly at risk for devastating flooding in the event of a hurricane or other severe weather event.

In 2016, I led a special legislative commission that studied the economic risks that sea rise and flooding pose to our state. What our panel found was that Rhode Island can protect itself from some of the economic risks posed by rising sea levels through coordinated statewide planning and awareness programs aimed at policymakers, homeowners, business owners, and real estate agents. But we also found that we musts do more to ensure that all policy makers across the state grasp that the risks aren’t merely hypothetical. As a coastal state with a majority of our population and resources located near the water, the dangers to our lives and resources are inevitable, and we need to protect them before the next Harvey, Katrina, Gloria, or Carol comes our way.

Toward that end, this session I sponsored legislation requiring continuing training on sea rise and flooding for all local planning boards. The bill aims to ensure that those who have the front-line duties of determining whether, where and how we build our communities have the information and tools to ensure new development and redevelopment is built with an eye toward protecting assets from rising sea levels, which also affect inland and riverine municipalities. The training program has already been developed at the University of Rhode Island, having been funded in last year’s state budget, and consists of a one-hour course that planners can take for free online at their own convenience.

This is quite possibly one of the most critically important things we can do to protect public and private assets, as well as lives and livelihoods, from flooding. Empowering local planners to recognize future risks and require that future development protect against them will do more than protect their investments; it will also help keep insurance costs for all Rhode Island properties from rising rapidly, since high replacement costs and recurring disasters increase insurers’ costs, and property-holders’ rates. The insurance industry should embrace this effort to prepare for future risk.

This legislation has passed the House and is now awaiting Senate approval. The Senate Judiciary Committee had recommended it for passage by the full Senate before the Assembly unexpectedly recessed in June. I urge my colleagues in the Senate to see this bill through to the finish line when the two chambers return on Sept. 19.

Rhode Island must be more proactive in planning for flooding and sea rise. The devastating toll of human loss and suffering in Texas must remind us of the high stakes involved.

Rep. Lauren H. Carson (D-75, Newport) served as chair of the Special House Commission to Study Economic Risk Due to Flooding and Sea Level Rise.

Editorial note: OpEd provided by State House news bureau.

RI Democratic leaders express support for Dreamers

Rhode Island’s top Democratic Party leadership gathered Tuesday to denounce the actions of President Donald Trump to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (D.A.C.A.) program, which safeguarded the rights of an estimated 800,000 immigrants who were children when they entered the United States. The news conference, according to a release, was held at the Segue Institute for Learning in Central Falls and led by R.I. Democratic Party Chair Joseph M. McNamara, included Governor Gina Raimondo, Lt. Governor Daniel McKee, Attorney General Peter Kilmartin, Treasurer Seth Magaziner, Mayors James A. Diossa (Central Falls) and Jorge Elorza (Providence,) and two ‘Dreamers’ — Javier Juarez, a Brown University graduate student, and Rodrigo Pimental, a member of the R.I. Progressive Democrats.

“Rhode Island was founded on the principles of tolerance and diversity," said Governor Raimondo. "Throughout our history, our state has been strengthened by the contributions of immigrants. President Trump’s plan to end DACA is nothing short of cruel, and it would be a disaster for the nation’s economy. As long as I am Governor of this state, Rhode Island will stand up for the American Dream, and the Dreamers who keep it alive.”

Lt. Governor McKee said, “Here in Rhode Island, we have thousands of amazing young people who are protected by DACA, many who have only ever known Rhode Island as their home. These young people are studying, working, running small businesses, paying taxes, and building their own families. DACA protects the progress they have made and the many contributions they continue to make to the social and economic fabric of our state. Halting this program is inhumane and stands against everything Rhode Islanders stand for.”

Rhode Islanders seeking support with DACA or general immigration issues are encouraged to reach out to Progreso Latino, Dorcas International Institute of Rhode Island, or Roger Williams Law School Immigration Law Clinic.

“DACA children have known nothing else but this country as their home, they contribute greatly to the fabric of our community, and they deserve our protection from any attempt to undermine their rights as residents,” said Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin on Friday. “This is one of the most heartless and immoral decisions the President has made yet. We are a nation built on the contributions of our many immigrant populations, and we are a stronger nation because of those contributions. Now the President is turning his back on children who have so much to give to this country. We cannot sit idly by as he strips DACA grantees rights they have been afforded and deserve.”

“Dreamers represent the best of the American spirit – young people going to school, working, and volunteering to build a better life. President Trump’s plan to expel these promising young people is cruel and un-American. We must all have the courage to speak out,” said Treasurer Magaziner.

“The elimination of DACA is a direct attack on the American Dream for 800,000 young people,” said Mayor Elorza. “DREAMers are Americans in virtually every way and it is deeply disheartening that they now face additional anxiety and uncertainty. Congress has the ability to bring hope back to DREAMers and we urge them to come together in a bipartisan way. We have 6 months to get the job done, let’s get to work.”

“President Trump’s decision today is going to hurt the progress of our country. Many of our kids benefitting from DACA are potential doctors, lawyers, scientists, and small business owners. They are creators, builders and innovators,” said Mayor Diossa. “The President has stopped the opportunity to make our country stronger – by having our kids paralyzed from seeking a better future.”

“DACA has affected my life drastically,” said Brown University graduate student and ‘Dreamer’ Javier Juarez. “Without DACA, I would have never been able to drive, get a decent paying job with benefits, graduate from Rhode Island College and get accepted into Brown University. Without DACA, everything that I have worked so hard for will vanish. I will continue to fight for DACA. I don’t need a set of papers to show the government that I am a stand-up citizen,” Juarez said.

Chair McNamara concluded, “It is so devastating to families and the impact it will have on them educationally and personally. These young citizens will lose the opportunity to fulfill themselves, and it will negatively impact our economic prospects for this generation.”

Editorial note: Written from a news release.

OpEd: Manufacturing is REAL in Rhode Island

ruggiero.jpgBy Deborah Ruggiero

Manufacturing in Rhode Island is alive and well, but not the manufacturing from the days of our grandparents. Technology has changed how we do business today and how we live.

Today’s manufacturing requires knowledge in technology, math, ladder logic, G-code, lean manufacturing principles and CAD programs. Manufacturing represents 15 percent of the state’s economy with over 1,600 manufacturers in Rhode Island ranging from sole proprietors to companies with over 100 employees.

The number one challenge I hear from manufacturers is finding qualified candidates to expand their business. The biggest asset of any company is its people. And let’s be real, because not every high school student is going to college. That’s why the Governor’s Manufacturing Initiative in this year’s budget is so important. The General Assembly approved $3.65 million to upgrade Davies Career and Technical High School to create a state-of-the art Advanced Manufacturing Center.

Investing in manufacturing to train high school students exposes them to careers that will help them in the future. It also helps manufacturers —from craft breweries to precision manufacturers — employ a skilled and qualified workforce to meet the demand of their customers.

Many young people don’t know what opportunity looks like today. The new manufacturing in Rhode Island is in defense, marine and infrastructure technology and cybersecurity. Rhode Island is a defense and undersea technology leader not just in New England but throughout the country.

Everyone starts somewhere. So start by talking with Dave Chenevert at Rhode Island Manufacturers Association and enroll in its apprentice program called WE MAKE RI. It has a 95-percent graduation rate and RIMA gets its apprentices jobs. (www.WeMakeRI.com)

More young people should tour Taylor Box in Warren and talk to Dan Shedd, owner of a third-generation family business. He’s survived recessions, expanded his manufacturing facility, and continues to look for good talent for his growing business in this new economy.

Let’s drive economic growth by creating a skilled workforce while expanding manufacturing in Rhode Island. It’s the future. It’s the new economy. It’s good-paying jobs and in our own backyard.

Rep.Deborah Ruggiero, (D-Dist. 74, Jamestown) is chairwoman of the Small Business Committee and serves on the House Finance Committee.

Editorial note: OpEd provided by State House news bureau.

RI Democratic leaders condemn Trump remarks

Rhode Island’s elected Democratic leaders joined today to condemn President Trump’s remarks Tuesday voicing support the ‘Alt-Right’ movement — White supremacists, neo-Nazis, and members of the Ku Klux Klan — and in a statement sent to reporters, called for Americans to unite peaceably to protect Democracy.

"The hateful and violent actions of white supremacists and self-identified Nazis this weekend leave no room for equivocation," said Governor Gina Raimondo. "President Trump responded to the events this weekend with dog whistles and muddled words. I stand with Rhode Islanders from across our state against hate, racism and white supremacy. I call on President Trump and all elected and community leaders to make a clear, unequivocal statement that white supremacy, Nazism, racism, and bigotry are evil and have no place in our democratic republic."

"All of our leaders have a responsibility to speak with one common voice against bigotry, hatred and prejudice," said Nicholas Mattiello, Speaker of the Rhode Island House of Representatives. "A failure to denounce such actions in Charlottesville and elsewhere is an implied acceptance of this intolerable behavior. Americans must stand united for decency, honesty and the shared common value of equality for all."

President of the Senate Dominick J. Ruggerio said, “There can be no false equivalency between those who seek to subjugate groups of Americans and those who stand bravely against hatred and oppression. This isn’t about left versus right; it’s about right versus wrong. Rhode Islanders of diverse ideologies have fought to protect the American ideal that all people are created equal against the scourge of slavery during the Civil War, of Nazism during World War II, and of racism during the Civil Rights movement. We as Americans stand united against racism and intolerance, but the leader of this great nation must not equivocate on the fundamental American principle espoused by George Washington to a Jewish congregation in Newport: that we shall give to bigotry no sanction.”

“America is at a crossroads. Do we continue our experiment in democracy or do we return to the days of bigotry, racism, hatred, and condoned violence?” asked Party Chair Joseph M. McNamara. “This is not a Republican / Democratic issue – this is an American issue; our nation needs its elected and political leaders to unite to speak out now against this injustice, and to fight to protect our nation from this divisive presidency.”

Editorial note: Written from a news release.

RI Dems call Trump's transgender ban an "outrage"

“It is an absolute outrage that President Trump is calling for the ban of transgender people in our military, and that he would be so cavalier as to ‘tweet’ this policy reversal,” said Rhode Island Democratic Party Chair Joseph M. McNamara in a statement Wednesday.

“Trump’s statement that transgender Americans will not be allowed to serve 'in any capacity' is absurd and discriminatory on its face. Love of country is not affected by gender identity, nor should it be hailed as a marker for who is patriotic or best qualified to serve this nation,” McNamara said. “At a time when democracy faces threats inside and outside our borders – North Korean aggression, Russian interference in our elections, ISIS terrorists — we need the best and most committed soldiers possible. This policy does not accomplish that.”

Anthony DeRose, Chair of the Rhode Island Democratic Party LGBTQ Caucus, said, "It is truly disgraceful how this President, who has not served one day in the Armed Forces, is now a so-called expert on what is considered a 'disruption' on the battlefield. He's not only disrespecting those trans individuals who have served our Nation bravely or who would have wished to serve, but he is maligning all trans people.”

Editorial note: Written from a news release.

Prudence Water District workshop on taxing power this Saturday

The Prudence Island Water District will hold a workshop on implementing their taxing authority this Saturday at 1pm the Union Church, according to a news release.

After research, discussion of options and careful consideration over the past year, the Board of the Prudence Island Water District intends to implement use of its taxing authority effective with passage of the Fiscal Year 2018 Budget. The District has had the authority to tax real property within the District since its creation through legislative action in 2004. However, the District has never implemented this authority and instead relied exclusively on collection of semi-annual water service fees to pay for all operating expenses, capital expenses and debt service.

During the past year, the District has reviewed its taxing authority and the need for additional debt service as part of this long-term plan to continue improving not only its water quality and upgrading its infrastructure, but to also increase potential capacity for new customers (including redundancy of supply to respond to temporary interruptions in the availability of one or more wells), as well as improve the accessibility and quantity of water available for fire fighting within the District.

The Board has concluded that these projects will equally benefit not only its water customers, but also the property owners within the District that are not currently purchasing water service from the district. The Board feels that it is unfair to place the full financial burden of these system improvements solely on current water users when they benefit all property owners within the District. Therefore, the District intends to move to a budget that is based on funding operations with a combination of water service fees and debt service through a District wide tax on real property. This funding structure is common practice in water districts throughout the State of Rhode Island.

The Board has scheduled the second of two public informational workshops to present this change to property owners within the District. The workshop will be held:

July 29, 2017
from one o'clock to two o'clock at
Union Church
3 Pier Road, Prudence Island

Full implementation of the budgetary decision and setting of the tax rate will occur when the Board adopts its budget for fiscal year 2018 (October 1, 2017 to September 30, 2018) at its monthly Board meeting on September 16, 2017.

Editorial note: Written from a news release.

RI Democratic Women's Caucus meeting draws nearly 100 participants

Nearly 100 women from East Bay and across the state gathered Tuesday night at Rogers Library in Bristol to map out next steps for the growing Rhode Island Democratic Women’s Caucus; nearly a third of those present were first-time attendees. Caucus co-chairs Rep. Lauren Carson, Rep. Shelby Maldonado and Rep. Grace Diaz led the two-hour program. (Senator Gayle Goldin was absent due to family illness.)

The attendees suggested specific workshops and training sessions they’d like to be part of, including: fundraising, leadership training, communications, running campaigns, understanding the legislature, learning how bills are made and passed, and supporting women candidates. An upcoming outline and schedule of workshops is expected to be presented to members in its next meeting.

Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea spoke to the group about the importance of getting involved in elections and politics, to exercise their right to vote and to encourage others to do so. She applauded the efforts of the co-chairs and the dozen elected women in attendance, and urged all to attend their local city and town committee meetings. At least two dozen of those attending were either elected or city or town chairs.

RI Democratic Party Executive Director T. Kevin Olasanoye gave a state Party update, including an overview of Resistance Summer, a 4-month, Democratic National Committee-led program to expand voter involvement. He introduced the Party’s two new interns, who will be responsible for building voter registration and community involvement: Michelle Arias and Jakub Lis.

The next meeting is Tuesday, August 1, in Newport; co-chairs also announced plans for tri-state regional meeting with other women’s caucuses for the fall. For more information, call 401.272.3367, or see the Women's Caucus on Facebook.

Editorial note: written from a news release

Seveney to host constituent meeting July 16

Jim_campaign_medium.jpgSen. Jim Seveney (D-11) will host a constituent meeting next Sunday, July 16 at Foodworks Restaurant, 2461 East Main Rd. in Portsmouth from 1:30-3pm, according to an e-mail sent this afternoon. Sen. Seveney's district includes all of Portsmouth, southern Bristol, and an area of Tiverton near the bridge.

Seveney says in the e-mail, "Needless to say, some major pieces of legislation, including the FY 2018 state budget, are in limbo and awaiting final completion. Hopefully we'll reconvene soon to finish the work left undone on Friday, June 30th.

"Come anytime between 1:30 - 3:00pm to discuss issues, expectations and the latest status on legislation of interest. I'll also share my experiences and insights gained as a first term state senator. I invite you to stop by and let me know what you're thinking."

Meeting is free and open to the public. Coffee and light snacks will be available.

Editorial note: Written from an e-mail.

OpEd: Senate’s budget will protect taxpayers

ruggerio.jpgBy Dominick J. Ruggerio

As President of the Rhode Island State Senate, I have a responsibility to ensure we pass a balanced and sustainable budget for the state of Rhode Island. The budget adopted by the House of Representatives did not protect the state’s rainy day fund from Speaker Mattiello’s car tax phase-out in the event of a future recession or cuts to federal aid.

Like the Speaker, I support eliminating the car tax, but only if we can afford it. This should not be a new revelation for the Speaker. Since the beginning of this legislative session, I have publicly and privately expressed concerns about the sustainability of phasing out the car tax. I understand the Speaker campaigned on eliminating the car tax, but campaign promises alone cannot serve as the basis for policy formulation.

Last Friday, the Senate unanimously approved amending the budget to include a critical safeguard that suspends the car tax phase-out if state revenues can no longer support the plan. Without the safeguard, the state would have to tap into the rainy day fund, which I will not support. The Senate previously discussed this safeguard during budget negotiations and Senate Finance Committee hearings.

This safeguard was the only amendment to the budget. The Speaker’s car tax plan otherwise remains untouched, and not one dollar was changed in the $9.2 billion budget. I have great respect for the Speaker and his passion for reducing the car tax, but no one individual in the General Assembly has the authority to dictate what will or will not be in the budget. The Senate made this corrective action to protect taxpayers. Tapping into the rainy day fund could harm the state’s bond rating and our overall fiscal health.

The Speaker has not identified a revenue stream to support the car tax phase-out going forward. In fact by 2024, the car tax phase out will cost $221 million. The projected structural deficit for that year is over $300 million. Without proper safeguards or a proven reliable revenue stream, the rainy day fund could be obligated to support the Speaker’s car tax phase-out.

No one, not even the Speaker, wants to see this phase-out succeed more than I. The two communities I serve – Providence and North Providence – pay among the highest rates in the state. However, Rhode Island has a long and tortured history in its efforts to phase out the car tax. At one point, the General Assembly repealed a similar plan because of declining state revenues. I will not repeat that mistake. Taxpayers deserve predicable and sustainable tax relief.

After we amended the budget last Friday, the Senate remained in session and passed legislation to improve the quality of life of all Rhode Islanders. When the Speaker abruptly recessed the House, not only did he leave the budget unfinished – which includes his car tax plan with our safeguards – he also walked away from critical pieces of legislation. These include measures to provide paid sick leave to Rhode Island workers, take guns out of the hands of domestic abusers, and codify important provisions of the Affordable Care Act into state law.

We encourage the Speaker to reconvene the House to take up these matters. In the meantime, the Senate will thoroughly review all legislation that comes before us and pass that which we deem is in the best interest of all Rhode Islanders.

Dominick J. Ruggerio is President of the Rhode Island Senate. He is a Democrat that represents District 4, Providence and North Providence.

Editorial note: OpEd provided by State House news bureau.

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