Portsmouth celebrates founding with display of 1638 Compact

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Portsmouth Compact (click to enlarge)

Portsmouth's Town Hall was standing room only this morning as citizens gathered to celebrate the town's 378th anniversary with a special viewing of the original Compact, signed by 23 of the town's founders.

The 378-year-old document, which normally resides in the state archives, was on display in the town council chamber. Council Vice President Jim Seveney was on hand to welcome residents and share the council's proclamation marking Founder's Day.

"This kicked off our inaugural Founder's Day event celebrating the history of the town," Seveney told harddeadlines. "It was great to see lots of people there and engaged."

Town historian Jim Garman offered remarks proving the historical context behind the Compact -- one of the oldest surviving.

"it's a very special document," said Garman. "Not too many towns have a founding document still in existence."

Garman outlined the history behind Portsmouth's founding -- how Anne Hutchinson's disagreements with religious leaders in Massachusetts Bay prompted a group to look for a place of their own. Providence's Roger Williams assisted them in buying Aquidneck Island from the Narragansetts for 40 fathoms of white beads and a couple dozen farm tools.

The ceremony was attended by State Rep. Dan Reilly (R-72), and Council members David Gleason and Liz Pedro, and featured live music by harpist Arilyn Mitchell, who also accompanied attendees in the National Anthem.

Garman promised to add more interesting historical info at his lecture on the early days of Portsmouth which will happen this Wednesday at the Portsmouth Public Library from 6:30 to 7:30pm. He advised that there are only 10 seats left, so you'll want to reserve your seat with the library.

Garman also invited attendees to become members of the newly expanded Portsmouth Historical Society, which works to preserve the Town's rich heritage.

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Town Council VP Jim Seveney welcomes attendees.
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Jim Seveney and Portsmouth Historical Society board member Rich Talipsky (center) talk with Town Historian Jim Garman.
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Attendees inspect the original Portsmouth Town Compact of 1638.


Sanders delegate signature event in Portsmouth on Saturday

Local Bernie Sanders delegate candidates will be holding a signature gathering event tomorrow, Saturday, February 27 from 12-2PM at Foodworks Restaurant, 2461 E Main Rd.

FYI — The way the process works, folks who want to be delegates to the Democratic National Convention have filed papers with the RI Secretary of State. They need to get 150 signatures of registered voters by next Tuesday in order to be able to appear on the ballot on primary day. You don't have to be a registered Democrat (or even a Sanders supporter) to sign their papers.

RI schools embrace open-source resources

Rhode Island has joined a new multi-state, open-education initiative to put more free educational resources in the hands of students and teachers, the RI Dept. of Education announced this afternoon.

Through the #GoOpen initiative, coordinated by the U.S. Department of Education, Rhode Island joins 12 other states that have pledged to work together in the first #GoOpen cohort to support teachers in using high-quality, openly licensed educational resources in their schools.

“By joining the #GoOpen initiative, Rhode Island has entered into a partnership with other states committed to innovation and the use of technology to support learning,” said R.I. Governor Gina M. Raimondo. “We recognize the importance of providing our students with the highest-quality learning resources, and we want to make excellent online instructional materials available to our teachers, free of charge. The #GoOpen initiative will accelerate our commitment to bringing our schools and classrooms into the digital age.”

Openly licensed educational resources are digital learning materials that can be used, modified, and shared without breaking copyright laws or paying licensing fees. As such, openly licensed educational resources have enormous potential to increase equitable access to high-quality education opportunities for all students.

Rhode Island was recognized by the U.S. Department of Education at the #GoOpen Exchange, taking place today (February 26) in San Francisco, for its commitment to work with other states to help teachers transition from traditional textbooks to openly licensed educational resources. “We are excited to work with Rhode Island to make openly licensed educational resources available to more teachers,” said Joseph South, Director of the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education. “The smart use of digital-learning resources can increase equity and empower teachers.”

“Rhode Island has become a leader in digital learning through our Innovation Powered by Technology grants and annual conferences. This new initiative, focused on openly licensed educational resources, brings tremendous opportunities for our students and teachers,” said Barbara S. Cottam, Chair of the Board of Education. “Not only can these online materials advance classroom instruction – these resources can also save taxpayer money, as they are available at no cost. I am glad Rhode Island has joined this partnership.”

“We have made many wise investments in technology for our schools, such as the Wireless Classroom Initiative, which has brought wireless Internet access to all Rhode Island classrooms,” said Daniel P. McConaghy, Chair of the Council on Elementary and Secondary Education. “The #GoOpen initiative is an important next step that will support our adoption of digital learning in the classroom.”

“Teaching and learning improve only when teachers have time to collaborate, analyze the learning standards, develop curriculum and lessons, review student work, observe one another, get feedback, and reflect on their practice,” said Education Commissioner Ken Wagner. “As members of the #GoOpen cohort, we encourage schools to use high-quality open educational resources – free curriculum and instructional materials that can be adapted for local purposes – and free up money to be used for ongoing professional development.”

Transitioning to openly licensed resources is essential to preparing our students to be successful. “We can’t prepare our students to thrive in the future using costly, outdated textbooks of the past,” said Richard Culatta, Chief Innovation Officer for the State of Rhode Island. “Openly licensed educational resources allow teachers to adapt and modify learning activities to fit the needs of their students and save money for their school.”

In joining the #GoOpen cohort, the R.I. Department of Education (RIDE), in partnership with the R.I. Office of Innovation, has agreed to the following commitments:

  • Implement a statewide technology strategy that includes the use of openly licensed resources as a central component.
  • Create a repository of openly licensed educational resources for teachers, students, and families.
  • Collaborate with other #GoOpen states to share openly licensed learning resources and professional development strategies.
  • Create a website to share our commitment to #GoOpen and to document our progress.

For more details on #GoOpen commitments made by states, school districts, and technology companies, visit: http://tech.ed.gov/open.

Editorial note: Written from a RIDE news release.

RI senate bills filed to protect domestic violence victims from armed abusers

With a report having been issued today from the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence on the 54 domestic homicide victims in Rhode Island between 2006 and 2015, Senators Cynthia A. Coyne and Maryellen Goodwin will submit a package of legislation this afternoon to ban abusers from possession of a firearm. Both senators have been involved in working to protect victims of domestic violence.

On average, 760 Americans were killed each year between 2006 and 2014 by spouses, ex-spouses or dating partners, according to the Associated Press. In Rhode Island, the Coalition Against Domestic Violence (RICADV) report notes, 19 of the 54 domestic homicide victims were killed with a firearm.

About half of the perpetrators who committed intimate partner homicides had a previous domestic violence history, and 70 percent of those perpetrators had previously been convicted or pleaded nolo contendere in at least one domestic violence case.

The legislation being introduced in the Senate today seeks to protect potential victims by keeping firearms out of the hands of domestic abusers.

One bill, sponsored by Sen. Coyne, prohibits persons convicted of felony domestic abuse, and those who plead nolo contendere to a felony domestic abuse charge, from purchasing, owning, carrying, transporting, possessing or controlling any firearm. Convicted abusers would be required to surrender their firearms within 24 hours to the state police, local police, or a federally licensed firearms dealer.

Another bill, sponsored by Sen. Goodwin, would allow a court to order defendants not to possess firearms while subject to a restraining order related to a complaint of domestic abuse, after they have had an opportunity to be heard at a court hearing. The bill also provides the mechanism for return of surrendered firearms upon expiration of a restraining order.

A third bill, sponsored by Sen. Coyne and more technical in nature, would place a similar prohibition against weapons possession upon individuals subject to a domestic abuse or domestic assault restraining order while serving a sentence under community confinement.

“During two decades working in law enforcement, I saw the terrible toll that domestic violence takes on its victims, who are disproportionately women,” said Sen. Coyne (D-32, Barrington, Bristol, East Providence), a retired state trooper. “The Coalition Against Domestic Violence reports that, when a firearm is present in a domestic violence situation, the risk of homicide for women is five times greater than if there were no firearm present. By removing guns from potentially violent situations, the bills we are introducing today will help save lives.”

Sen. Goodwin (D-1, Providence), who sponsored the original legislation, enacted in 2005, enabling judges to remove firearms from abusers, said, “Far too many domestic violence survivors live lives that are dictated by fear – fear that their abuser will strike again and maybe this time it will end in death. The research presented today indicates that the victim’s perception of future danger is the single best predictor of assault. That is one reason why removing firearms from those subject to restraining orders is so important. This legislation will help domestic violence survivors put some of that fear behind them and actually live.”

Among the co-sponsors of the bills are Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed (D-13, Newport, Jamestown), and Senators Donna Nesselbush (D-15, Pawtucket, North Providence), William Conley, Jr. (D-18, East Providence, Pawtucket), Harold Metts (D-6, Providence), Gayle Goldin (D-3, Providence) and Hanna Gallo (D-27, Cranston, West Warwick).

Editorial note: Written from a state house news release.

LTE: Senator urges restoration of Ethics Commission oversight

This letter to the editor from Sen. James Sheehan (D-36) was distributed for publication by the state house press office.

Dear Editor:

Last Sunday, the University of Rhode Island hosted a competition which pitted student teams against each other in defending their moral take on complex social, political and business issues. This inaugural event was called the Rhode Island High School Ethics Bowl. Coincidentally, the annual “State House Ethics Bowl,” restoring the Ethics Commission’s jurisdiction over the General Assembly, kicks off again this session at the state capitol.

The Ethics Commission was created to be the citizens’ watchdog over public officials and their actions, with specific authority over the General Assembly. As a result of a 2009 ruling, in a case involving former Senate President William V. Irons, the Ethics Commission’s oversight over the General Assembly was struck a severe blow. The ruling effectively exempted state lawmakers from scrutiny and prosecution by the state Ethics Commission for violations relating to their core legislative acts such as introducing and voting on legislation. Since then, a senator or representative can freely promote legislation wherein he or she has a clear conflict of interest without fear of being held accountable by the Ethics Commission. This “legislators’ loophole” must be closed.

The late Sen. J. Michael Lenihan took up the effort to restore the jurisdiction of the Ethics Commission following the 2009 decision. I proudly took up the banner of ethics reform after Senator Lenihan retired in 2010. Further, at the behest of Senate President Teresa Paiva-Weed, I have worked to find a common ground compromise on ethics reform. Working with various stakeholders, including voices of good government watchdogs, the Senate, and the Ethics Commission, I believe we have forged a very reasonable ethics reform amendment. As with most compromises on contentious issues, no one was completely happy with the resulting text, but nearly everyone agreed that it represented a genuine opportunity to bring closure to this issue.

This common ground Ethics Amendment would re-establish the authority of the Ethics Commission over the core legislative acts of the General Assembly while preserving the venerated right of “free speech” for lawmakers on the floor or in committees of both houses. Further, the amendment would afford any person a trial by jury appeal for a violation of the Code of Ethics deemed criminal in nature at common law by the state's [high] court. Lastly, the proposed amendment would set the composition of the Ethics Commission into the constitution as well as balance the number of Ethics commissioners nominated by the House and Senate leaders.

Rhode Island citizens do not trust their government, especially the General Assembly. In a Fleming and Associates 2016 poll of what issues Rhode Island voters want the General Assembly to address this year, “Government corruption” was ranked second (behind creating jobs). Restoring the jurisdiction of the Ethics Commission over the General Assembly would represent a great step forward in rebuilding the people’s trust in government by deterring future instances of public corruption. The only question is whether Senate and House leaders will decide to act on Ethics Reform or will prefer to maintain a festering status quo.

Sen. James C. Sheehan

Senator Sheehan is a Democratic senator representing District 36, which includes Narragansett and North Kingstown. He is chairman of the Senate Government Oversight Committee. He resides in North Kingstown.

LTE: Supporting single payer in Rhode Island

The following is a letter sent to the RI House Finance Committee by Portsmouth physician Mark Ryan, who submitted it for publication here.

Dear Members of the RI House Finance Committee:

We are writing to ask you to support H 7381, legislation proposing a single payer program that could ensure all Rhode Islanders have affordable, comprehensive heath care coverage. This legislation has been introduced by Representatives Regunberg, Amore, Tanzi, Handy and Almeida and will have a hearing before the Finance Committee. See http://webserver.rilin.state.ri.us/BillText/BillText16/HouseText16/H7381.pdf.

The bill is based on a 2015 Rhode Island-focused study by Professor Gerald Friedman, Chair of the UMass Amherst Economics Department. See the attached report, addendum memo and letter in support of the 2015 version of this proposed legislation. The problems Professor Friedman' identifies include the following:

  • Between 1991 and 2014, health care spending in RI per person rose by over 250% – rising much faster than income – greatly reducing disposable income.
  • Health care is “rationed” under our current multi-payer system, despite the fact that Rhode Islanders already pay enough money to have comprehensive and universal health insurance under a single-payer system.
  • The federal Affordable Care Act (ACA) cannot control rising premiums, co-pays, deductibles and medical costs, nor prevent private insurance companies from continuing to limit available providers and coverage.
  • Fully implemented, the ACA will still leave 4% of Rhode Islanders without insurance – resulting in as many as 116 Rhode Islanders dying unnecessarily from lack of insurance each year.
  • In the United States, 62% of personal bankruptcies were medical cost related and of these, 78% had health insurance at the time of their bankruptcy.

H. 7381 addresses these problems because it will:

  • Save approximately $4000 per resident per year by 2024 and put more money into the Rhode Island economy.
  • Significantly reduce administrative costs (almost $1 billion in the first year) and shift these dollars to actual provision of health care.
  • Decrease provider administrative burdens and allow them to spend more time providing health care.
  • Establish a funding system that is public and progressive.
  • Eliminate health insurance costs and administrative obligations on Rhode Island businesses and make them more competitive and profitable (e.g., in the first year, payroll contributions to a single payer plan would be over $1.2 billion less than current private health insurance premiums).
  • Contain health care costs (reduce administration and control over monopolistic pricing) and save 23% of current expenditures in the first year with larger savings in subsequent years.
  • Create a significant economic stimulus for the state by attracting businesses to and keeping businesses in Rhode Island because of reduced health insurance costs.

The high and increasing costs of health insurance puts an enormous burden on Rhode Island working families and businesses. In every other industrialized nation in the world, a universal comprehensive single payer health insurance solution exists. Although it would be preferable to have a national program and there is significant public support (e.g., HR 676), gridlock in Washington, DC, dictates that action at the state level must also be taken. You should note that the Canadian national single payer system began as a regional program in Saskatchewan.

Given your concern for the financial and health care needs of Rhode Islanders, we urge you to support this bill.

Please let us know by replying to this email (pnhp.ri@gmail.com) if you have any questions, comments or criticisms. We welcome the opportunity to discuss your concerns prior to the hearing. We would also be happy to meet with individuals or groups interested in learning more about single payer. For more information, including significant peer-reviewed research, go to: www.pnhp.org.

Thank you for your time and attention to H 7381.

Yours truly,

J. Mark Ryan, MD, FACP
Chair, Rhode Island Chapter - Physicians for a National Health Program

Howard Rotblat-Walker, PhD
Chair, Rhode Island Chapter - HealthCare-Now

Attachments:
RI Healthcare reform
Effect of RI State Funded Health Plan on Disposable Income
Friedman Testimony, May 26 2015

Want to know "How to Have a Good Day?" Read this book.

HTHAGD_3D.pngThis book should suck. Really. The title clearly over-promises (“How To Have a Good Day,” indeed) and the text attempts three of the most difficult non-fiction high-wire acts: popularizing science without making stupid errors, presenting business advice that doesn’t trigger your bullshit detector, and giving self-help tips that don’t fall off into either banality or featherbrained woo.

Nearly impossible. And yet, somehow, Caroline Webb has pulled it off.

“How to Have a Good Day” is a meticulously documented, step-by-step approach to leveraging contemporary research in cognitive science and behavioral economics to solve the real problems that keep us from being effective — and happy — in our day-to-day jobs and lives. And it’s not aimed at helping you “feel” better, but, rather, outlines a rigorously pragmatic approach to actually *doing* better: analyzing situations more effectively, making better decisions, and communicating with others with empathy and impact.

Every piece of advice comes with a footnoted scientific study — often more than one — buttressing its claims. And Webb, a former partner at a management consulting firm, peppers the text with mini-case studies, anecdotes from business leaders across a wide spectrum of industries that reinforce each of the learnings. Taken together, these present a compelling argument that the advice doesn’t just work in the lab, but in the rubber-meets-the-road environments of the shop floor and the conference room.

Webb opens the book with a section on the science. There are some familiar big ideas (the brain’s two-systems of deliberate thought and automatic or pre-conscious process; the fight-flight-freeze response which can keep us open to discovery or shut us down in defensive threat reaction; and the mind-body loop in which influence can go both ways) which Webb will weave throughout the book. If there is a core theme, it would be that by better understanding how our brain processes the world, we can become aware of and avoid the shortcuts and pitfalls of our unconscious biases and blind spots — and in so doing, increase the odds of our having successful interactions. (And that, often, it can be as simple an act as setting intentions that alerts the brain to the salient features it should be picking out.)

If you’re familiar with cognitive science (or phenomenology) some of this may be sound obvious, but Webb’s skill is in taking these insights and showing throughout the rest of the book how they lead to dysfunction in our everyday lives. We do not directly experience the world, but rather offload much of our administrative processing to sub-conscious systems — and therein lies the problem: we make snap judgements, improperly weight data, and can miss things that are literally right in front of our eyes.

One example Webb uses to demonstrate this kind of inattentional blindness is the famous “gorilla in the basketball game” video (if you’re not familiar, here’s a helpful NPR backgrounder). Webb offers a variety of tested methods for re-focusing our brain’s attention, keeping us in a creative, open state, and engaging the teams around us in ways that help keep them working at their full potential. Hint: It can be as simple as using the “yes…and” familiar to anyone who’s done improv comedy to keep other team members from going into the “amygdala hijack” of defensive mode.

One weird trick I found particularly compelling was harnessing our social brain to solve abstract logic puzzles. Webb uses the example of the Wason selection task, in which you have four cards, showing D, F, 3, and 7, and are asked which cards you would need to turn over to test the truth of the assertion that any card with a “D” on one side must have a “3” on the other. A majority of people get this wrong. But then Webb suggests reframing it in social terms:

“You’re a bartender. You have to make sure that anyone drinking beer in your bar is over twenty-one, or you could lose your license. Each of the cards below represents information about four of your patrons. One side of the card shows what they’re drinking, and the other side of the card shows their (real) age. Which card or cards to you need to turn over to see if the twenty-one-and-over rule is being violated?” The cards are: Beer, Coke, 25, and 16.

Three times as many people get this right, because they’re leveraging their social knowledge. And as Webb points out, we can easily apply this framing to everyday conceptual challenges to provide extra processing power. And that’s just one cherry-picked example. The 300 pages of this book are packed with equally powerful bits of advice.

Webb conveys this all with style and wit, in prose that is at once warm and unpretentious and yet totally at home with the complexities of the evidence she marshals to support her arguments. It is well-written down to the footnotes, and contains two helpful appendices on applying the book’s insights to the two main productivity killers of the business world, meetings and e-mail. I came away with half-a-dozen ideas for things to do differently (some as simple as single-tasking and batching the times I respond to e-mails) and I can virtually guarantee that you’ll find things that will make your days more productive and, yes, happier.

“How to Have a Good Day” by Caroline Webb, from Crown Business. Web site, Facebook. Available on Amazon or IndieBound and many other retailers.

Full disclosure: For several years, I worked with Ms. Webb’s husband, but I have never met her. I purchased the book myself, and received nothing in exchange for this review. One of the advantages of being a freelancer is that I get to pick what I write — if I don’t like a book, I simply don’t review it.

RI Department of State web site gets major revamp

16feb02_sos_site.pngSecretary of State Nellie Gorbea today announced the launch of a redesigned Department of State web site. The new site, created entirely through in-house efforts, offers a straightforward interface that will make it easier for Rhode Islanders to quickly access the information they need.

"As Secretary of State, I've been working to make this office a modern gateway that connects Rhode Islanders and their government," Gorbea said in remarks distributed to local media. "We spoke to a number of different stakeholders and redesigned the website to have a much simpler navigation, to be more user-friendly and make government more accessible overall."

Based on that feedback, the web site is now structured around four key areas:

  • The Business Portal provides a step-by-step process for entrepreneurs and current business owners to start or qualify their business in Rhode Island, along with easy access to the Department's online filing system.
  • The Elections and Voting Portal offers key information for voters and candidates. Users can link directly to the Voter Information Center where registered voters can find their polling place and learn about what's on their local ballot.
  • The Open Government Portal provides access to the Department's searchable databases including lobby tracker, open meetings, and rules and regulations.
  • The Civics and Education Portal highlights the many ways Rhode Islanders can learn about and engage with our state's rich and diverse history.

    In addition, the website offers quick access to services for frequent users such as state and local government agencies, notaries public, and registered lobbyists.
    Users are encouraged to interact with the website at www.sos.ri.gov.

    Editorial note: Written from an RI.gov news release.

Edwards offers bill to broaden campaign finance law

House Majority Whip Jay Edwards (D-70, Tiverton, Portsmouth) has introduced legislation that would increase the accountability of the campaign finance law by clarifying language. The bill will be taken up by the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.

“The legislation would extend the power of campaign finance legislation by clarifying which people and groups are obliged to submit campaign finance reports,” said Representative Edwards. “It also extends those provisions to those who campaign for or against financial and charter change referendums.”

The bill (2016-H 7147) would clarify the definition of the term “entity” for purposes of campaign finance as it pertains to advocating for the approval or rejection of any question presented to voters at a financial town meeting, financial town referendum, or local election involving charter amendments. The act would include business entities, political action committees, persons and exempt nonprofits in the definition of an “entity.”

“We made some good advancement two years ago in campaign finance reform,” said Whip Edwards. “But we need to revisit this topic every year to review the laws and make whatever adjustments are necessary to hold all parties accountable. I think this bill is an important one to keep the campaigning of local issues fair for everyone involved.”

The bill, which is cosponsored by Representatives Dennis Canario (D-71, Portsmouth, Tiverton, Little Compton), Mary Duffy Messier (D-62, Pawtucket), Joy Hearn (D-66, Barrington, East Providence) and Minority Leader Brian C. Newberry (R-48, North Smithfield, Burrillville), will be heard by the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, Jan. 27, at the rise of the House (about 4:30 p.m.) in Room 205 on the second floor of the State House.

Editorial note: Written from a general assembly news release.

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