GA

Sen. Jim Seveney sworn in as General Assembly convenes

RI State Senator James A. Seveney (D-Dist. 11, Portsmouth, Bristol, Tiverton) was formally sworn into office Tuesday, Jan. 3, as the 2017-18 session of the Rhode Island General Assembly convened.

Senator Seveney was one of 4 new members of the Senate who took the oath of office, which was administered to all 38 Senate members by Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea.

The Senate began its legislative year with a program of activities that included the re-election of Sen. M. Teresa Paiva Weed (D-Dist. 13, Newport, Jamestown) as President of the Senate. Elected to the post in January 2009, President Paiva Weed began her fifth two-year term today with an address to the Senate members and other assembled officials and guests.

Senator Seveney is a retired Navy officer. He graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1972, earned a bachelor’s degree from Rhode Island College in 1976, a master of science degree from the Naval Postgraduate School in 1990, and an MBA from Salve Regina University in 2005. His father, Gardiner F. Seveney, served four terms in the Rhode Island Senate, from 1979 to 1986.

He resides in Portsmouth with his wife, Valerie. They are the parents of two children, Sarah and Matthew.

Editorial note: Written from a state house news release.

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Portsmouth police station bond passes House

16may11_canario.jpgRep. Dennis Canario’s (D-71) legislation (H 7793) that authorizes the Town of Portsmouth to issue $10,000,000 of general obligation bonds and/or notes in order to design, construct, equip and furnish a new police station passed the House of Representatives last night, according to a state house news release. The bill now heads to the Senate for consideration.

“The current police station was built in the 1970’s and it was built for the 70’s. So there was no female officer locker room, crucial technology systems are housed in inadequate non-cooled rooms, officers must store their gear in boiler rooms, there is no public space for events such as the citizens’ police academy, and in today’s climate, and the layout of station is below standards for the public and the officers. These are among the many reasons a new station is needed,” said Representative Canario. “If approved by the voters, these bonds will allow the town to build a police station that everyone can be proud of and one that would be able to serve the citizens in the most effective and state-of-the-art way possible.”

The act would take effect upon approval by the voters of Portsmouth.

Editorial note: Written from a news release.

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Rep. Canario school bus driver training legislation passes House

16may11_canario.jpgPortsmouth Rep. Dennis Canario’s legislation (H8082) that requires school bus drivers’ annual training include the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s school bus driver in-service training series was passed by the House of Representatives tonight, according to a state house news release. The legislation now heads to the Senate for consideration.

“There is nothing more important to Rhode Island’s parents than the safety of their children on our state’s school buses. This legislation ensures that our bus drivers are trained with the most up to date safety procedures and protocols that are available,” said Representative Canario (D-71). “The passage of this bill keeps our kids safer, it keeps our roads safer, and it makes sure that our state’s school bus drivers will always have the most current national safety training and do their jobs in the safest manner possible.”

The series includes training on driver attitude; student management; highway and rail grade crossing safety; vehicle training; knowing your route; loading and unloading; driving under adverse weather conditions; emergency evacuation; and transporting students with special needs. If the legislation becomes law, school bus drivers would need to receive the training annually.

Editorial note: Written from a state house news release.

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LTE: R.I. must build smarter now to adapt to already-rising sea levels

By Rep. Lauren H. Carson

16may16_carson.jpgIn recent years, it has become common to walk out my front door near Newport’s waterfront in the historic Point neighborhood during a storm and see several inches of water surging up the road. For some, the challenges caused by sea rise and flooding still seem hypothetical, but for me and the hundreds of other neighbors and businesses in my district, the issue is on our doorsteps — sometimes over them.

While Rhode Island possesses the research and intellectual capital to tackle sea-level rise, I witnessed a communication divide between those studying the issue, stakeholders affected by it and leaders capable of addressing it. For that reason, one of my first priorities upon my election to the House was to sponsor the creation of a commission to study and bring attention to the economic risks that sea rise and flooding pose to our state.

The commission, whose members hail from real estate, hospitality and tourism, academia, science and public policy, worked for six months, conducting case studies on the Providence Port, the Newport waterfront and the Westerly beachfront, and listening to municipal, state, and regional experts.

What we found was that businesses from beachside restaurants in Westerly to marine shipping corporations in Providence are beginning to understand the threat of sea level rise and conceptualize solutions, but we still have much work to do to ensure the Ocean State adequately adapts. In the end, the state must adopt a philosophical approach to meeting adaptation goals that embrace the broader aim of protecting Rhode Island’s overall economy from flooding and rising waters.

Toward that end, I have introduced legislation requiring continuing training on sea rise and flooding for all local zoning and planning boards, 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 riverene municipalities. 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 my efforts to prepare for future risk.

I am also working to design a flood audit program similar to the existing free energy audit program offered by RISE Engineering through National Grid. While this legislation may not be ready in time for passage this session, helping businesses and residential property owners in the flood plain understand and mitigate their own risks was one of the recommendations of our commission.

At the commission’s request, the Department of Business Regulation is also considering regulatory training for real estate agents on sea rise and flooding as part of their continuing education requirements as a means for making improvements to existing properties when they hit the market to ensure their protection from flooding, and helping agents protect Rhode Island buyers from making risky investments.

Our study commission learned many important things about our fragile coast, but mainly we learned that there is a high cost to doing nothing. A do-nothing approach will likely cause insurance premiums to increase and homes and businesses to flood near and far from our 400 miles of coastline.

It is cheaper to act now.

Rhode Island is prepared to do that because of well-defined regulations, strong risk-assessment tools, and effective cooperation between the government, academia and the private sector.
We can project Rhode Island as a leader in the region for taking steps to ensure minimal property damage and business interruption costs and loss of value due to sea rise, sea surge and flooding.

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

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02871, Localblogging, LTE, GA, climate change

Portsmouth Rep. Canario co-sponsors Ethics Commission legislation

16may11_canario.jpgPortsmouth Rep. Dennis Canario has co-sponsored legislation (H8189) sponsored by House Speaker Nick Mattiello (D-15, Cranston) to broaden the powers of the state’s Ethics Commission by eliminating legislative immunity from Ethics Commission oversight through a constitutional amendment.

“Accountability has been absent for far too long within the walls of the State House and I considered it my duty to the residents of District 71 to co-sponsor and support this important piece of legislation that states unequivocally that no legislator is above the law,” said Canario (D-71, Portsmouth, Little Compton, Tiverton). “The Ethics Commission was created to ensure that no one within the State House breached the sacred line of public trust and I am pleased to say that this legislation once again reaffirms the powers of the Ethics Commission to protect the best interests of Rhode Island’s taxpayers.”

If passed by the House Committee on Judiciary and the House of Representatives, the proposal would place a referendum on the November ballot to remove legislative immunity from the state’s constitution. The proposal also includes additional changes to the Ethics Commission and Ethics Code. The legislation requires two-thirds of the commission members to change any rule or regulation of the commission. Individuals will also be prohibited from filing a complaint with the commission once the filing period begins for a given election in order to prevent frivolous complaints and the politicization of the Ethics Commission.

The Ethics Commission legislation is the latest of several reforms calling for more transparency at the legislature. Last year, the House of Representatives approved sweeping campaign finance reforms to increase disclosure of campaign account activity. Candidates and office holders are now required to file annual bank statements, maintain separate campaign accounts, and appoint a treasurer if annual account activity exceeds $10,000.

In 2014, the House of Representatives unanimously approved the removal of the “master lever,” which abolished the practice of one-line straight-party voting.

“The taxpayers of this state deserve nothing less than total accountability and transparency within their government and elected officials. The recent reforms passed by the House are a clear statement that we as legislators serve the people of Rhode Island and not the agendas of special interests,” added Canario.

Editorial note: Written from a state house news release.

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Watch RI Rep suggest that proposing gun legislation be criminalized [update]

house_judiciary_roberts.pngThere was a lot of contentious talk at last night's RI House Judiciary hearing on gun safety bills, but one piece of testimony stuck out for me as being particularly chilling. One of the bills, H7199, proposed by Rep. Aaron Regunberg, would limit magazines to 10 rounds. Rep. Sherry Roberts (R-29 Coventry, West Greenwich) offered this response:

"This bill does nothing other than to seek to turn the law-abiding citizen who owns firearms into a criminal. First of all, when legislators take their oath of office, they take an oath to uphold the Constitution. If anything, what we really need is to criminalize those who seek to infringe on the Second Amendment rights guaranteed to individuals both by the US and Rhode Island Constitution, in my opinion. Perhaps it is time to demand that legislators who propose this type of legislation that would defy the Constitution, perhaps we should ask them to forfeit their seat instead."

Transcribed from Capitol TV: Visit the House Judiciary category, click on "House Committee on Judiciary 3-22-16 Part 2" (thumbnail is a guy with a yellow tie). Relevant clip is at 24:39. Or, in the clip below, scroll to 2:49.



Thanks to Steve Ahlquist for the video capture!

It's one thing to pack the state house to try to kill bills in committee. It's quite another thing, in my opinion, for a legislator to suggest that those who propose common-sense gun safety measures lose their seat and become subject to criminal penalties. Of course, this is just my opinion.

Full disclosure: I attended as much of last night's hearing as I could stay awake for as a supporter of the several gun safety bills on the agenda. I have also donated to Rep. Regunberg's campaign precisely because he proposes this kind of legislation. He is not, in my opinion, a criminal.

Update: Embedded video added.

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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.

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02871, Localblogging, GA, gun safety

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.

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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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Linda Finn launches campaign for state rep

16jan08_finn_sm.jpgFormer Democratic state rep Linda Finn announced in a statement to local media today that she is running for State Representative in House District 72, including Middletown and Portsmouth, setting up a rematch against Republican State Rep. Dan Reilly.

“I am running for State Representative because Aquidneck Island needs more effective representation at the State House,” said Finn, who previously represented the district from 2012 to 2014 after years of leadership in community and neighborhood initiatives throughout Aquidneck Island. “Our community faces pressing issues. From securing a fair share of education funding for our schools to working for a competitive regulatory climate where our small businesses can grow and thrive, District 72 deserves an independent advocate who will fight hard for our interests every single day. I am excited to use my experience and passion to be that voice for our district.”

Known as a highly energetic and active legislator during her tenure, Finn advanced many economic development initiatives throughout her previous term. “As a former small business owner, I understand the critical importance of supporting job growth,” she said. “I was proud to work with my colleagues in the General Assembly to pass legislation increasing the size of the enterprise zone in Portsmouth, and I was excited to help establish the Rhode Island Renewable Energy Growth Program, which stimulates economic development through energy diversification.”

Finn also prioritized women’s issues in the State House. “Women remain a small minority in our legislature, and our voices are important,” she said. “As state representative, I worked hard to stand up for the safety and equality of all our citizens. I am proud to have passed legislation prohibiting insurance companies from discriminating against victims of domestic violence, and I am more inspired than ever to be a champion for pay equity in the House of Representatives. If we want independent voices in government, we need to elect independent perspectives that are willing to challenge the General Assembly’s old boys’ club.”

After the 2014 election, Linda Finn continued her advocacy as Vice President of the Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence, leading statewide efforts to pass common sense gun reform. She has also engaged in many local efforts to build the community of Aquidneck Island, from serving on the board of the Aquidneck Island Planning Commission to working as Board Chair of Baby Steps, an early education program for parents and young children. She was past President of the Women’s Resource Center of Newport and Bristol Counties, and a Troop Leader and Service Unit Manager for Girl Scouts of Rhode Island for 9 years.

For more information about the campaign or how to get involved visit ElectLindaFinn.com.

Editorial note: Written with exuberant gusto from a press release.

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