GA

Portsmouth Rep. Edwards becomes majority Whip

With the support of Speaker of the House Nick Mattiello (D-15, Cranston) and his colleagues in Tuesday’s Democratic caucus, Rep. Jay Edwards (D-70) has secured a new title: House majority whip.

He will join a new slate of lawmakers who have been cemented as part of the speaker’s leadership panel, including Rep. John DeSimone (D-5, Providence) as majority leader and Rep. Joseph Almeida (D-12, Providence) as deputy majority whip.

“It is truly a privilege to serve on the speaker’s newly assembled team,” Representative Edwards said. “I am pleased that I will be able to use the leadership skills I have cultivated as senior deputy majority leader to serve at the behest of Speaker Mattiello and my colleagues in the House. I have a great deal of confidence that we will be able to bring creative and practical ideas to the forefront in order to rebuild what was once a thriving economy here in Rhode Island. More importantly, my constituents will continue to have a strong voice in the chamber. I have fought for their interests and the needs of all Rhode Islanders to the best of my ability since I was first elected in 2008. In that regard, nothing has changed.”

Majority Whip Edwards, 55, has been an active opponent of tolls on the Sakonnet River Bridge and has introduced legislation this year to create a predictable statewide funding source for roads and bridges without the toll. He has been a strong advocate for government transparency, tenants’ rights, and cracking down on industrial polluters, among other issues. He was also the lead sponsor for the 2012 bill that decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana.

Prior to his 2008 victory in the District 70 race, Representative Edwards served on the Tiverton Town Council. Since he became a state representative, he has served on the Labor, Small Business and Veterans’ Affairs committees. He is a 1983 graduate of Northeastern University, graduated from St. George’s School in 1976, and is a 1975 graduate of Le Centre Scholaire St. Marc in Lyon, France. He and his wife, Donna, have three children: John, Kelsey and Mae. A project manager for the construction firm H.V. Collins Company, he is past chairman of Associated Builders and Contractors Rhode Island, and has been active in the Tiverton Land Trust, Friends of the Tiverton Library, Caritas RI, the Tiverton Lions Club, the Ancient Order of the Hibernians, the National Eagle Scout Association, Save the Bay and Clean Water Action.

Editorial note: Written from a press release.

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Portsmouth Reps tapped for leadership posts

Newly elected RI House Speaker Nick Mattiello today appointed Portsmouth Rep. Ray Gallison (D-69) chairman of the House Finance Committee.

“I am confident that Representative Gallison will be an excellent leader who will be a tireless watchdog of our state’s finances. He has long been a very dedicated member of this committee, and has amassed a great deal of institutional knowledge that will serve this House and our state well. I’m proud that he will serve as our new Finance chairman,” said Speaker Mattiello.

Rep. Gallison was first elected to the House of Representatives in 2000. He has served as co-vice chairman of the Finance Committee since 2010. He served on the committee from 2003 to 2006, and then again from February 2010 to the present.

Since 2011, he has been chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, a position he will relinquish as a result of this appointment. In the past, he has also served as vice chairman of the Environment and Natural Resources Committee, and as a member of the Health, Education and Welfare Committee, the Judiciary Committee and the former House Separation of Powers Committee. He was a deputy majority leader for three terms as well.

The Finance Committee is considered the most influential of the House committees, since it is in charge of developing the state budget as well as other matters that have a financial impact on the state. It is also one of the busiest committees, meeting daily for much of the session.

“I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to lead the Finance Committee. The work our members do is very complicated, intense and often requires difficult decisions, but it also is an opportunity to ensure that our budget reflects our state’s values. I’m proud to have a dedicated team who will work alongside me, and am looking forward to advancing the progress we’ve already made this session,” said Chairman Gallison.

Yesterday, another Portsmouth legislator, Jay Edwards (D-70), was chosen by the incoming Speaker for the post of Whip.

Editorial note: Written substantially from a press release.

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Humane Society honors Gallison and Serpa

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Humane Society presenter Lena Spadacene, Rep. Patricia Serpa and Rep. Ray Gallison with Humane State Legislator awards, Nicole Paquette, and Michelle McDonald. State House press bureau photo.

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) honored Ray Gallison (D-69) and Patricia A. Serpa (D-27) as Rhode Island’s Humane State Legislators of 2013 for their efforts to crack down on wildlife poaching and protect elephants, according to a state house release.

Representative Serpa’s bill (2013-H 5764A), which passed the General Assembly last year, allowed Rhode Island to become a member of the Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact. Under the compact, a person who is cited for a wildlife violation such as a fishing or hunting infraction in a state other than their own faces a number of legal hurdles. He or she is either required to post bond or collateral immediately, stay in custody until bond or collateral is posted, or go to court for an immediate appearance. However, a person cited for a violation in their home state can accept the citation at the scene and be immediately on their way. With the addition of the compact, a person cited for a violation in any member state would be treated as a resident of that state, and would be allowed to take their citation on-site. These measures are intended to make the administration of wildlife law more efficient so that officers can spend more time patrolling and less time processing violators.

“I am proud that Rhode Island agreed to become a part of the unification of wildlife law across the country, especially in light of the fact that many Rhode Islanders who hold hunting, fishing and trapping licenses have been affected by this issue,” Representative Serpa said. “This recognition from HSUS really serves as accolades for the creation of a fair, expedient process for violators and a new page in the book of environmental law. Any time we can streamline and simplify often has a positive ripple effect on the system.”

HSUS honored Portsmouth's Rep. Gallison for his legislation (2013-H 5853) barring the use of bullhooks and chains on elephants used in traveling shows and circuses. The Humane Society noted that although the legislation did not make the pass last year, it garnered enough attention to shed light on abusive practices commonly used when training elephants.

“I’m honored to be recognized by an organization that performs such great work in the realm of animal advocacy,” Representative Gallison said. “My hope is that this will serve as a reminder to others that improper treatment to elephants working in the entertainment industry can not only serve as a cruel form of abuse, but also endanger the health and welfare of those who attend these shows. Abused and neglected animals can become sick or diseased, and those that break free from captivity have the potential to kill or injure masses of people.”

HSUS is one of the country’s largest animal protection organizations – annually recognizes state lawmakers across the country who pursue trailblazing animal protection legislation and policy.

Editorial note: Written from a press release.

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Edwards bill would extend study time for Sakonnet tolls

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Rep. Jay Edwards.
Photo: RI General Assembly.

Rep. Jay Edwards (D-70) has introduced legislation that would ultimately accommodate a full vetting process for an equitable alternative to Sakonnet River Bridge tolls, according to a state house news release.

The legislation (2014-H 7569) extends the date that the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority (RITBA) may impose a toll on the Sakonnet River Bridge – not to exceed 10 cents – from April 1, 2014 to July 1, 2014.

“This bill gives us the time we need for our colleagues in the General Assembly to review our transportation proposal and, if approved, place it in the state budget,” said Edwards, also the primary House sponsor of the transportation bill. “This needs to be a transparent, thorough process so that we do not have to revisit this issue again. Bridge tolls are still a hot-button issue for my district and the East Bay; although I certainly would not limit this conundrum to just East Bay residents. How we go about maintaining our bridges and roadways is a statewide issue, which we have said from the beginning. We have done our homework, and now it’s time to move forward and address this issue head-on.”

Submitted earlier this month, the transportation proposal (2014-H 7432, 2014-S 2335) creates a predictable statewide funding source for roads and bridges without needing a toll on the Sakonnet River Bridge. Under this proposal, the state would establish a new Infrastructure Trust Fund using a number of existing revenue streams to maintain all state-controlled roads and bridges. It also adds funding to the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA).

If approved, the legislation would also transfer the Sakonnet River Bridge and the Jamestown-Verrazzano Bridge from RITBA back to the state, while creating a new Rhode Island Bridge Authority as a department within the state Department of Transportation. The new bridge authority would only have the ability to toll the Claiborne Pell Bridge.

“We put the April 1 deadline in place so that we could study the toll issue,” said Sen. Lou DiPalma (D-12), who is the lead sponsor of the transportation bill in the Senate. “If nothing came of that study, that deadline wouldn’t matter right now. But because we were able to come up with a compromise that we believe alleviates a lot of the concerns related to the issue, it is now imperative that we take the next step and give everyone ample time to ask questions. This is not something we want to rush.”

Cosponsors of the House bill pushing back the toll deadline are House Majority Leader Nick Mattiello (D-15), Majority Whip Stephen Ucci (D-42), Deputy Majority Whip Chris Blazejewski (D-2) and Deputy Speaker Donald J. Lally Jr. (D-33). It has been referred to the House Finance Committee. Senator DiPalma plans to submit identical legislation in the Senate.

Editorial note: Written from a press release.

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Edwards charter/FTM transparency bill passes House

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Rep. Jay Edwards.
Photo: RI General Assembly.

The RI House passed a measure today that would require political parties and political action committees advocating for a town or city charter-amending question to file a report of all expenditures in excess of $100 with its local board of canvassers.

“I have been working to close this loophole for years,” said Rep. Jay Edwards (D-70), primary sponsor of the bill. “It’s important that the public be able to see contributions to groups and action committees advocating for charter amendments. Expenditures are equally, if not more important to the integrity of the election process. We should not settle for anything less than full transparency because that is what protects the integrity of the election process.”

The House approved the measure in a 68 to 0 vote.

The bill (2013-H 7054) applies to all charter questions considered during an election or financial town meeting. In 2012, Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee signed similar legislation that focused on contributions received in excess of $100 as opposed to expenditures.

Cosponsors of the bill – which will now travel to the Senate for consideration – include all Portsmouth Reps (Dennis Canario (D-71), Raymond Gallison Jr. (D-69), Linda Finn (D-72)) and Sen. Paul W. Fogarty (D-23) has sponsored the mirroring legislation (2014-S 2235) in the Senate.

Editorial note: Written from a press release.

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Rep. Edwards to host open house on tolls, East Bay issues

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Rep. Jay Edwards. Photo: RI General Assembly.

Portsmouth Rep. Jay Edwards (D-70) will be holding an open house for constituents next week at the Common Fence Point Community Hall to discuss updates from the Special Legislative Commission to Study the Funding for East Bay Bridges and other local issues. The forum will take place at the CFP Hall, located at 933 Anthony Road, on Wednesday, Dec. 11 at 6:30 p.m.

“This is a chance for the people in both of the communities I represent to continue fruitful discussions about East Bay infrastructure and the work the commission has done thus far,” said Edwards, who serves as a member of the panel. “This is also an opportunity for my constituents to bring their biggest concerns to me before we enter a new legislative session at the State House in January. The bridge issue alone has made me realize how truly lucky I am to represent constituents who care so deeply about our community and recognize that we must all participate in democracy in order to create the best possible outcomes for everyone. I look forward to seeing everyone next week and I strongly encourage all who are interested to attend.”

The East Bay bridge commission — co-chaired by Rep. Helio Melo (D-64, East Providence) and Sen. Daniel Da Ponte (D-14, East Providence) — was established during the 2013 legislative session to allow lawmakers and officials from affected state departments and agencies an opportunity to investigate various funding plans, potentially eliminating the need for tolls on the Sakonnet River Bridge.

Editorial note: Written from a state house press release.

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East Bay gets 3 reps on Bridge Commission

General assembly leaders announced their picks for the new Rhode Island bridge funding commission, and the East Bay scored some important representation. According to a state house press release, the 6 legislators were picked by House Speaker Gordon Fox and Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed.

The "Special Legislative Commission to Study the Funding for Bridges" will include Senate Finance Chairman Daniel Da Ponte (D-14, East Providence) and Senators Lou DiPalma (D-12) and Chris Ottiano (R-11). House members will include House Finance Chairman Helio Melo (D-64, East Providence), and Reps Jay Edwards (D-70) and Antonio Giarrusso (R-30, East Greenwich, West Greenwich).

The three remaining members of the special legislative commission will be the Department of Transportation Director Michael Lewis, or a designee; Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority (RITBA) Executive Director Buddy Croft, or a designee; and Department of Administration Director Richard Licht, or a designee.

Legislation approved in the closing days of the session called for the creation of the special legislative commission, which will allow lawmakers and officials from the affected state departments and agencies to come together for six months and map out various funding plans, potentially eradicating the need for a Sakonnet Bridge toll. The special legislative panel will not only study ways to fund East Bay bridges, but also seek a funding mechanism for all state bridges. The commission is required to report its findings to the General Assembly on or before Jan. 15, 2014.

According to the press release -- and I'll put this part in explicit quotes: "RITBA will have the authority to implement a 10-cent toll on the Sakonnet River Bridge in August so it can preserve future tolling options for the bridge while the commission works to find alternatives. The 10-cent toll cap will be in effect until April 1, 2014."

Editorial note: Written from a press release.

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Portsmouth municipal court bill passes legislature

Portsmouth could get the okay to create a municipal court within days, as the bill (H6044/S884) authorizing the change cleared both houses of the state legislature last night and is headed for Gov. Chafee's desk.

Thanks to our local delegation: Sen Chris Ottiano (R-11), Reps. Ray Gallison (D-69), Jay Edwards (D-70), Dennis Canario (D-71), and Linda Finn (D-72) for sponsoring this and getting it across the finish line.

If you'd like to keep taps on things at the State House -- especially during the last few weeks of the session when the stakes are higher and the scores can really change -- try out the new Bill Tracker. You can subscribe to bills and receive e-mail updates on any status changes -- it makes following legislation you're interested in pretty painless.

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Portsmouth Rep. Jay Edwards (D-70) earns top score on think tank list

The "nonpartisan" Center for Freedom and Prosperity released their rankings for state legislators today, and I'm very proud that our Island Park Rep. Jay Edwards scored a -80.6, the lowest of any lawmaker in Rhode Island. Given that the list measures deviance from the anti-tax, public-sector-union-busting, deregulation agenda (technically, "floor votes on select legislation" picked at whim) of this "nonpartisan" think tank, you can read these rankings as their absolute values.

Consider who made the "top" of their list: Reps like Chippendale and Trillo and Senators like Bates and Raptakis. I'm happy to see most of the folks I donated to in the Center's "Bottom 10" lists.

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Portsmouth municipal court bills move through legislature

Legislation that would allow Portsmouth to create a municipal court to adjudicate town ordinances is moving through the general assembly, according to a state house press release this afternoon.

Today, the House passed H 6044, introduced on behalf of the town by Rep. Dennis Canario (D-71). Co-sponsored by Rep. Jay Edwards (D-70), Rep. Ray Gallison (D-69) and Rep. Linda Finn (D-72), the bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.

Sen. Chris Ottiano (R-11) introduced the companion Senate bill, 2013-S 0884, which passed by the Senate and is currently before the House Committee on Municipal Government.

Rep. Canario said the hope is that a municipal court will more efficiently allow for local enforcement of minor police violations such as trespassing, as well as traffic violations and zoning infractions. It should also, he said, help accelerate the legal process for disposition of these kinds of violations and should help cut town costs, such as those resulting when town officials, including police, travel to courts outside the town to represent the community.

The legislation will empower the Portsmouth Town Council to appoint a judge and clerk, to enact ordinances governing the personnel, operation and procedure of the court and to establish a schedule of fees and costs. The court would be allowed to impose sentences up of to 30 days and fines of up to $500.

Enactment of the legislation will add Portsmouth to a growing list of communities that have established a municipal court to handle local issues, such as Providence, Warwick, Pawtucket, Cranston, Bristol and Barrington, among others.

Editorial note: Written from a press release.

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