GA

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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02871, Localblogging, GA, Sakonnet River Bridge

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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RI House Judiciary takes up gun regulation today

This afternoon, the RI House Judiciary committee will take up a series of proposals on gun regulation, including a package of bills that introduced by legislative leadership and the RI Attorney General. The agenda, with links to the bills, is available on the General Assembly web site.

If you would like to comment, but can't make it to the State House today, you can always send an e-mail to the committee clerk, Robert DiMezza, and indicate that it is for the committee.

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RI House passes Gallison mortgage conciliation bill

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Rep. Ray Gallison (photo: GA)

The RI House today passed legislation sponsored by Portsmouth Rep. Ray Gallison (D-69) requiring banks and lenders to make a good-faith attempt to negotiate with homeowners before foreclosing on homes in Rhode Island, according to a release.

“It’s in everyone’s best interest to prevent foreclosure,” said Gallison. “Lenders are better off if they can continue receiving steady payments, even if they are a little lower, from the homeowner. Communities and our state obviously are hurt when houses are left empty and unattended. And of course, foreclosure is a huge loss for a family, who is then at risk for homelessness and has lost whatever investment they’ve made in their home. We need to ensure that lenders are doing their best to avoid foreclosing.”

Under the legislation (H 5335 Sub. Aaa), lenders would be required to attempt to engage a mortgager at risk of foreclosure in a conciliation conference to try to come to an agreement to modify the terms of the mortgage. If the effort is successful and an agreement is reached, the lender would not have to fulfill the requirement again if the mortgager fails to comply within the next nine months. The legislation, which would take effect 60 days after enactment, would apply only to owner-occupied residential properties of one to four housing units.

If the mortgager does not respond or cooperate with the effort to hold a conciliation conference with the lender, the lender may proceed with the foreclosure process.

Rhode Island’s unemployment rate of 9.4 percent is well above the national average, and many Rhode Islanders are struggling to avoid foreclosure. According to the Mortgage Bankers Association, Rhode Island ranked first in New England and seventh in the nation for new foreclosures in the fourth quarter of 2012, although the number of foreclosures in the state did decline by 23 percent from the previous year.

The bill now moves to the Senate, where Sen. Donna M. Nesselbush is sponsoring similar legislation.

Editorial note: Written from a press release.

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RI Gun safety legislation package to debut Tuesday

According to a post on the Moms Demand Action - RI Facebook page, a package of gun safety bills will be introduced at a state house press conference on Tuesday by House Speaker Gordon Fox, Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed, Gov. Lincoln Chafee, and Attorney General Peter Kilmartin. The presser is reportedly scheduled for 2:30 in Room 313.

According to a document linked from the Facebook post, "opponents of the bills are planning to attend and make a big show to protest everything that is being introduced."

There is nothing posted yet on the General Assembly web site, no further details are available on the content of the proposed legislation.

Editorial note: I fully expect to get a crap ton of hate mail just for posting this. A word of advice to Second Amendment advocates: you're not doing yourselves any favors.

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Canario intros bill to cap special ed cost hikes

Portsmouth Rep. Dennis Canario (D-71) has introduced a bill (H5203) which would limit the increases allowed for private educational service providers to the level set by the state tax levy cap, according to a state house news release.

“Students with disabilities and special needs should never be the victims of budget problems in a community,” said Canario.

Yet as school departments face tighter budgets, and as costs increase from private special education providers, it is becoming more difficult for schools to ensure that the special education needs of some students can continue to be met.

The legislation introduced by Canario would prohibit providers such as the Groden Center, Bradley Hospital and others, from seeking an annual increase in payments from school departments greater than the 4 percent increase in tax levy increases allowed for municipalities by state law.

“As a result of law enacted some years ago, the so-called “3050” that sets a 4 percent cap on municipal tax levy increases, municipal and school budgets can grow only so much,” said Representative Canario. “In the face of that, it is a nightmare for schools departments to deal with special ed costs from private providers grow at 5 or 8 or 10 percent each year.”

Rep. Canario, who has been working with members of the Tiverton School Committee who sought out his help to address the issue, said the answer “is not short-changing special needs students or trimming back other areas of a school budget to cover higher special education costs. It is finding a way to keep those outside costs from rising so much, so often.”

“There may be instances when the specific kind of services provided by these agencies represents a significant change in the normal kinds of services, and obviously that would entail a higher fee,” he said. “But all else being equal, if communities have to live with a 4 percent increase every year, service agencies should not expect more than a 4 percent increase for their services.”

The Canario bill has been referred to the House Committee on Finance. It is co-sponsored by Rep. Jay Edwards (D-70), Rep. Linda Finn (D-72), Rep. Ray Gallison (D-69) and Rep. Frank Ferri (D-22, Warwick).

Editorial note: Written from a press release.

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RI House passes marriage equality 51-19

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Clerk, please lock the machine…

With all four of Portsmouth's representatives (Canario, Edwards, Finn, and Gallison) voting in favor, the RI House passed marriage equality bill H5015 this afternoon following a series of spirited floor speeches. Full vote tally here.

Thanks to our Portsmouth delegation for being on the right side of history, and thanks to everyone who has worked so hard for these past 16 years to get us to this point.

Now on to the Senate and let's win there.

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