Over a dozen children, aged 3-11 were playing games, coloring, doing puzzles and eating snacks in the Rhode Island State House Library Tuesday afternoon after school, while their parents were presented with the freedom of interacting with their legislators and testifying on vital legislation. The event was organized by the Rhode Island chapter of the National Organization for Women (RI NOW), with the help of students from Brown University and Johnson and Wales University.
The House Finance Committee was hearing testimony on legislation, supported by Governor Gina Raimondo, Rhode Island Kids Count and the Economic Progress Institute, to expand and improve affordable childcare across the state, and RI NOW legislative committee member Alyson Powell was prepared to explain the process of how the budget hearings work so first time visitors to the State House would know what to expect.
The event also demonstrated the need for childcare at the State House.
“For me personally it’s important that I model for my kids that you need to be an active participant in our democracy for it to work,” said RI NOW President Hilary Levey Friedman. “And it’s also a right to have your voice heard, to peaceably assemble and yes, even to protest.”
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“we have structures in government that are not there for any other reason except that some guy, at some point, thought it was a good idea,”said Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea. “And now we have some women who have some good ideas as well. Let’s incorporate them into our structures of government, in our public buildings.”
Representative Aaron Regunberg (Democrat, District 4, Providence) has introduced the Citizen Lobbyists Easier Access Reform (CLEAR) Act, designed to make it easier for Rhode Islanders to access their government. The CLEAR Act would:
- reserve 100 free parking spaces for members of the public and create a new bus stop at the State House
- decrease the maximum annual contribution total to any candidate from a registered lobbyist from $1,000 to $100
- prohibit lobbyists and PACs from making contributions to candidates while the legislature is in session
- reserve the first spaces of testimony for members of the public who are not paid lobbyists
- invest in the needed technology to allow individuals to submit spoken testimony if they are unable to attend legislative hearings in person.
- would establish a child care center that will operate during the long committee hours when the legislature is in session so that parents can testify.
“To all the young people who are here, I want to welcome you to your State House,” said Regunberg. “I love the idea behind this event today. Not only because it’s such a clear visualization of the urgent need in our state to invest in the thousands and thousands of families that are struggling to access the childcare they need, but this State House is supposed to be the People’s House… a place where Rhode Islanders should feel welcome to come and make their voices heard.”
Bridget Valverde, vice chair of the Rhode Island Democratic Party Women’s Caucus, is a Democratic candidate for State Senate in the 2018 election to represent District 35. She brought her two sons to the State House. Without the provided childcare “it would be really difficult for me to be here today, so thanks!” said Valverde.
“I come to the State House whenever I can because so much that happens affects my life, affects my children’s lives. It affects all of our children’s lives… When [the General Assembly] is talking about our schools, about funding our schools, I think parents should be a part of the conversation.
“Giving Rhode Island the opportunity to thrive means making sure that quality childcare is affordable and accessible to everyone.”
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Hilary Levey Friedman