The Uprising! January 4, 2019

“We will work with Representative Carol McEntee to readdress the statute of limitations for sex offenders…” Speaker Nicholas Mattiello Welcome to The Uprising! By my count this is my 53rd straight weekly wrap up. Let’s do this thing! 1a. Gina Raimondo Compared to Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, Governor Gina Raimondo had it easy on her first

Rhode Island News: The Uprising! January 4, 2019

January 4, 2019, 12:47 pm

By Steve Ahlquist

“We will work with Representative Carol McEntee to readdress the statute of limitations for sex offenders…”

Speaker Nicholas Mattiello

Welcome to The Uprising! By my count this is my 53rd straight weekly wrap up. Let’s do this thing!

1a. Gina Raimondo

Compared to Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, Governor Gina Raimondo had it easy on her first day. Her inauguration, held outside on the south steps of the Rhode Island State House, went smoothly and held few surprises.

In her speech Governor Raimondo hit all her usual points: jobs and the economy, the opioid crisis, education, energy and the environment, healthcare and gun control.

1b. Guns

Notably, when the Governor said, “It is time to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines” Mattiello and Ruggerio were not clapping along with the crowd. Both are keen supporters of the National Rifle Association (NRA).

1c. Reproductive Rights

One topic Raimondo did not address in her inauguration speech was reproductive rights. The Governor campaigned hard on this issue, differentiating herself from her Republican and Independent opponents by being the only pro-choice candidate in the race. She once again earned the endorsement of Planned Parenthood and other pro-choice groups, but in her inaugural speech the issue didn’t make the cut.

1d. Special Seating

There were two kinds of seats available at Raimondo’s inauguration. White seats for VIPs and brown seats for everyone else.

2a. Dominick Ruggerio

Though State Senator Dominick Ruggerio (Democrat, District 4, Providence) was overwhelming elected at Senate President, freshman Senator Samuel Bell (Democrat, District 5, Providence) took the headlines by delivering a blistering critique of Ruggerio on the floor of the Senate.

Bell began by outlining his policy differences with Ruggerio.

“On issue after issue Senator Ruggerio does not support many of the core principles of the Democratic Party, instead taking the policy positions typically associated with the Republican party nationally. He opposes repealing the tax cuts for the rich. He has taken thousands of dollars from the NRA. He is endorsed by Right to Life and is not pro-choice. He even voted against marriage equality–something that still stings members of the LGBTQ community today, including myself, as a bisexual man.”

Bell then talked about Ruggerio’s character. Bell supplied reporters with a long list of newspaper articles detailing the Senate President’s ethical lapses and run-ins with the law.

“Another argument sometimes advanced is that his personal character is so excellent that it compels a vote for him even if you disagree strongly with his policy views. To this, I say two things. On the one hand, I think politics should be about policy, that it should whenever possible avoid being personal. On the other hand, there has been a fairly large number of incidents over the past four decades. Honoring Senator Ruggerio’s request, I will not delineate the details on the floor, but I ask my colleagues to understand why this issue makes it yet more difficult for me to vote for him.”

2019-01-01 Senate

2b. Donna Nesselbush

Lost in the coverage of Sam Bell and Dominick Ruggerio (at least by me) are the actions of Senator Donna Nesselbush (Democrat, District 15, Pawtucket), who also voted against the confirmation of the Senate President. This was an oversight I hope to correct here. Nesselbush rose to critique the process, and refused to vote by role call, but handed in a paper ballot, as demanded by law.

Nesselbush did not go so far as to claim anything about Ruggerio’s character aside from saying the Senate President “is a good man, a kind man.” Her opposition was also not, ostensibly, about policy, it was about process.

2019-01-01 Senate - Nesselbush

2c. Frank Lombardi

Bell’s speech on the Senate Floor was interrupted by Senator Frank Lombardi (Democrat, District 26, Cranston), a close ally of Ruggerio, who argued that the “Presiding Officer has asked for counter-nominations, not a dissertation on why this nominee isn’t the proper person for it. So as such I would state that this dialogue is out of order at this point.”

The presiding officer, Senator Dawn Euer (Democrat, District 13, Newport, Jamestown), didn’t buy Lombardi’s apoplectic argument, so Bell’s “dissertation” was allowed to proceed. You can see Lombardi’s interruption at the 1m30s mark in the video at the end of 2a above.

3a. Nicholas Mattiello

Inside the House Chamber, Representative Marvin Abney (Democrat, District 73, Newport) was moving quickly to close the nominations and prevent discussion on the merits of Representative Nicholas Mattiello (Democrat, District 15, Cranston) as Speaker of the House.

Outside the House Chambers, over forty protesters loudly chanted and sang in opposition to Mattiello’s Speakership. Following the goings on inside the House over Twitter, the protesters altered their chants in response to what was happening inside.

When Abney prevented Representative Joseph Almeida (Democrat, District 12, Providence) from debating the merits of a continued Mattiello Speakership, the protesters started chanting, “Allow Debate!”

The protest was organized by Rhode Islanders for Reform, “a coalition of citizens calling for legislative rules reform and a return to representative democracy. We demand legislative oversight and rules changes to put a check on the Speaker of the House and ensure that every representative’s voice, and hence their constituents’ voices, are heard.”

Abney did not allow House members to vote ‘no.’ They could either vote ‘yes’ or abstain. Many House members voted ‘no’ anyway, which were recorded and reported as abstentions. Mattiello received 47 votes. Representative Blake Filippi (Republican, District 36, Charlestown, New Shoreham, South Kingstown, Westerly) received 9 votes, all from fellow Republicans. There were 19 ‘abstentions,’ 18 of which came from members of The Reform Caucus.

2019-01-01 Mattiello vote

3b. The Reform Caucus

The Reform Caucus consists of Representatives Edith Ajello (Democrat, District 1, Providence), Moira Walsh (Democrat, District 3, Providence), Rebecca Kislak (Democrat, District 4, Providence), Raymond Hull (Democrat, District 6, Providence), John Lombardi (Democrat, District 8, Providence), Joseph Almeida (Democrat, District 12, Providence), Arthur Handy (Democrat, District 18, Cranston), Justine Caldwell (Democrat, District 30, East Greenwich), Teresa Tanzi (Democrat, District 34, Narragansett, South Kingstown), Kathleen Fogarty (Democrat, District 35, South Kingstown), Mary Messier (Democrat, District 62, Pawtucket), Katherine Kazarian (Democrat, District 63, East Providence), Liana Cassar (Democrat, District 66, Barrington, East Providence), Jason Knight (Democrat, District 67, Barrington, Warren), Susan Donovan (Democrat, District 69, Bristol), Terri-Denise Cortvriend (Democrat, District 72, Portsmouth), Deborah Ruggiero (Democrat, District 74, Jamestown) and Lauren Carson (Democrat, District 75, Newport).

Representative Marcia Ranglin-Vassell (Democrat, District 5, Providence) was a member, but disaffiliated. She also voted against Representative Mattiello for Speaker. Another member of the Reform Caucus, Representative Carol Hagan McEntee (Democrat, District 33, South Kingstown, Narragansett), defected and voted for Mattiello. (See 3c below)

The Reform Caucus held a press conference the day after Mattiello claimed his title of Speaker to present their ideas about changes to the rules to make the House more open and democratic. These rules changes include:

  • Rules may be suspended near the end of term only by a 2/3 majority of votes in the House. The 2/3 majority allows the rules to be suspended if there is a true need to do so.
  • Proposed Sub A’s shall be posted online and made available to the public for 48 hours prior to any vote in committee or on the floor.
  • Every bill introduced during year one of the legislative term shall remain before the body for consideration in the second and final year of term.
  • Any prime sponsor of a bill would be allowed to circulate a separate discharge petition. If the sponsor has gathered 38 or more signatures on the petition, then the bill would be brought up through the regular committee hearing process. The committee would vote to either recommend that the full House pass or send the bill to the floor without recommendation. The committee would not be able to hold the bill for further study. Then the bill would proceed to the floor for a vote. Importantly, the sponsor of the bill could obtain signatures for the discharge petition in the normal course of business. The petition would not have to “sit on the desk” which is the current rule.
  • The Reform Caucus also supports creating an Office of Inspector General and enacting a Line-Item Veto. (On the line -item veto, see item number 11 below)

See here for details and explanations about the rules changes.

Will the Reform Caucus be able to see these rules changes through? Maybe. But Speaker Mattiello has already removed Representative Katherine Kazarian from the House Committee on Rules. This means that no members of the Reform Caucus are on the committee.

So much for Mattiello’s promise of “no retribution.” (See 3e below)

3c. House Committee on Rules

The Chair of the House Committee on Rules is Representative Arthur Corvese (Democrat, District 55, North Providence) told the Providence Journal this morning that the committee already has a bill. Corvese “said after Thursday’s House session that the rules bill was a starting point and other ideas, such as those from the 19-member ‘Reform Caucus,’ would still be considered when the bill is discussed in hearings as early as next week.”

Here’s H5037, the Rules bill Corvese is talking about.

The House Committee on Rules is running about three weeks earlier than it did during the last three legislative sessions said John Marion of Common Cause Rhode Island to me this morning over the phone.

Common Cause Rhode Island had scheduled an event, “Understanding the Rules of the Rhode Island House” that was to coincide with the adoption of the rules. That event now looks like it will be too late.

3d. Carol Hagan McEntee

“We will work with Representative Carol McEntee to readdress the statute of limitations for sex offenders,” said Speaker Mattiello during his address to the House after securing his Speakership for another two year.

Last year McEntee’s legislation was scuttled by the Speaker under pressure from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence. The church is fearful of lawsuits that will be brought and the financial penalties it will suffer for its terrible history on child sexual abuse. Church lobbyist and occasional priest Bernard Healey warned that, “a wave of lawsuits could ‘drain resources from other important ministries’ in the diocese.”

Shortly after the session ended, Mattiello looked both foolish and heartless for scuttling the legislation when news broke about the extensive child sexual abuse and subsequent coverups in cities throughout Pennsylvania.

So here’s the calculus: Representative McEntee defected from the Reform Caucus, joining forces with Speaker Mattiello, who killed her legislation last year in the 11th hour under orders from a church that has routinely abused children and covered up its crimes. Mattiello now appears committed to passing legislation to address this issue, but given the optics and timing of last year’s revelations out of Pennsylvania, how could Mattiello not pass something to deal with this issue?

Certainly McEntee didn’t trade her vote and her commitment to the Reform Caucus for so little?

3e. Retribution

Going against Speaker Mattiello or Senate President Ruggerio can have consequences. And though both General Assembly leaders have publicly said that they will not seek retribution against members of their respective chambers who oppose them, in the case of Mattiello that retribution has already begun.

3f. State Rankings are Bullshit

In his speech to the House after securing his Speakership, Mattiello outlined his legislative priorities.

“We need to reduce regulatory burdens that hamper our businesses. We need to support programs that ensure that Rhode Islanders are well trained for the jobs of the future. And we must continue to lessen the tax burden on all of our citizens. My number one priority will be phasing out the car tax and eliminating it completely…

“Cutting the car tax has improved our competitiveness nationally, moving us up in the rankings. And just a few months ago, I was proud to accept, on behalf of the entire House, and award from the Tax Foundation, a national, non-partisan organization for our collective efforts in creating an improved tax policy.”

State rankings are bullshit, and Mattiello, as well as all our elected representatives, should know better.

In 2016, in response to a Tax Foundation report, Economist Douglas Hall, director of Economic and Fiscal Policy at the Economic Progress Institute, wrote an oped explaining why these rankings are worse than meaningless and actually quite harmful.

Hall wrote, “The collective hand-wringing brought on by Rhode Island’s placing on the latest Tax Foundation’s ‘State Business Tax Climate’ is misguided at best, and at worst points to public policy choices that could undermine, rather than facilitate the Ocean State’s economic growth and recovery.”

State rankings are useless and dangerous. Grading the States, a website that tackles the issue of these rankings and exposes their serious flaws, is a great resource to learn more about this problem. Their one line analysis of the Tax Foundation’s business ranking?

“Combining more than 115 features of state tax law into a single index number produces a state ranking that turns out to bear very little relationship to what businesses actually pay in one state vs another.”

3g. Mattiello’s other priorities

Besides working with Representative McEntee on the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse and the trickle-down economic polices outlined in 3f above, Speaker Mattiello outlined the following policies as high priority:

“We will also continue to evaluate potentially raising the minimum wage. Massachusetts has done so, and it is important to be competitive with our neighboring states…

“We should take a fresh look at possibly expanding the estate tax exemption to keep our retirees from moving elsewhere.

“We will continue to enact strong measures to address the opioid crisis.

“We will… work collaboratively with the State police to enact more school safety measures.

“Finally, we must focus more attention on making sure our children receive a first rate education.”

3h. William Murphy

Lobbyist (and former House Speaker) William Murphy talks with Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, on the third day of the legislative session. Lobbyists had yet to receive their ID badges from the Secretary of State’s office.

4. Reproductive Rights

The Reproductive Health Care Act (RHCA) a bill that would codify Roe v Wade into Rhode Island State Law, is a priority bill for many women in the state, has been submitted in both the House and the Senate. The Womxn Project writes,

“We have heard how important this legislation is to women in our state. We know that voters are with us. We are not going anywhere until this bill is on the governor’s desk and signed into law! This is not about politics. It is about our health and the ability to control our own futures.”

The bill also has the support of the reliably progressive Portsmouth Democratic Town Committee.

But what are the chances of codifying Roe v Wade in the House this year or the next? Let’s see: Mattiello had anti-choice woman Representative Camille Vella Wilkinson (Democrat, District 21, Warwick) nominate him for Speaker. Having the clear support of anti-choice women legislators gives him a lot of cover.

Reverend Monsignor Albert Kenney, who works for the Providence Catholic Diocese, delivered the invocation that opened the first day of session and Barth Bracy, of Rhode Island Right to Life, was in the thick of things as the House began its session. The Catholic Church and Right to Life (two sides of the same coin really) are the major opponents of choice currently lobbying the Rhode Island State House.

And don’t forget, the issue wasn’t enough of a priority for Governor Gina Raimondo for her to mention it in her inaugural address.

But that hasn’t stopped legislators from signing on:

5. House District 68 Special Election

It’s a slightly less crowded field in the House District 68 Special Election now that Democrat Nicky Ann Tyska has dropped out of the race. This leaves current State Representative and Democrat turned Independent Kenneth Marshall running against Democrats John Hanley, Richard Ruggiero and June Speakman as well as Libertarian William Hunt and Independent James McCanna III. Marshall declined to run in the 2018 election.

Marshall introduced legislation that “would allow the board of canvassers of the town of Bristol to combine two or more voting districts for the representative District 68 special election in March, 2019.”

For a candidate to introduce legislation that will alter the election they are campaigning in seems unusual. But Larry Berman, communications director for the Speaker of the House and Bristol Town Clerk Lou Cirillo, who requested the legislation to be introduced, say it’s no big deal.

There’s nothing improper about it,” said Cirillo. “To me, if they’re the State Rep, from our community, then they have a right to do it.”

“As a Representative from the town, he was doing his job in submitting the bill that was requested of him,” said Berman.

Of course, the other representative from the town , Susan Donovan, could have submitted the bill…

Stressing that there appears to be no ethics violation, John Marion of Common Cause Rhode Island told me, “The optics of having Marshall submit the bill for an election he’s a part of are poor at best.”

Meanwhile, the candidate getting the most attention in the race so far is June Speakman, who secured an endorsement from Executive Committee of the Rhode Island Democratic Party Women’s Caucus.

This is all so quick,” said Democratic candidate for House District 68 June Speakman to her supporters at an event Thursday evening. “As you know we had a little kerfuffle here in the district and we’re coming back from that…”

The “kerfuffle” Speakman is referring to was the campaign of progressive Democrat Laufton Ascencao, who won the 2018 election for House District 68. After winning his election, Ascencao admitted to forging documents during his campaign, and ultimately declined to be sworn in as Representative. Many gathered in the function room at The Beach House in Bristol had campaigned for Ascencao. The special election serves as a do-over: Their political ideas haven’t changed, just the candidate.

“You probably don’t need me to run through the issue positions that I have,” said Speakman. “They’re consistent with what you all voted for in November. I will keep all those promises to work on women’s reproductive health, on environmental concerns, on supporting economic development, but in a sustainable way that supports small businesses. All of the things that all of you stand for.”

6. Community College of Rhode Island

Members of he Community College of Rhode Island Faculty Association (CCRIFA) protested in the morning and at noon Wednesday to call attention to pedagogical failures of a 15 week curriculum being squeezed into a 12 day winter intercession called JTerm.

One issue at play is Gina Raimondo’s needs based free tuition program Rhode Island Promise. Under the program, students are required to complete 30 credits a year. Squeezing in an extra class between sessions may allow students to do that, but at what cost?

“They’re offering a nursing course, Pharmacology 3, for students who weren’t able to pass it in 15 weeks. They’ve got three students signed up to try to learn that same amount of material in 12 days,” said Steve Murray, CCRIFA President.

In a press release, the faculty pointed out that, “It is intuitive to nearly everyone that you cannot do in 12 days what is typically done in 15 weeks.”

7. Foxy Lady

On December 19 the Providence Board of Licenses decided, on a 3-1 vote, to close the Foxy Lady, after three misdemeanor charges of prostitution were brought against three workers in an undercover police sting on December 11. All the club’s licenses were revoked, but last week the Rhode Island Department of Business Regulation restored the club’s liquor license. To overturn the Board’s decision on it’s adult entertainment license, the Foxy lady must appeal to the Rhode Island Supreme Court. On Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled that the Foxy Lady could re-open pending a trial to start in April.

The ACLU has submitted a brief in the case.

8. Invenergy

Jerry Elmer, senior attorney at Conservation Law Foundation (CLF), who is litigating against Invenergy‘s proposed $1 billion fracked gas and diesel oil burning power plant aimed at the pristine forests of Burrillville, provides some insights on the future of the case.

“Opponents of Invenergy start the new year in a better position than we have been in since the case started [on] October 29, 2015,” writes Elmer.

9. Bladensburg Cross

One day before Christmas and a week before his last day as Rhode Island Attorney General, Peter Kilmartin signed onto an amicus brief challenging a Fourth Circuit Court ruling that declared the Bladensburg Cross, a public monument in Maryland in the shape of a Christian Cross, an unconstitutional mixture of church and state in violation of the First Amendment.

The amicus in support of the cross is signed by 32 State Attorneys General. Notably, Kilmartin is one of only five Democratic Attorneys General who signed on. The rest are Republicans. Of the five Democratic Attorneys General who signed on, Kilmartin is the only non-Southern Democrat. (The others are from the states of Maryland, Kentucky, Missouri and Virginia.)

Blake Collins, campaign manager for new Attorney General Peter Neronha, told me that, “The new administration will be reviewing all ongoing litigation, criminal and civil, upon taking office in January, when we will have the benefit of the complete background regarding such litigation.”

10. Brown War Watch

The Commandeering of the USS Fitzgerald: A Tale of War Industry Greed by Christian Sorensen.

11. Rhode Island Liberator

The Line-Item Veto Is A Pile of Suck by Samuel Gifford Howard

12. Joseph Shekarchi

The House Majority Leader, Representative Joseph Shekarchi (Democrat, District 23, Warwick), gets The Public’s Radio treatment from Ian Donnis, Scott MacKay and Maureen Moakley.

Part 1 and Part 2

13. Picture of the Week:

Protesting Speaker Mattiello

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