The Uprising! January 11, 2019

“The need for 24 hour notice on Sub As is going to be proven today.”

Representative Blake Filippi (Republican, District 36, Charlestown, New Shoreham, South Kingstown, Westerly)

Welcome to The Uprising! Let’s open this Pandora’s Box of political intrigue!

1a. House Committee on Rules

For any meaningful progress to be made in Rhode Island, the power of the Rhode Island Speaker of the House to control the flow of legislation must be constrained, or so goes the thinking of both the 19 member Democratic Party Reform Caucus and the nine Republican members of the House. This week the two sides scored some minor victories, what House Committee on Rules Chair Arthur Corvese (Democrat, District 55, North Providence) called “small steps.”

Speaker Nicholas Mattiello (Democrat, District 15, Cranston) had stacked the House Committee on Rules with loyalists, removing the only member of the Reform Caucus who previously sat on the committee, Representative Katherine Kazarian (Democrat, District 63, East Providence). Despite this, members of the Reform Caucus, those Democrats opposed to the Speaker’s near absolute control of the legislative process, such as Representatives Arthur Handy (Democrat, District 18, Cranston), Kazarian, Jason Knight (Democrat, District 67, Barrington, Warren), Deborah Ruggiero (Democrat, District 74, Jamestown), Lauren Carson (Democrat, District 75, Newport), Kathleen Fogarty (Democrat, District 35, South Kingstown) and Teresa Tanzi (Democrat, District 34, Narragansett, South Kingstown) all addressed the Committee with their ideas for reforming the rules.

Representatives James McLaughlin (Democrat, District 57, Central Falls) and Robert Jacquard (Democrat, District 17, Cranston) also addressed the Committee. They are not members of the Reform Caucus.

Jacquard’s suggestion of a 24 hour waiting period between changing a bill and voting on it was ultimately accepted by the House Committee on Rules, but McLaughlin’s suggestion of a dress code for women legislators was not.

1b. 24 Hours

Ultimately the House Committee on Rules passed 5037A in a fit of irony. One of the changes to the Rules in the new 5037A was a section that reads, “Any proposed committee amendment to a bill, in a substitute amended bill format, shall be posted in print and electronically by the chair of the committee hearing the bill at least 24 hours prior to its committee consideration.”

In other words, the way this bill was passed out of committee will be illegal when and if this bill passes the House.

That said, this is a needed and necessary reform. This reform will “make it easier for citizens to follow the legislative process, and will allow legislators time to know exactly what they’re being asked to vote on,” said John Marion of Common Cause Rhode Island. Still, the bill is far from perfect: “There are two huge caveats to this new rule on amendments; it doesn’t apply to the most important bill of the year – the state budget, and it can be waived for a variety of reasons by a committee chair,” added Marion.

1c. Sexual Harassment

The other change to the House Rules passed by the committee is in the new section entitled “Sexual Harassment and Discrimination Prohibited.” The two most obvious changes are:

  1. The “gag rule” that would have prevented victims of sexual harassment from speaking about their experiences publicly has been removed.
  2. The newly formed “Office on Compliance” has been empowered to come up with an official sexual harassment policy. The exact nature and makeup of the Office of Compliance is still not public. Representative Corvese, toward the end of the hearing, said that future bills would be considered by the House Committee on Rules in the coming weeks.

Coming up with a policy to deal with sexual harassment in the House of Representatives was a focus of a special committee headed by Representative Teresa Tanzi last year. After coming up with a series of bills and introducing them to the House, Speaker Nicholas Mattiello effectively killed them by not bringing them up for a vote.

Speaking of sexual harassment, the Rhode Island House of Representatives held their second annual orientation on Discrimination, Sexual Harassment and Diversity in the House Lounge on Wednesday. The orientation was optional, and no attendance was taken.

Cheryl Burrell, associate director of the Rhode Island Department of Administration Office of Diversity, Equity and Opportunity conducted the orientation and many of the points she raised about sexual harassment were not addressed in 5037, and only a few things were corrected in 5037A. As the National Women’s Law Center pointed out in their written testimony, though the rules reforms in 5037 are entitled “Sexual Harassment and Discrimination Prohibited” the rules actually only address sexual harassment and none of the other forms of discrimination covered by Burrell in her short presentation.

Shout out to Representative Moira Walsh (Democrat, District 3, Providence) for asking pointed questions that often probed the issues the House is currently facing in coming to grips with the issues of sexual harassment.

1d. First Impressions

People who go to the Rhode Island State House and interact with elected officials and staffers all the time forget how alien and off-putting the environment is. Nathanael Webb-Hines visited and testified for the first in his life on Tuesday. So did several other people. Webb-Hines wrote about his experience and his impressions here. It’s a stinging condemnation of the process.

“…in the end, I believe it is appropriate that my first-ever trip inside my State House left me shocked and stinging at the shrewd cruelty of the people who work there,” writes Webb-Hines. “I think the typical resident’s view of our state government is right: The people who write our laws don’t care enough about us or each other.”

1e. Nicholas Mattiello

On the Dan Yorke Show Speaker Nicholas Mattiello attacked the 19 members of the Reform Caucus by rebranding them the “High Tax Caucus.”

Linda Finn, director of the Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence (RICAGV) hit the nail on the head with her reply to the Speaker with the following questions:

Given that one of the people testifying in favor of changing the rules was Larry Fitzmorris from the conservative anti-tax group Portsmouth Concerned Citizens, this attempt by the Speaker seems even more inane.

Larry Fitzmorris, Portsmouth Concerned Citizens

1g. Catching up on the Rules story:

Here are links to the articles in this series:

2. Providence Water

With so much going on, people might have missed the story that the City of Providence has secured at least three parties interested in leasing Providence Water. The Requests of Qualifications (RFQs) were opened on Tuesday at a meeting of the Providence Board of Contract and Supply.

Poseidon Water, Veolia Water and Suez North America responded to the call.

Elorza was confronted by activists opposed to the sale or lease of Providence Water at his second inauguration. Elorza never mentioned leasing the water in his address.

“Selling the rights to water is always a bad idea,” said protester Nicole DiPaulo. “It is not a sound argument to say that the investment would be profitable without either cutting costs in the form of labor or quality, or by commodifying water through bottling or selling to a company, like say Invenergy, that is seeking water to cool the turbines of a fracked gas power plant that they are trying to build for massive profit. The people always lose when our shared resources are exploited.”

3. Inaugurations

There were a host of inaugurations last week. I made it to two of them. On Monday the newly elected Providence City Council was sworn in, and then hours later Mayor Jorge Elorza began his second term.

The divisions in the City Council, which is for the first time in history composed of a majority of women city councilors, were immediately made apparent. Newly Elected Council President Sabina Matos (Ward 15) forced a role call vote on the election of Michael Correia (Ward 6) as Council President Pro Tempore.

Matos received 11 of 15 votes. Councilors Helen Anthony (Ward 2), former City Council President David Salvatore (Ward 14) and Seth Yurdin (Ward 1) voted “no.” Nirva LaFortune (Ward 3) abstained.

Directly after the vote for Council Prsident Correia was elected President Pro Tempore. Before the vote, Councilor Yurdin raised a point of order: Traditionally, said Yurdin, nominees without opponents are passed with one ballot, not a roll call vote. Majority Leader Joann Ryan (Ward 5) asked for a roll call vote anyway, and Matos agreed. On a roll call vote Correia received 10 votes. Councilors Anthony, Katherine Kerwin (Ward 12), LaFortune and former Council President David Salvatore (Ward 14) voted against Correia. Yurdin abstained.

Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo will provide remarks at the inauguration of Johnston Rhode Island Mayor Joseph Polisena and the Johnston Town Council at the Johnston High School Auditorium, 345 Cherry Hill Rd, Johnston, Rhode Island on Monday.

4. Invenergy

Invenergy‘s saga of trying to build a $1 billion fracked gas and diesel oil burning power plant amid the pristine forests of northwest Rhode Island is entering its fourth year. Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) Senior Attorney Jerry Elmer and Attorney for the Town of Burrillville, Michael McElroy, spent hours cross-examining Invenergy‘s expert witness, Ryan Hardy, before the Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB) on Tuesday and Wednesday. At issue is the question need: Does New England need this power plant to keep the lights on and the economy running?

The answer appears to be no.

5. 11th Annual Fighting Poverty with Faith Vigil

Rhode Island Interfaith Coalition to Reduce Poverty held its 11th Annual Fighting Poverty with Faith Vigil on Tuesday.

The coalition holds the event every year in the rotunda of the Rhode Island State House to implore elected officials to center combating poverty in their deliberations. This year’s vigil took place on the 55th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson‘s declaration of War on Poverty.

Every year the coalition zeroes in on specific ideas. This year there were four main ideas presented:

  1. Help all Rhode Islanders find safe and affordable homes by ending discrimination based on source of income.
  2. Support safe roads by allowing undocumented Rhode Islanders to obtain driver’s licenses.
  3. Assist seniors and persons with disabilities to remain active in their communities by instituting a sustainable source of funding for the no-fare bus pass.
  4. Ensure fair wages for all people regardless of gender, race or orientation and raise the minimum wage to $15/hour.

Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo was ill with the flu, so she sent Tom Coderre, her senior advisor on the opioid crisis, to deliver remarks in her stead. Rhode Island Senate President Dominick Ruggerio also addressed the crowd.

5b. Nicholas Mattiello

Speaker Nicholas Mattiello (Democrat, District 15, Cranston) was once again a no-show at the vigil. Since becoming Speaker Mattiello has only attended two of these. At the 7th Annual Rhode Island Interfaith Coalition to Reduce Poverty Vigil Mattiello told the assembled crowd of faith leaders and poverty advocates that when it comes to ending poverty, job creation and appropriate funding of the social safety net are important, but, “the focus has to be on eradicating the safety net and not bolstering the safety net.”

5c. Payday Loans

Four years ago one of the things the Rhode Island Interfaith Coalition to Reduce Poverty was interested in accomplishing was the eradication or reform of Payday Loans, short term loans with usurious interest rates that target and exploit the poor and the vulnerable. They were not successful.

Payday loans are evil. But Rhode Island will not pass legislation to reform this practice because of powerful lobbyist William Murphy, who, last time I checked, is paid $100,000 annually by the payday loan industry to prevent any reforms. Murphy used to be Speaker of the House, before Gordon Fox and before Nicholas Mattiello. He and Mattiello are very close.

That’s why Murphy’s words about rules reform in the House of Representatives should be understood within this context.

“The majority should rule,” said Murphy as quoted in the Providence Journal. “What we have seen in the last two weeks is a minority of the Democratic Party who tried to oust the speaker in November, could not, and tried to oust him in January and could not. They are trying to implement rule changes to let the minority rule.”

[Murphy] said allowing non-leadership-supported bills to get to the floor invited “shenanigans,” and the filing of unworkable legislation to score political points. “If it is a good idea, it is going to get heard. It will pass committee and be on the floor. The rules are in place to maintain order and decorum.”

The Providence Journal piece never mentioned that Murphy is a lobbyist who enjoys the benefits of his close association with Speaker Mattiello. Murphy is only identified as a former Speaker and Representative in the ProJo piece. Murphy has been paid well over half a million dollars as a lobbyist for the evil industry of payday loans, and his words on reform need to be seen in that context, not the context of being a former Speaker.

Payday Loan Lobbyist William Murphy and Rhode Island Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello, on the third day of the 2019 House Session

6. Aaron Regunberg

Former State Representative Aaron Regunberg will serve as Providence’s Senior Advisor on Policy, where he will collaborate with community partners to support cradle-to-career and universal pre-K education initiatives while advancing work related to equitable and affordable housing opportunities here in the city.

In the fall Regunberg will enter law school.

7. ACLU of Rhode Island

The ACLU of Rhode Island today announced the settlement of a class-action lawsuit that was filed against the State last year, claiming that participants in a Medicaid program run by the state were not being given proper notice before being kicked off the program, leading to a loss of income that the suit says put low-income residents “at risk of losing their homes and their utilities and…funds needed for their daily living expenses, including food.” The suit tied the improper notice to the state’s infamous UHIP computer system, the subject of another pending ACLU suit regarding food stamp benefit delays.

Read the Full Article >

8. Providence Daily Dose

“Head downtown for the new exhibition by artist Scott Lapham. More than just a statement on America’s gun problem, this project aims to do something about it. ‘One Gun Gone’ takes over the pop-up space at 233 Westminster Street this Saturday. The exhibit runs through January 26. (Facebook event.)

9. Technical Difficulties

This edition of The Uprising! is out more than a day late because UpriseRI is experiencing some technical difficulties, or growing pains. I have people working to resolve the issues, and the site should be good as new soon, but of course this costs money. Money for repairs and money to increase the size and speed of the hosting services. So don’t forget that this site is entirely dependent on your donations. You can PayPal me money at atomicsteve@gmail.com or send money through Patreon at the link below and in the right hand column.

There may be better uses for your money, but if you can spare it, it will be appreciated. And to all those who have donated and continue to support the work of this website, Thank you.

10. Picture of the Week

Water protector Nicole DiPaolo at Mayor Jorge Elorza‘s inauguration

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About Steve Ahlquist 766 Articles
Steve Ahlquist is a frontline reporter in Rhode Island. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for half a decade.Uprise RI is his new project, and he's doing all he can to make it essential reading.atomicsteve@gmail.com

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