Rhode Island State Senators Walter Felag, James Seveney and Louis DiPalma and Representatives John Edwards, Dennis Canario and Terri-Denise Cortvriend were at the Tiverton Public Library Monday evening to meet constituents in an event co-organized by the Little Compton, Portmouth and Tiverton Democratic Town Committees. Around 100 residents were in attendance.

The event was moderated by Tiverton Democratic Town Committee Chair Mike Burk, who asked some pretty tough questions and got some varied answers from the legislators, all of whom are Democrats. Here’s the video:

Introductions:

The candidates introduced themselves and spoke a bit about their legislative priorities.

Senator James Seveney (Democrat, District 11, Bristol, Portsmouth):

Representative Terri-Denise Cortvriend (Democrat, District 72, Portsmouth):

Representative Dennis Canario (Democrat, District 71, Portsmouth, Tiverton, Little Compton):

Representative John Edwards (Democrat, District 70, Tiverton):

Senator Louis DiPalma (Democrat, District 12, Little Compton, Middletown, Newport, Tiverton):

Senator Walter Felag (Democrat, District 10, Tiverton, Warren):

The rest of the videos are divided up by question

Reproductive Rights:

The Rhode Island House has passed the Reproductive Privacy Act, which would codify the Federal protections of Roe v Wade into Rhode Island State Law. The Senate has yet to pass matching legislation, the Reproductive Health Care Act.

“A University of New Hampshire poll conducted in Rhode Island last Fall shows that 71 percent of respondents indicate they either strongly or somewhat support keeping abortion legal even if Roe v Wade is reversed by the United States Supreme Court. What is your position on the reproductive freedom legislation now before the General Assembly?”

As a practicing Catholic, Senator Felag said that he “cannot support the existing language, as it exists,” in the Reproductive Health Care Act.

“I do not support the abortion bill that’s before the Senate,” said Senator DiPalma also a Catholic. “It comes down to protecting the unborn child… at the end of the day for me, it’s conception to natural death.”

Representative Edwards voted for the Reproductive Privacy Act:

Representative Canario voted for the Reproductive Privacy Act:

Representative Cortvriend voted for the Reproductive Privacy Act:

Senator Seveney supports the Reproductive Health Care Act:

Guns:

“In the wake of now countless shootings in schools, places of worship and other public venues across the country, many Rhode Islanders are in favor of what they see as common sense laws aimed at reducing access to certain types of guns and curbing gun violence. The platforms for both the National and State Democratic Committee Committees addressing gun violence. The Rhode Island Democratic Committee’s platform states “we support laws that protects our children and our families and will work to support common sense gun violence prevention measures. What is your position on the various pieces of legislation before the Assembly which are focused on controlling gun violence?”

Senator Seveney supports the gun safety bills currently under discussion at the General Assembly, like the safe school act, a ban on high capacity magazines and an assault weapon ban.

Representative Cortvriend supports the gun safety bills currently under discussion at the General Assembly.

“I support the Second Amendment, that’s my job,” said Representative Canario. “This is a mental health issue.”

Canario believes that banning certain kinds of guns, like assault weapons, and not allowing guns in places likes schools, puts people at risk.

“I supported common sense gun violence legislation,” said Edwards. But given that Rhode Island already has some of the strongest gun laws in the country, Edwards sees no reason to do more. “We may need to do some cleaning up around the edges, but I believe that our gun laws are more than enough and effective.”

DiPalma supports the gun safety bills currently under discussion at the General Assembly, like the safe school act, a ban on high capacity magazines and an assault weapon ban.

Senator Felag supports the gun safety bills currently under discussion at the General Assembly, like the safe school act, a ban on high capacity magazines and an assault weapon ban.

Individual Questions:

The candidates then had the opportunity to answer questions generated from a list of seven topics.

“According to the 2018 Annual Sheltered Homeless Report, over 3200 Rhode Islanders experienced homelessness in 2018. While the reasons are different for each of these persons, we know that a key issue is the lack of affordable housing in Rhode Island. What do you see as your role in reducing homelessness through improving the quantity of affordable housing units?”

Representative Edwards:

One of the most significant crises facing our country and Rhode Island is accidental drug overdose deaths, most related to the opioid crisis. While the the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) shows that drug overdose deaths have decreased to 315 in 2018 from a high of 336 in 2016, we can all agree that these numbers are still too high. What do you see as the most important measures we must take to end this crisis?

Senator Seveney:

Projections show that Rhode Island will have significant budget shortfalls for both the current fiscal year and the next fiscal year and beyond. What do you think needs to be done to shore up our fiscal house while also ensuring effective support for our most economically vulnerable Rhode Islanders?

Senator DiPalma:

As a coastal state, climate change is a critical issue for Rhode Island but especially for all of the communities that each of you represent here tonight. Projections show that sea level rise over the next decades will cause major flooding in all of our communities and our shorelines will be pushed back dramatically. What do you see as your role in helping to head off this crisis to preserve our state for future generations?

Representative Canario:

Family economic security is a critical issue facing many Rhode Islanders. The Economic Progress Institute (EPI) reports that it takes two to three times the federal poverty level to meet basic needs in Rhode Island. What do you see as your role in reducing the number of individuals and families in Rhode Island facing economic insecurity?

Senator Felag:

Access to affordable and quality health insurance coverage continues to be a challenge across our country. While Rhode Island has made significant strides, the Economic Progress Institute reports that our family health insurance costs have risen five times faster than earnings and 11.6 percent of Rhode Islanders are without health insurance. What do you see as your role in getting to a point where all Rhode Islanders have affordable and quality health insurance?

Representative Cortvriend:

Family economic security is a critical issue facing many Rhode Islanders. The Economic Progress Institute reports that it takes two to three times the federal poverty level to meet basic needs in Rhode Island. What do you see as your role in reducing the number of individuals and families in Rhode Island facing economic insecurity?

Senator Seveney:

Projections show that Rhode Island will have significant budget shortfalls for both the current fiscal year and the next fiscal year and beyond. What do you think needs to be done to shore up our fiscal house while also ensuring effective support for our most economically vulnerable Rhode Islanders?

Senator Felag

Some see immigrants as having negative effects on our society while others see positive effects. The Center for American Progress states that immigration is a “constant source of economic vitality” while recognizing the need for common sense reform. What role, if any, do you see the General Assembly having in addressing immigration issues in Rhode Island and across the country?

Senator DiPalma:

Access to affordable and quality health insurance coverage continues to be a challenge across our country. While Rhode Island has made significant strides, the Economic Progress Institute reports that our family health insurance costs have risen five times faster than earnings and 11.6 percent of Rhode Islanders are without health insurance. What do you see as your role in getting to a point where all Rhode Islanders have affordable and quality health insurance?

Representative Canario:

One of the most significant crises facing our country and Rhode Island is accidental drug overdose deaths, most related to the opioid crisis. While the the Rhode Island Department of Health shows that drug overdose deaths have decreased to 315 in 2018 from a high of 336 in 2016, we can all agree that these numbers are still too high. What do you see as the most important measures we must take to end this crisis?

Representative Edwards:

Family economic security is a critical issue facing many Rhode Islanders. The Economic Progress Institute reports that it takes two to three times the federal poverty level to meet basic needs in Rhode Island. What do you see as your role in reducing the number of individuals and families in Rhode Island facing economic insecurity?

Representative Cortvriend:

Lightning Round

  • Do you support legislation to eliminate the gender pay gap?
  • Do you support raising the minimum wage to a living wage
  • Do you support efforts at having the Auditor General look at private companies “managing” Medicaid in Rhode Island?
  • Do you support giving the Governor line item veto authority in the state budget?
  • In light of the interest to legalizing marijuana and current substance abuse issues in our state, do you support providing state funding for local substance abuse task forces?
  • Do you support legalization that requires Presidential and Vice Presidential candidate to release the last five years of personal tax returns in order to qualify for the ballot in Rhode Island?

Questions from the audience:

The views on legalizing the use of recreational marijuana were all over the map, with DiPalma, Canario and Seveney against and Edwards, Cortvriend and Felag for some form of legislation that would tax and regulate marijuana.

Both Cortvriend and Felag opined that the legislation won’t pass this year.

DiPalma and Seveney both believe that marijuana is a “gateway drug,” that is, using marijuana will lead to the use of harder, more dangerous drugs.

A fascinating conversation grew out of the last question of the evening:

“If the only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun, why would you pass a bill that guarantees there would be no good guys around soft targets?”

Cortvriend said that in the event of a school shooting, you don’t want someone in plainclothes running around with a gun. No one will know that they are a “good guy.”

“It could be Representative Canario,” said Cortvriend. “When he pulls out his gun and he’s in just plain clothes and the SWAT team it comes around, then Canario’s gone.”

Talking about the hypothetical concealed carry permit holder who decides to get involved against a mass shooter, Canario said, “You know what? If he pulls his gun and puts his life on the line, thank him.”

Canario disputed the idea that more people with more guns adds to the danger of a chaotic gun attack. In a tense situation, maintained Canario,” a concealed carry holder and an expert shoot no differently.”

Seveney wasks what happens when “a second good guy with a gun gets in there? Now you have two and they don’t know each other. Neither one is wearing anything that identifies them as a good guy. They’re probably not wearing their ‘good guy with a gun’ tee shirt. What’s the odds that they shoot each other by mistake?”


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Larry
Guest
Larry

Thanks for your thorough coverage of this well-attended event. Your efforts are appreciated – especially in our otherwise desolate media landscape.

As you suggest, moderator Mike Burk “asked some pretty tough questions” in a direct, respectful manner. The legislators responded with varying degrees of clarity and directness – but they deserve credit for showing up and facing their constituents. Then again, they’re all Democrats, and the event was jointly sponsored by the Democratic Town Committees of Tiverton, Portsmouth, and Little Compton (I’m a member of the latter, though had nothing to do with organizing the event). Nonetheless, it’s encouraging to see the level of political engagement, activity, and cooperation by the local committees.

Barry Schiller
Member

in my area (North Providence) we never seem to have such forums perhaps because many of our legislators (e.g. Sen Ruggerio, Reps Corvese, Hull) almost always run unopposed