The 2021 Rhode Island Senate opened, as is constitutionally mandated, under the guidance of the Senator from Newport, and this year that Senator was Dawn Euer (Democrat, District 13, Newport, Jamestown). Euer lead the Senate through the re-election of Senate President Dominick Ruggerio (Democrat, District 4, Providence). Euer noted that this year’s celebration of 100 years of women’s suffrage were sidetracked by COVID-19, but that a celebration of sorts happened during the election of a new Senate that is, for the first time, made up of 50% women and is the most racially diverse in history.
Due to the pandemic the Senate convened at Sapinsly Hall on the Rhode Island College campus. Sapinsly Hall was named, in part, after Lila Sapinsly, the first woman minority leader in the Rhode Island State Senate.
Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea swore in the elected Senators.
A roll call was read, and all elected Senators were present.
Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey (Democrat, District 29, Warwick) led the chamber in prayer and in the pledge of allegiance.
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Interim rules, that allow the Senate to come into session outside the State House, were adopted without discussion
Senator Cynthia Armour Coyne (Democrat, District 32, Barrington) nominated Senator Ruggerio to be Senate President. Senator Ryan Pearson (Democrat, District 19, Cumberland) seconded the nomination.
Ruggerio received 31 votes, including the support of all five Senate Republicans. Seven Democratic Senators – Jonathan Acosta (Democrat, District 16, Central Falls), Kendra Anderson (Democrat, District 31, Warwick, Cranston), Samuel Bell (Democrat, District 5, Providence), Jeanine Calkin (Democrat, District 30, Warwick), Gayle Goldin (Democrat, District 3, Providence), Tiara Mack (Democrat, District 6, Providence) and Cynthia Mendes (Democrat, District 18, East Providence) abstained.
Senator Ruggerio was sworn in as Senate President, a job he has held since 2017.
“Our solemn obligation is to ensure that every student receives a quality education,” said Ruggerio, outlining his legislative priorities. “That every resident can access mental and physical healthcare, and that every child will inherit a clean and resilient environment…”
Senate Present Ruggerio committed himself to:
- a dedicated funding stream for housing and ending housing discrimination based on source of income
- supporting small businesses… as they weather the economic fall-out of the pandemic
- establishing a pathway to a $15 minimum wage
- passing a strong equal pay act
- reforming our income tax structure so that everyone pays their fair share
- codifying the protections of the affordable care act
- improving access to telemedicine and mental health services
- addressing the high cost of prescription drugs;
- increasing utilization of renewable energy, improving resiliency and reducing plastic waste
- develop a framework to legalize and regulate recreational marijuana
The next item was the election of the Senate Reading Clerk and the Senate Secretary.
Senator Hanna Gallo (Democrat, District 27, Cranston) was elected Senate President pro tem.
Senator Roger Picard (Democrat, District 20, Woonsocket) was elected Deputy Senate President pro tem.
The Senate President read all correspondence.
The next session of the Rhode Island Senate will be at 4pm, Tuesday January 12th, and will also be a remote session. Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin (Democrat, District 1, Providence) encouraged her fellow senators to get their bills drafted and to begin submitting them.