Over 100 people called into the Rhode Island Judiciary hearing on Monday evening to testify in favor of two bills that seek to bring key elements of the Green New Deal to Rhode Island. According to Renew RI, a coalition in support of these bills, this number doesn’t include “the dozens of people who signed up and waited for five hours but were never called, or were hung up on, or were refused the right to testify.”
The first bill introduced was sponsored by Senator Jonathan Acosta (Democrat, District 16, Central Falls) and if passed would “create the Housing Jobs Department and a series of other initiatives designed to create jobs in housing construction, specifically affordable and low income housing, green and solar energy jobs and programs for low income individuals.” After Senator Acosta introduced his bill, he was immediately confronted with concerns from conservative Senators Gordon Rogers (Republican, District 21, Coventry, Foster Scituate, West Greenwich) and Frank Lombardi (Democrat, District 26, Cranston).
The second bill introduced was sponsored by Senator Tiara Mack (Democrat, District 6, Providence) and upon passage would “would establish the first Green Justice Zone, a model that may be replicated in future years to ensure that all communities throughout the state have clean air and clean water.” Green Justice Zones would be a powerful tool in dealing with the environmental racism that has been inflicted on poor BIPOC communities in Providence for generations.
The testimony and the reactions of Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Cynthia Armour Coyne (Democrat, District 32, Barrington) and Vice Chair Stephen Archambault (Democrat, District 22, Smithfield, Johnston, North Providence) was sometimes combative. When those testifying said that they would work politically to oust elected officials who stand against the legislation, they were cut off or chided for making “threats.” Chair Coyne frequently cut people off who tried to make this point, not allowing them the three minutes they were promised for their testimony.
It was earlier in the evening, while the Committee was hearing testimony on a bill by Senator Jeanine Calkin (Democrat, District 30, Warwick) to make the Energy Facilities Siting Board more accountable to environmental concerns that Vice Chair Archambault first objected to being challenged politically during public comment.
“Over the years of hearing testimony up here, whenever somebody adds that comment at the end that ‘if you don’t vote for the bill we’re going to run against you’ it falls off deaf ears with me,” said Archambault. “I’m not here to submit to anyone’s pressure. I listen to everything objectively, give it my finest discernment, and make my decision. And I actually resent the fact that those comments are made. I don’t like it. I’m sure all my colleagues don’t either. Just my two cents. I don’t want a response. We weigh things as they come and we do our best. We’re all human up here. You want to run against me, run against me. I’ve been dealing with that since the beginning of time.”
Below is the start of the testimony, more will be added as I complete the videos:
Senator Cynthia Mendes (Democrat, District 18, East Providence) testified in strong support.
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Here, RI resident Arden is cut off by Chair Coyne, despite saying that she was not yet finished with her testimony.
Cut off by Chair Coyne:
Chair Coyne cuts off the speaker:
Chair Coyne cuts off testimony:
Chair Coyne didn’t get a chance to cut the person testifying off because she ended fast:
Chair Coyne cuts of the speaker:
Chair Coyne begins to cut of the speaker:
Spenser Reed pushed back against those testifying being cut off. “I don’t appreciate being silenced. I don’t appreciate the silencing of other people who are here to testify, to bare their souls, and to advocate for their communities.” Spenser Reed was thanked by Chair Coyne for his “passionate” testimony and disconnected.
Testimony from a representative of the Rhode Island Coalition of Housing Providers:
As soon as Senator Lombardi was mentioned, Chair Coyne interrupted and ultimately shut down the speaker, who was struggling with tears.
Chair Coyne cut the speaker off
The speaker was cut off as soon as they mentioned elections:
“Finally, I had planned on thanking you for your time but I will end by saying that I am extremely disappointed to hear you cutting off previous speakers.”
Senator Archambault too over the committee hearing, and did not cut off the speaker when they mentioned elections.
“I’ve seen how scared you are, because you keep cutting off people’s microphones,” said Rachel Baker.
David Veliz, from the Sierra Club:
A business owner opposed to many of the housing bill’s provisions:
As soon as the speaker mentioned Senator Dawn Euer, Senator Archambault cut her off, quoting Robert Frost. He equated running a democratic campaign to unseat an incumbent senator to making “personal threats.”
Things hit the boiling point with this speaker, who asked that their comments be heard and that their full three minutes of testimony be given to them. Speaking of their experience with asthma, the speaker said, “it’s threatening my own fucking life.” This was too much for Vice Chair Archambault, who cut the speaker off and admonished their use of language. “You want to swear we’re going to cut you right off,” said Vice Chair Archambault.
Reverend DJ Helfer:
Speaking about the kinds of candidates they might support in the future was almost enough to get the speaker cut off by returning Chair Coyne.
Pawtucket resident Wendy Oliver: