The Uprising, February 15, 2019

“We need to continue that, in my opinion. In terms of tax credits: No one likes giving corporations a tax break, but we have to. We have to for one simple reason: Our competitors are. If we don’t do it we are in essence unilaterally disarming ourselves as a state…” – House Majority Leader Joseph Shekarchi (Democrat, District 23, Warwick)

Rhode Island News: The Uprising, February 15, 2019

February 15, 2019, 2:57 pm

By Steve Ahlquist

“We need to continue that, in my opinion. In terms of tax credits: No one likes giving corporations a tax break, but we have to. We have to for one simple reason: Our competitors are. If we don’t do it we are in essence unilaterally disarming ourselves as a state…”

– House Majority Leader Joseph Shekarchi (Democrat, District 23, Warwick)

Welcome to The Uprising!

1a. Nicholas Mattiello

The 2019 Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce (GPCC) Luncheon is where members of our General Assembly go to listen to the concerns and ideas of Rhode Island’s business leaders. At least publicly. The day before the luncheon Rhode Island House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello (Democrat, District 15, Cranston) had a more private exchange with business leaders at the Rhode Island Public Expenditures Council (RIPEC) board meeting.

At the RIPEC board meeting Mattiello says he asked “a lot of business leaders if it offends them that you impose a fee upon an employer that is not paying their employees adequately and their employees are in fact on Medicaid and a burden on the citizens of the State of Rhode Island.”

Mattiello was asking about new taxes Governor Gina Raimondo inserted into her budget that would charge businesses with more than 300 employees on Medicaid. Despite referring to human beings on Medicaid with the unfortunate word choice of “burden” Mattiello seemed to indicate that he was leaning towards supporting the idea, but stressed that the powerful business community could certainly change his mind.

“Let your voice be heard,” said Mattiello to the business leaders at the Luncheon. “Let’s all collaborate, communicate and do what’s best for the citizens of Rhode Island and the business community. You are the engine that fuels everything that goes on in government. We need you to be strong. We need our economy to be strong, so we need to hear from you.”

1b. Joe Shekarchi

At the same luncheon House Majority Leader Joseph Shekarchi (Democrat, District 23, Warwick) defended his work on tax breaks for corporations, saying that, “We need to continue that, in my opinion. In terms of tax credits: No one likes giving corporations a tax break, but we have to … We have to for one simple reason: Our competitors are. If we don’t do it we are in essence unilaterally disarming ourselves as a state…

“We can’t be fearful of 38 Studios.”

1c. Thank you, Mr Galt!

Is Jason Fane an Ithican slumlord or a Randian superhero?

House Minority Leader Blake Filippi (Republican, District 36, Charlestown, New Shoreham, South Kingstown, Westerly) seems to be leaning towards the latter. Speaking about the resistance to Fane’s Hope Point Tower project, Filippi said:

“I think we need to say, ‘Thank you, Mr Fane for wanting to invest $300 million in the State of Rhode Island.’ This treatment of those who want to invest in our state must stop. ‘Thank you, Mr Fane.’”

If we don’t thank him, Fane might move to Galt’s Gultch

1d. Laurie White

“We played a much more aggressive role in supporting some General Assembly candidates in tight races,” said White. “A lot of our members were eager to donate to our Providence Chamber PAC.”

2a. Minimum Wage

A terrific piece by Andy Boardman confronts the kind of stuff the business community puts out there when they heed Speaker Mattiello’s advice and offer to collaborate (See 1a above).

Boardman cites an oped in which the state director of the National Federation of Independent Business Rhode Island chapter refers to “one study finding that Seattle’s recent minimum wage increase harmed some workers. Boardman writes:

“He omits, however, a more nuanced study conducted by the same researchers which finds no negative effect on earnings caused by the minimum wage increase. Additionally, he omits another study by economists at U.C. Berkeley finding that Seattle’s minimum wage increase raised workers’ earnings and had no negative impact on employment in the fast food industry.

“Moreover, the author declines to address a growing body of research finding that the minimum wage improves both employment and earnings by counteracting the ability of firms to use their market power to push employment and wages below their equilibrium amounts. This research also finds that the minimum wage reduces employee turnover, allowing employers to save on the cost of recruiting and training workers. No matter how we approach the matter, it’s inconsistent with the preponderance of evidence to assert that raising the minimum wage will necessarily harm workers. “

2b. Ocean State Current

My piece on the minimum wage this week, which was really about the hypocrisy of the so-called pro-life movement who pack the State House to promote their anti-abortion views but are silent on legislation that might actually help children and families, came under fire from Justin Katz.

Katz complained that I didn’t make the case that increasing the minimum wage helps families and children:

Note that he doesn’t make the case that the minimum wage is on net beneficial to children and families.  He doesn’t even provide a link.  Instead, he simply insists that all evidence supports his claim.  That’s nothing but an assertion of faith.  And you must share this faith, or you’ll face the progressive ridicule in which he dabbles above.  In other words, being pro-choice apparently means being unable to choose to disagree with UpriseRI’s resident scientific and economic genius.

Apparently, Ahlquist is becoming more zealous as he ages.  Back in 2014, he at least would link to research when making claims about the minimum wage.  Unfortunately, I can’t find an article I wrote somewhere along the line about that same study, but the point, here, is that on scientific and economic grounds, its findings are (at the very least) debatable.

I didn’t include links to studies for two reasons. One, that wasn’t really what the piece was about; and two, UpriseRI had just run an excellent piece by Andy Boardman the day before (see 2a above) , chock full of links to studies about the effects of increasing the minimum wage.

Had Katz wanted to disprove my point, all he needed to do was to point to any piece of legislation aimed at helping families and children that is supported by anti-choice groups like like Rhode Island Right to Life, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence, the Knights of Columbus and the Gaspee Project.

Instead, he ran this picture of me, which I rather like:

3a. Reproductive Rights

Maybe Katz was sore about the reception of the Citizens for Life poll, which was funded by the Gaspee Project, a group he is affiliated with. Political scientist Jennifer Lawless was understated in her criticism when she wrote, “question wording is a problem with this poll…

“The question pertaining to when abortion should be legal does not map onto the Roe v Wade framework, so it cannot tell us much about whether people support the status quo. Moreover, the response categories are not mutually exclusive, so the answer a respondent selected may have had to do with the order in which it was presented.

Lawless sums up the poll nicely, saying, “the Citizens for Life poll and the dissemination of its results are just the latest attempt to permeate the abortion debate in Rhode Island with vitriol and falsehoods.”

3b. Other reactions

“The Rhode Island Coalition for Reproductive Freedom rejects claims by anti-choice activists which characterize the Reproductive Health Care Act of 2019 (RHCA) as ‘extreme.’ The Coalition also refutes the results of a recent poll paid for by ‘Citizens for Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness,’ an initiative led by the Gaspee Project. The questions asked in this poll are biased and misleading, and did not ask about maintaining the status-quo afforded under Roe v Wade.”

“The recent poll done by the newly formed Citizens for Life did not in fact ask about the right to abortion,” writes The Womxn Project. “It used trumped up and misleading rhetoric and asked about a law that has already been settled at the federal level. This is in no way any kind of comment on the current legislation moving in the state of Rhode Island.”

3c. RI NOW

Massachusetts State Senator Harriette Chandler, who represents Worcester, was a guest at the Rhode Island Chapter of the National Organization fro Women (RI NOW)’s annual meeting.

Chandler has been a champion of women’s rights for decades, who last year she lead the passage of the NASTY Women Act, legislation that repealed a 173-year-old abortion ban. The bill passed unanimously in the Massachusetts Senate and by a vote of 138-9 in the House. This session Chandler is leading the charge on a bill called the “ROE Act,” legislation that “ensures equitable access to women’s healthcare services by removing unnecessary and burdensome provisions that delay and deny care and improve access to affordable care.”

“We needed to pass the NASTY Women Act because we could not trust court precedent to protect vulnerable women from accessing their healthcare needs,” said Chandler. “That was something we were sensitive to but until the last term, we didn’t think it would hit us, because we thought we’d always have protection. But we knew … that these protections could no longer exist just on the basis of somebody’s good will. Rather, they needed to be codified into law.”

2019-02-11 RI NOW Annual Meeting 02

4a. Housing

Affordable housing is a big issue in Rhode Island, and it’s only going to get bigger if current trends continue. That’s why members of DARE‘s Tenant and Homeowner’s Association were out in front of 18 Portland Street in Providence on a windy, chilly Valentine’s Day morning.

The three story building is one of around twelve buildings that make up Barbara Jordan II apartments in South Providence. Barbara Jordan II apartments is a 74 unit, scattered site development that was recently foreclosed upon by the federal office of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) due to decades of neglect by their former owner and unsafe conditions for the subsidized tenants, many of whom were single parents with young children.

“We have here 74 apartments that were used to help the most vulnerable people in the city, with that in mind, let’s not forget or leave them out again!” said Malchus Mills, Vice-Chair of DARE’s Board of Directors and leader of the Tenant and Homeowner Association.

DARE wants:

  • to maintain the buildings and layout as it is and restore all 74 units as safe, healthy apartments that are affordable on the neighborhood’s average income, especially for families making $20,000 per year and less;
  • long-term affordability through the use of the state’s land trust, which would take the land out of the private, speculative real estate market and prevent gentrification;
  • tenant control over decisions about the housing and land through a tenant union; and
  • local hiring for all contractors and laborers doing the rehabilitation work.

4b. Source of income

A new report from SouthCoast Fair Housing entitled “It’s About the Voucherfinds that “source of income discrimination imposes steep barriers to renting for low-income Rhode Islanders who rely on the Housing Choice Voucher (HVC) program. With a voucher, participating tenants should be able to afford roughly 34 percent of the apartments advertised online each day around the state. In actuality, discrimination narrows the share of housing opportunities closer to 7 percent.”

“This type of discrimination occurs when a landlord rejects a tenant or treats a tenant differently, solely based on the type of income on which that tenant relies,” said Claudia Wack, legal fellow at SouthCoast Fair Housing. “So if you’re a Rhode Island resident, what that means is that you can have great tenant qualifications, you can afford a particular apartment you’re trying to lease but you might still find that a landlord turns you away because your income comes from social security, or child support. You might be rejected because you’re planing to pay your rent with a housing assistance voucher, or even your veteran’s benefits.

“14 states, including many of Rhode Island‘s neighbors like Massachusetts, Maine, Connecticut and Vermont, now prohibit these practices under the recognition that they restrict housing opportunities for individuals and families who literally are able and willing to pay?”

4c. Tax breaks

As if to emphasize the importance of hiring local contractors (see 4b above) and to epitomize the foolishness of granting tax breaks with no local benefits (see 1b above), on Monday, members and representatives of Carpenters Union rallied outside of the construction project at 78 Fountain Street. The project was pitched to the City of Providence by local developer Buff Chace and then sold to an out-of-state developer shortly after the city’s tax stabilization agreement and Rebuild Rhode Island tax credits were approved. The credits and tax deferment plan add up to nearly $20 million.

“We’re out here for an area standards and wages rally,” said Carpenters Union Local 330 Lead Organizer Ernesto Belo. “Callahan brings in subcontractors from out of state, no apprenticeship programs, no benefits to the community. Between the city and state this project received almost $20 million in tax relief, to no benefit to the community and the people in it.”

4d. Homelessness

Grant Metts and Jennifer Siciliano tackled Representative Charlene Lima (Democrat, District 14, Cranston) offensive anti-panhandling bill masquerading as public safety legislation.

“The … makes use of an offensive, dishonest substitution tactic. In order to maintain the transparent fiction that this is not an anti-panhandling law – which it most definitely and inarguably is – the bill claims that it is doing this for reasons of traffic safety. It then provides statistics on roadway crashes for the entire country that have nothing to do with panhandling! The sponsors of this legislation do not even point to a single accident in Rhode Island that has been caused as the result of panhandling.

5. Decriminalizing Sex Work

Representative Anastasia Williams (Democrat, District 9, Providence) has introduced legislation, H5354, to create a special legislative commission to study the health and safety impact of revising commercial sexual activity laws.

“It’s important simply because when we talk about two consenting adults having a relationship, it could be a sexual relationship but in the eye of the law it’s prostitution. Who gets penalized?” said Williams. “So therefore we need to sit down and talk about this. Get the meeting of the minds together and look at the reality of things as they are as opposed to how it’s been perceived to be. That’s one of the reasons that I’m interested in this commission being successful.”

6. Water

Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza is charging full-steam ahead in his effort to “monetizeProvidence Water. Community meetings are set to take place on the following dates, times and locations:

  • March 4, 2019, 6:00PM – 7:30PM; Nathan Bishop Middle School, Auditorium, 101 Sessions St, Providence, RI 02906
  • March 11, 2019, 6:00PM – 7:30PM; Dr. Jorge Alvarez High School, Cafeteria, 375 Adelaide Ave, Providence, RI 02907
  • March 21, 2019, 6:00PM – 7:30PM; Nathanael Greene Middle School, Auditorium, 721 Chalkstone Ave, Providence, RI 02908

7. Laufton Ascencao

Laufton Ascencao handily won election to House district 68, only to never take his oath of office after it was revealed that he had committed mail fraud, pretending to produce and mail a campaign flyer for the Warren Democrats when in fact he hadn’t. Now the hole is getting deeper, with allegations from the Rhode Island Board of Elections that Ascencao misappropriated $13,900 worth of Sierra Club money for his election and for the expenses of the Rhode Island Working Families Party.

“This past November The Rhode Island Chapter of Sierra Club discovered an apparent misappropriation of funds by a volunteer official, Laufton Ascencao, and promptly removed him from any role with the Chapter,” wrote the Rhode Island Sierra Club in a statement. “This activity was immediately reported to the national organization and the Club began an internal investigation. We are continuing to gather information and coordinate with our attorneys and Rhode Island state authorities about our tentative findings.”

8. Invenergy

Invenergy will not go quietly into the night, rather, they are raging against the dying of their proposed $1 billion fracked gas and diesel oil burning power plant aimed at the forests of northwest Rhode Island.

One difference in Invenergy’s recent behavior though, may be due to the sudden realization that their power plant is in real trouble before the Energy facilities Siting Board (EFSB) the governmental body in chrage of licensing the project. Commenting on a motion Invenergy made to the EFSB, Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) Senior Attorney Jerry Elmer writes”

“Invenergy is now laying the groundwork for a possible appeal after a permit denial by the EFSB. (That is why Invenergy’s motion cites to so many Rhode Island Supreme Court cases pertaining to the standards of admission for expert testimony.) As I have mentioned before, while the losing side at the EFSB does have a right to an appeal, such appeals rarely succeed. That is because the standard of review used by the court is very, very deferential to the EFSB.”

“The short of it is that Invenergy is not going away and is, in fact, preparing now to appeal a possible permit denial by the EFSB.”

9. Bladensburg Cross

Don’t be surprised if you’ve never heard of the Bladensburg Cross, located in Maryland. A publicly funded religious symbol on public land, the case is going to the United States Supreme Court. Just days before leaving office, Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin signed onto the case, lending Rhode Island’s support to Maryland’s case. This outraged some Rhode Islanders who believe in founding principles such as freedom of conscience, freedom of religion, and separation of church and state.

Earlier this week, new Attorney General Peter Neronha formally withdrew Rhode Island from the brief after hearing from ten religious and secular groups about their concerns. The Rhode Island State Council of Churches; Rhode Island Board of Rabbis; American Baptist Churches of Rhode Island; New England Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island; Masjid Al-Islam; Humanists of Rhode Island; Vedanta Society of Providence; National Council of Jewish Women, Rhode Island Action Team; and Rhode Island Conference, United Church of Christ came together in opposition to supporting the cross.

Neronha did not withdraw out of concern for religious liberty or First Amendment reasons. Instead he said that the case turned on issues specific to Maryland, issues impossible to discern from Rhode Island. It’s still a win though.

The American Humanist Association covered Rhode Island’s withdrawal from the lawsuit here.

10. Blackstone Valley Community Health Care

Staff at Blackstone Valley Community Health Care (BVCHC), who have been fighting for quality care and living wages for workers during contract negotiations, have issued a strike notice to management. Unless negotiations bear fruit the strike will begin on February 20th, 2019 in both the Central Falls and Pawtucket locations.

11. The Uprising on Television

Jennifer Siciliano and Grant Metts (see 4d above) have brought The Uprising to cable television. See here for details, watch episode one right here:

2018 11 The Uprising

12. ACLU

Advocates for Students Raise Concerns about Official Response to Kickemuit School Discipline Problem

13. The Bartholomewtown Podcast

14. Burrillville Now

Officials investigating reported racist incident at Burrillville High School by Sandy Seoane.

15. The College Hill Independent

Civic Disobedience: A class-action lawsuit in Rhode Island advocates for civics education by Sara Van Horn & Wen Zhuang.

16. ConvergenceRI

Rethinking assumptions around child neglect in RI by Richard Asinof.

17. EcoRI

Rhode Island Ranked in Top 10 for Asthma Rate by Tim Faulkner.

18. Providence Daily Dose

Stop The Ruggerio Power Grab by Beth Comery.

19. Providence Journal

20. Burrillville Against Spectra Expansion

21. The Valley Breeze

Melanie DuPont is a ‘hero’ for supporting Reproductive Health Act by Mikaila Mariel Lemonik Arthur.

22. Donna Nesselbush

Senator Nesselbush Discusses Senate Rules Power Grab

23. Picture of the Week:

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