The Uprising, May 18, 2018

Without freedom, law is merely the expression of one person’s will over another. Without just and appropriate laws, freedom is just a license for chaos.
– Rabbi Jeffrey Goldwasser

Goldwasser was talking about driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants when he said the above in the rotunda of the Rhode Island State House this week, but his words equally apply to the legislative process as a whole. As the General Assembly enters it’s final weeks, can we truly call the process “just and appropriate?”

Case in point:

1a. Biomass

H8020, legislation “clearly designed to benefit one company” and “to benefit one guy,” is being fast tracked through the General Assembly. If passed, the legislation will classify “biomass incineration” as a renewable source of energy under the net metering statute. According to EcoRI, who wrote about the Senate bill, “The bill was written to help the sale of electricity from a nearly 9-megawatt power plant that runs on wood chips and construction debris being built in Johnston by Mark DePasquale of Green Development LLC of North Kingstown.”

Maybe this tweet from Patrick Anderson at the Providence Journal says it all:

Biomass is as bad or worse than coal or oil for the environment and our lungs, so of course the Rhode Island General Assembly is fast tracking a bill that will define the burning of biomass as a renewable source of energy.

According to the Associated Press, “Johnathan Berard, Rhode Island director of Clean Water Action, said the bill amounts to a quid-pro-quo. Mark DePasquale, founder of Green Development, has made more than $30,000 in campaign contributions to Democratic legislative leaders, including House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, Senate President Dominick Ruggerio and Governor Gina Raimondo.

“House Spokesman Larry Berman called the quid-pro-quo allegation ‘ridiculous.'”

On the same day the legislation was voted out of the House Corporations Committee (why not the environmental committee?) I observed Attorney Seth Handy, who has been actively lobbying for the biomass legislation, entering the offices of Governor Raimondo. Inquiries as to the nature of that visit have gone unanswered. I have since submitted an Access to Public Record Request (APRA), but given the speed at which this legislation is moving, I see little hope off getting any response to my APRA before the legislation reaches the governor’s desk to be signed into law. When I told the legal department that I would appreciate my APRA being expedited, I was told, “You requested an expedited review, which we will take under consideration.”

1b. Fall River

On Tuesday the Fall River City Council voted unanimously to support two resolutions:

  • The first resolution opposes the siting of Invenergy‘s proposed $1 billion fracked gas and diesel oil burning power plant aimed at the pristine forests of northwest Rhode Island and condemns the deal made between Benn Water and Heavy Transport and the Watuppa Water Board.
  • The second resolution opposes the renewal of the water contract between Benn Water and Heavy Transport and the Watuppa Water Board when the contract requires renewal.

Last year, under less than perfect open government conditions, the Watuppa Water Board approved the sale of water to Invenergy, the company that wants to build a $1 billion fracked gas and diesel oil burning power plant in the pristine forests of Rhode Island.

It just occurred to me that all the deforestation required to build this power plant will be available as biomass fuel for the proposed power plant in Johnston (see item 1a above). In the business world that’s called “synergy” but in the real world that’s known as a “vicious circle.”

With the Fall River City Council resolutions that vicious circle might be broken… in about six years. The contract Invenergy has made with the city doesn’t technically start until the power plant is built and operational.

Here’s video from the public comment period of the Fall River City Council meeting featuring city resident Erica Scott and others:

1c. Energy Facilities Siting Board

Representative Cale Keable (Democrat, District 47, Burrillville, Glocester)’s legislation to overhaul the Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB) passed the House today on a vote of 69 to 0.

The bill (H8120A) would expand the EFSB from three members to seven and would provide greater protections and rights to the communities where proposed power plants are located. It would also demand that applicants provide all the required information before their application can begin moving forward.

The last time Keable tried to do something about the way power plants are approved, the idea was shut down hard by the Senate. Two Senators, Stephen Archambault (Democrat, District 22, Smithfield, Johnston, North Providence) and William Conley Jr (Democrat, District 18, East Providence), lost their Sierra Club endorsements for their votes against Keable’s plan. Conley is the Johnston, Rhode Island City Solicitor and is representing the city in a lawsuit over the water Mayor Joe Polisena agreed to sell Invenergy.

This bill will not affect the outcome of the Invenergy plant siting however, and the the 30-year old Energy Facilities Siting Act is in dire need of an upgrade, so there’s a possibility that the Senate will look more favorably on this bill.

1d. #NoFosssilFuelMoney pledge

The Rhode Island Student Climate Coalition is asking politicians to sign their #NoFossilFuelMoney pledge. So far progressive legislators and candidates like Aaron Regunberg, Jeanine Calkin, Marcia Ranglin-Vassell, Moira Walsh, Susan Donovan, Edie Ajello, Julie Casimiro, Lauren Carson and Sam Bell have promised “to refuse any contributions from the oil, gas, and coal industry.”

Add to that list Democratic candidates for governor Paul Roselli and Matt Brown.

2a. Matt Brown

Speaking of Matt Brown, he opened his run for Governor with over 120 people crowding into the Southside Cultural Center in Providence. Realizing the huge money advantage of incumbent Gina Raimondo, Brown is counting on a Bernie Sanders style ground game. I’ve already been invited to two “house parties” on the East Side of Providence, and expect there with be dozens of such events held throughout the state over the coming weeks.

One way Brown is differentiating himself is through his stance on the environment, signing a pledge to not take money from fossil fuel companies as Raimondo does when she takes money from Michael Polsky, founder and chief executive of Invenergy. Another way Brown differentiates himself is through his opposition to Raimondo’s Medicaid cuts:

“Cutting Medicaid, as this governor has done, is wrong. It’s wrong because it hurts people, and it’s also really bad economics,” said Brown. “It has contributed to the breaking of the backs of our hospitals and providers. They are now bankrupt and they are closing and are looking to sell themselves to out-of-state corporations, which would be a disaster for the quality of care in this state and a disaster for our economy.”

Raimondo’s proposed cuts include:

$4 co-pay for brand name medications
$2.50 co-pay for generic medications
$3 for inpatient hospital stay
$3 for non-preventive care doctor’s visits
$8 for non-emergency use of emergency rooms

And these cuts, like the free bus pass phase out a few years go, target Rhode Island’s most vulnerable populations. Planned Parenthood Votes! Rhode Island has a petition to sign to oppose these cuts.

2b. Paul Roselli

In the wake of last week’s report from the third meeting of the Rhode Island Democratic Party (RIDP) Platform Committee that highlighted the divisions between conservative and progressive Democrats that exist beneath the RIDP’s “big tent” Democratic candidate for governor Paul Roselli called for an uprising, writing, “…it is time to consider whether [Democrats “in name only”] need to be challenged in the primaries and be removed from office. It is time to gather your friends and neighbors, support the challengers that have already come forward and where there is currently not a contest, consider running yourself or encourage others to run for office.”

The next platform committee meeting will be on Monday night, at the University of Rhode Island, 55 Lower College Road, Kingston, and the one after that will be on June 4 at the Barrington Public Library, 281 County Road, Barrington.

2c. Robert Flanders

Republican candidate for Governor Bob Flanders cancelled his trip to Burrillville for Wednesday night but fear not, the event will be rescheduled. Organizer and Burrillville resident Donna Woods has done an impressive job lining up a series of speakers.

The road to elected office in Rhode Island runs through Burrillville.

2d. Gina Raimondo

Gina Raimondo will be working with The Woman Project HQ and RI NOW (Rhode Island National Organization for Women) to phone bank for the Reproductive Health Care Act on May 23.

This is strong support for reproductive rights from our Governor, and quite needed. Hopefully, while she is there, someone can talk to the Governor about the Medicaid cuts and the increased child asthma rates that come from burning biomass.

2e. Jason Roias

Political newcomer Jason Roias will challenge Providence City Councilmember Nicholas Narducci in Providence’s 4th Ward. He announces officially at Hopkins Square, 480 Branch Avenue in Providence at 10am on Saturday. Narducci is currently serving his third term in office.

2f. John McDaid

All elections matter.

Portsmouth resident John McDaid last week announced his candidacy for a Tax Assessor position on the Portsmouth Water and Fire District Board. On Monday, the Portsmouth canvasser certified his nomination papers, securing him a spot on the ballot for the Wednesday, June 13 election.

3. Rhode Island Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival

The Rhode Island Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival kicked off a six-week season of nonviolent direct action Monday afternoon in Providence. The 60 plus people in attendance included clergy, advocates and members of the poor and disenfranchised communities from Rhode Island. They gathered outside the Rhode Island State House to demand “new programs to lift up the 140 million Americans living in poverty, immediate attention to ecological devastation and measures to curb militarism and the war economy.”

Rhode Island Poor People’s Chair Reverend Ebony Grisom stated “On Mother’s Day, the country pauses to honor mothers with cards and flowers. On Monday, we honor them with protest. We protest the double-standard that celebrates mothers one day, yet watched them (and their children) languish in poverty the next.”

The next event will start at 1pm on Monday, near the State House, and focus on a different topic.

3. Guns to Plowshares

Following the weekend services in which the religious leaders of three churches and one synagogue talked to their faith communities about gun violence, (see ProJo article here) and launched a symbolic effort to transform guns into plowshares by literally turning over guns to artisans to be turned into farming tools, a group of about 75 people gathered on the Smith Street side of the Rhode Island State House to deliver cards and letters to General Assembly leaders and legislators urging the passage of common sense gun laws.

“We will not accept the conditions and laws that value guns more than human beings,” said the Reverend Elizabeth Lerner Maclay of the First Unitarian Church of Providence. “We are not waiting for the next shooting.” (Unfortunately, see note 9a below)

4. DACA

The Senate Judiciary Committee passed S2678a, which will allow DACA recipients to continue driving legally in Rhode Island. The DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program has been terminated by President Donald Trump, leaving thousands of young Rhode Islanders, known as “Dreamers,” who were brought to this country as children, at risk of losing their ability to drive in our state. The bill, introduced by Senate Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey (Democrat, District 29, Warwick) would, “continue the status quo relating to operator’s and chauffeur’s licenses to approved recipients under the Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.” The bill also makes clear that “the issuance of a Rhode Island operator’s license shall not confer the right to vote in the state of Rhode Island.”

“Washington dysfunction has made it so the majority of undocumented immigrants have no way to obtain legal status,” said Gabriela Domenzain, of Roger Williams University‘s Latino Policy Institute. “But while the national landscape is bleak, and the President uses every opportunity to malign and scapegoat immigrants, what’s happening in Rhode Island should give us all hope…”

5a. The Woman Project Interviews Ohio based blogger Em Underation:

“Ohio has a super majority that goes for Republicans in the Statehouse. Democrats fight tooth and nail and propose amendment after amendment on the floor for abortion bills, but all get passed without the blink of an eye. There’s nothing Democrats can do to stop it because they don’t have the votes. I am thankful for our Ohio State Supreme Court who has continually found abortion bans to be unconstitutional, but Justice O’Neill, a liberal, just stepped down from the bench, allowing a Republican to take his seat. I don’t know how protected those rights will be anymore.”

5b. The Woman Project Interviews Barry Schiller, Professor Emeritus of Mathematics at Rhode Island College:

“[M]y wife Libby was a long term Planned Parenthood escort, and I’m proud that she once won their Volunteer of the Year award. We produced pro-choice programs for public access cable TV. I post pro-choice comments at various sites and as opportunities arise. I remember early on getting flack at RIC for recommending PP for the State Employees Charity Appeal when they were not in the United Way. I also try to attend all the pro-choice rallies even if just to applaud at the appropriate time. With Trump, the Assembly’s anti-choice leadership, and a Supreme Court on the edge, we are quite worried. So we included PP in our estate plans in hopes our support for reproductive freedom will persist after we are gone.”

5c. Mother’s Day, 3am by Jordan Hevenor

“…as the mother of two daughter I passionately believe they need the right to control their own bodies and they need access to reproductive health care, including abortion.”

6. Henrietta White-Holder and Linda Finn awarded 2018 Red Bandana Awards

The Award, the sixth annual, honors individuals and groups whose work embodies the spirit and work of Richard Walton, a longtime Rhode Island activist who died in 2012. The awards will be presented on Sunday, June 3rd at a celebration at the Providence Firefighters Memorial Hall, 92 Printery St., Providence, from 3 to 6pm. The event is open to the public and is family-friendly.

Henrietta White-Holder is the founder & CEO of Higher Ground International, a culturally grounded inter-generational social service NGO that advocates and provides programs for West African immigrants, refugees and marginalized communities in Rhode Island and rural villages in Liberia, West Africa.

Linda Finn is the Board President of the Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence. She has bravely and tirelessly advocated for sensible gun laws in Rhode Island, and fashioned a coalition of people and groups that touches every part of Rhode Island. Her work has made Rhode Island safer for all of us.

7. Turn Off 10

Turn Off 10, a campaign coordinated by the Rhode Island Kent County ReSisters to protest Sinclair Broadcast Group‘s continuing use of local NBC affiliate Channel 10/WJAR as Trump propaganda, targeted three of the station’s local advertisers on Saturday, Cardi’s Furniture & Mattresses and Speedcraft Nissan in West Warwick and Tasca Automotive Group in Cranston.

Nick Cardi, one of the three brothers who own Cardi’s, introduced himself to everyone holding signs, offering the use of the bathrooms inside the furniture store, if needed.

GoLovalProv hit on an interesting issue regarding Sinclair: “Will Democratic candidates for governor buy ads on ultra-conservative Sinclair Broadcasting’s Providence affiliate?”

Matt Brown refused to say.

“We haven’t finalized the plan but I would imagine NBC10 will be included,” said David Ortiz, spokesperson for the Gina Raimondo campaign.

8. Bomes Theater

Bomes Theatre is a two-story, Beaux Arts, flat-roof, brick theater constructed by Samuel Bomes in 1921 on a vacant lot. Bomes owned a chain of small neighborhood theaters after WW I. It first it showed silent motion pictures. In the 1950’s the theater was known as Liberty Theater and then became a furniture store. After that, the building was abandoned. Squatters lived there, a rave was held there in 2014, and the building was boarded up. The building has long been on the Providence Preservation Society’s Most Endangered Properties list and was featured in the list in 2009, 2011, 2014, 2016 and 2017.

Here’s a video from a tour inside the Bomes Theatre about two years ago by filmmaker Monay McNeil:

Local developer Fernando Tavares will oversee the complete renovation of the theater into a mixed-use building, which will include retail, office and reception facility space. You can see a cool, swoopy video of what the space will look like on completion here.

“I’m thrilled to see this historic and important building coming back to life,” said Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza. “When we’re working together, we can make great progress and this is yet another example of that.

Here’s the press conference:

9a. Santa Fe, TX

As I write this I’m reading about the latest school shooting. At least 8 dead. My heart breaks.

“There are no words to express the horror of today’s shooting at Santa Fe High School,” wrote Governor Gina Raimondo in a statement. “Andy and I are praying for the victims and their families. As we mourn those senselessly killed and injured, we also mourn our national leaders’ inaction. Our country cannot–and should not–accept a reality in which we continually fail to keep our children safe from gun violence. Here in Rhode Island, we’re taking action to protect our kids. I urge our leaders in Washington to immediately do the same.” 

9b. Red Flag and Bump Stocks

On Thursday the Rhode Island State Senate Judiciary committee passed both a red flag bill and a bill banning bump stocks onto the full Senate for consideration, perhaps as early as next week. Given the latest tragedy in Sante Fe, will this be seen as enough? Advocates are still pushing for a ban on military style semi-automatic weapons and a ban on guns in schools.

10. PIPP

Representative Scott Slater (Democrat, District 10, Providence) and Senator Elizabeth Crowley (Democrat, District 16, Central Falls, Pawtucket) worked with the George Wiley Center to advocate for the passage of the Home Energy Rate Affordability Act. The legislation, H7900 and S2336 would create a percentage income payment plan (PIPP) that would ensure utility service is affordable for low-income households and to help alleviate the shut-off crisis in Rhode Island.

“The current status quo for our state’s low-income households is unacceptable and too many people are being left alone in the cold and the dark. The people who would use this program are already struggling to get by on a daily basis and this program will protect them from being victims of Rhode Island’s utility shut-off crisis,” said Representative Slater.

11. Respect in Death

Mary Cryan, representing LGBTQ Action Rhode Island, testifying on S2614 before the House Judiciary Committee:

“This bill affirms the right of transgender individuals to decide our own legacy, a right that is denied to us by most states. Many transgender people experience a form of psychological violence that almost no one else will ever know. The validity of our identity, my identity, is a subject for debate and doubt, sometimes by the people who should know us best and support us the most, our families and our close friends.

“Dying removes our ability to declare our own identity and hands it to somebody who may not know the person they are examining was transgender, so they take the word of a family member, who never accepted it in the first place, or whatever anatomical features they are presented with. The death certificate, a final document that has the power to completely change the record of a person’s life, should be as faithful a reflection of life as it can be.”

S2614, “would require that a death certificate reflect the decedent’s gender identity, as reported by the next of kin or the best qualified person available, unless the person completing the death certificate is presented with a document that memorializes the decedent’s gender transition.”

12. Peter Kilmartin and Title X funding

Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin joined a coalition of 20 Attorneys General in filing an amicus brief in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia in support of a nationwide preliminary injunction that would block a recent attempt by the federal Administration to reduce access to Title X, the nation’s family planning program.

Title X provides family planning services including birth control, and other critical preventive care to uninsured and under insured patients. The new set of requirements put forward by the Administration would jeopardize the lives and the health of millions of low-income women and families across the United States by threatening funding for birth control, sexually transmitted disease testing, breast and cervical cancer screenings, and infertility treatment.

“For more than five decades, Title X has provided equal access to family planning and sexual health services to those who are low-income and uninsured, and this move to strip access to these critical services only hurts the vulnerable populations it was established to protect,” said Kilmartin.

13. Comments

The Providence Journal stopped allowing comments on their online stories this week. Trolls invaded my Facebook and emails most immediately. I have banned four or five people this week from commenting on my stuff. For instance:

I deleted this comment and blocked and reported the author to Facebook. Not because the comment was insulting. But for the following reasons:

1. It resorts to name calling rather than intelligible criticism.
2. It accused someone of lying without providing any proof or context.
3. It jumps to conclusions from badly constructed and easily disprovable arguments.
4. It presents statements that are untrue, and not backed up with proof or evidence.
5. The tone is hostile and not constructive.
6. It used the term “insane” as an insult, which is an ableist slur.
7. It is badly formatted and contains spelling errors.
8. The intent of the comment seems to be to start a fight, and I am uninterested in engaging in fights on the internet.
9. I like positive, constructive comments, and refuse to engage with people who don’t seem to have good intentions.
10. The comment is aesthetically displeasing to me.

14. Picture of the week:


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About Steve Ahlquist 528 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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