Spotlight on the State House: Vol. XII

You may be struggling to survive reading period, but at the State House, lawmakers are still livin’ it up.

Today state legislators will celebrate the annual Gaspee Days State Proclamation Ceremony, thereby kicking off a month of festivities to commemorate the burning of HMS Gaspee, the English ship that Rhode Island colonists torched in 1772. The Gaspee affair was the first planned attack on the British and marked the start of the Revolutionary War, according to the British government. One highlight of today’s festivities is the mock indictment of Chuck Easterbrooks, a descendent of Nathaniel Easterbrooks, one of those feisty colonists who attacked the Gaspee. And if you’re here this summer, you can watch a reenacted burning of the Gaspee June 12 in Pawtuxet Park Cove. We hear it leaves WaterFire in the dust.

Speaking of commemorating history, a bill urging Gov. Lincoln Chafee ’75 P’14 to pardon Irish-Catholic immigrant and accused mill owner-murderer John Gordon has cleared a House committee. Gordon was hanged in 1845 for killing wealthy mill owner Amasa Sprague. Lawmakers contend that widespread prejudice against Irish Catholics at the time prevented Gordon from getting a fair trial. Others argue that this may not be the best use of legislators’ time — they should be out celebrating Gaspee Days, of course!

But really, lawmakers did do some serious, not historically-themed legislating this week. Hearings continued on Chafee’s proposed 2012 budget. Expanded sales tax? No expanded sales tax? The debate goes on. And Oppportunity RI, a bill sponsored by Rep. Chris Blazejewski, D-Providence, East Providence, got a hearing in the House Finance Committee. The bill aims to give college students a reason to stick around by  awarding a tax credit for student loan payments if the students stay in the state after graduation. It also wants you to read its tweets.

As for gay marriage, advocates were disappointed last week when openly gay House Speaker Gordon Fox declared that a bill legalizing gay marriage had no chance at passage in the General Assembly this session. Instead, he threw his support behind civil unions, which also have the support of Chafee and Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed. Gay marriage advocates took to the State House to protest the about-face Tuesday, the same day that legislation to legalize civil unions was introduced in the House.

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