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! Continue Reading

Spotlight on the State House: Vol. XI

No, tomorrow’s not just the Royal Wedding — the House and Senate will approve resolutions today to declare April 29 “World Wish Day” in Rhode Island. But that’s not all the General Assembly has been up to…

State Rep. Christopher Blazejewski introduced a bill that would help the state become a “national leader” in social ventures — privately-funded companies looking to serve a public good. “Rhode Island is well-positioned to become the Silicon Valley of the social venture movement,” Blazejewski said.

Sen. John Tassoni Jr. is sponsoring a bill to prohibit cell phone usage by students in schools except in the case of emergencies. The bill would also establish penalties for students violating the bill, including relinquishing their phone for the remainder of the school year for a fourth offense (what!). Old people may continue to use their phones in whatever fashion they like.

Sen. Rhoda Perry is sponsoring a bill called “The Healthy Pregnancies for Incarcerated Women Act” that would specify protocol for use of handcuffs and shackles for prisoners in the second or third trimester of pregnancy. The bill will be considered by the Senate Committee on Judiciary today. We tried to say something funny about this bill, but pregnancy jokes are really, really bad.

Happy weekend!

Spotlight on the State House: Vol. VIII

It may be (almost) Spring Break for us, but the General Assembly is still hard at work.

Sen. Juan Pichardo introduced two bills this week that aim to increase public safety and reduce what he called the growing problem of gang violence in Rhode Island. The bills would create an Office of Gang and Youth Violence, as well as address neighborhood conditions that “allow gangs to thrive and expand,” and offer programs to adult gang members that would allow a “way out” of gang life.

The House Judiciary Committee held hearings Wednesday on bills concerning voter ID and criminal background checks. Among the bills was one sponsored by Rep. Doreen Costa that would require all voters in Rhode Island elections to present identification at the polls. Another, sponsored by Rep. Elaine Coderre, would prohibit those convicted of animal cruelty from owning or living with animals. But what about kids who LOOK like animals?

The Senate Health and Human Services Committee held hearings Wednesday on bills that would ban indoor tanning for anyone under 18 — without a medical prescription — and require health screenings for newborns. The underage tanning bill, sponsored by Sen. Rhoda Perry, would also mandate that the Department of Health issue safety standards for all tanning facilities. Better get it while you still can!

Happy break!

Spotlight on the State House: Vol. VII

The state’s lawmakers haven’t made much headway on debating the budget Gov. Lincoln Chafee proposed last Tuesday to rein in the state’s $331 million deficit, but that didn’t stop them from getting down to other business at the State House this week.

The House Judiciary Committee heard a bill this week that would decriminalize the possession of under one ounce of marijuana and instead levy a $150 fine for those caught with pot. But Rep. Edith Ajello, who represents the district that includes Brown, wants to go further. She supports legislation to legalize marijuana for anyone over 21 and points to the tax revenue the state could generate in the process. “It would do wonders to improve our budget situation,” Ajello said in a March 16 Associated Press article.

Sen. Harold Metts wants to use all the revenue Rhode Island earns from new gambling operations to fund the state’s elementary and secondary schools. And it sounds like the schools could use the money. “I think that arts teachers have an incredible ability to do a lot with a little, but the little keeps getting littler,” Caroline Azano, Trinity Rep’s education director, told The Herald.

Sen. John Tassoni has introduced a bill that would create the Ocean State Youth ChalleNGe Academy, a National Guard program that gives unemployed high school dropouts a chance to earn their GED or diploma through a “military-inspired training program.” Nearly 1 in 4 Rhode Island high school students drop out before graduating. But is it a worthwhile program for the state’s youth or an insidious attempt to instill a “warrior ethos?” The ball is in your court, Herald opinions columnists.

Spotlight on the State House: Vol. VI

Despite Mayor Angel Taveras’ characterization of Providence’s fiscal situation as a “Category-5 hurricane” this week, the General Assembly has kept on truckin’.

The House Committee on Labor met yesterday to hear testimony on a bill that would push back notification requirements for dismissals, suspensions or layoffs from March 1 to June 1. The March 1 notification requirement was largely responsible for the mayor’s firings of all of Providence’s 1,926 teachers this month.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is set to meet today to review several same-sex marriage bills. Among the bills are Sen. Rhoda Perry’s proposal that “gender-specific language” be removed from general laws regarding marriage eligibility, as well as Sen. Frank Ciccone III’s proposal to put a question on the ballot asking voters to approve a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman but allow recognition of civil unions between two members of the same sex. Given that 50 percent of Rhode Islanders said they support legislation in favor of same sex marriage according to a poll last month — as opposed to 41 percent who said they oppose it — these bills may be a little behind the times. Continue Reading

Spotlight on the State House: Vol. V

From approving Gov. Lincoln Chafee’s appointments to the state’s board of top education officials to addressing the dangers of wood-fired heaters, the General Assembly was back to work in full force this week.

The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing yesterday on a flurry of bills that deal with alcohol, motor vehicle violations, and drunk driving. A bill to eliminate underage nights at nightclubs that serve alcohol will have few fans among Brown students. But good news for bikers — legislation proposed by Rep. Joseph McNamara will require drivers to drive at least three feet away from bicyclists. Continue Reading