RI gay marriage watch: Is 2013 the year?

StatehouseAs we enter the new year (and, in turn, the 2013 legislative session), many now speculate that the Democratic leadership in the Rhode Island State Legislature will pass a new bill to legalize same-sex marriage. Rhode Island is the only state in New England that does not allow same-sex couples to marry. State House Speaker Gordon Fox, the sponsor of the bill, said it would be debated on the House floor by the end of the month. The bill is likely to pass the House, but the outcome of the vote in the Senate is still uncertain. Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed is against gay marriage.

The majority of voters in RI support allowing same sex marriage, but the proposed bill is not without its opponents. Bishop Thomas Tobin, a powerful local figure (Rhode Island is the most Catholic state in the country), called the measure “immoral and unnecessary.” Governor Lincoln Chafee ’75 P’14, who passed a law allowing for civil unions between same-sex couples two years ago, has said he is “eager” to sign the bill if it arrives at his desk.

Brown, of course, has had its own run-in with some anti-gay Crusaders in recent years (check this out if you’re a freshman or sophomore), and it’s safe to assume students still “love gays.” We were indeed ranked 4th most LGBT-friendly college last year.

The RI House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on the bill today. Keep checking back here for more updates about the bill’s progress.

R.I. House passes civil unions bill

House Speaker Gordon Fox / The Associated Press

In a vote that follows months of wrangling over legalizing gay marriage, Rhode Island’s House of Representatives approved a bill last night that would allow same-sex couples to enter into civil unions. The legislation, which passed 62 to 11, now goes to the state Senate.

Sponsored by Rep. Peter Petrarca, D-Lincoln, the bill grants same-sex couples all of the rights afforded married couples under state law, meaning easier access to health care insurance and additional legal protections for many gay and lesbian couples if it becomes law. In the state Senate, civil unions enjoy the support of Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed, D-Jamestown and Newport. Paiva Weed’s opposition to gay marriage had been viewed as a major obstacle to its legalization.

Gay marriage supporters were dealt a setback late last month when openly gay Speaker of the House Gordon Fox, D-Providence, announced that he believed gay marriage legislation could not be passed during this session of the General Assembly and shifted his support to civil unions. Continue Reading

Spotlight on the State House: Vol. X

As fun as Spring Week has been for us, the General Assembly has been slogging along.

The Senate Committee on Judiciary is meeting today to hear the “Safe Schools Act,” a bill developed by a special Senate commission that has been studying the issues of cyberbullying, cyberthreats, bullying and sexting. The bill calls for a unified statewide policy against cyberbullying, as well as a set protocol for investigating and responding to such incidents. We wonder how exactly the committee went about its study of sexting?

The Senate Committee on Housing & Municipal Government is hearing a bill today on the development of the land freed up by the relocation of I-195. The legislation’s aim is to make sure the land will be used to support “the growth of a knowledge-based economy, due to its proximity to universities, hospitals and medical schools.”   Continue Reading

Spotlight on the State House: Vol. IX

You might have been soaking up the sun on Spring Break last week, but Rhode Island’s part-time legislators weren’t so lucky. Braving the state’s unpredictable winter-spring transition, lawmakers still served up legislation cracking down on animal cruelty and bringing all the excitement of C-SPAN to RI PBS.

This week, the saga continues…

As national politicians struggle to come up with a budget before a deadline they’ve known about for weeks (they’ve clearly never run a newspaper!), state legislators are hashing out the details of the budget Gov. Lincoln Chafee proposed last month. The House Finance Committee will hold hearings this week on budget issues like reducing the state’s corporate tax rate and letting schools transport children in “small vans” instead of buses to save money.

Lawmakers voted Tuesday to set up a state health care exchange, a marketplace for individuals and businesses to purchase coverage, in preparation for when the reform law goes into full effect in 2014. One problem — they unknowingly included language that would prevent women from purchasing a full plan that covers abortion under the exchange, making the bill more restrictive than the federal reform law, which bars using federal funds to pay for abortions. Legislators thought the provision was “simply a restatement of what exists in federal law” when it was introduced at the last minute, Brown’s own state Sen. Rhoda Perry, D-Providence, told The Providence Journal. Oops!   Continue Reading

Spotlight on the State House: Vol. III

Following a rip-roaring celebration of Black History Month last night featuring Professor of Economics Glenn Loury, Rhode Island’s legislature will be on recess until March. Before they left, though, the General Assembly fit in plenty of legislating.

In a legislative response to Gov. Lincoln Chafee’s proposed 1 percent sales tax on currently tax-exempt items to close the state’s budget deficit, Sen. Elizabeth Crowley wants to ensure the state keeps its sales tax exemption on regular clothing. Luxury clothing buyers wouldn’t fare as well — they would see a 7 percent sales tax on items that cost $500 or more if the bill becomes law. Continue Reading