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.

Still scratching your head about why all Providence teachers were fired?

Demonstrators protest Providence teacher firings. / The Brown Daily Herald

Then check out the first installment of City & State’s five-part series, Education in Crisis: Putting Rhode Island Schools to the Test, running Tuesdays and Thursdays this month. Providence won’t really fire all of its teachers, even though they were all sent dismissal notices last Tuesday alerting them that their jobs were in jeopardy. Mayor Angel Taveras has said the move, which has garnered national attention, is necessary in light of the city school district’s $40 million budget shortfall. Stay tuned for more on the state of Rhode Island’s education system and what the budget crisis means for students, teachers and taxpayers. And don’t miss our special page on The Herald’s website for photos, interviews and videos about the unfolding situation.

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

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

Spotlight on the State House: Vol. I

Perhaps you’ve heard of them.

Rhode Island’s state legislature, better  known as the General Assembly, is always making news for debating budgets,  proposing new state programs and giving the rest of us a lesson in Christmastime semantics.

As they start their 2011 session this spring, we’re bringing you a weekly round-up of the interesting, quirky and just plain astounding things under consideration by everyone’s favorite part-time legislature.

Last week, Rep. Donald Lally Jr. proposed a bill permanently changing the day of Halloween to the last Saturday of October, regardless of whether it falls on the 31st.  According to the Jan. 29 Providence Journal, Lally “says he’s not sure if it’s a good idea,” but proposed the bill because a constituent approached him about it. One Brown student found the real story here, pointing out that the bill means “there won’t be that extra night to party.” Continue Reading

Brown’s state representative to chair House committee

Representative Edith Ajello / The Providence Journal

Brown’s State Representative Edith Ajello just got a promotion. Ajello, an East Providence Democrat who goes by her nickname “Edie,” was recently tapped to chair the R.I. House Judiciary Committee, which deals with legislation on judges, prisons and same-sex marriage, an issue again at the center of state political debate after the election of pro-legalization Governor Lincoln Chafee ’75 P’14. The “unabashedly left-of-center” Ajello also favors legalizing gay marriage, as well as legalizing marijuana, levying an obesity tax on soda and mandating that police collect data on crimes against the transgendered. While Ajello’s new position means she’ll have a more prominent platform to advance her priorities, she told The Providence Journal that she may have to moderate her tone. “I feel that, in some way, I’ll have to step away a little from my progressive, liberal, extreme left advocacy to do the job of chair properly,” Ajello said.