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Legislative Alert

 

If ethics in government is not a priority, then what reputable business will want to locate here? 

 

Nothing to See Here, It's Just History Repeating Itself

Some people think this was a wild week with the former Speaker in the news pleading guilty to 3 felony charges, including bribery. But lest we forget, what about the 38 Studios debacle and what about "beachgate" with Representative Palumbo's shady bid process for the beach concession stands? And that's just in the past 2 years. There was a conflict of interest complaint filed with the Ethics Commission in 2003 against Fox that was settled with a fine of $10,000.  

 

Just look at the rundown of the list of prominent General Assembly officials the New York Times points out where everything from influence peddling (former Senate President Irons) to prison time for fraud (then-House Majority Leader Harwood) has occurred and basically been forgotten. There is even a sitting state representative, Representative Almeida, who has recently been charged by the RI Attorney General for misuse of campaign funds.  It seems corruption is an institution in the RI General Assembly.

 

If Not Ethics Reform Now, When?

What's worse is that federal officials blatantly referred to RI as one of the most politically corrupt states in the union and blasted RI for not doing anything about it.  US Attorney for RI, Peter Neronha said that "As Rhode Islanders, we need to lose our political corruption amnesia."  So why is it that Speaker Mattiello continues his stance on the issue of ethics reform, that most representatives are honest and that RI doesn't need to focus on ethics reform?  History does not support that claim.  And, even if it did, most people are honest, but we still have laws against stealing. 

 

But, Rhode Islanders Did Vote for Ethics Reform

And, more importantly, the people voted to amend the RI Constitution to include ethics reform back in 1986. When that amendment was tested (involving then-Senate President Irons) the court made a judgment call that the amendment wasn't specific enough when it came to jurisdiction over the General Assembly.  Who knew?  Phil West, historian, former head of Common Cause and author of "Secrets and Scandals" says the 2009 judgment was flawed. The court said, all you have to do is go back and clarify that the Ethics Commission has

jurisdiction over the General Assembly, but our General Assembly has been loath to do it.

 

We Can't Tolerate More of the Same

So consider for a minute that James Skeffington (now owner of the Pawtucket Red Sox) of Edwards and Angell, was the lawyer for GTECH, the company whose move to Providence was the impetus for the 2003 Fox ethics complaint referred to above. Former Senate President Irons was part of those discussions and was the prime sponsor of the bill to assist the transaction - "An Act Enabling The RI Lottery Commission to Enter Into A Master Contract With GTech". 

 

While Speaker Mattiello maintains that ethics reform is not needed, OSTPA maintains that most Rhode Islanders would agree it is a priority. How can we be sure that when projects like the PawSox move to Providence and the Superman building and other I - 195 projects are up for consideration, that every member of our General Assembly will avoid conflicts of interest? If ethics in government is not a priority, then what reputable business will want to locate here? 

 

Good Government Lacking and Transparency Needed in Other Areas

We can't stop at Ethics Reform. The RI General Assembly can walk and chew gum at the same time. We need campaign finance reform and we need it yesterday. And not just a superficial fix that requires submission of a bank statement.  We need something with more meat. Like, as Common Cause has called for, bank statements submitted directly from the bank to the state as well as actual audits of the information.  If ever there were a state department where RI tax dollars should go, its oversight of campaign funds (as well as election and ballot oversight). 

 

And, since there was no Ethics Commission involvement, we must get to the bottom of the 38 Studios debacle, so it never happens again.That means the General Assembly must allow for subpoena power in the House Oversight Committee.  We've heard nothing about a further investigation into 38 Studios.  It has been swept under the rug as if it never even happened!  Rep. MacBeth and Rep. Chippendale invested significant time and energy on the issue last year and even received threats over their investigation. It is clear that

38 Studios requires a thorough investigation and the General Assembly has people up to the task. Why won't the Speaker proceed with this type of self-policing? 

 

We need to look ourselves in the mirror and ask if the corruption has overshadowed everything we try to do.

 

Back to Fixing the RI Economy:  School Choice Legislation is a Win – Win – Win for Kids, Schools and the State.

At a press conference this week, the RI Center for Freedom and Prosperity moved forward with the Bright Today Scholarship legislation it has been working diligently to spotlight. Held up as the most innovative legislation in the country relating to school choice, Mike Stenhouse spoke to the objectives this bill supports - school choice, with net savings to municipalities, at no additional cost to the state. This legislation helps to meet the documented demand for school choice by increasing the supply of available options to students and their parents.

 

Senator Cote, (D) - Woonsocket and Representative Hull, (D) - Providence are the primary sponsors of these bills. Representative Hull began his presentation by stating that improving our education system and providing the freedom of choice to parents and students is not a Democrat or a Republican issue. We couldn't agree more.

 

Our thanks go out to Rep. Chippendale (R), co-sponsor of the bill, for working closely with Rep. Hull to bring this great school choice bill into the spotlight.

While not yet scheduled for a hearing, we invite you to read the bills - H 5790 and S 607, "Bright Today Scholarship and Open Enrollment Education Act."

 

We urge you to email House Finance Chairman Gallison and Senate Finance Chairman DaPonte and let them know that you support this school choice legislation and hope they will allow a vote in committee when it is heard, so it may be moved to the floor of the House and the Senate for a full vote.

 

 

At the State House this Week.

 

Line Item Veto - It's Important! Line Item Veto will be heard this Wednesday in the House Finance. Here is a chance for you to support improving the balance of power between the Governor and the General Assembly. If you haven't signed the petition indicating your support for Line Item Veto, please do so now. An amazing 44 other states allow some form of Line Item Veto for the Governor. The petition will let Speaker Mattiello and Senate President Paiva Weed know that, as a Rhode Island taxpayer, you want more balance between these two branches of government.  Also, email the Chairman of Finance, Representative Gallison, and let him know you support H 5519. Better yet, attend the hearing on Wednesday, sign in and indicate your support. Please consider testifying in support of this while you are there. Remember, had we had Line Item Veto then perhaps the 38 Studios debacle would not have occurred.

 

Fire District Bills. There are some sensible bills to be heard this week. Among them, 3 fire district bills will be heard at the same hearing as Line Item Veto. These bills include requirements to ensure the public has a say in the governance of their own fire district and also provide for caps on fire district tax levies in the same way that municipalities are capped. Think about it, towns that include municipal fire districts, because they are included in the town budget, are indirectly limited as part of the overall 4% tax cap. 

 

Those towns that have separate fire districts have no such caps. This is a loophole that must be closed.

 

RhodeMap RI legislation - removing the mandates that unelected state officials imposed on your local comprehensive plans and zoning ordinances. Bear in mind that Speaker Mattiello did not embrace RhodeMap RI and he said that it would be shelved. But, it's a part of law so it must be addressed.

 

We hope that the Speaker will stand by his own words and guide the passage of the following bills.  An important bill that opposes RhodeMap RI will be heard in the Senate on Tuesday. While this bill only allows an opt out provision for 3 towns - East and West Greenwich and Coventry - email Senate Finance Chairman DaPonte and let him know that you not only support S 26, but you would like to see that opt out provision for every city and town. 

 

As a matter of fact, 3 bills were introduced in the House last week that aim to dismantle RhodeMap RI. H 5713 requires General Assembly approval of the state guide plan and any amendments, including RhodeMap RI; H 5644 allows municipalities to opt out of incorporating a low and moderate income housing plan, including land use provisions as mandated in RhodeMap RI, in their local comprehensive plans; and H 5643 prohibits municipalities from incorporating the low and moderate income housing plan, including land use as mandated in RhodeMap RI or any of its related programs, into their local comprehensive plan. 

 

SPECIAL NOTICE:

If you use social media, you may have seen postings relating to a recent accumulation of data looking at the costs of fire protection in the state of RI.On Tuesday of this week, Ken Block will be unveiling the results of his survey that looks at the incredibly high cost of fire protection in the State of RI and the reason it is so high. OSTPA will report more of the details in next week's Alert. 

 

LEGISLATIVE HEARINGS 3/10/15 - 3/12/15

 

TUE, MAR 10

Senate Finance                                           Chairman DaPonte 

Room 211, 3:00 pm

 

26 Exempts three towns - Coventry, E. Greenwich, and W. Greenwich, from RhodeMap RI - the inaccurately called "Long-Term Economic Development Vision and Policy.

Sponsored: Raptakis, Kettle, Morgan, Cote, O'Neill

 

S 415 Creates a commission to study and make recommendations regarding the elimination of the gas tax.

Sponsors: DiPalma, Ottiano, DaPonte, Miller, Felag

 

House Finance                                           Chairman Gallison 

Room 35, Rise (4:30)

 

H 5329 Moves the Health Insurance Exchange, enacted by Executive Order, to the federal government for operation and maintenance, that would most likely cost the state something less than the projected $20 ML for annual maintenance.

Sponsors: Morgan, Giarrusso, Reilly, Chippendale, Price

 

WED, MAR 11

House Finance                                           Chairman Gallison 

Room 35, Rise (4:30 pm)

 

H 5519 Budget Line Item Veto provided to the Governor

Sponsors: Filippi, Nardolillo, Roberts, Morgan, Lancia

 

A number of bills to improve transparency, good governance and fiscal responsibility of fire districts:

 

H 5343 Mandates that fire districts, like municipalities, be subject to the 4% tax cap, limits the level of debt, requires actuarial studies of contracts, and provides for other fiscal stability guidelines for fire districts.

Sponsors: Morgan, Roberts, Nardolillo

 

H 5344 Requires that a minimum of 2% of registered fire district voters be in attendance at the annual financial meeting.

Sponsors: Morgan, Roberts, Nardolillo

 

H 5345 Establishes the process by which local fire districts would be required to notify their members of meetings and requires transparency through use of a website that includes contracts, meeting notices, and minutes of meetings, among other things.

Sponsors: Morgan, Roberts, Nardolillo

 

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