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Legislative Alert

 

A Lesson in how a State Associate Director attempts to Mislead House Oversight Committee

  

RI Division of Planning questions the public's "angst" over RhodeMap RI. 

Last week, Kevin Flynn (RI Division of Planning) testified at the House Oversight Committee hearing regarding RhodeMap RI's development, implementation and impact on local comprehensive plans. Flynn's vanilla presentation of RhodeMap RI reflected more of the obfuscation we have come to expect from the Div. of Planning but the ensuing question and answer period provided a bit more insight.

 

Ultimately, Minority Leader Brian Newberry asked the Department of Administration's, Michael DiBiase to obtain a legal opinion on the crux of the matter -  will a municipality be held legally liable for non-compliance to HUD's Livability Principles as contained in RhodeMap RI

 

In response to Flynn's comment that he didn't understand the public's angst over RhodeMap RI and the anticipated federal intrusion, Newberry responded that a legal opinion would help alleviate that angst. Given what has happened recently in Westchester County and other areas of the country, angst grew with the Town of Barrington's formal request to the state for clarification regarding the town's future exposure to new federal requirements now contained in RhodeMap RIThe state's formal response to that request - a refusal to answer the question. 

 

A failure by the Department of Administration to explain the legal liabilities of new federal compliance requirements, contained in RhodeMap RI,has left many cities and towns and many representatives and senators, demanding answers.

 

Like the Abominable Snowman, the State Guide Plan Has No Teeth, So Says Kevin Flynn. 

When asked about the relevance of the State Guide Plan to local comprehensive plans, Flynn said that because the state has no legal recourse in statute if local plans are not approved by the state, the State Guide Plan really has no teeth. That was a surprise! The RI law stipulates:  

 

" Upon the adoption of the strategic plan as an element of the State Guide Plan, towns and cities shall bring their comprehensive plans into conformity with its requirements" (Sec 42-128-8.1).

 

That State Guide Plan has now adopted HUD mandates which trickle down to HUD mandates in the local plans.  

 

What Flynn appears to have suggested to the House Committee on Oversight is that HUD's regulations have no teeth.Tell that to the residents of Westchester County who had to pay $52 million to settle their lawsuit over the same issues.

 

The irony here is that the same Division of Planning trying to explain RhodeMap RI has for years failed to implement a properly written, and federally mandated "Analysis of impediments" document. Will a new Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing document, currently being worked on by the Division of Planning, change the federal compliance landscape for municipalities? 

 

Will the RI Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing Provide the Teeth? 

Take a look at the 2014 Massachusetts Analysis of Impediments. It clearly delineates everything that RI taxpayers have been anxious about - city and town zoning is a barrier or an impediment to affordable housing.

 

What will Flynn's "Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing" tell us in RI and how will the municipalities address any impediments?  What risks will your municipality be exposed to if you have a state-approved plan? Or, if you don't have a state-approved plan?

 

The ironic part of all of this is that HUD itself commissioned a study years ago, called the "Moving To Opportunity" experiment. This experiment provided low income households with housing choice to test the long-term effects of access when families are moved to low-poverty neighborhoods (today referred to as "non-impacted areas)". HUD found that over a 15 year period, there was almost no improvement in employment and educational achievement when families made housing choices in low-poverty neighborhoods. The project director drew the conclusion that "changing neighborhoods alone may not be sufficient to improve labor market or schooling outcomes for very disadvantaged families." There were "no consistent detectable impacts on adult economic self-sufficiency or children's educational achievement outcomes, even for children who were too young to have enrolled in school at baseline."  It is interesting to note that the Massachusetts Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing includes the statement "housing location generally dictates the degree to which a household has access to "critical opportunities needed to excel in our society, such as high-performing schools, sustainable employment, stable housing, safe neighborhoods and health care".  That is not what HUD's experiment found. So at what cost will RhodeMap RI come to the average taxpayer and what benefit do we expect it to have?

 

Do Local Comprehensive Plans Have Teeth? 

Flynn went on to say that the Division of Planning does not monitor whether ordinances and zoning laws are implemented in accordance with the plan and that the local plan is simply a guide, suggesting that even the local plans have no teeth. A taxpayer sitting next to an OSTPA volunteer at the hearing begged to differ and referred OSTPA to a RI Supreme Court case where the court said differently, that the local plans are not simply an innocuous general-policy statement, but rather the plan establishes a binding framework that dictates town and city promulgation of conforming zoning and planning ordinances (paraphrased). Therefore, what is in the local plan can be used in court to indicate the intention of the municipality. 

 

Who Had the Authority to Bind RI's 39 Cities and Towns to Federal Requirements When Accepting the HUD Grant for the Regional Plan for Sustainable Development? 

A curious fact came from the question and answer period at the hearing. The Division of Planning, Kevin Flynn, signed a federal form, back in 2011, stipulating that the state and all of its 39 cities and towns would adhere to HUD's livability principles as it pursued the Regional Plan for Sustainable Development grant. That grant application was completed a full two years prior to the legislation that requested the Division of Planning to craft an Economic Development Plan, but somehow, that plan magically morphed its title into an Economic Development Vision, an element of the State Guide Plan, two years later. 

 

If you are a city or town elected official, how do you feel about that sweeping commitment made by the state's Division of Planning on your behalf? Additionally, if you are an average taxpayer, what do you make of a state department signing a contract with the federal government to develop a plan two years prior to the date it was given the authority to draft that plan?

 

We urge you to write to Speaker Mattiello, Senate President Paiva Weed, Oversight Chairwoman MacBeth and Co-chair Chippendale and ask the following questions. Also, ask that legislation be brought to a full vote as it relates to opting out of RhodeMap RI, at least until these questions are answered and the impact on municipalities is clarified:

 

  • How was the Division of Planning authorized to commit 39 cities and towns to HUD's Livability Principles in Form 2995, signed October, 2011?
  • Is HUD's Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) part of HUD's Livability Principles? Will the federal requirements for AFFH be required as part of a state-approved local plan? Will the Livability Principles and AFFH supersede local zoning? 
  • Why won't the Division of Planning clarify the complete scope of legal liabilities and responsibilities under HUD's Livability principles for the 39 municipalities? Is it expected that each municipality will make their own determination and possibly come up with 39 different legal interpretations?
  • When will the Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing be completed and how will it impact the various municipalities? 

 

WHAT'S COMING UP IN THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY THIS WEEK?

 

Spotlight on Senate President Paiva Weed. 

In an article last fall, the Jamestown Press reported that while Senate President Paiva Weed did not support the idea of holding a Constitutional Convention (Con Con), she did support putting the question to the voters.

 

OSTPA urges her to hold true to her word and let the constitutional issues of ethics reform, governor's line item veto, term limits, and run-off elections be decided by the electorate. This Tuesday, bills that propose to place questions relating to these important issues on the ballot, and let voters exercise their right to decide, will be heard in Senate Judiciary. 

 

Will Senate President Paiva Weed fall back on the old line of 'our focus on the economy is job 1' or will she recognize that the General Assembly can do more than one thing at a time, especially when it is good for RI citizens and it is an integral part of improving RI's economy

 

Speaker Mattiello didn't want to hold a Constitutional Convention, so, when the bills are heard in his chamber, it will be his opportunity to show the electorate that he was right, a Con Con wasn't necessary because the General Assembly has the good judgment to let the voters decide on important changes to the state's constitution.  

 

ETHICS REFORM

Desperate are we, the electorate, to have elected officials held to a standard of ethics. We must  provide the Ethics Commission with jurisdiction over the General Assembly. We passed Ethics Reform at the ballot in 1986. Clearly we wanted it. But in an unusual turn of events, when a case came before the court, the court stated that the amendment wasn't clear and it needed to be sent back to the public for another vote. We want that opportunity. Attend the hearing on Tuesday and/or write to Senate President Paiva Weed and let her know you want Ethics reform passed.

 

GOVERNOR'S LINE ITEM VETO

Have you signed the petition? The RI governor's office is one of the weakest in the country. It has no power over the budget process at all, other than to submit a suggested budget to the General Assembly, only to see it transformed without another interaction until it is either signed into law or vetoed. The opportunity to veto a line item in the budget or make a reduction to a line item is an important and effective tool that almost every other states' governor has at his or her disposal. We would like a little more balance of power in our government branches.  Attend the hearing on Tuesday, April 14.

 

Legislative Hearings 4/14/15 - 4/16/15

 

TUE, APR 14

 

Senate Judiciary            Chairman McCaffrey   

Room 313, rise (4:30pm)          

 

S 56 Let's the people choose (for a second time), through a ballot question, whether to clarify within the Constitution that the ETHICS COMMISSION HAS JURISDICTION OVER THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY MEMBERS. This solidifies real Ethics Reform.

Sponsors: O'Neill, Cote, Nesselbush, Crowley and Jabour

 

S 57 Let's the people decide, through a ballot question, whether to amend the Constitution to allow the Governor LINE ITEM VETO POWER! (Have you signed the petition?)

Sponsors: O'Neill, Raptakis, Cote, Nesselbush, Crowley

 

S 59 Let's the people decide, through a ballot question, whether to amend the Constitution to allow the Governor LINE ITEM VETO POWER!! (Have you signed the petition?)

Sponsors: BIPARTISAN Raptakis, O'Neill, Cote and Ottiano

 

S 62 Let's the people decide, through a ballot question, whether to amend the Constitution to provide for TERM LIMITS on state representatives and senators.

Sponsors: O'Neill, Picard, Ciccone, Lombardi, and Cote

 

S 173 Ethics Lite

Sponsors: Sheehan, Conley, McCaffrey, Metts and Cote

 

S 436 Let's the people decide, through a ballot question, whether to amend the Constitution to require that the Governor win by a majority vote via a RUN-OFF ELECTION.

Sponsors: BIPARTISAN Morgan, Kettle, Gee, Lombardi and O'Neill

 

House Finance             Chairman Gallison        

Room 35, rise (4:30pm)

 

Budget Articles H 5900:

Art. 2 Relating to Public Debt Management Act Resolution

Art. 6 Relating to Education

Art. 7 Relating to Higher Education Assistance Authority

 

House Judiciary          Chairman Keable   

Room 101, rise (4:30pm)

 

H 5249 Requires retailers to examine a photo ID to verify proper use when accepting welfare cards (EBT).

Sponsors: Morgan, Lancia, Reilly, Giarrusso, and Nardolillo

 

H 5250 Prohibits use of welfare funds to purchase things like alcohol, lottery tickets, tobacco, gambling, body piercing, adult entertainment, vacation services, etc.  Things the public probably already believes are prohibited.

Sponsors: Morgan, Reilly, Giarrusso, Nardolillo, and Roberts

 

H 5311 Increases the fine limit to $500 on Medicaid fraud.

Sponsors: Morgan, Chippendale, Reilly, Giarrusso and Roberts

  

WED, APR 15

House Finance         Chairman Gallison     

Room 35, rise (4:30pm)

 

Budget Articles:

Art. 29 Relating to Commerce Corporation and Economic Development Initiatives

 

House Judiciary               Chairman Keable   

Room House Lounge, rise (4:30pm)

 

H 6027 Removes the 30 day residency requirement for voting.

Sponsors: Shekarchi, Solomon, Regunberg, Naughton and Tanzi (requested by Secretary of State, Nellie Gorbea)

  

H 6051 Allows early in-person voting and electronic registration (requested by Secretary of State, Nellie Gorbea)

Sponsors: Regunberg, Handy, Keable, Blazejewski and Barros 

 

Senate Labor              Chairman Fogarty   

Room 12, rise (4:30pm)

 

S 277 Increases workers' compensation benefits.

Sponsors: Doyle and Ciccone

 

Senate Finance                 Chairman DaPonte   

Room 211, 2:00pm

 

S 99 Provides for more subsidized childcare on top of the $50 million the state already subsidizes. Likely to cover for union dues.

Sponsors: Goldin, Pearson, Ottiano, DiPalma and Pichardo

 

S 470 Increases subsidies for daycare on top of the $50 million the state already subsidizes. Likely to cover for union dues.

Sponsors: Crowley, Sosnowski, Jabour, Nesselbush and Goldin

 

Senate Education               Chairman Gallo   

Room 313, rise (4:30pm)

 

S 603 Requires that subsidies for state colleges be funded based on metrics of student performance.

Sponsors: BIPARTISAN Paiva Weed, Gallo, DaPonte, McCaffrey and Algiere

 

S 698  Allows for consolidation of services at the state's colleges.

Sponsors: BIPARTISAN Nesselbush, DiPalma, Ottiano, Cote and Metts

 

Senate Government Oversight          Chairman Sheehan    

Room 313, 3:00 pm

 

S 317  Requires the state budget office to produce a citizens' guide to the state budget that is easily readable and understandable by the general public.

Sponsors: Sheehan, Felag, DiPalma, Picard and Jabour

 

THU, APR 16

 

House Finance      Chairman Gallison   

Room 35, rise (4:30pm)

 

Budget Articles:

Art. 22 Relating to Personnel Reform

Art. 23 Relating to Corrections

Art. 25 Relating to State Police Pensions

 

House Municipal Government         Chairman Craven   

Room House Lounge, rise (4:30pm)

 

H 6063 Allows cities and towns to enter agreements when consolidating services to gain efficiencies.

Sponsors: Phillips, Costantino, Coughlin, Marshall and Fogarty

 

 

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