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Spotlight on the Statehouse: April 4, 2013

Background checks

Legislation that would require individuals interested in volunteering in the state’s public and private schools to undergo criminal background checks passed in the House of Representatives Thursday.

Previously, this requirement only applied to school employees, but the bill — introduced by Rep. Joseph McNamara, D-Warwick and Cranston — will extend the measure to all employees and volunteers who interact with school-aged children in the state’s schools.

“As programs that rely on or use volunteers grow in school settings, adding this language to law is the safe and responsible thing to do,” McNamara said in a General Assembly press release. “We don’t want to stand in the way of volunteerism in schools, but we want to put student safety first.”

The bill will now head to the Senate for review.


School safety

Committees in the General Assembly held hearings Wednesday on a package of bills developed in conjunction with Gov. Lincoln Chafee’s ’75 P’14 office to increase the efficacy of school safety measures in Rhode Island.

“The tragedy in Connecticut has prompted us to move aggressively to review our current procedures and to make sure our laws and regulations are explicit in their implementation requirements,” said Rep. Joseph McNamara, D-Warwick and Cranston, in reference to the December 2012 shooting at a Newtown, Conn. elementary school, according to a General Assembly press release.

In the House, the committee on Health Education and Wellness reviewed two bills that aim to improve emergency planning procedures by increasing dialogue between the Department of Education and individual schools, as well as between schools and local law enforcement.

The Senate reviewed three bills to prevent and respond to acts of violence in schools. One would augment mental health resources, a second would institute reviews of school “safety plans” and a third would institutionalize collaboration between different state agencies — such as the Department of Education, the Department of Behavioral Health and the state police.

“Nothing in this legislation should give any suggestion that school safety plans in Rhode Island are not well-designed,” said Sen. Hanna Gallo, D-Cranston and West Warwick in the press release. “Today we are announcing steps to make Rhode Island students safer and more secure.”


Polling places

The House of Representatives passed legislation this week to amend current election laws so that state residents who remain in line after polling places close on election day receive an opportunity to cast their ballots.

Across the state, polling places are obligated to close their doors at 8 p.m. on election day, and, under previous law, any voters not directly inside of the building at that time were turned away and not allowed to cast a vote. The  House bill — sponsored by Rep. Edith Ajello, D-Providence —  will change regulations so that any residents in line, whether inside or outside of the polling place, will have an opportunity to vote in the elections.

“If voters arrived on time and are faced with a line, if they’re willing to stand in to do their civic duty, they shouldn’t be turned away,” Ajello said in a General Assembly press release.



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