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Spotlight on the Statehouse: February 26, 2015

HIV transmission bill faces backlash

The House heard discussion Tuesday on a bill that would criminalize sexual activity, blood donation and the sharing of needles by those who knowingly are infected with HIV. The bill also prohibits individuals with an HIV infection from engaging in the already-illegal activities of prostitution and forcible sexual intercourse and mandates up to a 15 year prison term or $5,000 fine for those who violate any of its provisions. Rep. Robert Nardolillo, R-Coventry, brought the bill to the floor Jan. 29.

Amy Nunn, head of the Rhode Island Public Health Institute and assistant professor of behavior and social sciences and medicine at the Alpert Medical School, refuted the legislation as “draconian,” noting that punitive actions have proven unsuccessful in reducing HIV transmission, Rhode Island Public Radio reported Wednesday. Nunn added that police action does not change sexual activity or drug-related habits and it is likely to interfere with treatment.

Nardolillo, a self-reported survivor of sexual assault as a minor, addressed public safety improvement and the need to fix “weak legislation” related to sexual crimes during the last campaign season, according to his website.

He defended the bill in an interview with ThinkProgress, saying that current misdemeanor laws regarding the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases are insufficient in preventing the transmission of HIV in particular.

The bill was referred back to the House Health, Education and Welfare committee, where it could be killed, undergo changes or be brought back to the floor pending further study, RIPR reported.

Tension flares over gov. transparency

Gov. Gina Raimondo and House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, D-Cranston, publicly faced off over the budgetary process twice last week, with each accusing the other of facilitating a lack of transparency in their respective branch of government. Raimondo spoke Friday during Politico’s Fifth Annual State Solutions Conference in Washington, D.C., detailing her frustration with Rhode Island’s budget process in a question-and-answer session.

“The governor proposes a budget and then the General Assembly takes the budget and — often in the dark of night, in a quiet room — the lobbyists and the General Assembly get together and they hack it up every which way,” Raimondo said, adding that her job is to “shine a light” on the proceedings, the Providence Journal reported Wednesday.

Mattiello responded Tuesday that “the House Finance Committee holds dozens of hearings when the public can offer testimony.” These hearings are more transparent than the “closed doors” tactics that Raimondo employed in her initial budget proposal, Mattiello added.

Mattiello’s criticism  extended to a separate issue Tuesday, when he critiqued Raimondo’s “unacceptable” proposal for a “placeholder” cut of $40 to $50 million in Medicaid spending for its lack of clarity regarding which programs would lose funding, the Providence Journal reported Tuesday.

R.I. grapples with infrastructure funding

Policymakers believe the amount of federal funding Rhode Island receives for transportation projects is insufficient to ameliorate the Rhode Island Department of Transportation’s list of 1,100 miles of roads in “fair or worse condition,” the Providence Journal reported. The Ocean State currently collects $220 million in federal funding for highway, bridge and transportation projects — an amount that decreased by 4.6 percent between 2008 and 2013.

Twenty percent of state bridges are cited as “structurally deficient,” including eight of the 11 bridges at the interchange of Route 6 and Route 10, The Herald previously reported. The General Assembly is looking to increase state funding  from $12 million to $184 million by July 1, 2018 — a massive uptick that would necessitate increases in taxes or fees. Lawmakers have already passed initiatives raising the gas tax from 33 to 34 cents per gallon starting July 2015 and implementing mandatory inspection fees from $39 to $55 beginning in 2016.

Raimondo began a discussion on further possibilities Monday, including private-public partnerships and tolls. Last year, the General Assembly fought over a proposed toll at the Sakonnet River Bridge, but eventually rejected it. But Raimondo supported initiatives to collect money for transportation repairs, calling them “the basic minimum services that government must provide.” She added that infrastructure must improve in order to draw business to the state.



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