At the State House: What Passed, and What Didn’t
Reproductive Privacy Act — Signed by Gov. Gina Raimondo June 19
Forty-six years after Roe v. Wade established federal protection of reproductive care and weeks after states like Alabama moved to restrict abortion access, Rhode Island’s elected officials spoke on the issue in a whirlwind of legislative action. On a single day in June, the House and Senate passed the Reproductive Privacy Act and Raimondo signed it into law. The bill protects abortion rights in Rhode Island in the case that Roe v. Wade is overturned. It also strikes down old state laws that would have become viable without the Supreme Court’s mandate, such as one provision that would have forced women seeking abortions to go to prison.
Budget — Signed by Gov. Raimondo July 5
The Rhode Island House of Representatives passed a state budget of about $10 billion June 22. Gov. Raimondo, who voiced several concerns over the proposal, took nearly a week to decide to sign the budget. Here are some key details:
The budget does not include Raimondo’s proposal to legalize recreational marijuana, but it does triple the number of medical marijuana dispensaries allowed to sell and grow the drug, bringing the total to nine.
Rhode Island has now instituted the so-called Netflix tax, which is an application of the 7 percent state sales tax to online streaming and subscription services.
The budget allows the state up to 300 more seats for pre-kindergarten and increases funding for students learning English.
Regardless of what happens with the Affordable Care Act at the federal level, the state has passed protections to keep the ACA up and running.
The budget reduces funding for the Department of Children, Youth & Families.
Student Loan Bill of Rights -- Signed by Gov. Raimondo July 15
Over 133,000 Rhode Islanders bear a collective $4.5 billion in student debt, according to the Boston Globe, and the state is trying to address that problem. A new bill sponsored by Rep. Joseph McNamara D-Cranston and Sen. Dawn Euer D-Newport, Jamestown increases regulation and instates measures to penalize predatory companies, among other objectives, in order to protect student and consumer rights.
And there is more...
Stay tuned for more coverage by The Herald this semester, as our reporters dive into opioid legislation, the elimination of the tampon tax and much more.
Other city and state news
Outcry over Providence Public Schools
An independent review conducted by the Johns Hopkins Institute for Educational Policy in May 2019 reported conditions in the Providence Public School System so deplorable that some individuals interviewed started to cry when describing the system.
The report emphasizes structural deficiencies and singles out four especially devastating issues with public education in the city:
1. Low expectations of students and “an exceptionally low bar for instruction” mean students are not pushed.
2. School culture is characterized by a prevalence of “bullying, demeaning, and even physical violence” to the extent that many students and teachers feel unsafe at school.
3. A shortage of staff including English Language Learner certified teachers, special education staff and substitute teachers results in insufficient student support.
4. An incoherent division of responsibilities among governing bodies at the top of the system, including the Mayor’s office, the School Board, Rhode Island Department of Education and City Council, systematically stymies efforts to reform the system.
In response to the report, the state plans to conduct an unprecedented overhaul of PPSD. The Rhode Island Council on Elementary Education granted Commissioner of the R.I. Department of Education Angélica Infante-Greene permission to take control of Providence Public Schools July 23. Mayor Elorza and Commissioner Infante-Greene held eight public forums following the report’s release, the Boston Globe reported.
Providence Diocese Releases Names of Priests Accused of Sexual Assault
As the Catholic Church faces scandal after scandal concerning its involvement and treatment of cases of sexual assault, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence released a list on its website of 50 individuals that have been credibly accused of sexually abusing children. The list includes clerics, religious order priests and deacons, 19 of whom are still alive.
Burrillville Power Plant Proposal Blocked
The Energy Facility Siting Board voted down a proposal to construct a $1 billion natural gas power plant in Burrillville on the grounds that the company, Invenergy, did not demonstrate a need for the plant.
The project faced widespread opposition from local residents, environmental groups and other politicians, though it was originally supported by Governor Raimondo. Invenergy could still choose to appeal the ruling to the state Supreme Court.
Transportation Funding and Updates
The state has received $60.3 million in federal funding through the “Infrastructure for Rebuilding America” grant to replace and upgrade the Northbound Providence Viaduct on I-95. The Rhode Island Department of Transportation has submitted a plan to upgrade the section of the highway by adding lanes and better separating entering and exiting vehicles from other traffic to relieve congestion.
State Public Debt Report
The 100-plus entities with public debt issuing authority in Rhode Island have accumulated about $10.5 billion, according to a report released by the Public Finance Managing Board. The state’s debt amounts to $21 billion when including government expenditures such as healthcare, pensions, bonds and liabilities. The Ocean State’s debt and pension liabilities trend “somewhat higher than national medians,” but have decreased in the last few decades, the Chicago Tribune reported. The Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority and the Rhode Island Airport Corporation both exceed their recommended debt target among these agencies, while seven municipalities including Providence exceed at least one metric of their debt targets.