This Week at the State House

The Rhode Island State House. Photo by Steve Klamkin WPRO News

By WPRO News

Plans to legalize pot

Governor Gina Raimondo released a plan for what she said would be the most regulated system yet among states that have legalized marijuana. She said she’s reluctant about legalization, but feels it’s inevitable.

“I felt that with Massachusetts going on line, Connecticut about to come on line, New York and New Jersey proposing it, it wasn’t practical any longer,” she said.

The plan is estimated to bring in $6.5 million in revenue in the next fiscal year if passed. It includes allowing a new office in the Department of Business Regulation to cap the potency of available products, giving oversight to municipalities on locations of stores, a 20% overall tax rate, and could potentially allow the first stores to open in January of next year.

The Rhode Island Police Chiefs’ Association reacted to the plan with WPRO’s Dan Yorke.

Listen to “Sidney Wordell, Executive Director of the RI Police Chiefs’ Assoc, describes his frustration following Gov. Raimondo’s marijuana proposal” on Spreaker.

WPRO’s Matt Allen caught up with Attorney General Peter Neronha on the subject of legalization.

Listen to “Attorney General Peter Neronha – Legalization of Recreational Marijuana in Rhode Island” on Spreaker.

State of the State

Governor Gina Raimondo gave her first State of the State address of her second term on Tuesday, largely citing struggles in public education and recent poor standardized test scores.

“In Rhode Island, we’ve had a pattern of not sticking with an approach long enough to generate results,” she said. “For years, we’ve bounced from test to test, until finally last year embracing what Massachusetts has consistently used for years.”

She proposed bringing universal pre-kindergarten to Rhode Island and expanding the free tuition program, which is currently only at CCRI. Raimondo laid out other priorities, including increasing the minimum wage to $11.10/hour to get on a path towards $15/hour, expanding mental health care, codifying Roe vs. Wade, gun control, and job training.

Rhode Island House and Senate leaders spoke with WPRO’s Gene Valicenti about the address.

Listen to “Rhode Island House Speaker Nick Mattiello 01/16/19” on Spreaker.

Listen to “Senate President Dominick Ruggerio 01/16/19” on Spreaker.

House Republican Leader Blake Filippi joined Tara Granahan for an overview of the GOP response.

Listen to “Rep. Blake Filippi” on Spreaker.

Reactions to 9-year-old’s death

One person at DCYF was put on administrative leave and three others were given restricted responsibilities after the death of a 9-year-old girl with cerebral palsy living in squalid conditions with seven other siblings in a home in Warwick. The girl, Zah-Nae Rothgeb, once was in care of the child welfare agency, and her death prompted Director Trista Piccola to announce further changes aimed at children’s protection.

The adoptive mother, 55-year-old Michelle Rothgeb, was charged by Warwick police with neglect or abuse of a child.

Raimondo expressed confidence in Piccola’s management and handling of the case.

“She’s been on it, they’re working on it. It’s a tragedy,” Raimondo said. “She’s turning around DCYF. There’s no question that DCYF is in better shape now than when she started.”

Representative Patricia Serpa, who expects to lead the House Oversight Committee again this year, spoke with Tara Granahan about the case.

Listen to “Rep. Patricia Serpa” on Spreaker.

Mobile sports betting

Senate President Dominick Ruggerio said the crowds at Twin River have been overwhelming since legalized sports betting kicked off, and said providing a mobile app for people to place their bets would help curb the chaos.

“With the big crowds that are going up to Twin River, I think we need some kind of an app because people are getting disenchanted with the long waits up there, and a lot of people have walked out of there without placing bets. We don’t want that,” he said.

Ruggerio’s bill would require betters to set up their mobile accounts in person at the casino and be physically in Rhode Island to place bets via mobile devices and apps.

Rules changes

The House passed some changes to their rules package, including a measure that would require bill amendments be published online 24 hours prior to any votes. Though it passed comfortably, Republicans and some Reform Caucus members claimed the changes were not enough.

Abortion rights bills

Two abortion rights bills were introduced to the House, including the familiar Reproductive Health Care Act that would codify Roe vs. Wade and was referenced in Raimondo’s State of the State address. The local arm of Planned Parenthood called late Friday for the passage of the Reproductive Health Care Act, but spoke against the second bill.

Budget

Raimondo’s proposed $9.9 billion budget was released and includes measures she laid out in her State of the State Address.

Raimondo proposed new money for education; $10 million to launch universal pre-kindergarten and $5.3 million to begin expanding the “Rhode Island Promise” free tuition program to Rhode Island College.

Citing a “difficult budget year,” Raimondo proposed restructuring the car tax phaseout, meaning some people will see less relief this year. However, officials said this won’t affect the timeline of phasing out the tax by 2024.

The Raimondo administration is also expecting to make money from hikes in tobacco taxes and beach fees. Although beach fee increases are anticipated in the governor’s budget, it’s not yet clear how much they’ll go up as they are subject to a public hearing process through the Department of Environmental Management (DEM).

Raimondo also laid out proposals to charge certain companies for employees on Medicaid, and an option for municipalities to tax some currently exempt properties.

Among the departments proposed for reductions is the Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF), reeling this week after the death of a 9-year-old Warwick girl.However, Director Trista Piccola said DCYF could handle the nearly $5 million cut.

“We believe that the cuts that we’re facing are things that the department can absorb without sacrificing anything about health, or safety, or the quality of services that we’re delivering,” she said.

Among other new taxes proposed in the governor’s budget is a 7% sales tax on streaming services and digital downloads and taxing lobbyists. The budget is subject to General Assembly changes and approval.

Republican Representative Mike Chippendale joined Tara Granahan to react to Raimondo’s proposals.

Listen to “Rep. Mike Chippendale” on Spreaker.

 

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