This Week at the State House

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

By WPRO News and the Associated Press 

Governor picks new education commissioner

Governor Gina Raimondo has picked Angélica Infante-Green, Deputy Commissioner of the New York State Education Department’s Office of Instructional Support, to succeed Ken Wagner as Rhode Island’s Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner.

According to Raimondo’s office, New York’s graduation rate increased, students made gains on both math and English assessments, and achievement gaps for black and Latino students narrowed during Infante-Green’s tenure. New York also saw advancements in English and proficiency for black and Latino students in grades 3-8 increased between 2015 and 2018. Math proficiency also increased for black and Latino students during those years.

Prior to her role as a Deputy Commissioner, Infante-Green began her career as a Dual Language Program teacher in the South Bronx. She later became a Dual Language Program project director, and established a number of measures, some nationally recognized, for English learners.

If she is approved by the Council on Elementary and Secondary Education and the Board of Education next week, Infante-Green could start working in Rhode Island on April 29.

Senate committees hear testimony on marijuana legalization

The Senate Finance and Judiciary committees held their first joint hearing on a proposal to legalize recreational marijuana on Tuesday.

Lawmakers had a number of criticisms about the proposal, including that it doesn’t provide enough money for drug abuse prevention. Others questioned the cost of new positions for a cannabis regulatory commission and said some proposed penalties were overly excessive.

Governor Gina Raimondo included potentially legalizing recreational marijuana as part of her budget for the next fiscal year. Her proposal would ban home growing and bar high-potency products from store shelves.

If the governor’s plan is approved, sales could begin in January. Senate President Dominick Ruggerio said he has significant concerns about the proposal, including workforce issues and its impact on children.

On the House side, Representative Bob Quattrocchi joined WPRO’s Tara Granahan to discuss potential legalization.

Listen to “Rep Robert Quattrocchi” on Spreaker.

Ban on balloon releases proposed

Representative Susan Donovan tells Tara  that balloons are an “environmental hazard” that sea life and birds mistake for food.

She says she’s not looking to ban balloons altogether, but she wants to encourage proper disposal. Those who violate the ban could face a $500 fine.

Donovan says her bill is modeled after legislation proposed in New Jersey that includes exemptions for balloons used in scientific research and hot air balloons.

Listen to “Rep. Susan Donovan” on Spreaker.

Representative “admonished”

Representative Ray Hull, who admitted to voting in Representative John Lombardi’s place, was sent a “letter of admonishment” for his actions but won’t face further punishment.

Hull was “admonished” for marking Lombardi present at a floor session last week and voting for him in favor of three bills. The letter was signed by House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, Majority Leader Joe Shekarchi, Majority Whip John Edwards and Rules Committee Chairman Arthur “Doc” Corvese.

Hull admitted that he voted for Lombardi, who told him he was “outside” and asked him to do it. Lombardi later confirmed he was running late due to a medical emergency and had asked Hull to vote for him.

Hull said he’s working on a response.

Walsh to run for Democratic Party Chair

Citing a number of practices she calls “lawful but awful,” State Representative Moira Walsh announced her last-minute bid for Chair of the Rhode Island Democratic Party on Friday.

“I’ve been actively fighting for rules reform, transparency, democracy, and equity within the State House, so it should come as no surprise that I expect the same from my party,” she said.

Walsh said she didn’t want her run to look like a “personal” or “petty” jab at current party Chairman Joseph McNamara. Though she acknowledged it as an issue, she said the party’s endorsement of her Trump supporting, ex-Republican opponent Michael Earnheart in the last primary election was not the main factor behind her decision.

Walsh said she decided to run once she realized nobody was coming forward to challenge McNamara. She said she has support to be viable choice, and that some committemen and women asked her to run.

Walsh said she sees issues within the party that reflect problems at the State House. She said too much power is concentrated to the chair, and that the party’s election process is unfair.

“The incumbents have access to information that us newcomers do not. The incumbents have for weeks been able to call, send mailers, and email members of the Democratic Party because they have access to those lists. People like myself do not,” she said. “One of the many reasons that I called this press conference today is because it is one of the only ways that I can actively advocate for myself to run for this seat because they have made it incredibly difficult to unseat any incumbent in this party.”

The election for party chair is Sunday, when Walsh said she’ll be also asking members to censure McNamara for “violating the endorsement bylaws of our party.” McNamara did not comment.

Representative Brian Newberry joined WPRO’s Dan Yorke to discuss the race for Republican chair.

Listen to “Representative Brian Newberry speaks to Dan on the RI GOP Chairman Race and the current state of the party” on Spreaker.

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