03/28/12 – Senate Special Legislation Hearing


4:24 p.m.
My first experience with State House room 310 has not been pleasant, so far. One can see by the rippling air near the window that the heat is on. Nobody who has entered the room, thus far, has failed to comment on the heat… one adding that the clock on the wall is broken, too.

Interesting atmosphere in the building, today. Some women in the rotunda are holding up painted black-backed signs saying something about men being charged for sex. Being without cash, I walked by too quickly to find out the specifics of their message.

As is often the case walking these halls, one can spot the rooms that will soon be addressing controversial issues by the number of people already gathered outside of them and their resemblance to lobbyists. (The fewer gray suits, the more controversial the bill, because the more “average Rhode Islanders” there are.) Particularly noteworthy are those preparing to testify on behalf of medical marijuana, with (one can tell by their gait and appearance) the emphasis on the “medical.”

Room 310 also gave some indication of the other interesting variable tonight: Sen. Dominick Ruggerio’s run-in with the Barrington police. Prior to the hearing, his assistant, the infamous Stephen Iannazzi, and various Senate Democrat heavyweights, including President Teresa Paiva-Weed, had a closed-door meeting in the room. They emerged looking mildly disconcerted.

I’m hoping things get moving quickly, though, because life is interfering tonight, and I need to get out of here earlier than seems usual.

My main concern, S2695, on Newport Grand table games, is up first, and the Senators just entered the room, so things look promising.

4:44 p.m.
Bill is up. Sen. Lynch move to approve. Sen. John Tassoni second. Unanimous to approve replacement of bill with amended version.

Sen. John Tassoni

Same thing House bill. (Moving very quickly.)

4:48 p.m.
And now on to 2812, by Sen. Paul Fogarty, regarding a building name.

Sen. Paul Fogarty

Whoa. If I may pause for a moment to reflect on the casino legislation: It’s kind of breathtaking. That’s how it happens. Hold for further study. Put it on the list for reconsideration, and boom. A flurry of activity right up front.

4:51 p.m.
Now Sen. Nick Kettle’s legislation on “Gold Star” plates for military families.

Sen. Nick Kettle

4:53 p.m.

4:55 p.m.
Now a bill by Chairman Walter Felag regarding military plates.

Sen. Walter Felag

4:56 p.m.
Held for further study.

4:57 p.m.
Now a bill by Sen. James Doyle creating a small-business loan program administered through the Economic Development Corp.

Sen. James Doyle

Doyle: “It is estimated that up to 50% of our troops are unemployed when they get home.” This is “a very, very small way to thank our troops.” He referred to 38 Studio’s $75 million loan guarantee “under Governor Carcieri.”

Sen. Chris Ottiano asks if there are specifics about how much ownership the veteran must have.

Sen. Chris Ottiano

Doyle: Will leave that to the EDC.

Sen. Juan Pichardo asked (I think) if it’s for veterans in total or just combat veterans.

Sen. Juan Pichardo

Doyle: Combat.

Pichardo: “Would you be amenable to amending the bill to expand it to veterans who are not combat veterans.”

Sen. Paul Jabour: Where would the money come from?

Sen. Paul Jabour

Doyle: “I think” that this bill just enables. He argues that it may cost a little money, in the short term, but it will prove to be an economic benefit.

Felag: Have you contacted EDC?

Doyle: “I haven’t personally,” but I believe the staff has.

Felag suggests to hold the bill for more information, especially from the EDC.

5:05 p.m.
2232 – Veterans holding.

Sheesh. Felag can’t even finish the

Jabour: “What prompts them to request a return of the plate.”

Felag: It’s a new issuance of the plate. (Sounds like a replacement plate.)

Jabour: If the veteran dies, can that pass on?

A clerk: This bill only addresses a change of design.

2738 – Insurance companies

Joe Torti, Supt. of Insurance and Banking at the Dept. of Business Regulation is testifying. He says the bill benefits two insurance companies at the expense of policy holders and claimants.

Joe Torti

“DBR is a consumer protection agency.” This bill would remove ability to protect military folks (who are part of organizations that were founded before 1880).

5:10 p.m.
The full committee that was present has now dwindled by half. The other folks in the room who looked reporter-like have all left.

5:14 p.m.
Torti: “If you pass this legislation” insurance companies could skirt state regulations. I think he’s arguing that large out-of-state firms would out-compete local firms.

5:16 p.m.
Torti: The reason insurance firms are so heavily regulated is that their product is “a promise to pay in the future,” so they have to be closely watched (he says) to make sure they’re solvent and adequately backed, financially.

5:19 p.m.
In a response to a question from Jabour, Torti is explaining that the law would broadly exempt insurance companies from regulation when providing insurance to these military fraternal organizations.

Two organizations will be exempt.

5:22 p.m.
Navy Mutual Aid Association (I think) representative is testifying. They’ve been doing business here for decades. He notes one other insurance organization that would fall under the legislation.

Their lobbyist, Lauren Bloom, is clarifying that they are not strictly an insurance provider, but life insurance is one of their services. She’s giving the history of the company: Beginning after the battle of Little Big Horn, which had no survivors to provide a fund for family members.

Lauren Bloom

She’s stating that the company has been in business in the state for almost seven decades and is seeking legislation simply to clarify their status.

They only offer whole life, term life, and non-variable annuities.

5:26 p.m.
Unfortunately, as good a lesson in the reach and intricacy of the law (generally speaking) as this hearing is, my time is up. The trip across the state was well worth the experience, I’d say, of seeing the other side of “held for further study” when it means something other than “dead.”