06/11/12 – Senate Floor and Committees

4:33 p.m.
Awaiting the start of the Senate floor session, which in addition to the budget involves a pretty full calendar. High on my list to watch, though, is the East Bay Energy Consortium (EBEC), which (as Andrew Morse has pointed out) is now revived in an amendment to facilitate the creation of the consortium without any explicit powers to borrow.

In the tried and true method of the “old boys club,” I caught bill sponsor Sen. Lou DiPalma at the sinks in the State House’s second-floor men’s room and asked him about that. He stated the intention as allowing the communities to start forming the EBEC and answering some of the lingering questions, with the expectation that they’d return to the General Assembly next session if they discover that they need anything… like the ability to put out bonds or otherwise raise revenue.

In a sense, the new Senate amendment is like the step beyond the study commission that amended House legislation proposed, the exception being that the towns could actually put things in motion before January. Although out of character for me, I proposed the sports analogy that the legislators are moving the ball five yards down the field because they can’t get 10. With some hesitation, DiPalma said, “I guess you could put it that way.”

Anyway, the interesting thing to watch, tonight, will be the relevant Senate committee, which is scheduled to meet at 5:30 p.m. If they pass the new EBEC bill, it could move to the Senate and then immediately to the House.

4:53 p.m.
The Senate chambers are finally filling up a little bit, although it’s mostly still the outsiders… Republicans, Pinga, O’Neill.

5:02 p.m.
So, outside the Senate chambers, about a dozen dog groomers are holding up signs, along with a crash-test dummy, although I suspect he/she is here for other reasons.

5:11 p.m.
A gavel has struck.

5:19 p.m.
First action is an adjournment (?). I must not understand the nuance, because they’re moving ahead with the session.

5:25 p.m.
They’re moving right to judge appointments.

5:27 p.m.
Sen. Michael McCaffrey: “We are proud of these former legislators for what they’ve accomplished in the courts.” (and some no doubt hope to follow)

He’s speaking of former Senator Charles Levesque, on his way to becoming a family court magistrate.

5:32 p.m.
Granted, unanimously among those who voted.

5:33 p.m.
John Flynn, up for drug court magistrate.

5:37 p.m.
Advice and consent granted.

5:38 p.m.
Louis P. Matos, up for associate justice of RI Superior Court.

5:42 p.m.
Senator Daniel DaPonte wonders if Matos’s immigrant parents ever expected this “classic example of the American dream becoming a reality.” (When did the “classic” American dream entail climbing the rungs of government jobs?)

5:45 p.m.

5:48 p.m.
Sen. Rhoda Perry defers to Sen. DaPonte for pronunciation of names of Matos’s friends and family in attendance.

5:49 p.m.
For public defender, Mary McElroy.

5:51 p.m.
McCaffrey: McElroy will be the first female public defender.

5:52 p.m.

5:54 p.m.
Stephen Walak for chief clerk, RI district court.


5:56 p.m.
Sen. Maryellen Goodwin asks for recess for 5:30 committee hearings followed by dinner on the 3rd floor.

6:03 p.m.
Sen. Environment Committee is in process in 211. First up is legislation on dog leashing. They’ve passed one amendment to exempt circus animals.

6:06 p.m.
The sub A for the East Bay Energy Consortium bill has been brought before the committee.

Sen. Majority Leader Dominick Ruggerio, drinking Dels, passed through the room, and his assistant Stephen Iannazzi has stayed behind. Interesting that they’re taking an interest in this.

6:08 p.m.
DiPalma is going over some of what he told me in the hall earlier, likening this new version of the EBEC to legislation enabling consolidation across municipalities. (It doesn’t seem exactly comparable to me.) Ruggerio is at the committee table.

6:09 p.m.
DiPalma presents this as a template for future activities among municipalities, particularly with respect to alternative energy.

6:11 P.M.
Sen. David Bates says, “this bill, introduced at the last minute,” went through all sorts of permutations. No legislators or town councils have been kept informed as it has gone along. “It is much too late” for this legislation,and I will not support it.

Kettle asked about bonding, DiPalma says that’s not in there.

DiPalma said that the cities and towns (he singled out Tiverton) have “helped shape” the legislation as it is. (Oddly, two Tiverton town councilors seemed very happy to see it die as a study commission at the hearing in the House.)

Ruggerio moved passage. All “yes,” except Bates and Kettle.

6:46 p.m.
And now the waiting. A note for reference: the single hottest space in the State House appears to be the west House gallery.

7:55 p.m.
Back in the green room, Senators filtering in… slowly.

8:02 p.m.
And the gavel strikes.

8:03 p.m.
Budget moved to the top.

8:06 p.m.
DaPonte: “There are significant investments for the future of the state in this budget.”

8:08 p.m.
DaPonte is reviewing the changes between the governor’s budget and the House budget.

8:10 p.m.
DaPonte takes credit for some items that people approached him with, such as restoring funding to seniors and disabled.

8:11 p.m.
Alluding to unpopular transportation changes: “What we are doing today is the result of not years but decades of neglecting the infrastructure in our state.”

8:13 p.m.
Says we have a “blueprint” in place to invest in IT. Not sure what he means by that. [Upon review, he’s talking about article 8, creating an “Information Technology Investment Fund.” The sale of various properties would support the purchase of new technology for state offices.]

8:14 p.m.
Sen. Beth Moura stands: “I do support the good parts of this bill.” She doesn’t like the new taxes on small businesses.

8:15 p.m.
Moura picks up the theme from the House budget session, complaining that “good ideas” suggested on the floor were all shot down. “That’s mathematically impossible and indicative of a process that’s not entirely transparent.”

Sen. Nicholas Kettle puts forth an amendment defunding the EDC. (Note: they’re taking the budget as a whole.)

8:18 p.m.
DaPonte says it would be “premature” to take this step, because the governor is reviewing the EDC as it is.

8:19 p.m.
Sen. Joshua Miller, former EDC board member, supports “the ongoing existence of the EDC.”

8:21 p.m.
Amendment goes down in party line vote.

8:22 p.m.
Sen. Paul Jabour supports the budget.

Sen. Frank Maher makes an amendment to add 25% copay on legislator health.

8:25 p.m.
DaPonte: “There is nothing that prevents legislators from making voluntary coshare payments.”

8:27 p.m.
Maher amendment goes down on another party line vote.

Sen. Dawson Hodgson resubmits House Minority Leader Brian Newberry amendment, eliminating tax on taxi drivers, paying for it with legislative grant money.

8:29 p.m.
Most unlikely news I’ve heard today: Sen. Hodgson stayed up all night watching the House budget debate. [Next day note: I meant this entirely in jest, but Sen. Hodgson has stressed to me that he was, indeed, watching the entire House discussion.]

8:30 p.m.
Hodgson says some taxi drivers saw his legislative plate and pleaded with him to eliminate the tax.

Sen. Moura: “Legislative grants is a great talking point and a hot topic…” Hostile back and forth between Moura and Hodgson.

8:33 p.m.
Sen. Elizabeth Crowley says the legislative grants go to the people.

DaPonte says the bill has cut the legislature’s budget by a million dollars.

8:34 p.m.
Sen. Maher mentions that he donates his mileage money to his constituents; Paiva Weed stopped him on the grounds of relevancy.

8:36 p.m.
Sen. Lou DiPalma amendment to eliminate the article creating tolls on the Sakonnet River Bridge.

Observation: the Senate Democrats are even less likely to break ranks than the House.

8:38 p.m.
Sen. Lou DiPalma acknowledge that Rhode Island infrastructure is in trouble, but he’s concerned about the economic effects of the tolls.

8:39 p.m.
Sen. David Bates says transportation bureaucrats have not done any study of traffic redirection and economic impact of this change.

8:40 p.m.
“We have plenty of time. The bridge doesn’t even have traffic on it yet.”

8:41 p.m.
Sen. Chris Ottiano lists all sorts of things he likes about this budget (“particularly for conservatives, we’re no longer borrowing for transportation”… I think he looked at me when he said it), but says the tolls are the bad aspect.

“There are 800 bridges in the state, but there are only going to be 2 that we see fit to toll.” What will be the effect on Newport Grand?

8:43 p.m.
Sen. Walter Felag: “They’re putting the cart before the horse.” Echoes Sen. Bates about needing study. Notes that folks would have to pay $4 each way to go out to eat.

“Make no mistake about it: a toll is a barrier” saying “don’t come in here.”

8:46 p.m.
Felag also follows Bates in suggesting that folks will drive down the one-way road through Bristol (from Somerset & Swansea MA).

Sen. Maryellen Goodwin “reluctantly… fears that if we don’t put this toll in place” we’ll have to increase Newport Toll and put one on Mount Hope Bridge.

8:48 p.m.
Maher notes precedent once we begin with tolls. Says route 95 may be next.

8:49 p.m.
DaPonte notes the cost to rebuild Sakonnet River Bridge, but it’s only 13 years older than the Newport Pell Bridge, suggesting that the tolls will help keep infrastructure up.

Says that, once this project is done, “you can’t go back and put a toll on it.”

8:51 p.m.
DaPonte describes disrepair of roadways on his way home to East Providence, but doesn’t go so far as to suggest tolls will be added there.

8:52 p.m.
Wow. Eliminating tolls actually got 12 votes. Major shift in the Senate.

8:54 p.m.
Felag is talking about biannual budget review. He wants to make that an every-year activity.

8:56 p.m.
Felag has lost me a bit, but he says he’s been concerned about expanded sales tax. I think he’s promoting legislators’ efforts to trim Governor Chafee’s tax increases.

8:58 p.m.
Felag: “Make no mistake, there are cars that” cross the border to MA to save money. No action, he just wanted to say…

8:59 p.m.
Sen. DiPalma says he neglected to comment on the positive aspects in the budget. Sounds like restoring disabled funding is one of them.

9:01 p.m.
DiPalma cites geometry: one point doesn’t give you a line; two points give you a line; three points is a trend. He’s talking about advancing the funding formula.

9:03 p.m.
Hodgson says, “quite frankly,” his constituents are well served by this budget. But he says the restructuring of the education bureaucracy is not supported by evidence. “I see nothing to suggest that a new layer of administration” will be positive.

9:06 p.m.
No action from Hodgson. In fact, he supports the budget. He will oppose the budget. [Next day note: Sen. Hodgson called me to correct. Reviewing my recording, his closing words were indeed, “and for that reason, I cannot support this budget.” However, given his delivery and the echo, “cannot” was easy to misunderstand.]

Crowley offered teary testimony thanking the budget authors for the funding for the disabled and for Central Falls firefighters.

Bates: He’s disappointed about tolls and tax increases, but says there’s a whole lot of good stuff in this budget. Mainly, he seems to mean that it has less of the bad stuff that the governor put in the initial version.

9:11 p.m.
Sen. Majority Leader Dominick Ruggerio also touts decreasing the bad of the Chafee budget as the good of this budget. He says, unfortunately, that those changes had to be made up elsewhere… tax increases, tolls, etc.

9:15 p.m.
Sen. Ed O’Neill says he likes the budget.

In general, it looks like we’re in back-slapping mode leading up to an unamended “yes” vote.

9:19 p.m.
DaPonte echoes House Finance Chairman Helio Melo in calling the education board consolidation “bold,” with the assumption that it will do something good for education.

9:22 p.m.
Sen. Glenford Shibley: “We spend plenty. We should cut.” “Cut taxes; cut spending; and revenue will come in.” Says it’s a simple formula. On why RI’s economy is so bad: “Duh.”

9:25 p.m.
Budget passes, 7 “no” everybody else “yes.” On to “rise of senate” committee hearings.

9:30 p.m.
Senate Finance is blowing through its agenda like the wind. Sen. Doyle even joked about moving a bill as if he didn’t know what was in it.

9:34 p.m.
3001, the casino bill, may have been continued until tomorrow. It’s all very difficult to follow. Sen. Ottiano didn’t even get out of his seat in the audience in support of his bill before the committee had voted to pass it.

9:43 p.m.
Casino legislation continued until tomorrow.

9:49 p.m.
Now on to Senate Judiciary to see if I can catch the campaign finance legislation.

9:55 p.m.
Judiciary passed campaign finance in an amended version. John Marion of Common Cause has gone over the new language with me, with some significant changes:

  • Violations will now be a misdemeanor, not a felony, with a $1,000 penalty.
  • Local referendums will not be included.
  • And local groups will be protected (I think) advocating for local issues.

10:10 p.m.
Back to the floor. Doesn’t look like any other media have returned, so hopefully something really crazy will happen.

10:13 p.m.
I’ve had multiple inquiries, tonight, about who I am and what I’m doing. I think the Senate side feels neglected.

10:14 p.m.
Gavel strikes!

10:15 p.m.
Consent calendar adopted… at quarter after 10.

10:16 p.m.
Next critical items: renaming structures and streets.

10:18 p.m.
S2422 and S2585 recommitted to committee. And now some more introductions. Who’s waited this long to be introduced? Strange.

10:20 p.m.
Jim Baron just sat down to deny me the possibility of any exclusives. (I’m not getting the “big surprise” feel, anyway.)

10:21 p.m.
Observation: the Senate gets punchy way earlier than the House. All sorts of jokes about registering votes correctly. Jabour just agreed with Walaska saying, “I never like to follow what Senator Walaska does.”  Chamber: “Ohhhhh.”

10:24 p.m.
The first four bills have passed, pretty much unanimously.

10:28 p.m.
Item 8 garners three “no” votes.

10:30 p.m.
Tassoni added a “no” retroactively to item 8 but we’re back to unanimity on everything else. Seems like they’re letting Republican Hodgson have lots of victories. Interesting.

10:34 p.m.
Item 15, which makes private contractors taking public contracts responsible for publishing certain payroll information, received some questioning from Moura, but it also got a 36-0 passage.

10:37 p.m.
S2534, related to funding for all-day kindergarten passes… unanimously. (It’ll temporarily fund transition to full-day K for up to four districts at a time.)

10:39 p.m.
Middletown defined-contribution pensions passes.

10:40 p.m.
On to items newly added to the agenda.

10:42 p.m.
Well, I had just told my wife that I’d be awhile. Looks like I might have room to detour on the way home, tonight. (Not that I do such things… the beer at home is less expensive.)

Wow. 2887 actually got 7 no votes. Rebellion.

Hospital conversion act 7283 passes unanimously.

10:44 p.m.
Senate will reconvene at usual 4:00 p.m. start time.

10:46 p.m.
And done… for tonight.

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