With the start of the legislative session, I reached out to the area’s legislative delegation to survey what legislation is important to each of them, the challenges ahead, and their perspective on the upcoming legislative session.
Initially, I expected to wrap the answers into a single story. But the responses were so extensive and informative that I decided it would be more beneficial running these separately. Over the next several days to few weeks, these will appear as a feature: “Under the Dome.”
Rep. Dennis Canario, D-District 71 (Portsmouth, Little Compton, Tiverton)
What legislation do you hope to introduce in the 2020 legislative session? Please give a brief description, and why it’s one of your priorities.
- One piece of legislation I have already introduced, 2020-H 7270, is very near and dear to my heart would require that adults eligible for services through the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals receive speech and communication support. Our developmentally disabled population in Rhode Island deserve to be treated with dignity and respect and this is one area in which our state’s services are failing this group. I introduced the bill last year, but unfortunately, it did not pass so I will be redoubling my efforts this session to ensure its passage.
What legislation did you introduce in the last legislative session and what was the outcome?
- I also sponsored a bill that would impose a $300 substance abuse education assessment for conviction of driving under the influence or a violation for refusal to submit to a breathalyzer. Funds would be allocated to fund substance abuse programs. With the arrival of legalized recreational cannabis in Massachusetts, it is imperative that we not only strongly discourage people from driving under the influence, but also fund most-necessary substance abuse programs. I will be advocating strongly for its passage this year since it did not pass the General Assembly last year.
What did you feel were the legislature’s greatest accomplishments in 2019?
- One of our biggest accomplishments was approving a $9.97 billion budget for the 2020 fiscal year that largely avoids new taxes while strengthening education, continuing the car-tax phase-out and maintaining municipal aid, while also closing a $200 million budget gap. I was also proud of the legislature’s efforts that brings comprehensive education reform to curriculum, fast tracks the principal certification process and provides for greater school-based management at the school level. We increased aid to education by $33.4 million, adding $2.9 million to increase pre-kindergarten seats and increased funding for English language learning by $2.3 million.
What were your greatest disappointments in the 2019 legislative session?
- My greatest disappointment in the 2019 legislative session is that we were unable to address the annual budget deficit that keeps growing every year.
What do you see as the state’s greatest challenges in 2020?
- The state’s biggest challenge is the very large $200 million-plus budget deficit we are facing this year. Several hard economic and funding decisions are going to have to be made to balance the budget, which we are required to do by law. Unfortunately, the governor’s budget proposal will not help much either, due to her raising and introducing new fees and taxes for our residents to close the deficit, and introducing several costly new programs, which we in the General Assembly realize is a non-starter for most of the public who are already being squeezed dry with excessive taxes, fees and regulations.
What do you see as the region’s greatest challenges in 2020?
- The biggest challenge to the region is sustaining the economic momentum we have seen recently. This challenge can be evidenced by the lack of affordable housing, rising bill costs while wages remain stagnant, and the cost of healthcare for our families and friends. We are seeing these problems in Rhode Island while the economy is good, so the challenge becomes heading off significant economic damage when the economy goes into a downturn. Also, the threats of climate change present a constant threat to our coastal region and we must do our part to protect our land, residents, and assets in the face of climate change.
No doubt the most challenging event in 2019 was the gas crisis.
- Were you satisfied with the outcome of investigations by the state, feds, and National Grid, including the time it took to complete and release these reports?
I was generally pleased with the investigations, yet the results turned up troubling facts about how necessary and vital heat is delivered to our homes. I was satisfied with the investigations, but the results showed us we have a lot of work to do to make sure this never happens again.
- Do you feel enough has been done to prevent a repeat of the gas crisis?
We still have much to do to address our aging infrastructure system that led to this crisis during the dead of winter. We certainly are not out of the woods yet in facing another possible service outage like the one we experienced last year.
- What do you believe still needs to be done long-term to assure an uninterrupted gas flow on Aquidneck Island?
Every aspect of the delivery system to customers’ homes and businesses needs to be studied, evaluated, and then meaningful action and repairs need to be done to strengthen our aging system. Investments need to be made to prevent people from going cold in their homes once again.
Is there anything you feel is important for constituents to know at the start of this legislative session?
- We work for you so please let us know what is important to you. With a Presidential election coming up, and local campaigns, constituents are going to be inundated with messaging and data and it can be overwhelming. If a topic or cause is important to you, please let me know and the General Assembly website is an excellent source for information for all constituents. Stay up to date and informed and please always reach out to me with any ideas, comments, or concerns. My door is always open to the constituents of District 71.