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.”
- Under The Dome: Rep. Deborah Ruggiero
- Under The Dome: Senator Lou DiPalma
- Under The Dome: Representative Terri Cortvriend
- Under The Dome: Representative Lauren Carson
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Sen. James Seveney, Dist. 11 (Bristol, Portsmouth, 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.
- My top legislative priority is to fix and update current law to increase state revenues for substance abuse prevention efforts, focusing on our school-age children. Substance abuse in our schools and communities is pervasive and increasing (e.g. growth of underage vaping). We need more resources applied to our existing efforts to combat this problem.
- Other priorities include:
- Training for mental health awareness and suicide prevention.
- Getting equal income tax treatment for our disabled veterans… on a par with tax policy on other disabled citizens in RI.
- Mandating a larger percentage of electric (zero emission) vehicles procured for the state vehicle fleet.
What legislation did you introduce in the last legislative session and what was the outcome?
I was prime sponsor on 16 bills in the 2019 session. Of those, six were signed into law. Most noteworthy were:
- Senate Bill No. 1032 BY Seveney, Miller, Gallo. ENTITLED, AN ACT RELATING TO EDUCATION — CURRICULUM [SEE TITLE 16 CHAPTER 97 — THE RHODE ISLAND BOARD OF EDUCATION ACT] (Requires that instruction in health and physical education include information provided to students that mixing opioids and alcohol can cause accidental death.)
- Senate Bill No. 399 BY Seveney, Coyne, DiPalma, Valverde, Euer. ENTITLED, AN ACT RELATING TO PUBLIC UTILITIES AND CARRIERS — PUBLIC UTILITIES COMMISSION (Prohibits nonregulated power producers from automatically renewing a contract. Mandates that the nonregulated power producer provide methods for the customer to cancel service and provide the customer with notice of the contract expiration date.)
- Senate Bill No. 395 SUB A BY Seveney, DiPalma, Coyne, Euer. ENTITLED, AN ACT RELATING TO BUSINESSES AND PROFESSIONS (Enables Rhode Island businesses to voluntarily promulgate standards to guide its business activities in a sustainable and responsible manner, as well as metrics for assessing whether it has met its objectives.)
What did you feel were the legislature’s greatest accomplishments in 2019?
- Passage of education reform legislation
- Women’s reproductive rights
- Enhanced protections for the elderly (financial exploitation, abuse)
- Substance abuse prevention – opioid treatment, recovery and overdose prevention
- New budget controls on spending by state departments
- Extended statute of limitations for cases of child sexual abuse
- Continued support of Pre-K education programs
- Full funding for state aid for education (funding formula)
- Increased funding for hospitals, nursing homes, and direct support professionals
What were your greatest disappointments in the 2019 legislative session?
- New funding bills for substance abuse prevention programs for school age children passed Senate, never made it out of committee in the House.
What do you see as the state’s greatest challenges in 2020?
- Resolving continuing budgetary deficits
- Improving our educational outcomes in our public schools
- Reduce substance abuse
- Establishing a viable contracting strategy for casino gambling and state lottery
What do you see as the region’s greatest challenges in 2020?
- Taking active measures to reverse climate change
- Instituting a regional carbon reduction program, zero emission vehicles and charging infrastructure.
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?
- Generally, yes. Quicker would have been better, but we did get a comprehensive view of what went wrong, and what corrective and mitigation actions needed to be instituted. And it was done in time to effect action before the cold weather set in.
- I think there are still unmet obligations on NGRID to compensate effected citizens and businesses for the losses they incurred by the gas shutdown.
Do you feel enough has been done to prevent a repeat of the gas crisis?
- In the short term, yes. NGRID has established a back-up gas facility at the Algonquin station in Portsmouth.
What do you believe still needs to be done long-term to assure an uninterrupted gas flow on Aquidneck Island?
- Over the longer term, I would like to see the decommissioned NGRID facility on the naval station brought back online. It’s not clear why they shut it down in the first place.
- The General Assembly needs to pass legislation, like Massachusetts, which provides more regulatory enforcement tools the state can use in ensuring compliance with requirements for utility planning, maintenance and operations practices.
Is there anything you feel is important for constituents to know at the start of this legislative session?
- I’m looking forward to the start of this new session. For all the challenges we face as a state, it must be said that we have smart and serious people working hard to find solutions, keep our economy growing, and helping our working families improve their circumstances.