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. This is the third segment. Our first was Rep. Lauren Carson and second was Rep. Terri Cortvriend. Over the next several days to few weeks, these will appear as a feature: “Under the Dome.” 

Sen. Lou DiPalma, Dist. 12 (Little Compton, Middletown, Newport, Tiverton)

louis_dipalma@yahoo.com

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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 3 priorities for the 2020 session, are:

  • Budget: Our budget defines our state’s priorities.  To ensure we appropriately address the needs of our state’s most vulnerable populations – individuals with intellectual/developmental disabilities, babies/children/adolescents/

teenagers/adults in state care and our seniors, we need a strong economy.  We need to appropriately sustain the investment in our economy, including its most important driver, education – Pre-K to grade 16.

  • Resilient/Reliable Gas/Electric Transmission/Distribution System: We will not soon forget the fateful day of January 21, 2019 when over 7,000 National Grid gas customers had their gas shut off for upwards of a week.  It is imperative we do all in our power to ensure the risk of this re-occurring anywhere in RI is mitigated to maximum extent possible. To that end, the Senate Committee, which I proposed and expect to be leading, will commence hearings in 2020 and work to ensure a plan is developed and implemented to ensure RI has a Resilient/Reliable Gas/Electric Transmission/Distribution System
  • “Total U.S. prescription sales in the 2016 calendar year were $448.2 billion, a 5.8% increase compared with 2015. More than half of the increase resulted from price hikes of existing drugs.”  (American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy – August 1, 2017). As Congress has been unable to address this most pressing issue at a national level, I’ll be working to develop a multi-state collaborative/compact to tackle this most vexing problem.

What legislation did you introduce in the last legislative session and what was the outcome?

  • As the 1st Vice Chair of the Senate Committee on Finance, and its Health and Human Services Subcommittee Chair, I spent countless hours working to ensure our annual budget provides the necessary resources and safety net for our state’s most vulnerable populations.  
  • During the 2019 legislative session I introduced several pieces of legislation seeking to improve the lives of Rhode Island’s most vulnerable residents.  Some legislation included increases to the wages for direct care workers – those individuals who assist individuals with intellectual/developmental disabilities.  We included an additional $12 million in the budget to address this pressing, critical issue.
  • The establishment of the Senate Commission to study and evaluate Rhode Island’s Electric and Natural Gas Transmission and Distribution System Infrastructure.  It is expected this Commission will commence its charge in February 2020.
  • Legislation was introduced and passed streamlining Rhode Island’s financial regulatory structure for users of blockchain technology.
  • Legislation, which I have sponsored for several years, seeking to eliminate the sales tax on feminine hygiene products was included in the budget.  

What did you feel were the legislature’s greatest accomplishments in 2019?

  • Addressing Rhode Island’s opioid crisis
  • Increased investment in Rhode Islanders with intellectual/developmental disabilities
  • Implementing sweeping PreK – Grade 12 educational reforms
  • Continuing the implementation of the education funding formula
  • Continuing the implementation of the car tax phaseout program
  • Multiple initiatives to protect and improve the lives of Rhode Island’s senior population
  • Continued investments in the state’s economy
  • Continued implementation of the 10-year transportation improvement plan
  • Multiple measures associated with consumer protection

What were your greatest disappointments in the 2019 legislative session?

  • Not being able to get what I’m calling the “Disabled Parents Bill of Rights” bill over the goal-line.  It has already been filed, and I will be doing my best to get it enacted in 2020.

What do you see as the state’s greatest challenges in 2020?

  • First and foremost, addressing the approximately $200M budget deficit
  • Finalize Rhode Island’s $1billion gaming contract(s) – we spent approximately 25 hours in hearings in 2019
  • Some of the top Rhode Island Senate priorities, include the following:
    • Education
      1. Conduct oversight of the reforms enacted in 2019
      2. Strengthen civics education and financial literacy, increasing funding for English Language Learners, and implementing programs to attract teachers in hard to fill areas like math, science and world languages
    • Housing
      1. Explore ways to remove barriers to housing development and to incentivize growth
      2. Consider additional funding to support affordable housing, such as a new bond or a permanent funding stream
      3. Fair Housing – prohibit discrimination based on source of income
    • Drug affordability – Rhode Island’s population is among the oldest in the nation, and this issue has a significant impact on them
    • Banning 3D printed guns and “Ghost Guns.”
    • Enacting a strong pay equity law and sexual harassment protections in the workplace
    • Banning single-use plastic bags and reducing the use of plastic straws

What do you see as the region’s greatest challenges in 2020?

  • Reliable and Resilient Electric and Natural Gas Transmission and Distribution System Infrastructure
  • Education Funding
  • Transportation Improvement projects
  • Strategic investments in economic development, especially driven by investments in education

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?

  • While I was satisfied with the work and ultimate reports provided by the state and federal government, I believe the investigations could have been completed much earlier.
  • As I’ve previously communicated, I requested meetings with both National Grid and Enbridge.  Enbridge honored my request to meet by Feb. 28, 2019. It took until about Sept. 2019 to ultimately have the requested meeting with National Grid, even after following up on my request at least a monthly.

Do you feel enough has been done to prevent a repeat of the gas crisis?

  • Short answer is no.  From my meetings with Enbridge and National Grid, I believe that which occurred on fateful day of January 21, 2019 when over 7,000 National Grid gas customers had their gas shut off for upwards of a week can re-occur.  It is imperative we do all in our power to ensure the risk of this re-occurring anywhere in Rhode Island is mitigated to the maximum extent possible. While National Grid had employed a temporary LNG source on Old Mill Lane in Portsmouth, this is most definitely not a long-term solution, nor does it provide the means to completely satisfy Aquidneck Island’s gas demands should a similar or more significant crisis occur.

What do you believe still needs to be done long-term to assure an uninterrupted gas flow on Aquidneck Island?

  • Ensure we have a reliable and resilient gas transmission and distribution system on Aquidneck Island.  It is my hope that the aforementioned commission will identify the needed steps to assure an uninterrupted gas flow on Aquidneck Island

Is there anything you feel is important for constituents to know at the start of this legislative session?

  • We need everyone engaged and actively involved in the legislative process.  All voices, including associated facts and data, are critical to ensuring we arrive at objective based decisions.  This is no more critical than in the deliberation on the budget, which is a policy document first and funding second.  We have an approximate $200 million structural deficit that we need to address. It is primarily driven by the following factors: increased aid to cities and towns, including education aid and car tax phaseout, increased retiree health care, plateauing of gambling revenues as a result of new gambling venues in Massachusetts and increased cost in our state’s safety net programs.