For the last few years, What’s Up Newp has reached out to Newport area state legislators in advance of the Rhode Island legislative session. This last year has been a year like none other, defined by the pandemic and divisiveness, all feeding into distrust of government on all levels. Are our local legislators up to the challenge?
Over the next several weeks we’ll run the completed surveys of those legislators that respond (most have in the past) and be sure to let you know who has not responded. To gain trust, we believe, politicians and government officials need to be transparent and truthful, eager to share their vision with their constituents. First to respond is state Rep. Lauren Carson, D-Dist. 75.
Rep. Lauren Carson, D-Dist. 75, Newport, Deputy Majority Leader
Question: What legislation do you hope to introduce in the 2022 legislative session? Please give a brief description, and why it’s one of your priorities.
- Create a special education ombudsman. The delivery system for services needs to be brought into light – COVID made it worse for these kids. The ombudsmen would report to the General Assembly, empowering it with information and a greater ability to assure quality of services.
- Fiscal transparency over cemeteries. In Rhode Island, 25 percent of the cost of a grave goes into perpetual care. This bill would assure that the 25 percent dedicated to perpetual care remains in a perpetual care fund.
- Conduct a waste audit of the State House.
- Require new construction to have a certain percentage of costs dedicated to renewable energy systems, such as solar or geothermal.
- At the request of the Newport City Council introduce enabling legislation that would create a legislative commission to study how and where three-wheeled vehicles can be operated.
- A bill that would require training for municipal planning and zoning boards.
- Require statewide registration for Air B&B’s and similar businesses.
- Regulating the cost of digital books, primarily for libraries and schools, where licenses are renewed annually.
What legislation did you introduce in the last legislative session and what was the outcome?
- Act on Climate, which makes the state’s climate goals outlined in the Resilient Rhode Island Act of 2014 more ambitious and updated with current science, achieving net-zero emissions across all sectors by 2050. Approved.
What did you feel were the legislature’s greatest accomplishments in 2021?
- A more open process, in which we passed several bills. We addressed so many issues — making a serious commitment to focus on climate change; establish the state’s first permanent funding stream for affordable housing; permanently provide up to two years of free tuition for eligible students at the Community College of Rhode Island; ban child marriages; require all public school districts to adopt suicide prevention policies; and limit insured patients copays for insulin used to treat diabetes to $40 for a 30-day supply.
What were your greatest disappointments in the 2021 legislative session?
- I was not disappointed. I thought it was a great year.
What do you see as the state’s greatest challenges in 2022?
- Redistricting. Initial specifications are expected by the end of the year.
- How we spend federal money and infrastructure money (there’s 129-page summary).
What do you see as the region’s greatest challenges in 2022?
- Climate – flooding, sea rise.
- Transportation initiatives.
Lest we forget 2019 and the gas crisis, we should revisit and see if we have made any progress.
- Are you satisfied that the state and federal government and National Grid have done enough to assure Newport area residents that there will be no repeat of the 2019 gas crisis?
- There needs to be more conversation. There is concern about National Grid proposals, and not a great appetite to extend pipelines further.
- What still needs to be done to assure an uninterrupted gas flow on Aquidneck Island?
- Recognize that this was a mechanical issue, human error, and not a supply issue. Need to look at alternative energy sources. And, yes, this could happen again.
COVID – 19 has consumed our lives for nearly two years. It has made family members and friends ill, some even died. It has disrupted our economy, forcing small businesses to close, restaurants to shutter. It has struck our tourism industry incredibly hard, leaving tourism workers unemployed or underpaid.
- Are you satisfied with the way Gov. Raimondo managed the crisis, and after her departure to join the Biden administration, how Gov. McKee has managed the pandemic?
- Generally pleased with how the governors have managed COVID.
- Rhode Island received $1.25 billion from the CARES Act and $300 million in additional federal funding allocated to various state agencies to provide grants and fund initiatives during the pandemic. Are you satisfied with the pace and uses of these funds?
- We need to stop and evaluate the impact of COVID. A lot has changed, including the transition in the way people want to work, rising housing costs, gasoline costs, prices in general.
The state is now receiving a billion plus from the recently enacted Infrastructure bill. What would your priorities be for use of these funds?
- The Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) is 50 years old. It’s a 10-member board of political appointees. Many issues to address, including offshore wind, sea rise, and climate change. Need to evaluate how the council addresses rising concerns, and where resources are best used.