Below is a list of my priorities heading into the 2016 General Assembly session. They are not numbered by importance, with the exception that initiatives that will improve the town of West Warwick will always be my #1 priority.
Priority #1: West Warwick First!
This was my campaign slogan on all of my yard signs as well as printed material. This the driving force behind my decision to run for Senate. My primary focus will and has always been to improve the town of West Warwick. Here are some of my plans for West Warwick:
1. Securing start up monies for the West Warwick Redevelopment Authority so that they can begin the process of buying up properties and parcels. This will allow them to avoid taking property through eminent domain. It will also allow them to start assembling parcels that will be attractive for developers to purchase and begin the first phases of the Arctic Redevelopment plan.
West Warwick was classified as a “Hope Community” in this year’s budget. It was also identified as a possible growth center by the Rhode Island division of planning. Here is an idea of some of things that could happen: http://www.planning.ri.gov/documents/LU/growth/120528_WestWarwick_Draft.pdf.
I will continue to try to find ways to bring developers into West Warwick in an attempt to revitalize Arctic Village and our other historic village areas. I would like to see mixed use development in the Crompton and Phenix Mill areas. I also will re-attempt to expand the MED Zone Legislation for the FOURTH year in a row. We gained some positive momentum this year when the MED Zone modification passed the Senate. Hopefully 2016 will be the year. I keep pushing this bill because Town manager Fred Presley and I felt it was necessary to make changes to the existing law to promote development. These changes would allow for MED Zone benefits to be extended beyond new construction to include qualifying renovation to existing structures. .
2. Helping to make sure that planned projects start this year. First and foremost, I want to see permanent memorial at the Station fire site built this year. This is important for our region, our state, and our town. I will search for any way that I can find to help the Station Memorial Foundation to complete construction of this monument by 2015.
I also hope to see the track and football field re-done. That project should begin in the summer of 2015. It will include lights for the field and track, new bleachers with handicapped access, and new press box. The track will be dedicated upon completion this spring in memory of Marine Sgt. Brian St. Germain, a West Warwick graduate that was killed defending our country in Iraq. Not only will this serve as a fitting memorial to a West Warwick hero, but it will give West Warwick the only nine lane, competition quality track in the state of Rhode Island. This will allow us to host a variety of sporting events from night football games, soccer games, as well as statewide and regional track meets. It will also extend the hours of usage of our track for the great public. Our hope is that the increased use and exposure to such a wonderful facility will help to bolster sales and usage of local businesses as well.
Murray Square is also set to be redone some time this summer and fall. The intersection will be realigned, drainage will be fixed, and new sidewalks will be installed. Kent County Water Authority has begun replacing the water mains in this area and the road project should begin shortly after their completion.
3. Work with DEM and the Pawtuxet Valley River Authority and Watershed Commission to develop and maintain access to the natural beauty of the Pawtuxet. I also want explore the possibility of leveraging the Pawtuxet for small scale hydropower. This could help provide electricity for public services or possibly lower rates for local consumers.
Priority #2: Preserving Funding for Human Services
Funding for a number of human services was cut dramatically in order to help balance the budget a few years before I entered the Senate. I will continue to ensure that funding for the services that help those most in need In Rhode Island these are the homeless, individuals with substance abuse or addiction problems, the developmentally disabled, and veterans that have put their lives on the line for our country and have been woefully under-served since their return to civilian life. I hope to have the opportunity to continue my work with the Special Joint Commission to Study the Quality of Life and Create Positive Outcomes for Individuals with Autism. I have also been appointed to the Senate Oversight Task Force on DCYF and the Family Care Networks, which recently released a plan to help reorganize DCYF.
Thundermist recently received a four year grant to establish a Health Equity Zone in West Warwick. I feel that the programming offered through the Zone will be a step in the right direction to make sure that West Warwick residents have a wide array of services and programs to help the diverse set of needs in our town. To learn more, click here: http://www.health.ri.gov/projects/healthequityzones/
Priority #3: Preserving the Rights of Workers
I am a firm believer in the rights of workers to collectively bargain. I feel that when groups come to the table and negotiate contracts in good faith good things can happen. West Warwick is a perfect example that. I believe that there should be a contract continuation law to protect public workers in the event that negotiations are not completed by the expiration of current contracts to ensure negotiation in good faith. I also feel that workers should have the opportunity to organize, should they choose to do so.
Priorities #4: Energy and the Environment
I believe that Rhode Island should explore new forms of renewable energy. Our rich coastlines and watershed areas offer us the perfect setting to explore alternative sources of energy such as wind farms and local sources of hydroelectric energy. We also need to encourage expansion of solar energy use, like the project recently completed at Quonset Point. I also feel that we should encourage recycling initiatives in every town; especially in apartment complexes. Our state landfill is filling up at an alarming rate and it is becoming more and more necessary for us to explore different strategies for reducing our waste output.
West Warwick recently purchased three new wind turbines that will provide power to all of our municipal buildings, the sewage treatment plan, the library, the senior center, the transfer station, and all of our schools. This makes West Warwick the first town in Rhode Island to run its municipal buildings off of 100% renewable energy. I hope that West Warwick continues this trend and encourages any development being done to be done with energy conservation and sustainability in mind.
Priority #5: Adapting to Make Higher Education Affordable and Accessible
I feel that the General Assembly should work to ensure that our public colleges and universities are affordable to citizens of Rhode Island. I feel that rising tuition costs for these institutions have cause them to lose students to private institutions that can afford to keep their tuition down. The General Assembly also has to make the colleges and universities more accessible. We need to have courses and degree programs that can meet the needs of employers in Rhode Island. I feel that the Governor’s 2016 budget was a step in the right direction. There were programs built in to help some graduates with student loans, but we need to do more to help those trying to afford college before, during, and after their college years.
Priority #7: Improve K-12 Public Education
We need to make sure that our schools are ready for the Common Core Standards and the new PARCC evaluation. This requires a lot of new curriculum and curriculum development. It also involves major upgrades in technology in all of our schools. I will work to make sure that the Education Funding Formula continues to fund such upgrades. We also need to make sure that our students are receiving high quality educations in a safe environment. I also look forward to helping phase in all day Kindergarten across the state.
I fought hard to do something about charter school funding this year. I wanted local control for towns and cities in controlling what portion of their budget went towards charter public schools. While their weren’t any significant bills passed in 2015, at least the conversation about the inequities of the funding formula; particularly as it pertains to charters and mayoral academies, were brought to light. I’m glad the conversation about changing the funding formula took place and I hope that all stakeholders involved were serious about their willingness to come to the table. Making that discussion happy will most certainly be a priority for me in 2016.
Priority #8: Infrastructure Investment
There are a lot of improvements to be made in our infrastructure. I believe that we need to use the money from the restricted receipt account from the raise in fees really does go towards infrastructure, not balance the budget like it was used in this year’s budget. We need to make sure that some this money is not only focused on upgrades of state roads, but to local roads as well. At the local level, we need to make sure that money is being used to pave some of our worst roads. We also need to focus and prioritize rainwater drainage and abatement projects. There are a number of roads in West Warwick that have been prone to floods over the years. I will work to make sure that those areas get the funding to finance projects to improve drainage in those targeted areas.
Priority #9: Tax Equity
I feel strongly that if I pay a fixed percentage on every dollar that I make, everyone should. The highest earners in Rhode Island received generous tax cuts under the Carcieri administration. The argument was that this would lead to job creation. Years later, Rhode Island still has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. I believe that we should repeal these benefits and make the 1% pay their fair share. The tax income generated could be used for a variety of initiatives such as accelerating the education funding formula, improving infrastructure, or funding the Rhode Island Health Exchange once federal money is no longer provided. I proposed a bill last year that would raise the tax on Rhode Islanders that earned over $250,000. This would have generated $61.1 million. The bill proposed that the money would be evenly distributed to the towns and cities of Rhode Island. Again, towns could use this money for infrastructure, fund their pension systems, or lower the property tax rate. I have submitted this bill for the last three years and plan on doing so again this year.
Priority #10: Women’s Health
I believe that all women should have access to routine visits with specialized health care providers. This can help prevent illness and can find problems that may need treatment. Pelvic exams, PAP tests, and breast cancer screenings are vital health care needs for women. They can also save lives.
I also believe that only women can decide what is best for them when it comes to pregnancy. I believe that women should have access to advice for and the means to help get information about pregnancy. This includes how avoid pregnancy, options for unintended pregnancies, information about prenatal care, the stages of pregnancy, and signs of miscarriage or other pregnancy complications. These services should include not only access to information; access to pregnancy tests, prescription contraception, access to medical testing and procedures, as well as counseling services.
Priority #11 Protection of the Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rhode Islanders
In my first year as a state senator, I was among the legislators that fought to push Marriage Equality into law. However, that is not enough. We need to make sure LGBTQ individuals do not face discrimination when it comes to employment, health care, or housing.
Priority #12 Protect Against the Infringement of Our 2nd Amendment Rights
There were several pieces of legislation introduced in the last three years that would have been serious threats to Rhode Islanders’ right to bear arms. I introduced one of the few common sense bills in regards to firearm safety last session. This law would increase the penalties associated with possession of and/or crimes committed with illegally obtained weapons. Laws like this need to be our focus when it comes to guns. I will make sure that future firearms legislation focuses on the real problem, which is illegally obtained firearms and criminals that commit crimes with guns. I will work to make sure that no future gun laws endanger the rights of law abiding citizens to keep and bear arms in our state.