Below is a list of my priorities for the 2014 Legislative session and beyond. 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. I have been working with the office of Congressman Jim Langevin to try to find grant money for a variety of things in West Warwick. Chief among those will be:
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.
2. Helping to secure monies to build a permanent memorial at the Station fire site. 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.
3. Helping to secure monies for the Sgt. Brian St. Germain Memorial Foundation in order to rebuild and improve the Maznicki Field Complex. The project will include lights for the field and track, new bleachers with handicapped access, and new press box. This will also allow us to dedicate a newly resurfaced track to be named for 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.
I also will re-attempt to expand the MED Zone Legislation (http://webserver.rilin.state.ri.us/Statutes/title44/44-18/44-18-30.c.htm) to allow for MED Zone benefits to be extended beyond new construction to include qualifying renovation to existing structures.
Priority #2: Postponement of the new PARCC Test as a graduation requirement.
The NECAP assessment that has been the subject of so much debate will be replaced by a new assessment in 2014. This exam will be computer-based and based on the new Common Core Standards that will be implemented in 2014.
It is my opinion that a moratorium is necessary before full implementation. We need to take a page from Massachusetts and their implementation of the MCAS. There were a number of gaps that repeatedly came up after each NECAP implementation. Special Education students, English Language Learners, and low income students repeatedly scored significantly lower that other students on the NECAP. It is my opinion that the Rhode Island Department of Education and Commissioner Deborah Gist have not done enough to address these gaps.
It is my belief that we need to take the time to address these and other gaps that may occur after our initial application of the PARCC. We owe it to our students to make sure that they are getting the help that they need in order to make sure they are ready for these exams. I propose a moratorium to identify, address, and eliminate any achievement gaps before full implementation of the PARCC.
We also need to make sure that all of our school districts have the necessary equipment and infrastructure to administer this test before it becomes a requirement.
Priority #3: Restoring State Aid for Education and Social Services
Recent cuts in state aid have far reaching impacts. These cuts have affected education, social services, health services, etc. I will work to prevent any more cuts to education funding. I will also work to ensure that funding is restored for programs for those most in need like 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.
Priority #4: Preserving the Rights of Workers
I am a firm believer in the rights of workers to collectively bargain. I believe that teachers should be included in binding arbitration mandates to make sure that municipalities negotiate contracts in good faith. 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, which would serve as another protection to ensure negotiation in good faith. I also feel that workers should have the opportunity to organize, should they choose to do so.
Priorities #5: 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.
Priority #6: Restore Funding for Higher Education
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 other private institutions. I feel that the General Assembly should work to make sure that our public higher learning institutions are affordable and competitively priced.
Priority #7: 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.
Priority #8: 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 #9 Protection of the Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rhode Islanders
Last session, as 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 #10 Protect Against the Infringement of Our 2nd Amendment Rights
There were several pieces of legislation introduced last session 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, that is illegal 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.