Category Archives: Rhode Island
Ever since Gov. Lincoln Chafee reaffiliated from Independent to Democrat two weeks ago, his decision has been minced and analyzed from almost every angle. Some are hailing him as a kind of transcendent political genius who operates on a higher plane than the rest of us earthbound observers. Others say he’s doomed, no matter his affiliation.
2013 has already been a watershed year for the same-sex marriage movement — the practice has been legalized in three states and is coming to a head in two others — but the tale of Rhode Island’s passage stands out from the two others in Delaware and Minnesota. Most commonly, the legalization of same-sex marriage is presented as a long march of progress followed by the triumphant bursting of the dam, but in Rhode Island it appears to have happened differently.
After a prolonged legislative battle, Rhode Island has officially become the 10th state in the US to legalize same-sex marriage. Independent Gov. Lincoln Chafee, who made marriage equality a central tenet of his inaugural speech in 2011, signed the bill on the steps of the State House this past Thursday. He was joined by Speaker of the House Gordon Fox (D-Providence), the first openly gay Speaker of a U.S. state legislature; Sen. Donna Nesselbush (D-Pawtucket), the only openly gay member of the Rhode Island Senate; Rhode Island’s entire federal delegation; and many other guests.
In April, the town of Coventry, Rhode Island, agreed to loan the Coventry Fire District $300,000 in order to keep it operational for three more weeks after it was ordered to close due to insufficient funds. Three of the district’s five fire stations have already closed. The fate of the fire district was contingent upon the possibility of tax reform, which was put to a vote in March. After taxpayers overwhelmingly struck down a proposed increase in fire taxes, the court felt there was no other option than to mandate that the fire district be liquidated. Forty-five firefighters and the fire chief will lose their jobs.
In a 26-12 vote Wednesday, the Rhode Island Senate passed SB-38, a bill that would allow same-sex couples to enjoy the full rights of marriage in the Ocean State. The vote was cast after a lengthy floor debate that lasted over an hour and a half and saw senators on both sides of the same-sex marriage aisle give impassioned speeches for and against. In the end, though, the supporters of same sex marriage were able to pull out enough votes in the more conservative General Assembly chamber for a resounding Senate victory.
During a packed press conference last week at the Rhode Island State House, a package of nine gun safety laws was proposed for passage by the General Assembly. Drafted in response to December’s school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., the bills are designed to tackle a wide variety of firearms issues, including criminal penalties for illegal possession, background checks, and mental health concerns.
The Rhode Island Senate Judiciary Committee will conduct a hearing for two bills relating to same-sex marriage Thursday. The first, Senate Bill 38, is a companion to the bill that passed the Rhode Island House of Representatives in January. It modifies Rhode Island’s General Laws so that two people of any sex can marry, while also upholding free exercise protections for churches and other religious institutions that do not wish to perform same-sex weddings.
Few issues hit closer to home or are more sensitive than education. For every philosophy and teaching style, there is a clamor from supporters and detractors, making the unification of policy on any level a delicate task. Add in the fact that the average cost of attending a four-year college is rising at over twice the rate of inflation, and you have one great sociopolitical mess, from pre-K to postsecondary. Rhode Island’s schools have not escaped this morass: Our schools have done dismally in national rankings, and our funding for higher education is one of the lowest levels in the U.S. With all this to confront, the Rhode Island Department of Education, headed by Commissioner Deborah Gist, has taken action.
This week, Gov. Lincoln Chafee named five additional appointments to the board of the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation, a semi-public business development agency that last year earned notoriety as the organization that signed off on the disastrous 38 Studios deal. Despite this setback, Chafee appears bullish about the future of the new board, and hopes to defy Rhode Island’s business-hostile image and bring commerce to the Ocean State.
While many Rhode Islanders complain about the biting temperatures this season, with lows consistently below freezing, the winter can be a particularly dangerous time for those living outdoors. Vital statistics for the homeless are not officially recorded by the government, but it is estimated that hundreds of homeless die every year in the United States due to freezing temperatures. Though hypothermia is a primary concern, the cold can also exacerbate existing health conditions from which many of the homeless already suffer, such as hepatitis or tuberculosis. According to a recent count taken in December, over 150 homeless people in Rhode Island are living outdoors.