STORY OF THE WEEK
Over recent history, the General Assembly has approved a series of measures that once would have gone nowhere: pension reform (2011), same-sex marriage (2013), and state-based …
Over recent history, the General Assembly has approved a series of measures that once would have gone nowhere: pension reform (2011), same-sex marriage (2013), and state-based abortion rights (2019). Gun-related bills, including proposals to ban high-capacity magazines and “assault weapons,” however, have remained the real third rail of legislative politics. Now, America was reeling from another series of mass shootings heading into Memorial Day weekend – a time to remember those who sacrificed their lives for the nation. People across the country are asking whether anything will change. In Rhode Island, the outlook is unclear. Although progressives have made incremental inroads on Smith Hill over multiple election cycles, the old guard mainstream of legislative Democrats remains pro-gun. With an election year as the backdrop, statewide Democratic candidates -- including Gov. Dan McKee and rivals Nellie Gorbea and Helena Buonanno Foulkes – are calling on the legislature to act. An influential interest group, the RI AFL-CIO, is doing the same. For the first time, the union is calling on lawmakers to raise the age for buying guns from 18 to 21 and to ban large capacity magazines and “assault weapons.” In all likelihood, the votes are there on the floor to pass these bills, but not without breaking a seemingly tacit agreement. In statements, House Speaker Joe Shekarchi and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio say the gun bills remain under consideration. The question is whether the two legislative leaders really want to uncork an acrimonious end-of-session debate to dramatically remake gun laws in Rhode Island.
America is awash in guns, hundreds of millions of them. Some observers point to how cars are registered as a model for what should happen with firearms (although advocacy groups like the NRA take a dim view of registration). Via David S. Bernstein: “Our driving regulations are not intended to rid the roads of automobiles. Our policy proceeds from the assumption that people are going to drive, and the goal of them doing so more safely. We use requirements, carrots, sticks, and whatever else we think will nudge things a little closer to that goal.” Bernstein’s view is that gun policy should “make it less likely that a suicidal person has access to a gun; make it less likely that criminals and violent people have access to black market guns; make it less likely for people to be hurt in gun-related accidents; make the outcome of violent incidents less severe. The two best avenues to achieve these things, in my opinion, are via licensing/permitting to possess a gun (currently done in some but not all states), and an insurance requirement for guns owned (which would require registration).”
Fun Fact – although adults can now legally possess up to an ounce of cannabis (and up to 10 ounces at home), it remains illegal for Rhode Island-based marijuana businesses to advertise in Rhode Island. Yep, even with billboards on I-95 cajoling motorists to get their weed in Attleboro. This is one of the regulations that may be revisited by the state’s yet-to-be-formed Cannabis Control Commission. Plans call for nine hybrid compassion centers to begin retail sales December 1, and the thinking is they’ll eventually be joined by 24 retail shops. While lawmakers say Rhode Island’s new marijuana law may require tweaks over time, grassroots activists lauded the law’s inclusion of a process, starting in 2024, for automatic expungement of some past marijuana charges.
The Providence Journal published house ads on two successive days earlier last week indicating the paper – the nation’s oldest continuously published daily (since 1829) – would not publish a traditional dead-tree edition on Memorial Day. This attracted notice and consternation given the ProJo’s impressive durability. However, as the paper later acknowledged, the report of no print paper on Memorial Day was a mistake. Yes, ProJo owner Gannett has scaled back print editions at some of its products, including the Newport Daily News, which no longer publishes in paper on Wednesdays. The gaffe stems from how the Journal is now composed far away, with little connection to what’s happening on the ground in the Biggest Little. On the plus side, Wheeler Cowperthwaite has signed on to cover growth and development for the ProJo, and the Journal is also seeking a ‘search and social’ reporter.
Olneyville will be the scene of the nation’s first federally funded COVID 19 test-to-treat center, as my colleague Lynn Arditi reports: “The clinic is located in one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods that was among the hardest-hit by the virus. More than one-in-four people, on average, who got tested at the clinic during the past 12 months – 27% – were positive for COVID-19, Dr. Annie DeGroot, the clinic’s volunteer medical director, said. During the January surge, she said, the average test positivity rate was 67%. ‘The population we serve is an extremely poor community [with] a lot of immigrants,’ DeGroot said. ‘For people in this neighborhood there’s a real problem with access to care.’ The patients who get tested at the clinic generally have no insurance or not enough to cover the cost of Paxlovid, DeGroot said, which runs about $800 for the five-day treatment. About 80% of those tested at the clinic are uninsured or underinsured, she said, and all of the clinic’s regular patients have no coverage.”
WOONSOCKET: With state Rep. Steven Lima (D-Woonsocket) deciding against seeking re-election, the stage is set for the battle to succeed the freshman lawmaker. The contrast couldn’t be sharper between progressive candidate Alex Kithes and former Rep. Jon Brien, a one-time conservative Democrat who is now unaffiliated. It’s unclear for now if any other candidates will jump in ahead of the filing deadline next month. In a statement, Lima said he isn’t seeking re-election due to the time demanded by his telecommunications business.
SOUTH COUNTY: With RI Senate Minority Leader Dennis Algiere of Westerly not seeking re-election after a long tenure in the legislature, Democrat Victoria Gu – who had been gearing up for a run against House Minority Leader Blake Filippi (R-New Shoreham) – said she will now seek the seat being vacated by Algiere. (Democrat Mike Niemeyer previously announced a run in the same Senate district.) Meanwhile, Democrat Tina Spears, who was first out of the chute in unveiling a challenge to Filippi, and Gu, both Charlestown residents, released a statement saying they are supporting one another “to make sure their shared values are represented and reflected in both the House and Senate and that by supporting each other they can be successful.”
TREASURER BATTLE: RI Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor announced his long-expected run for state general treasurer last week, setting the stage for a primary clash with former Central Falls Mayor James Diossa. The two candidates represent a contrast in their public personas and professional experience. Pryor, known for his irrepressible bearing, is on-message in describing the economic development glass as half-full in the state. Diossa, somewhat more subdued, touts his experience in presiding over Central Falls’ emergence from bankruptcy. Waiting in the wings is GOP candidate James Lathrop, ready to make the case that his municipal financial experience makes him the best-qualified candidate in the race.
SCALLOPS: New Bedford is home to a lucrative scallop industry, and there are now concerns about consolidation, as my colleague Ben Berke reports: “For nearly 30 years, scallopers like Cass and his son, who followed him into the industry, have gone to sea under a set of regulations that limit both the amount of scallops that can be harvested each year and the share of that harvest that belongs to the industry’s biggest players. The arrangement, though complex to navigate, has kept a large class of independent fishermen competitive in a global industry alongside corporations with larger fleets and in-house processing and distribution services. Many of the nation’s largest scallop companies are now pressuring regulators to revise the fishery’s long-standing regulations to allow the allocations assigned to individual boats to be offered for lease on a newly created market.”
KICKER: Welcome to the world, Samantha Anne Irene Nesi, who arrived mid-day Thursday at Women & Infants, weighing in at 6 lbs and 8 ounces. This bundle of joy is blessed with two wonderful parents, WPRI’s Ted Nesi and Kim Kalunian, and we can’t wait for the newborn to start tweeting (kidding!). Big congrats to the entire family.
Ian Donnis can be reached at email@example.com. You can follow him on Twitter @IanDon. For a longer version of this column or to sign up for email delivery, visit thepublicsradio.org