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House Speaker Shekarchi aims to act on pay equity, police discipline bills

But as legislative session enters the homestretch, Shekarchi tells the Rhode Island Report podcast he’s not expecting final action on marijuana legalization or drivers’ licenses for undocumented immigrants

House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi speaks to Boston Globe reporter Edward Fitzpatrick during the taping of a Rhode Island Report podcast in the CIC Providence space at the Wexford Innovation Center.Carlos Muñoz

PROVIDENCE — During the Rhode Island Report podcast, House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi said he is hoping to pass a pay equity bill and to change the law for disciplining police officers during the closing days of this year’s legislative session.

But Shekarchi said he does not expect the House to take final action this session on bills that would legalize recreational marijuana and provide driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants. The session is expected to last through the end of next week.

Shekarchi, a Warwick Democrat who became speaker after Representative Nicholas A. Mattiello lost his Cranston seat in November, spoke about his first session holding what is arguably the most powerful position in state government.

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“I think we’ve done more this year than I have ever done in any single year since I’ve been in the General Assembly,” said Shekarchi, who was first elected in 2012.

For example, he noted the General Assembly passed the “Act on Climate” bill, which makes the state’s goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions mandatory and enforceable; it made permanent the Rhode Island Promise program, which provides free community college tuition to eligible students; it put the state’s minimum wage on a path to increase from $11.50 to $15 per hour in four steps over four years; and it approved minimum staffing levels at nursing homes.

The state Senate is poised to approve legislation that would grant driving privileges to undocumented immigrants. But Shekarchi said, “I don’t know if the House will take that up this year. It’s coming in very, very late.”

He also does not expect the House to slap a three-year moratorium on new charter schools and charter expansions – a bill that Governor Daniel J. McKee has vowed to veto. But he left open the possibility of a “slimmed down” moratorium that would apply to future charter schools.

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Several proposals were introduced late in the session that are “somewhat controversial,” he said. “Those are something that I feel very strongly we should have public hearings and vetting on them. And I don’t know if you’re going to have a lot of time to do that. I will wait to see what comes over from the Senate.”

On Tuesday, the Senate voted 29 to 9 for a bill that would legalize, tax and regulate cannabis. But that proposal differs from other proposals from McKee and the House, and Shekarchi said the legislature might end up addressing the issue in a fall session.

While Massachusetts has legalized marijuana and Connecticut is about to make it legal, Shekarchi said Rhode Island can afford to wait to analyze the various legislative proposals. “I have to look at that and what’s good for the state if we’re going to legalize recreational use of marijuana,” he said. “We want to make sure the state gets its fair share.”

Shekarchi noted that the Senate proposal would create a Cannabis Control Commission while McKee has proposed managing the marijuana program through the state Department of Business Regulation.

During the interview, Shekarchi also talked about the loss of his friend John Marinatto, the former Big East Conference commissioner and Providence College athletic director who died on June 12 at age 64. “It’s a tremendous loss for the state,” he said. “He leaves behind a legacy, a reservoir, if you will, of goodwill.”

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Hear more by downloading the latest episode of Rhode Island Report, available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Music, iHeartRadio, Google Podcasts, and other podcasting platforms, or listen in the player below:


Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at edward.fitzpatrick@globe.com. Follow him @FitzProv.