Rhode Island House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi issued these prepared remarks in advance of his address opening the 2023 legislative session.
Members of the House, Honored Guests, Family and Friends:
I’d like to extend my deepest appreciation to Chairman Marvin Abney for doing an outstanding job as the presiding officer at this session, and for the tremendous work he has done as the Chair of our Finance Committee for nearly a decade.
Thank you to Speaker Pro Tempore Brian Patrick Kennedy and Representative Leonela Felix for your kind words in placing my name into nomination.
Brian is starting his 35th year in the House, and as I told the freshmen at their Orientation, he will still be in this chamber long after they are gone! Today is also Brian’s birthday… Happy birthday Brian!
To all those who supported me today, I sincerely thank you. I am honored and humbled, and will strive to live up to the trust you have placed in me.
I’d especially like to thank Majority Leader Chris Blazejewski for being my partner in government, my trusted advisor, and a good friend.
The House has had so many incredible accomplishments over the past two years – and these could not have been done without the hard work and careful guidance of Leader Blazejewski.
To Minority Leader Mike Chippendale – as you begin your first session in your new role, I offer you my congratulations and very best wishes.
While Mike and I may not always agree on every issue, we have always shown mutual respect for each other … and we both share a deep respect for this House. Mike, I look forward to working with you and your caucus.
I’d also like to thank Supreme Court Justice Maureen McKenna Goldberg for again swearing me in, and my good friend and former House colleague, Secretary of State Gregg Amore, for administering the oath of office to all of us.
And to my sister Mary, thank you for standing with me today, and to all of my family, I appreciate your support as well.
Thank you all.
Two years ago, when Leader Blazejewski and I stood before many of you, we pledged to make this a member-driven body, and committed to a new spirit of collaboration – not only within the House, but also with partners in government at all levels.
Since that first day, we have worked to bring people together and we have focused on building consensus in pursuit of the common good. At the end of the day, regardless of where we stand on the many issues we face, we all come into this room with the best interests of our own constituents — and the entire state — at heart.
I believe a strong spirit of collaboration has helped us accomplish so much: the past two-year term was one of the most productive in recent history.
The legislation we passed was the result of many, many hours of hard work. For that, I thank you. I am so proud to lead this incredibly diverse and talented group of lawmakers.
Over the last two years, we laid a solid groundwork and have achieved so much:
- Unprecedented investments in housing – more than $250 million dollars, and the establishment of the first-ever permanent funding stream for affordable housing in Rhode Island
- The best two years of environmental policy-making in Rhode Island history, including passage of the historic Act on Climate
- And, in the past two years, we have passed three fair and balanced budgets in which we have not raised taxes.
- In fact, we have implemented strategic tax relief that impacts virtually all Rhode Islanders, including the permanent elimination of the car tax
As we embark on a new legislative term, we need to build upon that foundation. We will continue to meet the needs of today while putting ourselves in the best position to solve the problems of tomorrow.
We have made progress in tackling Rhode Island’s housing crisis. However, we need to do much more. Our state’s lack of affordable housing has been exposed in recent months. There can be no doubt we have a housing crisis and a homelessness crisis. As long as there are people without safe and permanent housing, our work isn’t done.
In the last session, we created two commissions, which have been working diligently to look at many of the barriers to housing production in Rhode Island. One commission, led by Chairwoman June Speakman, is studying the state’s Low and Moderate Income Housing Act; the other commission comprised of a variety of subject matter experts is studying land use more generally.
I am incredibly proud of the work of both commissions, and look forward to receiving their recommendations, which we hope will lead to even more housing legislation this year to aggressively and creatively tackle this critical issue.
In order to find solutions to our housing crisis, we need to bring all parties to the table, including cities and towns. As our commissions have already heard, some of the barriers to housing production must be addressed at the local level.
While we have built and funded a solid framework over the past two years, now we must ensure that the directives we have set forth are executed as swiftly and efficiently as possible.
As the stewards of the state’s budget, our single most important duty as a House, we must make certain that taxpayer resources are leveraged judiciously.
We have allocated unprecedented investments in housing, healthcare, and human services. We must ensure these dollars are deployed effectively, expeditiously, and prudently.
We must be steadfast in ensuring that the legislation and funding we have all worked so diligently to craft is implemented.
Because, while we have weathered the storm of COVID-19, there is another real and impending storm on the horizon: the recession of 2023.
While we continue working to strengthen our economy now, we must anticipate and prepare for the economy of tomorrow.
There is no reason why Rhode Island cannot be a leader in the bioscience field. Our world-class healthcare and higher education institutions, combined with our proximity to other metropolitan areas, uniquely positions Rhode Island to become a hub for life sciences.
The emerging green economy also presents a host of opportunities for us to create new jobs while we move away from reliance on carbon fuels. I want to build on our last two years of historic accomplishments in environmental initiatives.
We must continue striving to meet the renewable energy goals and the guidelines outlined in the Act on Climate.
We also need to make sure that the next generation of our workforce is trained and ready – we must ensure that all of our students are able to achieve and are prepared for success.
As we build on the accomplishments of the last two years, we will continue to maintain the transparency that has been the hallmark of my speakership. We better serve the public when our government is open and accessible.
I ask you to join me in committing to these ideals.
This is a very special day for our freshmen members and their families. Thank you to all of the new members’ families for sharing them with us – you all have probably already learned how much hard work goes into being a State Representative!
I am very impressed with this class of 12 freshmen – their energy, passion, and commitment to the issues! This is a GREAT class.
And, they are joining a GREAT House.
To my colleagues in this chamber, I believe in you. I am excited to continue the work we’ve started, and to accomplish even more great things — working together to get things done this session.
Thank you. God Bless you all.