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Candidates in Senate District 1 weigh in on R.I. legislation

Four candidates respond to questions about abortion coverage, gun legislation, the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, and iGaming

Rhode Island state Senate District 1 candidates, from left to right, Michelle Rivera, Niyoka Powell, Jake Bissaillon, and Terrence M. Hassett.Handout

PROVIDENCE — Four candidates are vying for the state Senate District 1 seat left vacant by the death Senate Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin, a Providence Democrat, who died on April 15 after a long battle with cancer.

So far, the announced candidates include three Democrats — Jake Bissaillon, chief of staff to Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio; Michelle Rivera, policy director at Progreso Latino; and Terrence M. Hassett, a former long-time Providence City Council member — and one Republican, Niyoka Powell, second vice chairwoman of the Rhode Island Republican Party.

The Globe asked the four where they stand on four specific pieces of Rhode Island legislation. Here are their responses (in alphabetical order):


1. If you were a member of the Senate, how would you have voted on the Equality in Abortion Coverage Act and why?

Bissaillon: I would’ve voted yes. State employees and individuals on Medicaid deserve the same access to reproductive health care that their fellow citizens privileged enough to have private insurance possess.

Hassett: I am pro-life and with continuing concerns about the life and medical status of the mother and the child during a pregnancy. Rape and incest is a critical decision, but I believe making a second decision needs to be thoughtful of a potential newborn. Bottom line is yes, I am pro-life. I support contraception extensively. One mistake or violation can lead to another decision that executes damage to potential life.

Powell: I would have voted no because tax dollars should be allocated to better education in women’s health. I would allocate funding to right-to-life resources to help families during this time, so the woman is well informed prior to any decision she makes. Mental health is essential and takes months to years to treat the aftermath of such a decision. This is an unnecessary burden on taxpayers, as the City of Providence continues to spend frivolously and continues to raise taxes annually since the pandemic. As the right to an abortion has been codified in the State of Rhode Island since 2019, I see no other reason for taxpayers to take part in the women’s personal right to choose.


Rhode Island Medicaid coverage takes care of the following services (according to Pregnant women and children. For expectant mothers, Rhode Island Medicaid covers services that keep them and their babies healthy during and after pregnancy. Medicaid assigns enrollees personal care managers that help them find a doctor, provide support after birth and educate them about caring for the baby. Wellness programs. R.I. Medicaid covers various wellness programs including well-care, nutritional classes, pregnancy care and parenting classes as well as smoking cessation classes. Mental health programs. Rhode Island Medicaid enrollees with persistent mental illnesses are eligible for individual/group/family therapy, crisis intervention, mobile treatment team, multidisciplinary psychiatric treatment planning, community psychiatric supportive treatment, day treatment, emergency room visits for psychiatric emergencies and acute psychiatric inpatient hospitalization.

Rivera: I would have of course voted yes on the EACA. It’s about a woman’s health and equal access.

2. If you were a member of the Senate, how would you vote on the legislation that would ban assault-style weapons in Rhode Island?

Bissaillon: I support an assault weapon ban and I am closely monitoring the court’s review of the high capacity magazine ban, to see how any potential ruling could impact future gun legislation.


Hassett: I shall say this: Ban assault weapons.

Powell: I would have voted no because it challenges and directly targets the constitutionality of a given right, not a privilege. Those law-abiding citizens are being targeted. The vision behind this target continues to be a dismantling of masculinity and the right to self-protection. I would vote no. The right to bear arms is a constitutional right, not a privilege that can be removed by elected officials who themselves do not understand the gravity of what they’re asking. Automotive vehicles, machetes, and even a kitchen knife can be considered an “assault-style weapon.”

Rivera: I would vote yes to ban assault weapons. I’ve seen firsthand what weapons of war can do. I know personally how dangerous they are.

3. If you were a member of the Senate, would you support either repealing or amending the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, and if so in what way?

Bissaillon: I wrote the Senate report on the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights and support its core tenets: allowing chiefs to publicly discuss reasons for investigation/discipline, extending summary discipline from 2 days to 14 days, and expanding the hearing panel to include members of the public.

Hassett: I encourage a review of it. I have been a very strong supporter of Police in Providence and in other jurisdictions. I served 25 years on the City Council and have seen firsthand what our police officers confront every day. I encourage looking at it, but be very cautious about removing certain protections, absent a proven abuse.


Powell: If I were a member of the Senate I would support neither repealing nor amending the Law Enforcement Officer’s Bill of Rights. Like all citizens, law enforcement officers are granted basic fundamental rights, and those rights should remain intact as they are faced with real, life-threatening circumstances in which our community depends on their service. Any amendments or repealing of the Law Enforcement Bill of Rights is congruent with the ideology that nurses cannot file lawsuits against patients who leave them in debilitating conditions. We [Powell works as a nurse and mental health worker] put our lives on the line, barely get by, and are scrutinized by the token few who create issues within our departments. Internal audits are necessary by the specified committees as dictated by law and the administrative agency. The Law Enforcement Officer’s Bill of Rights works.

Rivera: I want to repeal LEOBOR. Repeal is a good first step, but we also have to build a system of independent civilian oversight of our law enforcement.

4. If you were a member of the Senate, how would you vote on legislation that would allow online casino gambling, or “iGaming,” in Rhode Island?

Bissaillon: I strongly support the Senate president’s efforts to legalize “iGaming.” Rhode Island is fortunate to have been an early adopter in the sports betting space, and I believe the President Ruggerio’s laser like focus on this new frontier will generate even more revenue and jobs for our state.


Hassett: Casino gambling online — yes.

Powell: I would vote against online casino gambling or iGaming because the State of Rhode Island should be family centric and support better conditions for working people, not gimmicks. It would be too convenient and game-like, and subliminally targets disenfranchised communities wishing for a quick buck. If I were a member of the Senate, I would focus on economic security and mental health as opposed to feeding a culture of fast cash. This notion of online casino gambling, or “iGaming,” in Rhode Island, especially as a sanctuary state, will be disastrous, causing more financial burden associated with gambling. The state would benefit from investing in better schooling and more competitive labor jobs that would help our men and head of households to provide for their families.

Rivera: No, because gambling hurts people in poverty. Gambling should be legal, but expanding it to phones will only worsen the gambling addiction crisis. People can lose their homes. I wish our powerful politicians understood the impact of the laws they pass on people in poverty.

Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at Follow him @FitzProv.