House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio on Wednesday gave an extensive preview of the General Assembly’s dash to the finish, breaking news and outlining their priorities on a number of topics in front of a studio audience.
Their comments came at a live taping of the Rhode Island Report, marking the 100th episode of the podcast hosted by our very own Ed Fitzpatrick. Ed was joined by Jim Ludes, host of Rhode Island PBS’ “Story in the Public Square,” in questioning Shekarchi and Ruggerio.
They made a lot of news, and you’ll soon be able to listen to the full podcast.
One thing they helped clarify is which proposals do or do not have a good chance of passing in their chambers.
What’s (potentially) happening
⚓ Changes to the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights.
”I believe you will see some action on LEOBOR,” Shekarchi said. “I’m not 100 percent committed, but I think we’re closer than we’ve ever been.”
⚓ Expanding shore access.
”I think we can come to an agreement and I hope we can satisfy the public by doing that and avoid any kind of constitutional challenge,” Ruggerio said.
⚓ A new role for Neil Steinberg?
A dispatch from my colleague Alexa Gagosz: “Shekarchi recently introduced legislation that would create a life sciences quasi-public agency. His proposal calls for the agency to be led by a board of directors, all of whom would be appointed by the governor, where at least one person has a background in banking, grant making, and fundraising fields. Neil Steinberg, who just retired as CEO and president of the Rhode Island Foundation at the stroke of midnight, ‘would be my first call,’ said Shekarchi. Steinberg told me he would consider chairing the agency.”
⚓ Definitely happening: climate change.
The last time we got legislative leaders together, then-speaker Nick Mattiello downplayed Rhode Island’s ability to do anything meaningful about climate change. Ruggerio and Shekarchi both disagreed with that.
What’s (probably) not happening
⚓ A bottle bill.
”I don’t think we’re ready for a bottle bill this year,” Ruggerio said, but he’d like to see a study commission – which could include looking at a controversial process called high-heat pyrolysis.
Nearby states do have bottle bills, but “you can’t say they’re litter free,” Shekarchi said.
⚓ An assault weapons ban.
”I think if you’re going to ban assault weapons, you have to ban it nationally,” Ruggerio said, drawing some boos from a crowd that included gun control activists.
Shekarchi, for his part, left open the possibility that some sort of gun legislation would pass this year.
⚓ A smoking ban in casinos, which some workers have pushed.
”Those are the terms and conditions under which they accepted the jobs,” Ruggerio said. He pointed to HVAC upgrades as a potential solution.
Check back later
What’s in the budget? Will the Environmental Justice Act pass the House? On these and other issues, Ruggerio and Shekarchi were noncommittal. We’ll see.
This story first appeared in Rhode Map, our free newsletter about Rhode Island that also contains information about local events, links to interesting stories, and more. If you’d like to receive it via e-mail Monday through Friday, you can sign up here.