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RI State Report: Gay Marriage, Spending Cuts and a Powerless EDC?

Saturday, February 23, 2013

 

This week’s State Report centers around RI business leaders taking a stand and State Reps targeting the EDC and 'benevolent gestures.'

Although marriage equality has been largely absent from the news cycle since it passed in the House last month, it reentered the headlines this week thanks to a coalition of business leaders urging the General Assembly to approve the bill for economic reasons.

Otherwise, this week’s State Report centers on a pair of new House bills, one of which looks to limit the power of the EDC and another that would allow doctors to apologize for their mistakes without the fear of facing legal ramifications. Lastly, we’ll examine the $2.1 million in federal aid, which the state is set to receive and how pending national defense cuts will impact Rhode Islanders.

Business leaders enter gay marriage debate

One month after gay marriage passed in the House, the debate has now entered the boardroom. On Thursday, a group of 60 business leaders, led by former Hasbro CEO Alan Hassenfeld, endorsed same-sex marriage legislation pending in the General Assembly.

According to Hassenfeld, legalizing gay marriage would attract workers and employers that might otherwise head to Massachusetts or Connecticut.

“This is about competiveness and creating an economic climate that allows Rhode Island to attract the best and brightest talent and employers,” Hassenfeld said. “To be competitive, a state must create an equitable, fair and respectful environment for all of its citizens. From a business point of view, passing marriage equality just makes good sense.”

Although Hassenfeld and other executives from companies like CVS Caremark and The Providence Journal argue that marriage equality will offer an economic advantage to the state, opponents to the legislation argue otherwise.

“I won’t deny that same-sex couples will by rings and flowers and will spend money here,” Chris Plante, director of the state chapter of the National Organization for Marriage told the Associated Press this week. “But the idea of an economic boon is a fallacy.

Marriage equality passed in the House in January, but awaits approval in the Senate.

Shekarchi proposes bill to limit EDC power

A new bill proposed by Rep. Joseph Shekarchi looks to provide the state and its taxpayers greater financial protection by limiting the power of the RI Economic Development Corporation. On Wednesday, Rep. Shekarchi (D-Dist. 23, Warwick) introduced legislation that would prohibit the quasi-public agency from guaranteeing any loans.

“The legislation is not about 38 Studios, specifically, but we certainly learned, painfully, from that situation what the financial implications can be when a quasi-public agency guarantees loans on behalf of the state,” Shekarchi said. “EDC has a role to play in the economic well-being of Rhode Island, but I believe there needs to be boundaries regarding fiscal matters beyond which the corporation is not allowed to go.”

The legislation specifies that the EDC will no longer be able to guarantee any loan or obligation, nor can it promise the faith or credit of the state or any of its subdivisions.

Despite his objections to certain EDC practices, Shekarchi does acknowledge the value of the agency.

“The EDC is the point agency for promoting Rhode Island, attracting and growing businesses that create jobs for our citizens,” he said. “We need a strong, well-functioning EDC but not one that acts with the kind of uncontrolled autonomy that leads to situations such as the 38 Studios mess.”

Rep. Shekarchi’s bill, (2013-H5463) will now make its way to the House Committee on Finance.

House reintroduces ‘benevolent gestures’ bill

Should doctors who express sympathy for their patients be exposed to potential lawsuits?

Legislation that would allow doctors to apologize for mistakes without opening themselves up to a malpractice lawsuit has once again been introduced in the Rhode Island General Assembly. On Wednesday, Rep. Joseph McNamara (D-Dist. 19, Warwick, Cranston) reintroduced the bill, which would allow doctors or caregivers to say, “I’m sorry” without the fear of facing legal ramifications.

“Unfortunately, in a world where almost anything can lead to litigation, showing sympathy can too easily be seen as an admission of error or even guilt, especially in a healthy care setting,” McNamara said. “The threat of legal action should not prevent a doctor or other medical professional from expressing sympathy to or commiserating with a patient or a member of a patient’s family.”

The bill failed last year, despite the testimony of actor James Woods in favor of the legislation. In 2009, Woods sued Kent Hospital claiming that emergency room staff was negligent, which led to the death of his brother Michael. Woods testified in favor of the “benevolent gestures” bill because his family received a sincere apology from the hospital’s president following his brother’s death.

The legislation has been referred to the House Committee on Judiciary.

RI may suffer $34 million in Pentagon civilian cuts

Rhode Island could be facing roughly $34.1 million in Defense Department civilian payroll cuts if automatic defense cuts take place March 1, according to the Pentagon. On Wednesday, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told Congress that if a budget deal isn’t reached the majority of the nation’s 800,000 civilian workers will face a pay cut. Specifically, they’d lose one day of work per week, which is about 20 percent of their pay.

“In the event of sequestration we will do everything we can to be able to continue to perform our core mission of providing for the security of the United States, but there is no mistaking that the rigid nature of the cuts forced upon this department, and their scale, will result in a serious erosion of readiness across the force,” Panetta wrote.

Pentagon data shows that Rhode Island’s civilian payroll for the 2012 fiscal year was $403 million, and about $368.9 million for 2013.

States like Virginia, California, Maryland, Georgia and Texas would be hit the hardest by civilian payroll cuts.

RI eligible for $2.1 million in food assistance

On Thursday, Sen. Jack Reed announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture would provide Rhode Island with up to $2.1 million in federal aid to assist citizens hit hardest by this month’s winter storm. According to Sen. Reed, the replacement of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits could help an estimated 20,400 household throughout the state.

“I comment USDA for speeding this assistance to Rhode Island and being responsive to the needs of our communities that were hit hard by this snow storm,” Reed said. “The power outages from this storm took a heavy toll on some of our most vulnerable citizens, particularly seniors and low-income families. This federal funding will help those who are still struggling to replenish food that spoiled due to the storm.”

As a result of the Feb. 8 storm, Rhode Island applied for a waiver from the federal government to issue replacement cards for people receiving SNAP benefits who lost food because of the storm. The affected communities are: Barrington, Bristol, Central Falls, Charlestown, East Providence, Exeter, Hopkinton, Jamestown, Little Compton, Middletown, Narragansett, Newport, North Kingstown, Portsmouth, Richmond, South Kingstown, Tiverton, Warren and Westerly.

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this article did not correctly source the quote from Christopher LaPlante to the Associate Press story on gay marriage. We apologize for the error.

 

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