Good News and Bad from State Legislature

The Good News:
Senate Judiciary Committee Votes to Abolish Master Lever in January 2015

On Thursday night the Senate Judiciary Committee amended the legislation to abolish the straight party vote to delay enactment by one election, but agreed to let it go to the Senate floor for a vote. If it passes the Senate, it will need to go back to the House for another vote. The House had approved the removal of the straight party vote to be enacted immediately.

The stated reason for the delay is that the public can’t be educated on the change in time for the 2014 election. Explaining how the Master Lever works, and all the possible combinations that can cause a ballot to be miss-marked if the straight party choice is selected, takes several pages in the booklet that the Secretary of State mails to each voter before the election. Explaining that the option is removed and that voters must now mark their ballots themselves, takes just this one line. To all of the speakers at Thursday night’s hearing, keeping the lever for one more year would be far more confusing than removing it now.

Despite the logic of removing the straight party choice as soon as possible, the Senate is reluctant to let go. So we have it for one more election, and then perhaps future elections will have fewer canceled and miss-marked ballots. And that is something to cheer about.

The Bad News:
House Strips November Ballot Open Space Bond Question of Open Space Funding

The Rhode Island Audubon has reported that on Thursday night the General Assembly adopted the new state Budget without any funding in the upcoming state Bond for local open space grants or the RI Dept of Environmental Management’s Land Conservation Program.

The House voted to approve a $53 million “Clean Water, Open Space and Healthy Communities” Bond, as submitted by House Finance Committee, without funding to protect wild places in Rhode Island.

There was a floor debate about adding $3 million in funding for Local Open Space Grants back into the Bond proposal. Representative Chippendale offered a floor amendment to add the $3 million back into the bond. Republican representatives Newberry (Minority Leader) and Morgan spoke to support the amendment as did Democratic Representatives Finn and Tanzi.

Representative Tomasso and DeSimone (Majority Leader) along with House Finance Committee Chair Gallison spoke in opposition to the amendment.

In the end, 24 of the 75 representatives voted in favor of the floor amendment, which showed great backbone since the new House Leadership opposed the amendment.

The bright side is that there is funding in the Bond for farmland protection and soccer fields.

Birds and wildlife … not so bright.

As adopted: the “Clean Water, Open Space and Healthy Communities” Bond referendum (not sure why Open Space is still in the name … George Orwell would be proud) that people will vote on in November provides for:

– Brownfield Remediation and Economic Development $5,000,000 (Provides up to eighty percent (80%) matching grants to public, private, and/or non-profit entities for brownfield remediation projects.)

– Flood Prevention $3,000,000
(To provide grants to public and/or non-profit entities for project design and construction grants for repairing and/or removing dams, restoring and/or improving resiliency of vulnerable coastal habitats, and restoring rivers and stream floodplains.)

– Farmland Protection $3,000,000

– Local Recreation Grants $4,000,000
(Provides up to eighty percent (80%) matching grant funds to municipalities to acquire, develop, or rehabilitate local recreational facilities to meet the growing needs for active recreational facilities.)

– Roger Williams Park Zoo $15,000,000
(Provides funds for improvements and renovations to the Roger Williams Park Zoo.)

– Roger Williams Park $3,000,000
(Provides funds for improvements and renovations to the Roger Williams Park.)

– Clean Water Finance Agency $20,000,000