She's Making a Difference

2017

Governor ceremonially signs bill creating specialty license plate that will benefit Gaspee Days Committee

STATE HOUSE — Gov. Gina Raimondo today ceremonially signed legislation (2017-H 5424, 2017-S 0363A) introduced by Rep. Joseph M. McNamara (D-Dist. 19, Warwick, Cranston) and Sen. Erin Lynch Prata (D-Dist. 31, Warwick, Cranston) to create a special fundraising license plate to benefit the Gaspee Days Committee. The ceremony took place at Aspray Boat House in Warwick, as the governor was surrounded by the bill’s sponsors, members of the Gaspee Days Committee, and members of the Pawtuxet Rangers militia.

Gaspee Days commemorates the burning of a British vessel — the HMS Gaspee — that was torched by colonial freedom-fighters in 1772, in what was one of the earliest events in the young country’s fight for independence.

“Because of the continuing interest in the annual celebration — not to mention interest in the 1772 event itself — it seems appropriate that Rhode Island should offer a license plate honoring the nation’s first blow for liberty,” said Representative McNamara, who has long supported the Gaspee Days Committee. “This is also an organization that has given so much to Rhode Island by preserving a heritage and legacy that is an integral part of our state and our nation.”

The Gaspee Days Committee is a civic-minded nonprofit organization that operates many community events in and around Pawtuxet Village, including the famous Gaspee Days Parade each June. The committee will be responsible for coming up with a design in cooperation with the Division of Motor Vehicles and the approval of the State Police.

“This plate will be a tribute to a great event and a great organization,” said Senator Lynch Prata. “The committee has worked very diligently to celebrate and educate Rhode Islanders about this seminal moment in state and American history.”

As with other specialty plates, the Gaspee Days plate will include a $40 issuance surcharge for those individuals ordering them, with $20 of that going to the Gaspee Days Committee and the other $20 going to the state’s general fund. A $10 surcharge for annual renewal of the plates would go directly to the foundation.

A minimum pre-paid order of 900 sets of plates is required before the Division of Motor Vehicles will begin issuing them.

Several veterans’ bills signed by governor

STATE HOUSE –Governor Raimondo signed several pieces of legislation involving Rhode Island’s veterans at a ceremonial bill signing held in the State Room of the State House this week.

“There is no doubt in our minds that we – as a government, as a state, as a people – owe an extraordinary debt to those who have served and are serving in our nation’s military and defending the freedom and rights we all enjoy. With that said, we cannot do enough to assist our veterans, active duty military and their spouses for they are truly a valuable asset to our community,” said Sen. Walter S. Felag, Jr., Chairman of the Senate Committee on Special Legislation and Veterans’ Affairs (D-Dist. 10, Warren, Bristol, Tiverton).

“Our veterans have bravely sacrificed so much for us all and they deserve to be treated as the heroes they are, with dignity, gratitude, and respect. I will never stop fighting for veterans’ rights up at the State House because they deserve nothing less after fighting for us all,” said Rep. Samuel A. Azzinaro, Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs (D-Dist. 37, Westerly).

The first bill (2017-H 6061aa / 2017-S 1000), sponsored by Chairman Azzinaro and Sen. James A. Seveney (D-Dist. 11, Portsmouth, Bristol, Tiverton), designates October 23rd as a day to commemorate the nine Rhode Island marines killed in the 1983 terrorist attack in Beirut, Lebanon.

“These nine heroes from Rhode Island committed the ultimate sacrifice to defend the principles and ideals that America so cherishes. They deserve our commemoration and our respect and this day will memorialize their honor and duty to our country that these brave marines so thoroughly deserve,” said Senator Seveney.

The second bill (2017-H 5280A / 2017-S 0085A), sponsored by Rep. Michael A. Morin (D-Dist. 49, Woonsocket) and Sen. Marc A. Cote (D-Dist. 24, Woonsocket, North Smithfield), gives veteran-owned small businesses a preference in the state purchasing process, akin to the benefit that is awarded women-owned and minority-owned businesses. The legislation sets a goal that at least 3 percent of the total value of all state contracts available to businesses in each fiscal year be awarded to those owned by veterans.

“A veteran’s preference is a way to use the power of state contracts in a way that upholds our state’s values of supporting our veterans. But we think it’s also a smart investment for the state. Veterans have already proven themselves disciplined, hard workers who are committed to the job. That’s exactly what we should be looking for when we sign contracts,” said Representative Morin.

“Rhode Islanders are very appreciative of veterans. I’m sure our citizens will be proud that the state contracts that their tax dollars fund will have the additional benefit of supporting veterans under this bill,” said Senator Cote, who has been pushing for the bill since 2014. “One of the best ways our state can thank veterans for the sacrifices they made for our country is to help ensure they are employed after they are discharged. A veterans’ preference in state contracts is a way we can leverage the state’s buying power to do just that and help veteran-owned businesses succeed.”

The third bill (2017-H 5766A / 2017-S 0540A), sponsored by Rep. Julie A. Casimiro (D-Dist. 31, North Kingstown, Exeter) and Sen. Erin Lynch Prata (D-Dist. 31, Warwick, Cranston), expands the eligibility of Gold Star license plates by making the plate available to not only the parents of deceased military members killed in action, but also to other family members who are eligible to receive a gold star lapel button, which include widows or widowers, step or adoptive parents, children or stepchildren, and siblings or half-siblings.

“It is important that we not only recognize our brave men and women of the armed forces, but also their family members who sacrifice just as much as their fallen kin. These license plates will serve as a reminder of the true cost of freedom we enjoy in this country,” said Representative Casimiro.

“This is a small token to honor not only our brave men and women who have committed the ultimate sacrifice in battle, but also to their family members who have lost their loved ones while they defend and fight for our country and our freedoms abroad,” said Senator Lynch Prata.

The fourth bill (2017-H 6315 / 2017-S 0816), sponsored by Rep. Camille Vella-Wilkinson (D-Dist. 21, Warwick) and Chairman Felag, provides for amendments to the veterans' services strategic plan advisory committee to provide effective support for veterans and to collaborate and coordinate existing state, federal, and private veterans' services to meet and exceed the needs and expectations of Rhode Island veterans and their families.

The fifth bill (2017-H 6342 / 2017-S 0984), sponsored by Chairman Azzinaro and Chairman Felag, names one of the two conference rooms in the new Rhode Island Veterans Home as the "1st Sergeant P. Andrew McKenna US Army 7th Special Forces Group Memorial Conference Room." First Sergeant Peter Andrew McKenna, Jr., a seventeen year veteran of the Army and a Bristol resident, was killed in August of 2015 while serving his country in Afghanistan.

The last bill (2017-H 6341 / 2017-S 0985), also sponsored by Chairman Azzinaro and Chairman Felag, names the other of the two conference rooms in the new Rhode Island Veterans Home as the "S. Michael Minutelli Memorial Conference Room.” S. Michael Minutelli was a Bristol resident, veteran, and a Veterans Advocate for Vietnam Era Veterans Association of America up until his death in 2012.

At a ceremonial bill signing at the State House, Governor Raimondo, joined by sponsors and supporters of the legislation, signed several bills relating to Rhode Island’s veterans

Bills supporting clean energy growth signed into law

NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. -Flanked by General Assembly sponsors, Governor Gina M. Raimondo signed into law today several bills promoting clean energy growth in Rhode Island.

Sponsors of the bills include Rep. Lauren H. Carson (D-Dist. 75, Newport), Rep. Aaron Regunberg (D-Dist. 4, Providence), Rep. Deborah Ruggiero (D-Dist. 74, Jamestown, Middletown), Rep. Robert E. Craven (D-Dist. 32, North Kingstown), Rep. Kenneth A. Marshall (D-Dist. 68, Bristol, Warren), Rep. Arthur Handy (D-Dist. 18, Cranston), Sen. Louis P. DiPalma (D-Dist. 12, Middletown, Newport, Little Compton, Tiverton), Sen. Erin Lynch Prata (D-Dist. 31, Warwick, Cranston), Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski (D-Dist. 31, South Kingstown, New Shoreham), and Sen. William J. Conley Jr. (D-Dist. 18, East Providence, Pawtucket). State Energy Commissioner Carol Grant and Department of Environmental Management Director Janet Coit also attended the ceremony.

The signing ceremony follows the passage of the following bills:

Provides a 10-year extension of the renewable energy growth program
Bills: H5274A, S112A
Sponsors: Representative Ruggiero, Senator Conley

Establishes a streamlined statewide solar permitting application process
Bills: H5575, S562
Sponsors: Representative Carson, Senator Lynch Prata

Streamlines process of connecting renewable energy installations to the grid
Bills: H5483B, S637A
Sponsors: Representative Marshall, Senator DiPalma

Allows farmers to install a renewable energy system on no more than 20 percent of their total farm land acreage
Bills: H6095Aaa, S570A
Sponsors: Representative Handy, Senator Sosnowski

Expands virtual net metering for renewable project development
Bill: H5618Aaa
Sponsor: Representative Regunberg

"In 2014 when I stood on the House floor and asked my colleagues to support the Renewable Energy Growth Program and energy efficiency, I never imagined it would be this successful with over 15,000 new jobs in the state," says Rep. Deborah L. Ruggiero, who serves as the chairwoman for the House Finance Subcommittee on Environment and Transportation."Extending the REG program will add to the 38 commercial projects and the 1,500 homeowners who have installed solar panels to save on their electricity bills. It will also cause National Grid to lock into predictable electricity prices for decades, keeping electricity costs down."

"It wasn't too long ago that legislation to benefit the environment was viewed as inconsistent with legislation to improve our economy," said Senator Sosnowski, who serves as chairwoman for the Senate Committee on Environment and Agriculture. "We've come a long way. The bills we are celebrating today are good for both the environment and the economy. They build on work we have undertaken over the past several years to support the renewable energy industry and the creation of green jobs while containing energy costs for businesses and homeowners."

The ceremonial bill signing took place in front of a ground-mounted solar array at the Quonset Business Park. The Quonset Development Corporation (QDC), which runs the Park, is currently working on a new 400,000-square-foot rooftop solar array and a separate land-based array on Davisville Road that will generate enough power to meet the full energy needs for the agency. Once complete, the green energy project will produce approximately 2 million kilowatt hours (kWhrs) of energy. Home to more than 200 companies and 11,000 jobs, Quonset is a leading driver of economic development and job growth for Rhode Island.

"We have made so much progress toward our clean energy and environmental goals, and this legislation will help us build on that momentum," Governor Raimondo said. "By streamlining permitting processes, simplifying land value taxation policy of renewables on farm lands and providing long-term stability to our renewable energy programs, we are taking important steps toward fostering a stronger clean energy economy."

In March, Governor Raimondo announced a goal to increase Rhode Island's clean energy output tenfold by 2020, supporting 20,000 clean energy jobs in the process. The state is rapidly moving toward this goal, as the 2017 Clean Energy Industry Report counts more than 15,300 clean energy workers across the Ocean State. Clean energy employment has grown by 66 percent since 2014, and 11 percent just over the last year.

Sen. Lynch Prata's bill to expand eligibility for Gold Star Families license plate signed into law

STATE HOUSE – Legislation introduced by Sen. Erin Lynch Prata (D-Dist. 31, Warwick, Cranston) and Rep. Julie A. Casimiro (D-Dist. 31, North Kingstown, Exeter) that would expand the eligibility for a special license plate for Gold Star Families was signed into law by the governor.

“This is a small token to honor not only our brave men and women who have committed the ultimate sacrifice in battle, but also to their family members who have lost their loved ones while they defend and fight for our country and our freedoms abroad,” said Senator Lynch Prata, Chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Judiciary.

“It is important that we not only recognize our brave men and women of the armed forces, but also their family members who sacrifice just as much as their fallen kin. These license plates will serve as a reminder of the true cost of freedom we enjoy in this country,” said Representative Casimiro.

The legislation (2017-S 0540A / 2017-H 5766A) expands the eligibility by making the plate available to not only the parents of deceased military members killed in action, but also to other family members who are eligible to receive a gold star lapel button, which include widows or widowers, step or adoptive parents, children or stepchildren, and siblings or half-siblings. According to the legislation, applicants will not be required to pay a service charge or a transfer charge for each plate. Only one set of plates will be issued to an eligible family member and only after satisfactory documentation of eligibility has been determined.

Sen. Lynch Prata's grandparent rights bill passes General Assembly

STATE HOUSE – Sen. Erin Lynch Prata (D-Dist. 31, Warwick, Cranston) and Rep. John J. Lombardi’s (D-Dist. 8, Providence) legislation (2017-S 0383 / 2017-H 5903) that establishes guidelines for the Family Court to use in order to decide on petitions for visitation by grandparents passed the General Assembly tonight.

“Most importantly, this legislation is based upon the best interests of the child when there is a court petition for grandparent visitation. The guidelines for the court established in this bill will ensure that the best interests of the child will always be the main focus of any decision regarding visitation,” said Senator Lynch Prata, Chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Judiciary.

“This bill is about protecting the best interests of the child and whether seeing their grandparents would be good or bad for the child and it gives the courts the proper tools to make this determination to avoid any harm coming to the child,” said Representative Lombardi.

The guidelines to determine what is in the child’s best interest set forth in the legislation include the nature of the relationship between the child and the grandparents seeking visitation; the amount of time the grandparent and the child spent together; the potential detriments and benefits to the child of granting visitation; the potential effect of granting visitation on the parent-child relationship; the preferences of the child if the child is of sufficient intelligence, understanding and experience to express a preference in the matter; and the reasons that the parent or parents believe that it is not in their child’s best interests to have visitation with the grandparents.

The legislation also states that each petition must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

The bill now heads to the governor for consideration.

Sen. Lynch Prata's statewide municipal solar permit bill signed into law

STATE HOUSE – Sen. Erin Lynch Prata (D-Dist. 31, Warwick, Cranston) and Rep. Lauren H. Carson’s legislation (2017-S 0562 / 2017-H 5575) to create a statewide solar permit application has been signed into law by Governor Gina M. Raimondo.

The bill would require the Rhode Island Office of Energy Resources, in conjunction with the RI Building Commission, to create rules and regulations to formulate a statewide solar energy permit application.

“Clean and green energy is the future of our energy infrastructure and solar is one of the more promising technologies in this emerging field. In order to protect our environment and grow these green energy jobs of the future, we as a state must offer a predictable and universal path toward installing solar energy systems and this legislation accomplishes this goal,” said Senator Lynch Prata.

“The need for clean, green, and renewable energy sources is only rising by the day and this legislation will enable our residents and businesses to utilize this technology in an easy and foreseeable manner, hopefully setting the stage for many more solar installations in our state,” said Representative Carson.

The legislation is an effort to streamline the statewide permitting process for the installation of solar systems that removes unnecessary regulatory barriers, resulting in a predictable and less-costly process for solar developers. The single permit would encompass both building and electric permits for solar energy systems with Rhode Island’s municipalities.

The cosponsors of the legislation are Sen. Joshua Miller (D-Dist. 28, Cranston, Providence) and Sen. Hanna M. Gallo (D-Dist. 27, Cranston, West Warwick), Rep. Aaron Regunberg (D-Dist. 4, Providence), Rep. Deborah L. Ruggiero (D-Dist. 74, Jamestown, Middletown), and Rep. Susan R. Donovan (D-Dist. 69, Bristol. Portsmouth).

Package of election legislation heads to Governor Raimondo for signature

STATE HOUSE – A package of legislation that aims to make election days in Rhode Island run more efficiently and smoother is heading to Governor Raimondo’s desk for signature after passing both the House of Representatives and the Senate tonight. The three bills deal with primary officials, instruction on new voting machines, and election equipment availability.

“Efficient, seamless, and accessible elections are the bedrock of our democratic society and these bills will further improve the voting process for our state’s voters. We must adapt to changing times and new technologies to ensure our elections run as smooth as possible and these bills will accomplish this crucial goal,” said Sen. Erin Lynch Prata, Chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Judiciary (D-Dist. 31, Warwick, Cranston).

The first bill (2017-S 0793A / 2017-H 6008aa), sponsored by Senator Lynch Prata and Rep. Camille Vella-Wilkinson (D-Dist. 21, Warwick) that passed the Senate tonight would allow a person appointed as a primary official to be an employee of the United States, of this state, or of any city or town of this state. The bill is a response to a lack of poll workers on primary election days.

“Our elections cannot run properly if our polling sites are not adequately staffed. This bill will ensure that the proper amount of support staff is available to the voters on Election Day, thus allowing the voters to utilize their right to vote in the easiest way possible,” said Representative Vella-Wilkinson.

The second bill (2017-S 0794 / 2017-H 5701), sponsored by Senator Lynch Prata and Rep. Joseph J. Solomon, Jr. (D-Dist. 22, Warwick) gives local boards discretion to designate times and places where optical scan voting equipment and sample ballots are exhibited for instructional purposes. This legislation is in response to confusion over how new voting machines operated during the last election cycle and hopes to rectify long wait times and confusion as a result of the new voting machines.

“When new state-of-the-art equipment is used, confusion always takes place in how to use the new technology and voting machines are no different. This bill will allow our voters to educate themselves about how these new machines work so that on Election Day, they can vote as easily and quickly as possible,” said Representative Solomon.

The third bill (2017-S 0802 / 2017-H 5703), sponsored by Senator Lynch Prata and Rep. Helder J. Cunha (D-Dist. 64, East Providence) requires that election supplies furnished by the Board of Elections would be delivered to or picked up by the proper officer as determined by the board no later than 12 p.m. on the day before the election in order to adequately set up and become acquainted with the election materials and equipment before election day.

“Our election staffers cannot help the public on Election Day if they are not familiar with the new technology and procedures of our voting machines. This bill ensures that election staff have an adequate amount of time to educate themselves regarding the new voting machines so that they are able to assist the public properly on Election Day,” said Representative Cunha.