Eliminating a $200 million deficit, supporting better public schools, improving the state’s housing stock and reducing the threat of gun violence are among the challenges facing Rhode Island lawmakers in their 2020 session.

State representatives and state senators returned to the Statehouse Tuesday for the first day of the new legislative year.

While the first day is long on formality and renewing longstanding relationships, House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio signaled their stances on a handful of key issues.

Mattiello started his Opening Day speech by welcoming reps to a newly restored House chamber, meant to approximate the designs of 1904.

Moving on to Rhode Island’s $10 billion budget, Mattiello vowed that the House will craft a balanced spending plan “that addresses all of society’s needs.

In a thinly veiled shot at Gov. Gina Raimondo, who is set to present her latest budget proposal on January 16, Mattiello said, ["W]e hope that her administration is following corrective action plans to tighten their spending in some departments.” He said the Finance and Oversight committees will conduct hearings to scrutinize departmental budgets.

In the aftermath of a recent mass shooting, Mattiello – a strong supporter of gun rights – also said more steps are needed to protect Rhode Islanders from gun violence.

“This year we will take a close look at adding provisions to our background check laws to require police chiefs in each community where the person attempting to purchase a gun resides to review applications,” he said. “We will also be looking at banning 3-D printed guns and ‘ghost guns.’ ”

Across the Statehouse, Senate President Dominick Ruggerio said education “remains at the top of our agenda.”

“We enacted significant education reforms last year,” he said. “We will be monitoring the implementation of these reforms as we seek to build upon that foundation with initiatives that support students and teachers. Among the areas we will look to improve are strengthening civics education and financial literacy, increasing funding for English Language Learners, and implementing programs to attract teachers in hard to fill areas like math, science and world languages.”

Ruggerio said housing will get more attention from the Senate this year, possibly with bond funding or some other revenue stream.

“We can’t grow an economy without adequate housing options at all price points,” he said. “It’s not possible for the population to grow if housing construction is stagnant, particularly in a place like Rhode Island, which has among the oldest housing stocks in the nation. We need to explore ways to remove barriers to the construction of new housing and the rehabilitation of older housing.”

Earlier, a diverse array of religious leaders staged an interfaith vigil in the Statehouse rotunda, calling on elected officials to do more to help poor Rhode Islanders with needs like food, jobs, and healthcare.

Gov. Raimondo was among the officeholders speaking at the event.

She reiterated her support for driver’s licenses for undocumented Rhode Islanders, something she touted as a candidate in 2014 yet that remains elusive for supporters.

Raimondo also spoke out against intolerance.

“Really what’s troubling is the rise in religious intolerance, anti-semitism, anger, hatred, divisiveness,” the governor said. “You see it everywhere. Every time you see it, stand up against it. Every time you hear it, speak out against it.”

Rhode Island’s part-time legislature generally meets three days a week from January through June.

This is an election year for the 112 members of the House and Senate. One seat is currently vacant in the House, due to the recent resignation of Shelby Maldonado, formerly a Democrat from Central Falls.

Republicans, who hold just nine seats in the 75-member House, and five in the 38-member Senate, hope to make gains in elections later this year.