Never a dull moment around here, as the 2015 General Assembly session screeched to a dramatic close this week. Thanks for stopping by. As usual, your tips and thoughts are welcome at idonnis (at) ripr (dot) org, and you follow me through the week on the Twitters. Here we go.
1. Sure, the Rhode Island House stunned observers by recently passing the fiscal 2016 budget in under three hours. The sharp impasse between the House and Senate Thursday night shows how power remains the coin of the realm on Smith Hill, and how real or perceived slights still influence legislative behavior. House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed spoke from the same playbook late Thursday night, discussing the impasse in neutral terms (We weren't getting anywhere, so let's call it a wrap), while steering clear of specifics on the root causes. Yet considering how the Senate hasn't stormed out ahead of the House in years, the move looms as a not-so-subtle message. "It was a battle of who's priorities were going to be respected," one lawmaker said. Sure, the idea of a chicken-coop bill being the final straw lends itself to endless puns and wisecracks. Yet if it wasn't that, some other less-than-earth shaking piece of legislation probably would have ended discussion of more serious things. "There were lots of things in play," laments another lawmaker, about how dozens of bills were left hanging. "It makes everyone look bad." Even if relatively few citizens pay close attention to the legislature, the question for now remains: will the Senate join the House in planning to return this fall? (See also #3)
2. These are some of the bills that were left hanging Thursday night: the Rhode Works bridge-fix plan; efforts to limit charter schools; the expiration of the state's Good Samaritan law; moving ahead with electronic voter registration; adding post-traumatic stress disorder to the qualifying conditions to use medical marijuana; creating a hemp industry; performance-based funding for state colleges (a top priority for Senate President Paiva Weed); a measure concerning welfare fraud; and of course, the chicken coop bill.
3. The Park Avenue Bridge was rated structurally deficient 19 years ago, and some locals have expressed surprise that it wasn't closed for repairs until this week. So the bridge stands as a metaphor for Rhode Island's long-overlooked infrastructure needs: overlooked until they become an acute issue. Sure, it invited speculation when the bridge was closed just before the Senate Finance Committee considered Governor Raimondo's bridge-fix plan. ("Of all the bridges, in all the towns, in all the world, why did she have to close mine," as Rick might have said in Casablanca.) Still, there's no real evidence suggesting anything other than a troubled bridge. And with Speaker Mattiello vowing to bring the House back for a fall session, and with the Senate very supportive of creating union jobs, the question on an infrastructure plan is more "what" than "when."
4. With its support this week for Obamacare and same-sex marriage, is the Supreme Court moving to the left? Here's a contrary view.
5. In some ways, the abrupt close of the General Assembly was in keeping with a session when what didn't happen (a PawSox deal, Rhode Works, the firefighters' overtime bill) was as significant as the stuff that passed.
6. Here's a progress report from Governor Raimondo on how things are going with her administration: "You know, there's always work to be done. When I came in, I inherited one of the biggest budget deficits in America, in one of the weakest economies in America. But we are on the road, we are on the road to recovery. I am very pleased to have worked collaboratively with the General Assembly to pass a budget. Specifically, they passed my jobs plan. Now we have to take the -- I asked for economic development tools, and those were passed in the budget; the Medicaid reform was passed in the budget. And now we have to implement and get Rhode Island on its road to its comeback."
8. The idea that political horse-trading goes on at the Statehouse is about as shocking as the presence of gambling at Rick's American Cafe. In the Daily Beast, Brown professor Wendy Schiller points to Lincoln Chafee's lack of fondness for deal-making as part of what weakened him as a governor: "I mean he’s not a great public communicator and he’s not interested in horse trading, and when you are governor in a state with a powerful legislature, you have to horse trade.” Yet given the conceit that deal-making doesn't take place, It was striking to some observers when Speaker Mattiello this week ruled out the possibility of horse-trading in connection with the Rhode Works' truck-toll proposal. "This is not and could never be a trade issue," Mattiello said during an interview in his office. "This is the one you have to make sure you get right."
9. The scrap between the House and the Senate calls to mind a classic quip about institutional rivalry: "Former Speaker Tip O'Neill reportedly once said to a Democratic colleague: 'Remember, the House Republicans are merely the opposition. The Senate is the enemy.' "
10. The three true outcomes of baseball are a walk, a strikeout and a home run. So are there three different outcomes for the future of the PawSox? Is there any possibility that the team, ownership's comments to the contrary notwithstanding, 1) will choose to remain at McCoy Stadium, rather than 2) going to Providence or 3) a more distant destination? Those who gathered outside the Statehouse Thursday, including Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien, certainly hope so. Not surprisingly, state Senator Donna Nesselbush (D-Pawtucket) holds the same stance: "Right now, my position is, the PawSox ought to stay put in Pawtucket," Nesselbush said on this week's RI Public Radio Bonus Q+A. I can't frankly imagine a proposal that I would support for them moving to Providence. I think that I-195 land is our future and we should use it for the purpose it was intended, which is high-paying jobs, meds and eds, and things like that. So I'd be hard-pressed to see something I could support, but as a legislator I always have an open mind." .... Meanwhile, I-195 Commission Chairman Joseph Azrack continues to meet with Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino, and the Raimondo administration is still publicly questioning whether a deal can be struck that works for taxpayers.
11. Our thoughts are with Dave Barber, the face of Capitol TV, following his hospitalization in Michigan.
12. One of the big ironies of the end of he General Assembly session: despite lawmakers' broad support for limiting charter schools, the effort fell apart due to the last-night impasse between the House and Senate. This creates breathing room for Governor Raimondo, who chose her words very carefully (avoiding "veto") when she said Monday, "I can't sign something that is designed, essentially, to end charter schools and to make it impossible to have new charters." Yet lawmakers will almost certainly revisit the charter issue sooner, if not later.
14. On Monday, June 29, the City of Providence is slated to host a delegation visit from Zhuhai, China (also known as "the Chinese Riviera.") Bryant University, which put the two cities in touch with one another, is co-sponsoring the visit. Its part of plans to sign a Cooperation & Friendship Agreement between Providence and Zhuhai.
15. Rest in peace, Donald Featherstone, creator of the pink plastic lawn flamingo, who died this week at age 79. Featherstone, a Worcester native, was fresh out of art school when he took a job at a novelties company in Leominster, Massachusetts -- "Plastic City." He created his signature bird based on a spread in National Geographic, and was pleased when they struck a chord. "Most artists have to die before anyone knows what they've done as artists. Look at poor van Gogh," Featherstone told me for a 1996 story in the (Worcester) Telegram & Gazette. "You hope that something you do is liked by someone else. What I like, more than anything else, is the humor and joy I've given to people."
16. Cheery reading for the weekend: "At what point, exactly, did mankind irrevocably put the Earth on the road to ruin?"
17. Gansett is celebrating the 10th anniversary of its rebirth. Ace beer-blogger Lou Papineau has details here (and thanks to him for linking to my 2005 story in the Providence Phoenix). With this kind of week, the idea of closing out with a "Hiya Neighbor" seems like a good idea.