What was billed as listening session by three Warwick legislators Saturday morning started with gun control and continued with rapid fire questions about recycling, taxes, litter, education, plans to …
What was billed as listening session by three Warwick legislators Saturday morning started with gun control and continued with rapid fire questions about recycling, taxes, litter, education, plans to build new high schools, rail safety, racism and how to address fascism.
“You don’t want to wake up and hear about our schools,” said retired Providence Teacher Pearl Holloway who has returned to the classroom to help meet the shortage of teachers.
Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi told the packed room in the Central Public Library he expected heated debate on both sides of the issue of limiting guns this week, adding “I’m not afraid to pass gun legislation.” He pointed to the House approved legislation limiting the size of gun magazines last year that didn’t make it through the Senate.
Prior to addressing gun legislation, Senator Mark McKenney, co-sponsor of the session, emphasized the meeting was designed to hear constituent concerns, not “to make speeches.” Like Speaker Shekarchi, he said gun control legislation and in particular applying to assault weapons would come before committee this week. Citing the January arrest of a Burrillville man who was charged with lying to federal authorities about his drug use when he amassed a collection of more than 200 guns, McKenney said he favors a bill limiting an individual to the purchase of one gun per month.
Local activist Robert Cote used the meeting to promote legislation he advocates requiring candidates for public office to disclose defaults on credit cards in their financial reports. The 11-word amendment to the existing law gained committee approval in the House and has Shekarchi’s support. Cote wanted to know if McKenney would introduce a companion bill in the Senate.
“I’d like to be king, but I’m not,” Shekarchi told Cote to laughs.
McKenney pointed out the period to introduce bills in the senate has expired, and that Senate President Dominick Ruggerio is reluctant to extend it. Nonetheless, he observed, should the House pass the measure it would go to the Senate regardless of a companion bill and could be voted on.
Cote said according to his information, in response to inflation, the school administration has significantly reduced plans for new Pilgrim and Toll Gate High Schools from what the public was shown when asked to vote on the $350 million bond question on the November ballot. His questioned whether the administration could alter plans when voters approved a different plan.
“Can they still use it,” he asked of the bond that the council has not released.
Shekarchi said that is a question for the city’s bond counsel, Karen Grande. But he agreed, “the price of everything is going up including new schools.” He said the city can’t increase the amount of the bond.
The discussion fanned the ire of James Italiane He likened the proposal to build the new schools “as selling you a $10 bill for $5” (the state would reimburse the city 52.5% of the schools). He said the new schools are being promoted “for no good reason” and taxpayers will be saddled with the bill. Citing poor test results, he questioned school performance and its high costs. He put that as a priority.
$1.1 billion debt
What taxpayers can afford was also on the minds of Cote and Don Fife. Fife said the city’s indebtedness is $1.1 billion. He questioned who would put the city into receivership. Shekarchi said former RI Supreme Court Justice Robert Flanders, who acted as receiver for Central Falls would be a good source.
Referring to the severity of the city’s financial position, Shekarchi said, “It depends on your point of view.” Shekarchi said city fiscal matters are best addressed to the City Council and the mayor when the budget is reviewed.
“The math doesn’t lie,” said Cote, “we’re on a fiscal course headed for disaster.”
Response to racist fliers
The legislators called incidents where racist and anti-Semitic flyers were distributed last year in Oakland Beach abhorrent in response to a question from a woman who wanted to be identified only as Sara for fear of retribution. She said she had been beaten by fascists for seeking to expose them while living in Boston. She asked why legislators hadn’t rallied to express their disapproval when the incidents occurred.
McKenney and Shekarchi said Police Chief Bradford Connor warned them not to do so as it would play into the hands of the groups responsible. Shekarchi said he was told “to ignore it and it will go away.”
In response, a community group planned a lighting of the Menorah on Oakland Beach. The event, attended by McKenney and city officials, was hosted by Iggy’s Boardwalk because of bad weather. McKenney feels more should be done to focus attention on the issue and see those responsible for such actions to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
“It’s up to the community to stand up,” he said
Rail safety was on the mind of one attendee who inquired whether the city and state is prepared in the event of a hazardous chemical spill as has happened in derailments in other parts of the country. Shekarchi didn’t have an answer about state or local plans, but noted railroads are federally controlled as it is interstate commerce and he imagined materials transported by rail are carefully regulated.
“I’d like to see more of my friends stay in Rhode Island,” said Faith LaSalle explaining that Rhode Island estate taxes are driving residents to live in Florida and New Hampshire. Expanding on the issue of taxes, McKenney observed Rhode Island is one of eight states that taxes Social Security benefits, albeit on benefits in excess of $30,000. He advocates completely dropping state income taxes on Social Security benefits. As for the estate tax, he pointed out the first $1.7 million in assets is exempt from the RI estate taxes and there are efforts to increase the exemption to the federal level of $12 million.