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1. Voters rarely express satisfaction with the General Assembly’s modus operandi, especially in the final days of session when vote-a-minute marathons are the norm. Republicans like Brian Newberry and occasional Democrats like Jared Nunes have long argued that changing the House rules is necessary to cut down on abuses. Now the 19 House Democrats who call themselves the Reform Caucus have offered four proposed fixes, including publishing amended bills 48 hours before a final vote; right now, bills are sometimes amended and approved almost simultaneously. For South Kingstown Democrat Kathy Fogarty, the breaking point was when leadership overhauled last year’s pay-equity bill and called a vote right away. “I remember the sponsor, Representative [Susan] Donovan, trying to read that quickly as it was up on the floor being voted on,” Fogarty said on this week’s Newsmakers. “Nobody really got a chance to read that bill.” For Barrington Democrat Jason Knight, it was the House’s 11th-hour consideration of the PawSox bill. “I think we could have done a lot better,” he said. There’s no sign Speaker Mattiello agrees: on Friday he released his own proposed rules, backed by a majority of the House, and called an unusually early hearing on them for Tuesday in a committee that excludes the entire Reform Caucus. (Mattiello’s rules do include a proposal for handling future sexual-harassment allegations in the wake of the Cale Keable scandal.) The efforts by the Reform Caucus and the Republicans may not be in vain, however; they have laid the groundwork to pressure Mattiello’s successor for a less centralized process. On the other side of the State House, Senate President Ruggerio appears to be in less of a rush, though he too is sure to face pressure for rules changes from Sens. Donna Nesselbush and Sam Bell. A Senate spokesperson said Ruggerio’s proposed rules will be out in the next few weeks.
2. Something to look for as soon as next week: legislative committee assignments. That’s particularly true in the House, where Speaker Mattiello will presumably shake up rosters to deal with the 19 Democrats who didn’t vote for him (and reward some of the 47 who did). There is at least one plum chairmanship available in each chamber: House Judiciary needs a new leader to replace Cale Keable, and Senate Labor needs one to succeed Paul Fogarty. (And based on her name disappearing from her office door, it looks like Kathy Fogarty will no longer be chairing House Municipal Government.)
3. Along with the pomp and circumstance, inauguration week also means scene-setter speeches from Smith Hill’s big three, Governor Raimondo, Speaker Mattiello and Senate President Ruggerio. Unlike the two legislative leaders, Raimondo has another big address right around the corner — her Jan. 15 State of the State — so she generally stuck to bigger-picture themes and reprises of her campaign promises. It appears the possibility of a recession is on the governor’s mind; three times during the speech, she mentioned the need for Rhode Island to be more economically “resilient.” Mattiello and Ruggerio stuck mostly to policy, though the Senate president proudly noted his chamber includes a record number of women for the new year. Mattiello said his top priority is continuing the car tax phaseout, while also giving a mention to raising the minimum wage; lowering the estate tax; tackling the opioid crisis; and increasing school safety. Ruggerio said he wants to spur more development, add workplace protections for women, codify Obamacare regulations in state law, and crack down on elder abuse. Also clear from the two Assembly leaders: the poor RICAS results have pushed K-12 higher up on the 2019 agenda.
4. The start of the General Assembly’s legislative session also heralds the start of the General Assembly’s fundraising season. And hopefully Smith Hill lobbyists like the food and drink at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Warwick, because that’s where all four Democratic leaders are having their must-attend receptions: Speaker Mattiello on Jan. 24, Senate President Ruggerio on Jan. 31, House Majority Leader Joe Shekarchi on Feb. 7, and Senate Majority Leader Mike McCaffrey on Feb. 13. That’s a new level of fundraiser dominance for the Carpionato-owned hotel; last year Mattiello and Ruggerio held theirs at the Providence Marriott and the Renaissance, respectively, though Warwick natives Shekarchi and McCaffrey were already using the Crowne Plaza.
5. Governor Raimondo and the other general officers are holding their invitation-only inaugural gala tonight at the State House, with big companies (and one big union) footing the bill. Who’s paying? Per the governor’s office, the headline sponsor is the Laborers International Union, chipping in $20,000. Sending $15,000 each are IGT and Twin River. The $10,000 donors are Amica, Bank of America, Citizens Financial, CVS Health, Deepwater Wind, Electric Boat and Pfizer. And giving $5,000 or less are AAA Northeast, Amgen, AT&T, Centene Corp., Dimeo Construction, FedEx, First Bristol Corp., JPMorgan Chase, Locke Lord, Microsoft and Washington Trust. Unused funds are slated to be donated to the Rhode Island Community Food Bank.
6. David Cicilline has developed a higher profile than Jim Langevin since joining House Democratic leadership, but on the first week of the party’s new majority, Langevin had the spotlight. He was selected by Speaker Pelosi to preside over Democrats’ first day in charge, wielding the gavel and receiving a standing ovation after she praised his tenacity as the first quadriplegic in Congress. (Pelosi had a podium lift installed the last time she was speaker, in part so Langevin could reach the rostrum.) Cicilline immediately felt the effects of being in the majority for the first time in his career: the rules package passed Thursday included three of his proposals (mandatory ethics training, LGBT worker protections, and a ban on corporate board positions for House members). A day later, House leaders announced two Cicilline bills — the DISCLOSE Act on campaign finance and the Automatic Voter Registration Act — would also be included in H.R. 1, the first major bill House Democrats plan to pass. Cicilline’s work on antitrust policy was also prominently featured in a HuffPost story, and he will return to the Sunday show circuit this weekend on Fox News with Chris Wallace.
7. Sheldon Whitehouse took the oath of office from Vice President Pence on Thursday, beginning a third term that will keep him in the Senate through 2024 (unless he departs early). CQ Roll Call’s Kellie Mejdrich also reports an end-of-year tabulation showed Whitehouse gave the most floor speeches of any senator other than the top two Republican and Democratic leaders in 2018. (A speech a week on climate change will do that.)
8. Our weekly dispatch from WPRI.com’s Dan McGowan: “Mayor Elorza will be sworn in for his second term Monday, but the real story in City Hall will be on the third floor, where Councilwoman Sabina Matos is all but guaranteed to be elected council president for the next four years. Matos won’t be the first female president of the council – in fact, she was acting president for several months in 2017 – but she will be the first woman elected to the leadership post for a full term. Her top deputies will include Councilors Jo-Ann Ryan (the new majority leader) and John Igliozzi (who will remain chair of the Finance Committee), but she’s also planning to lean heavily on Councilman Michael Correia on city services, Councilwoman Mary Kay Harris on housing issues and Councilman Luis Aponte when it comes to navigating City Hall politics. After eight years that has included stints in both Siberia and holding the president’s gavel, Matos has indicated her goal is to unite the different factions on the council around what she considers the city’s most pressing issues: Providence’s long-term finances and affordable housing. She’s likely to score her first big win right off the bat Monday; she navigated the race for the council’s top job masterfully, so much so that she is unlikely to face a challenge on the floor. Then the real work begins.”
9. Tim White interviewed Jack Reed about the Reuters investigation of whether Rhode Island-based Corvias has mismanaged military housing. Asked if he ever advocated for Corvias and its CEO (major campaign contributor Jon Picerne), Reed said, “I can’t recall doing so.”
10. Rhode Island has a new U.S. attorney, Aaron Weisman. He was confirmed one day after his predecessor, Peter Neronha, took the oath as Rhode Island’s new attorney general, injecting new energy into both the state’s prosecutorial offices to start the new year.
11. Who will be the next Rhode Island GOP chairman? Former state Rep. Bob Lancia, who lost his Cranston seat last fall, threw his hat in the ring this week, and another former legislative candidate, Michael Veri, has also reached out to fellow Republicans to express interest. More names are expected to come.
12. It didn’t get a ton of attention, but shortly before Christmas the Rhode Island Commerce Corp. awarded $12 million of the $20 million voters approved in 2016 to build new “innovation campuses” in the state. The three projects that got funded include a joint Innovation Hub which URI will create in partnership with Arizona State. That school’s chief research and innovation officer, Sethuraman Panchanathan, explains here what the goal is.
13. Yours truly had the pleasure of speaking to more than 100 members of municipal councils and school committees on Friday night as part of the Newly Elected Leaders Orientation at Bryant University organized by the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns and the Rhode Island Association of School Committees in collaboration with Bryant’s Hassenfeld Institute for Public Leadership. Tim Duffy, who heads the school committees group, says the two-day orientation is designed to give the rookie officials “practical training on the most pressing issues and laws impacting them.”
14. Kim Kalunian reports on the hotel boom in Providence.
15. The Fall River mayoral recall election will be March 12.
16. Lawmakers open up about what’s wrong in Congress.
17. Why does America spend while the world saves?
19. Don’t miss this great Esquire profile of Bruce Springsteen.
20. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – State Reps. Kathy Fogarty and Jason Knight. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. This week on Executive Suite – Pat Sabatino and Dan Reilly of the R.I. Coalition of Entrepreneurs. Watch Saturday at 10:30 p.m. or Sunday at 8 p.m. on myRITV (also Sunday at 6:30 a.m. on Fox or 7:30 a.m. on The CW). Catch both shows back-to-back on your radio Sundays at 6 p.m. on WPRO-AM 630 and WEAN-FM 99.7. See you back here next Saturday morning.