Nesi’s Notes: July 10

Ted Nesi
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Happy Saturday! Here’s another edition of my weekend column for WPRI.com — as always, send your takes, tips and trial balloons to tnesi@wpri.com and follow me on Twitter and on Facebook.

1. General Assembly leaders haven’t committed to returning this fall for a special session, but it seems likely they will. House Speaker Joe Shekarchi and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio were able to close the regular session on an unusually placid note in part because they punted on some thorny issues, notably marijuana legalization and police discipline. And as Ian Donnis pointed out on this week’s Newsmakers, top lawmakers would much rather wrap up those debates in 2021 than tackle them in the heat of the 2022 election year. On marijuana, Shekarchi sees little urgency. “It doesn’t matter to me if we are the last state in the union to legalize it or we never legalize it,” Shekarchi told Kim Kalunian this week. “I need to make sure we do this right.” Those comments infuriated some pro-legalization lawmakers and activists, who point out Massachusetts and Connecticut have now both gotten a jump on Rhode Island. Yet on both marijuana and police accountability, Shekarchi insists he will only bring back the House this fall if a State House consensus has been reached. Meanwhile, the Senate has its own reason to return this fall — judicial confirmations — and senators could try to add charter schools and American Rescue Plan spending to that agenda. Governor McKee may have done his own part to increase the odds of a fall session when he vetoed a bill to create a statewide Airbnb registry, a measure with strong support among legislators who represent coastal communities. While Shekarchi and Ruggerio shrugged off McKee’s other veto of the week — on utility regulation — they pronounced themselves “extremely disappointed” in the Airbnb one, adding, “We will be carefully considering our next steps.”

2. When historians look back on Gina Raimondo’s legacy as governor, they probably won’t be giving her high marks for her stewardship of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services. Raimondo’s first term was dogged by the catastrophic launch of the UHIP computer system, which took years to turn around. And now one of the most high-profile problems of her aborted second term is yet another EOHHS issue, this time the state-run Eleanor Slater Hospital. My colleague Eli Sherman has spent months reporting on the hospital system’s myriad challenges, and his new in-depth explainer laying them all out should be required reading for Rhode Islanders. As Eli’s piece makes clear, Eleanor Slater’s problems run even deeper than any single administration, and raise profound questions about how the state should structure services for people who need years — or decades — of long-term care. Recall that Rhode Island is the only state in the country that has never built a standalone state psychiatric hospital. Dan McKee is surely frustrated that Raimondo left him holding the bag on Eleanor Slater. But he also has an opportunity, if he wants to seize it, to be the governor who finally rethinks and rationalizes the place.

3. A side note — between UHIP and Eleanor Slater, was Allan Fung right when he proposed dismantling EOHHS in 2018?

4. Rhode Island already has five expected candidates for next year’s Democratic gubernatorial nomination: Dan McKee, Nellie Gorbea, Seth Magaziner, Jorge Elorza and Luis Daniel Muñoz. Could Matt Brown make it six? So far Brown isn’t talking about his plans: he didn’t respond to multiple calls and messages over the last week and a half. But the former secretary of state’s future is an increasing topic of conversation in political circles amid growing buzz that he may be looking to try again after his 2018 primary loss to Gina Raimondo. Brown has been closely involved in recent efforts to build new political groups on the left in Rhode Island, such as the Rhode Island Political Cooperative and Renew Rhode Island, which might give him an initial base of support if he were to run.

5. The July 1 press release touting Day Pitney LLP’s acquisition of law firm Howland Evangelista Kohlenberg LLP included a somewhat out-of-nowhere quote from Nellie Gorbea. “This merger is indicative of how Rhode Island is becoming a home for forward-thinking businesses committed to the economic development of our state, just as my office is,” Gorbea was quoted as saying. How did that comment wind up in there? Per a spokesperson, Gorbea knows one of the partners involved — Renée A.R. Evangelista — and was asked to contribute the quote.

6. Eye on Congress … Jack Reed will begin the biggest undertaking of his maiden term as Armed Services Committee chairman on July 19 when he kicks off the NDAA markupSheldon Whitehouse got pushback from experts on his bipartisan bill to let companies counterattack hackers … after marching in the Bristol Fourth of July parade, David Cicilline jetted off to Israel for the week as part of a bipartisan delegation … Jim Langevin expressed frustration about the slow pace of Senate cybersecurity confirmations amid a spate of ransomware attacks … Jake Auchincloss got the biggest spotlight in lefty TV with a hit on Rachel Maddow’s program to talk about helping Afghan interpreters … Axios reports Bill Keating will hold a fundraising retreat on Nantucket this summer.

7. CNN’s Phil Mattingly profiles how Secretary Raimondo operates in Washington. Asked to summarize dinner on Joe Manchin’s houseboat, Raimondo replied: “A great deal of scotch.”

8. It may have been a four-day workweek, but it probably didn’t feel that way for our Providence City Hall reporter, Steph Machado, whose beat was full of news all week. A quick rundown: City Councilwoman Carmen Castillo was charged in a hit-and-run crash … the City Council Finance Committee unveiled and approved a $540 million budget plan … the city clerk was unexpectedly placed on leave, and pronounced himself “shocked” at the turn of events … a police sergeant retired following last week’s incident on Sayles Street … and Jorge Elorza battled Dan McKee and the Providence Teachers Union over Achievement First’s plans to use a South Providence school building.

9. If you’re still dipping your toes back into society after getting vaccinated, here’s a good excuse to go out: Providence Restaurant Week starts Sunday and runs through July 24. The PWCVB’s Greg Desrosiers reports nearly 40 restaurants are participating this year — not just in the capital city, but also in Cranston, East Greenwich, Johnston, Lincoln, Pawtucket, Smithfield, Tiverton, Warren and Warwick. More information including a full list of participating restaurants is available at ProvidenceRestaurantWeeks.com.

10. A proud moment for RWU Law: “Professor and former Roger Williams University School of Law Dean David A. Logan enjoyed a ‘rock-star moment’ on the final day of the Supreme Court’s term, completed last Friday as the long Independence Day weekend began. In an 11-page dissent to the Court’s denial of certiorari in Berisha v. Lawson, Justice Neil M. Gorsuch argued that the court should have heard a challenge to its landmark 1964 holding in New York Times v. Sullivan. His opinion relied heavily on Logan’s recent law review article, ‘Rescuing Our Democracy by Rethinking New York Times Co. v. Sullivan,’ 81 OHIO ST. L. J. 759 (2020), citing it 16 times.” Read more here.

11. My colleague Tolly Taylor uncorked quite a story on Thursday, looking into why Mayor Polisena told lawmakers that firefighters might stop transporting patients to certain hospitals because of their doctors’ testimony against a bill to revamp state ambulance regulations. (Common Cause’s John Marion says the bill, now on the governor’s desk, is unconstitutional.) This is another episode in a long-running saga, as former Public’s Radio columnist Scott MacKay noted in a 2019 piece about Polisena’s fury over a Lynn Arditi investigation into shoddy work by EMTs.

12. What’s going on with the Lifespan-Care New England merger? The two sides continue to say little publicly, though it’s clear executives have some concerns about the trajectory they’re on considering they floated the idea of a COPA to top lawmakers. And while hospital leaders have dismissed suggestions that they are going to run into significant antitrust problems with the Federal Trade Commission, that is even harder to believe considering President Biden just signed an executive order Friday urging the FTC to strengthen its commitment to competition and opposition to monopolies. (Ironically, Gina Raimondo — a proponent of the Lifespan-CNE deal — was standing behind Biden as he put his signature on the order.) Closer to home, Health Insurance Commissioner Patrick Tigue released a working paper warning policymakers about the many potential pitfalls of the transaction.

13. Fall River is set for a major mayoral contest, with City Council President Cliff Ponte formally announcing Wednesday he will challenge first-term incumbent Paul Coogan this fall. I happened to run into former Mayor Sam Sutter the next day, and Sutter told me he expects a competitive race to lead the Spindle City. (Will Jasiel Correia endorse?)

14. Can New Bedford finally make good on years of political promises about an economic boom from offshore wind? Bristol Community College is hoping to do its part by opening a National Offshore Wind Institute on the waterfront to train workers. I joined elected officials on a tour of the facility this week. (Senator Markey hinted during the news conference that a major announcement could be coming within days regarding the big Vineyard Wind project.)

15. Speaking of New Bedford, Mayor Mitchell isn’t happy with Governor Baker for snubbing the city’s commercial scallopers when Baker made his pick for a key federal fisheries panel.

16. The closure of the Brayton Point power plant is still roiling the town of Somerset.

17. A bracing Atlantic essay on how human knowledge is imperiled by internet link rot.

18. Jack Shafer has a thoughtful column on the debate over news coverage of crime.

19. The philosopher Epictetus has some 2,000-year-old advice on surviving modern life.

20. Set your DVRs: This week on NewsmakersSpeaker Shekarchi, plus a reporters’ roundtable. Watch Sunday at 5:30 a.m. on WPRI 12 or 10 a.m. on Fox Providence, or listen on the radio Sundays at 6 p.m. on WPRO. See you back here next Saturday morning.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter and 12 News politics/business editor. He co-hosts Newsmakers and writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays. Connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram

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