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Nesi’s Notes: June 8

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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 @tednesi on Twitter.

1. Rhode Islanders could be forgiven their déjà vu at the news Governor Raimondo will embark on a third attempt to merge Lifespan and Care New England, Rhode Island’s largest hospital groups. The two entities announce plans to combine roughly once a decade — first in 1998, again in 2007, and now in 2019. This time, though, the stakes appear higher: Raimondo sent would-be CNE acquirer Partners packing (for now at least), leaving bruised feelings in Boston and raising the question of what options Care New England CEO Jim Fanale will have if these talks don’t work out. The governor is well aware of all that, but argues the high stakes are precisely why she intervened. Her move reflected increasing concern among Rhode Island elites about the wisdom of putting some of the state’s most important assets in out-of-state hands, foregoing forever the possibility of a strong academic medical operation under local control. Raimondo showed how serious she is by kicking off the discussions at the highest level, gathering the heads of the three organizations involved — CNE’s Fanale, Lifespan’s Tim Babineau and Brown’s Christina Paxsonfor an initial meeting Wednesday. They have multiple thorny issues to hash out, chief among them the touchy question of governance. Will there be a new entity created to own all the hospitals, or will Lifespan’s leaders seek to bring CNE under its banner? Will Babineau run the expanded organization? Who gets seats on the board? What exactly will Brown’s relationship be? And it’s not just governance. Where will the money come from to make long-delayed capital investments at Women & Infants, Kent and Butler? Will job cuts be necessary? There could also be concerns about the size and potential power of a combined Lifespan-CNE (“Lifespan on steroids,” as one observer put it). That could concern antitrust enforcers in Washington, too. The executives have pledged to keep their conversations private, but with such important issues at stake, Rhode Islanders should be discussing them publicly, too.

2. Say this for Governor Raimondo: between the hospital negotiations and the Providence schools intervention, she is certainly taking on some thorny problems as she settles into her second term — problems with no assurances of a successful, let alone popular, outcome. “I’d like to think I’ve always taken on big issues, to be fair,” Raimondo told me this week. But she went on to say, “I think this is what leaders are supposed to do, which is take on difficult issues that maybe other people aren’t willing to touch but that are in the best interests of the people in Rhode Island, or in the case of Providence, the kids in Providence. So I’m in a position as governor to take a leadership role, and yeah, I’m going to do everything I can do.” (Also notable: the Partnership for Rhode Island, made up of powerful local CEOs, is backing both efforts.)

3. The General Assembly’s activity will rev up further next week as lawmakers begin racing toward the finish line. The Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled a vote on a revised abortion bill for Tuesday (the text of the changes will emerge Monday), and the House Finance Committee is expected to unveil the 2019-20 budget on Wednesday or Thursday, depending on how this weekend’s negotiations go.

4. A strange saga: Speaker Mattiello, Rep. Fogarty, and Leader Shekarchi’s Wite-Out.

5. Treasurer Magaziner is our guest on this week’s Newsmakers — here are a few highlights. On the pension fund, currently at $8.3 billion: “The biggest reason that we got into trouble to begin with was that we had been for years using unrealistic accounting assumptions. So we’re determined not to make that same mistake again. In terms of the outlook from here, I think you’re going to see a real difference in the next five to seven years. We’re already seeing some of the metrics improve a lot, like our net cash flows — that’s the amount that we spend every year compared to what we get in contributions. That is improving already, and is going to improve dramatically over the next couple years.” … On Providence’s pension problems: “This is not a math problem as much as it is a political problem. I think if I were giving advice — and I do — to the stakeholders in Providence, I would say, get together more often and talk about this with each other. Not through surrogates. Not through the press — no offense — but with each other.” … On deciding about a 2022 run for governor: “Maybe at some point, but I’m not spending a lot of time thinking about it right now.”

6. Pulling a 32-hour shift at work sounds like it might not even be legal, but Tim White discovered it’s happening surprisingly frequently at the state prisons due to a provision in the RIBCO union contract that gives correctional officers up to double time when they work four eight-hour shifts in a row. Now the new corrections director wants to put a stop to the policy, though previous efforts to negotiate it away at the bargaining table have failed. Meanwhile, our new colleague Eli Sherman used quads as a jumping-off point to take a broader look at the state’s $84 million in annual OT spending, which the governor’s aides are currently making a renewed effort to rein in.

7. Liquor licenses, Smith Hill, Patrick’s Pub, City Council squabbles, Peter Petrarca, Nick Hemondthis story from Steph Machado is a “full Providence.”

8. Now that he’s a member of House Democratic leadership, Congressman Cicilline makes so much news each week it’s hard to keep it up. The Daily Beast had this juicy nugget: “During the Monday meeting, Rep. David Cicilline — the only member of leadership to explicitly endorse an impeachment inquiry — challenged lawmakers to push two messages during TV appearances: the party’s domestic agenda and their belief that the president wasn’t above the law. Pelosi, pointing back at him, said: ‘Everyone should heed your advice, including you’ — in what was interpreted as a shot at the congressman’s penchant to emphasize the latter and not the former during his own TV hits.” (Always worth remembering Pelosi did not back Cicillin when he first ran for leadership.) More substantively, Cicilline is the House Judiciary Committee point man for its headline-grabbing new investigation into the tech giants, as explained here by the NYT’s Cecilia Kang & co. It will give the 1st District congressman plenty to talk about this weekend when he appears on “Fox News Sunday” and CNN’s “Reliable Sources.”

9. Sheldon Whitehouse is back from one of the chillier CODELs I’ve ever heard about: a five-senator trip to the Arctic. Also on the Whitehouse-in-transit beat, NBC’s Frank Thorp V snapped this funny shot of the senator stuck on the Capitol steps waiting for a late bus to go on the trip to Normandy for D-Day events.

10. We’ve got two interesting conversations for you on this week’s Executive Suite. On the first half, Rhode Island Women’s Bar Association leaders Gina Lemay and Kelly Kincaid discuss the progress and continuing challenges for women in the legal profession in the state. As it happens, next year is the 100th anniversary of the first woman being admitted to the bar in Rhode Island, Ada Sawyer. (“She studied under an attorney in Rhode Island,” Lemay explained, “and he had to petition on her behalf to the Rhode Island Supreme Court because at the time the rules of admission to the bar did not consider women to fall in the definition of ‘persons.'”) Then on the second half, Howell Smith Druggist owner Howell Smith III and van Eeghen’s Pharmacy owner Brooke van Eeghen discuss why it’s so hard for independent pharmacies to stay in business these days. They are particularly frustrated with the opaque policies of pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs). “Anti-competitive isn’t a strong enough word for it,” van Eeghen said. “It’s a hostile climate.”

11. Three stories on D-Day … 95-year-old Providence resident Leo Andreoni tells Steve Nielsen about what he saw off the Normandy coast that fateful morning … a portrait of how Attleboro reacted on June 6, 1944 … and a harrowing recount of what the invasion troops really went through.

12. A loyal reader passes along word that Rhode Island Revolutionary War hero Nathanael Greene is the star of a new book by John Buchanan, “The Road to Charleston: Nathanael Greene and the American Revolution.”

13. The PR Club of New England gave out its annual Bell Ringer Awards this week, and two Rhode Island firms were among the honorees. Duffy & Shanley beat out competition across New England to take home the coveted Platinum Super Bell Award for marketing Dunkin Donuts Rhode Island Iced Coffee Day as a fundraiser for Hasbro Children’s tied to “Good Night Lights.” D&S took home a total of eight awards, getting recognized for its work on behalf of Dunkin, Navigant Credit Union and College Ave Student Loans. RDW Group also took home three Bell Ringers, one each for its work on flu vaccination for the Department of Health, the “Ripple Effect” anti-DUI campaign for RIDOT, and the Hope Point Tower project.

14. Architectural Digest says art and design lovers should visit Providence.

15. “When will our quiet sun turn violent?” Gulp.

16. Exciting news at WPRI 12 this week as we announced an expansion of our Target 12 investigative team, which now boasts six reporters. For more on what we have planned, check out Tim White and me on Dan Yorke State of Mind and Matt Allen’s podcast.

17. Set your DVRs: This week on NewsmakersTreasurer Magaziner. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. This week on Executive SuiteGina Lemay and Kelly Kincaid of the Rhode Island Women’s Bar Association; independent pharmacy owners Howell Smith III and Brooke van Eeghen. 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). Podcast lovers, you can subscribe to both shows on iTunes — get the Newsmakers podcast here and the Executive Suite podcast here — and radio listeners can catch them back-to-back Sundays at 6 p.m. on WPRO-AM 630 and WEAN-FM 99.7. See you back here next Saturday morning.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He is a weekly panelist on Newsmakers and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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