Paiva Weed, Long expect difficult budget in 2006 General Assembly
During the legislative session that began Jan. 3, Jamestown’s representatives in the state General Assembly will be introducing bills to help the town ensure a supply of clean drinking water, create a municipal court, provide education funding, stop LNG tankers from coming up the bay, and to stiffen drunk driving laws.
Sen. Teresa Paiva Weed (D-Jamestown, Newport) and Rep. Bruce Long (R-Jamestown, Middletown) are both veteran legislators, with Paiva Weed, at 14 years of service, also serving as the senate majority leader.
Long is the longest-serving representative to the House, having been elected in 1980. He currently serves as the deputy minority whip.
Paiva Weed and Long both stressed that 2006 would deliver one of the most difficult budget years in recent memory.
One of the issues on Paiva Weed’s agenda is coming up with legislation that would force the state Department of Environmental Management to “look at the cumulative effects” of how a septic system on one lot would impact abutting properties.
Long, who is working with Paiva Weed on this legislation, said that the DEM currently takes an isolated look at each individual property, but does not consider the impact on adjacent lots.
Long said that at the same time he is pushing for the cumulative effects of septic systems legislation, he is also fighting against a regulation, proposed by the DEM, that would allow that regulatory agency to expedite the approval of certain septic system designs.
The proposed DEM regulation would allow developers to pay an extra fee to get permits moved more quickly through the system.
“This sends a horrible message,” Long said, adding, “You can pay extra to get better service” from a state agency.
He said he has written letters to the governor, attended public hearings, and will try to get this proposed legislation defeated.
“We want to slow down development, especially in the Shores,” Long noted.
Another issue that the two are joining forces on is making drunk-driving laws more stringent.
Paiva Weed said that she would like to see the charge of refusing the Breathalyzer test become a criminal act, in addition to a drunk-driving charge.
Paiva Weed is suggesting that the charge be levied on top of a second arrest for drunk driving.
Long said that 85 percent of Rhode Islanders who are stopped for drunk driving refuse to take the chemical breath test. “It’s nuts!” he said, adding, “We need to require that.”
On education issues, Paiva Weed said that she will continue to work on helping schools alleviate the costs associated with bussing students out of the districts.
“We want the state to pick up some of the costs,” Paiva Weed said.
Long agreed, saying that he wanted there to be a commission that looks at all state mandates to determine cost versus benefits and said if the state mandates something, they should pay for it.
“If we have to do it, we want to be reimbursed,” Long said.
He noted that some inroads were made last year by a joint educators and legislators committee that he was a part of, in that they were able to reduce the amount that towns spend on charter school tuition. In Jamestown, the savings was nearly 23 percent, with tuition dropping from $11,008 to $8,496 from fiscal year 2005 to FY 2006.
The creation of a municipal court in Jamestown, by introducing enabling legislation, is another issue that the two legislators are working on.
Paiva Weed said that having a municipal court would “allow for improved enforcement of town ordinances” and deal with issues of landuse, traffic, noise, and other issues that “are a low priority” in Newport District Court.
“It’s a terrific idea,”Long said about having a municipal court. The court will allow issues to be dealt with immediately instead of sending them to district court, “which takes forever” to resolve a matter, he said.
He wants to look at establishing health care savings accounts for all state and municipal employees that would “put a greater responsibility on the policy holder to watch their health,” Long said.
Paiva Weed said she is looking into ways to improve the costs of health insurance to small businesses.
Long said he will continue to fight against bringing LNG tankers up Narragansett Bay to a proposed new terminal in Fall River.
He called the tankers as “1,000foot time bombs,” and said, “I’ll fight them as far as it goes.”
He also said he is “absolutely opposed” to changing the state constitution to allow the issue of a Narragansett Indian Tribe casino to appear for a vote on a state ballot.
The constitution currently states that all gaming activities have to be overseen by the state, Long said. The Narragansetts want to alter the constitution to allow a private company to engage in a casino operation, he noted.
“This is the most outrageous idea of the year,” Long said.