Teresa Paiva Weed prepares for her 11th term in Senate
Teresa Paiva Weed, who was reelected to the Rhode Island Senate earlier this month, said that as far as her new term is concerned, her first priority is to help improve the state’s economy and foster job creation.
Paiva Weed, a Democrat who lives in Newport, was first elected to the Senate in 1992. Later, she became the first woman to be elected by her colleagues to the role of Senate president. She has served two terms in that capacity, and is expected to retain the post when the Senate reconvenes in January.
Paiva Weed pointed to pension restructuring as an important accomplishment in her most recent term in office. She said that it was a difficult process, but necessary to ensure that the state can continue to provide essential services from education to road maintenance, while balancing that with the concerns expressed by the employees.
“It was our goal to ensure that the retirement system will be sustainable over the long term,” she said. “States from all around the country are looking to Rhode Island as a model.”
With the pension crisis out of the way, she plans to focus more on jobs for Rhode Islanders in her upcoming two-year term.
One initiative she mentioned is the restoration of the historic tax credit as a way of helping to boost the construction industry.
“The Senate is examining the underlying factors that causes Rhode Island to rank poorly in many of the business-friendly surveys,” she said. “We are working on ways to address that, such as removing bureaucratic hurdles and aligning the skills of the work force with industry needs.”
One of the major issues of the General Assembly’s last term was the passage of a voter ID law. Paiva Weed, 53, said that she supported the passage at the time because it was intended to protect the legitimacy of elections while not disenfranchising anyone. Now that an election has passed with the voter ID law on the books, Paiva Weed expressed some uncertainty about the law’s future.
“I anticipate that this session we will review that law and its implementation,” she said. Paiva Weed believes the General Assembly should determine whether or not some of the other provisions that are projected should come into play.
As an example, Paiva Weed cited the fact that a phase-in period for the law allowed registered voters with nonphoto IDs to cast a ballot in this year’s election. She said it’s a possibility that lawmakers will choose to continue with the provision, instead of requiring a photo ID. She believes legislators will look at the Nov. 6 general election as a model to determine how to proceed.
She also mentioned that there might be other ways to improve the process. For example, one idea is early voting, which has now been adopted by a number of states.
“I believe the voter ID law will be part of a more comprehensive look at our election laws to ensure that voting is available for all residents of the state regardless of what hours they work,” she said.
Paiva Weed felt confident that the provision of the voter ID law that differentiates it from similar laws in other states – the availability of a provisional ballot for voters without ID – will remain in place.
“I believe that the most important safeguard in our legislation was including a new kind of provisional ballot that will be counted if the signature matches the voter registration card,” Paiva Weed said. “It ensures that no one is disenfranchised.”
Another controversial measure enacted by the General Assembly in 2011 was the new seatbelt law. In the past, police were not allowed to stop a car because someone wasn’t buckled – there had to be another reason, for example, like speeding or running a stop sign. That changed last year when a law was passed to allow officers to execute a traffic stop on the sole reason of an unbuckled motorist. A fine of $85 was put into place.
The seatbelt law is scheduled to sunset on June 30, 2013, meaning that unless further legislation is passed, it will expire.
“I anticipate that we’ll be reviewing that law over the course of the 2013 session, evaluating its effectiveness and making a decision whether or not to maintain the sunset provision,” she said.
Paiva Weed added that although there was a lot of public debate when the law was enacted, it seems that people have come to accept it over time. That makes it diffi cult for her determine how it will play out as the General Assembly moves forward, she said.
The Senate president expressed some concern over whether members of the state legislature are effectively communicating with their constituents, a factor that has the potential to damage the credibility of lawmakers with the public.
“The General Assembly is a collection of 113 legislators,” Paiva Weed said. “Each of us has different philosophies and priorities that very often reflect the philosophies and priorities of our constituents in our particular geographic areas.”
Because lawmakers specifically target residents in their districts, she said that it is difficult for the General Assembly to communicate what it has accomplished as an entity.
“During the course of the campaign, many of us have been able to effectively communicate those accomplishments,” she said. “It’s my hope that we’ll use the next session to improve those lines of communication and ensure that we’re not just getting that word out at election time.”
According to Paiva Weed, she has a good working relationship with Gov. Lincoln Chafee. She said that the challenges that the state faces are enormous, which requires the legislature and the governor to work together.
Paiva Weed said that having good rapports with Chafee, House Speaker Gordon Fox and other partners at the State House help move the state forward and accomplish important goals. She cited the bipartisan effort with pension reform as an example.
As for her landslide victory in this year’s election, Paiva Weed said she is humbled that Jamestown and Newport voters have put their confidence and trust in her to continue to work on their behalf in Providence. She added that because she is in a leadership position, she believes she is able to bring her constituents’ perspective to the table. That perspective, she added, is often different from the state’s northern cities and towns.
“We’ve worked hard to move this state forward, and we are going to continue to do so,” Paiva Weed said.