200116ind StateofState

State Representative Kathy Fogarty applauds during Gov. Gina Raimondo’s State of the State address at the Statehouse Tuesday evening in Providence.

The General Assembly opened its 2020 legislative session on Tuesday, and local lawmakers from South Kingstown and Narragansett said they’re ready to get to work on new initiatives in the new year.

Rep. Carol Hagen McEntee, D-South Kingstown, Narragansett, said she has several pieces of legislation she plans to file in the next few weeks.

Among them is an update to the state’s parentage act.

“Our laws regarding parentage have not been updated since the mid 1970s,” she said. “Issues that affect today’s changing family are surrogacy agreements, sperm donation and the voluntary acknowledgment of parentage. The General Assembly passed same-sex marriage in 2014 and has yet to address the legal issues facing the changing nature of the Rhode Island family. These issues are very complicated.”

McEntee has been working with Family Court Chief Judge Michael B. Forte, the Rhode Island Department of Health, child support services and GLAD attorneys, she said, “to produce a bill that will address the needs of all parents.”

McEntee also plans to introduce a bill calling for a statewide ban on plastic bags, as well as a new tax on bottles such as in Connecticut and Massachusetts.

“I believe that it is imperative that we start addressing many of the environmental concerns that we as Rhode Islanders face. We cannot ignore the effects that plastics have on our environment or the effects of climate change,” she said.

State Sen. James Sheehan, D-Narragansett, plans to re-introduce legislation that would provide taxpayer funding for qualified candidates for statewide office and the General Assembly.  

“Privately funded elections tend to favor those who can raise significant amounts of money or are already in possession of it,” Sheehan said. “Moreover, private campaign funding enables a system in which special interests have extraordinary access to public officials who are in charge of making policy decisions on behalf of the general public.”

Sheehan authored a new law to require audits of the election results of statewide candidates to office and said he plans to re-introduce a bill that would extend that election safeguard to the results of General Assembly races as well.    

A third key bill he plans to file would permit employees who are victims of sexual harassment or assault to come forward publicly with their claims, after a period of time.

“I believe that employees who are victims of sexual harassment, assault or intimidation should not be bound to a a never-ending non-disclosure agreement,” he said. “Further, coming forward publicly can also serve the purpose of preventing the victimization of others by a serial perpetrator.”  

Sheehan said he would propose an amendment to the state constitution that would give the governor the power to veto “targeted sections of the budget,” while permitting the remaining bill to be become law.

“State budgets are complex tax and spending bills which articulate the priorities and vision of a state government,” Sheehan said. “At present, the General Assembly possesses greater power in shaping state budgets. I intend to re-introduce an amendment to the Rhode Island Constitution which will help level the political playing field between the governor and the General Assembly.”

The General Assembly could, if it chose, then override the sections of the budget that the governor vetoed, he said.

Locally, the South Kingstown delegation will file legislation enabling the town to create its own municipal court. The legislation did not move forward in the last session due to timing.

“The Senate did get that passed, however it was late in the session,” Sen. Susan Sosnowski, D-South Kingstown, said. “I knew how important it was to the town.”

Rep. Blake Filippi, R-South Kingstown, said he had concerns about some of the broad powers of the court, such as the ability to order dwellings into receivership, a state form of bankruptcy, and the power to order the removal of any cloud on title.

“I just know those are pretty substantial equitable powers that are held by the Superior Court, and would want to understand the rationale for the town to have those substantial powers over property,” he said. “I’m not opposed to it, I’d like to look at the other statutes too to be able to respond.”

Rep. Teresa Tanzi, D-Narragansett, South Kingstown, sponsored the legislation in the House of Representatives, and said the bill was modeled on similar legislation and existing language from other municipalities.

“We’re not setting any precedent. This is what other towns have,” she said. “We’re not looking for any more, but we do want to have equal power.”

McEntee also had several other priorities, she said.

“I am also in favor of enacting reasonable gun control laws that could help prevent these horrible mass shootings. I think we are due for an increase to the minimum wage. We need to keep pace with our neighboring states and help people make a living wage,” she said. “We have a lot of work to do especially when it comes to delivering a balanced budget. If we can do all this we will have a great session.”

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