March 24, 2018

House creates panel to study workplace sexual harassment

STATE HOUSE – The House of Representatives today approved a new legislative study commission tasked with reviewing existing state laws and recent federal policy recommendations meant to protect individuals against sexual harassment in the workplace.

The bill (2018-H 7678), sponsored by Rep. Teresa Tanzi, is a response to the national public discussion about the prevalence of sexual harassment prompted by the #metoo movement.

“As the #metoo movement quickly grew this fall, it created a long overdue public dialogue about the fact that many have silently tolerated behavior that is completely unacceptable and, in fact, harmful to individuals and workplace productivity. It has also shed light on the fact that this isn’t a problem confined to any one sector or only some workplaces. As we learned from the many victims who have shared their stories, sexual harassment is a pervasive phenomenon that requires targeted intervention. The original laws and policies that address these issues have been in place for nearly 30 years and are ripe for review to ensure that they are effective,” said Representative Tanzi (D-Dist. 34, South Kingstown, Narragansett).

Representative Tanzi met with House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, who agreed to institute anti-harassment training for legislators and staff, and to the formation of a legislative commission to examine state sexual harassment laws and policies. Speaker Mattiello is a cosponsor of the legislation.

Under the legislation, which is a House resolution that does not need Senate approval for passage, the 11-member commission will include five members of the House of Representatives, of whom one shall be an active member of the Rhode Island Bar Association; the attorney general; the executive director of the Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights; the associate director of the Office of Diversity, Equity and Opportunity of the Department of Administration; the president of the Rhode Island Police Chiefs’ Association or their designees; a member of the LGBTQ community and a member of the business community with expertise in human resources practices. The commission is set to complete its work and report to the House of Representatives by May 17 and would expire June 7. Representative Tanzi said it’s her hope that the committee’s members will soon be appointed.

Representative Tanzi said she plans for the commission to review recent federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recommendations and look at best practices around the country with regard to training so people understand what constitutes harassment and what to do about it, with the goal of encouraging bystander intervention, and empowering victims to report harassment while simultaneously protecting them from retaliation. A second goal is to review laws other states have enacted and make recommendations to update and strengthen Rhode Island laws.

March 15, 2018

Tanzi files bill to raise tobacco purchase age to 21

STATE HOUSE – Saying the state must do more to address smoking as the serious threat to public health that it is, Rep. Teresa Tanzi introduced legislation to raise the minimum age to purchase tobacco products in Rhode Island from 18 to 21.

The legislation (2018-H 7647) would apply to all tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes, and would take effect upon passage. . Sen. Cynthia A. Coyne (D-Dist. 32, Barrington, Bristol, East Providence) has introduced similar legislation (2018-S 2464) in the Senate.

If passed, Rhode Island would become the sixth  state to adopt 21 as the minimum age for tobacco purchases, after Hawaii, New Jersey, Oregon, Maine and California. Last year, Central Falls and Barrington adopted local ordinances prohibiting sales to those under 21, joining Boston and New York City among the more than 220 municipalities across the country with such ordinances.

Representative Tanzi points to success in reducing youth smoking in communities that adopt higher age restrictions, and the positive effect that less smoking would have on Rhode Islanders’ health as well as public and private health care costs.

“Data tells us that 9 out of 10 adult smokers began smoking before age 21. Reducing youth access to tobacco products will lower tobacco addiction and reduce tobacco-related death and disease. Raising the tobacco purchase age to 21 will benefit the individual and society as a whole,” said Representative Tanzi (D-Dist. 34, South Kingstown, Narragansett), who has been working since 2015 for the bill’s adoption. “Reducing opportunity and likelihood for addiction has obvious health benefits for that individual, as well as financial benefits for him or her and the family they might have in the future. But it also has health and financial benefits for society at large. Less smoking means fewer of the related health problems that drive up health care costs for individuals, businesses that pay for employees’ insurance, and the public, which subsidizes health care for some. It means families aren’t spending money on tobacco, and can spend it on goods and services locally. And it would mean no high school students could legally purchase tobacco products, which cuts down on the pressures that lure many into the habit in the first place. It’s an important step toward a healthier Rhode Island.”

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, most tobacco use is started and established primarily during adolescence, and therefore preventing tobacco use among youth is critical to ending the tobacco epidemic in the United States, which is responsible for the deaths of 480,000 Americans annually. In Rhode Island, 1,800 adults die each year from their own smoking, and the state’s annual health care costs due to smoking are about $640 million.

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, more than 80 percent of all adult smokers begin smoking before the age of 18; and approximately 95 percent of all adult smokers began smoking before age 21.

The Institute of Medicine for the Food and Drug Administration estimated that raising the age of tobacco purchase to 21 nationwide would result in a 25-percent reduction in youth smoking initiation, a 12-percent reduction in smoking rates overall, and 16,000 fewer preterm or low birth weight births in the first five years of the policy. The report estimated that such a policy throughout the United States would prevent 4.2 million years of life lost to smoking in children alive today. In another study, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control found that 75 percent of adults favor raising the tobacco age to 21, including 70 percent of smokers and 65 percent of those age 18 to 24.

Changing the tobacco purchase age to 21 has the support of health advocates in Rhode Island and nationwide, including the American Lung Association, the American Heart Association and the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids. Rhode Island’s U.S. Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse have cosponsored federal legislation to raise age to 21 nationwide.

March 8, 2018

Sen. Nesselbush and Rep. Tanzi host reception at State House for International Women’s Day

STATE HOUSE — Highlighting the smart, driven women of Rhode Island, Sen. Donna M. Nesselbush (D-Dist. 15, Pawtucket, North Providence) and Rep. Teresa A. Tanzi (D-Dist. 34, South Kingstown, Narragansett) proudly hosted a state celebration of the United Nations-recognized International Women’s Day.

This year, the General Assembly honored Chief Tina Goncalves of the Pawtucket Police Department.  Chief Goncalves is the first female municipal police chief in Rhode Island.  This year’s theme for the annual event is “Press for Progress.”

“Today we gather, and we join in solidarity with others throughout the world to recognize outstanding achievement by women and to demand full equality politically, economically and socially. International Women's Day is a day for us to join hands with our sisters and brothers, here and abroad, to recognize our collective plight but also to laud our accomplishments,” said Senator Nesselbush.

“Recent events have brought a long-overdue wave of public discussion about what women deserve, what we should not have to endure and how much work still lies ahead of us to create a world in which our daughters and granddaughters might someday be paid equally, treated fairly and will not face undue obstacles in advancing at work and in the world.  And that’s why we will continue to gather here every year on March 8, not just to trumpet the many great accomplishments of women, but to remind ourselves that the struggle is by no means over,” said Representative Tanzi.

An all-female police honor guard escorted Chief Goncalves and dignitaries into the State Room. Following the ceremony, the honorees went to the Senate floor for the reading of a Senate resolution in honor of International Women’s Day and then to the House of Representatives for the same.

International Women’s Day is a day to reflect on the achievements of women and the fight for gender equality. It is also a day for acknowledging the strides the world has taken in advancing women’s rights, freedoms and protections, but, said Senator Nesselbush “it is also time to acknowledge that we have a long way to go.” The United Nations has recognized and celebrated International Women’s Day on March 8 since 1975.

Rep. Teresa A. Tanzi (D-Dist. 34, Narragansett, South Kingstown), left, Pawtucket Police Chief Tina Goncalves, center, and Sen. Donna M. Nesselbush (D-Dist. 15, Pawtucket, North Providence), right, pose at the 2018 International Women’s Day celebration held in the State Room.

December 21, 2017

Tanzi to reintroduce bill requiring disclosure of tax returns for presidential candidates

STATE HOUSE – As details trickle out about who would gain and who would lose under the federal tax overhaul bill approved by Congress this week, Rep. Teresa Tanzi and Sen. Gayle L. Goldin are renewing their call for legislation requiring presidential candidates to release their personal tax returns in order to be listed on the Rhode Island ballot.

The two state lawmakers say Americans have the right to know what conflicts of interest their president may have and whether he’s substantially benefiting more than other taxpayers from a tax bill he is pushing for and signing.

President Donald Trump is the only president – and the only major party presidential candidate – in the
last 40 years to refuse to publicly release his tax return.

Said Representative Tanzi (D-Dist. 34, South Kingstown, Narragansett), “The federal bill lowers taxes for pass-through businesses, estate taxes and high earners, all of which we know would benefit Trump and billionaires like him. It further erodes public confidence in the process and leads us to question the integrity of current executive and congressional leadership when we know that the president is influencing this process, but we are prohibited from knowing just how much it will enrich him personally. Our legislation is a way to provide transparency and ensure that the public can see what the president’s personal benefits would be under any tax changes he may influence and sign.” 

“Especially considering his vast real estate holdings and the wide reach of his family’s companies and assets, President Trump’s lack of transparency raises significant questions about how he may be personally benefiting from the law he plans to sign. We are left questioning every carve-out for businesses, like those for real estate holdings and allowing the PGA to maintain its nonprofit status, and wondering what his personal benefit is going to be,” said Senator Goldin (D-Dist. 3, Providence).

When the 2018 legislative session begins in January, Senator Goldin and Representative Tanzi plan to reintroduce their legislation (2017-S 00912017-H 5400) requiring all candidates for United States president and vice president to file copies of their last five years of federal income tax returns with the state Board of Elections no later than 50 days prior to the general election in order to appear on the Rhode Island ballot.

Under the proposed legislation, the Board of Elections would be required to redact certain information after consulting with the state tax administrator and director of revenue, and then to post the return on the Board of Elections website.

Unlike members of Congress, the president is exempt from many conflict-of-interest laws. Except President Trump, every president since Richard Nixon has voluntarily released his tax returns. Tax returns provide information about a candidate’s financial ties to foreign businesses and governments, business arrangements, and other potential conflicts of interest.

While it is widely known that President Trump has done business in many countries with people and firms linked to foreign governments, without his tax returns, it’s impossible to understand the scope of those deals and how they might affect his decisions in office. Additionally, tax documents from 1995 showed that he reported a $916 million loss, which tax experts say could have been used to avoid paying any federal income tax for up to 18 years. 

December 8, 2017

FUNdraiser on Wednesday, December 13th!

New Rhode Island law to restrict e-cigarettes

A new law in Rhode Island goes into effect Jan. 1 that will place restrictions on e-cigarettes. The measure, passed in the special September session of the General Assembly, bans the uses of e-cigarettes at all school facilities, where traditional cigarettes have been banned for years. "It's responding to modern technology, I would have loved to have done this four or five years ago when the devices first came out. To me it’s a public health issue," said state Rep. Teresa Tanzi, the sponsor of the House version of the bill. The new law will also require that the liquids used in electronic nicotine delivery devices, which often come in different colors and flavors, be sold in child-proof containers. "A child who comes across a vile, an attractive tiny vile, filled with pink liquid, bubble gum flavor could potentially be lethal," said Tanzi. A report recently released by Rhode Island Kids Count indicates that in 2015, 19 percent of high school students and 7.5 percent of middle school students had reported using an e-cigarette at the same time traditional cigarette use was at an all-time low for those age groups. Tanzi told NBC 10 News that she plans to reintroduce legislation next session that would amend Rhode Island’s current smoke-free workplace law to include e-cigarettes.

November 17, 2017

Rep. Tanzi honored by Hospital Association of Rhode Island for legislative efforts

The Hospital Association of Rhode Island honored Rep. Teresa Tanzi (D-Dist. 34, South Kingstown, Narragansett) and Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski (D-Dist. 37, South Kingstown, New Shoreham) with the Francis R. Dietz Award for Public Service at the organization’s annual meeting Thursday morning.

Both Representative Tanzi and Senator Sosnowski have been strong advocates for hospitals and health care in the General Assembly. Most recently they introduced legislation (2017-S 0577Aaa2017-H 5840A) that significantly reduces the regulatory burden experienced by physician practices that are acquired by hospitals. The bill allows physician practices to maintain their current license standards, even if a hospital system owns the practice. The legislation was signed into law by Gov. Gina Raimondo on July 19.

“I am honored to have been invited to accept this award, and particularly humbled because it is from the Hospital Association of Rhode Island,” said Senator Sosnowski. “The Association does vitally important work in healthcare advocacy, representation, and education, and I am so grateful to be recognized by this organization.”

“I feel lucky to have worked with the Hospital Association of Rhode Island in addressing the health care needs of all Rhode Islanders,” said Representative Tanzi. “From mental health and substance abuse treatment reform to facing the realities of federal changes to health insurance, I look forward to continuing to fight for Rhode Island Hospitals.”

November 1, 2017

Tanzi delivers grant to A Community Together

Rep. Teresa Tanzi has secured a $1,000 legislative grant for A Community Together of Wakefield.

A Community Together is a new non-profit organization that coordinates affordable aging-in-place services for older adults by utilizing community agencies, volunteers technology and paid services. The grant is being used to cover the costs of setting up a web-based platform to track members’ and volunteers’ information, requests, services and donations, and create a website. It will also cover the first year of operating that system.

“This grant will provide the opportunity for the organization to serve our neighbors in South Kingstown and Narragansett as they age in place,” said Beth Leconte, chair of the organization’s steering committee.

“I greatly appreciate the work A Community Together will be doing for the people of South Kingstown and Narragansett. Every community should be lucky enough to have such an innovative and dedicated organization helping to connect older adults to all the services and volunteers that are available to help make it possible for them to remain living in their homes. A Community Together is making terrific contributions to the fabric of our community, connecting neighbors to neighbors and enabling longtime residents to continue being part of their neighborhoods,” said Representative Tanzi (D-Dist. 34, South Kingstown, Narragansett).

For more information about A Community Together, visit https://acommunitytogether.helpfulvillage.com or e-mail  actneighbors@gmail.com.

October 30, 2017

Domestic violence gun safety legislation signed by governor

Legislation sponsored by Rep. Teresa Tanzi and Sen. Harold M. Metts to protect victims of domestic violence by disarming their abusers was signed by Governor Raimondo at a ceremonial bill signing today held in the State Room of the State House.

The Protect Rhode Island Families Act (2017-H 5510Baa2017-S 0405Aaa), which passed the General Assembly Sept. 19, will prohibit gun possession by domestic abusers convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence crimes and those subject to court-issued final protective orders, and ensure that all those subject to the prohibition actually turn in their guns when they become prohibited from possessing them.

“At last, victims of domestic abuse in Rhode Island will not have the constant fear of knowing that the person who abused them still has a gun. We’ve heard countless stories from victims about flagrant threats and ceaseless fear. And we know that the presence of a gun greatly increases the chances of a domestic violence victim being murdered. We’ve worked very hard to get to this point, and the reward will be greater safety for Rhode Island families,” said Representative Tanzi (D-Dist. 34, South Kingstown, Narragansett).

The law developed to its current form through intense negotiations over the course of the three years since it was first introduced, and was the subject of strong public campaigns both for and against it.

“This bill will save the lives of people who have already been through too much, and I’m very proud of that. I’m also very proud of the way advocates from opposing interests came to the table and worked together so constructively to help make a bill something that we all can support. This was a great example of how the democratic process and compromise are supposed to work for the benefit of our citizens. While no one got everything they would like, I will say that everyone agreed that victims of domestic violence should not have to live under legitimate fear for their lives, and we’ve cooperated to come up with a bill that greatly improves their protection while addressing Second Amendment concerns,” said Senator Metts (D-Dist. 6, Providence).

Under previous state law, abusers convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence crimes and those subject to final restraining orders were not always prohibited from possessing guns nor were they always required to actually surrender the firearms they already possess once they became prohibited. Federal law already prohibits most of those convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors from owning guns, but Rhode Island did not have a mechanism for ensuring that they actually turn them in.

The new law closes these loopholes by requiring that abusers are prohibited from possessing guns under state law and are required to turn in their guns swiftly once they become prohibited from possessing them.

Under it, those convicted or pleading to a crime of domestic violence have 24 hours to turn in any guns they possess. The act applies to domestic violence crimes including assault, cyberstalking and cyberharrassment, violation of a protective order and disorderly conduct if the criminal act involves the use or attempted use of force or the threatened use of a dangerous weapon. Similar laws prohibiting gun possession by those convicted of misdemeanor domestic abusers exist in 27 states plus Washington, D.C., including Alabama, Texas, Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Hampshire.

Those subject to a protective order must surrender any guns they own within 24 hours of receiving notice of the hearing. At the hearing, which must be within 15 days under the amendment, the court may choose to maintain the prohibition, or to immediately return any firearms that were surrendered. The subject of the prohibition must show clear and convincing evidence that his or her firearm ownership is not a threat to the alleged victim’s safety in order for any gun to be returned.
Once a prohibited individual has completed his or her sentence, or the protective order has been lifted, he or she would be able to recover the surrendered firearms.

Those prohibited from gun possession under the new law may give their guns to someone other than police or a licensed gun dealer, as long as the person is not a relative and does not live in the same household as the prohibited individual. The guns must first be transferred to a licensed firearms dealer, who would ensure that the third party can legally possess firearms.

According to research by Everytown for Gun Safety, under the previous law, only five percent of domestic abusers under a final protection from abuse order in Rhode Island were required to turn in their guns. Even in cases when the restrained party’s record indicated a firearms threat, surrender was ordered only 13 percent of the time.

When a gun is present in a domestic violence situation, the woman is five times more likely to be killed, According to Everytown. Guns are the preferred weapon of intimate partner homicides. Between 1990 and 2005, more intimate partner homicides in the United State were committed with guns than all other weapons combined. Between 1980 and 2016, 232 Rhode Islanders died as a result of domestic violence, and 48 percent of them were killed with guns.