1.) With the controversy about legislative and community grants that swirled around the General Assembly this past year, would you like to see changes made to the process(es) regarding legislative and community grants?
Obviously, no one in elected office should be the recipient of a community service grant, and any chief executive of an organization receiving one should be held accountable through regularly performed audits. That being said, I did not agree with the way the House Finance Committee ran the hearings reviewing the Community Service Grants, because there was no accountability or structural oversight. I believe each department (which had the grants as part of their budget) should have oversight responsibilities for the grant. As is done with other matters relating to the budget, the house fiscal staff should clearly present the grants in the context of the budget of that agency/ department, what the money was to be used for, the history of the spending, and then the agency should be present at the hearing to provide comments and respond to committee questions.
Furthermore, I did not agree with the arbitrary process by which the continuation of some, and the cancellation of others was administered. Some groups, like the Conservation Districts, which are created by the legislature, should have been funded by the legislature- yet were not.
As far as legislative grants, we need additional safeguards to be put in place. A recent grant that received scrutiny locally is a perfect example of how the time limits and the reporting requirements need to be enforced and monitored more closely. The sponsoring legislator currently signs off on an application that is skeletal, at best, however we should only sign off on completed applications, and there should be clear deadlines for using funds and filing compliance paperwork. This additional level of accountability will go a long way to ensuring that these small dollar awards are taken seriously and spent wisely. In the final days of the session I did propose that any grant over $10,000 would need an additional level of approval; however since it was outside of the filing deadline, I was unable to have the bill drafted and heard.
2.) Gov. Raimondo has been pushing hard for job creation in the state recently. What ideas do you have regarding job creation that you would like to bring to the House floor?
I believe further elimination of regulations, like I achieved for the breweries and distilleries in the state, are possible. This simple change to the existing law has allowed two businesses in my district to plan expansions. Efforts that remove barriers to businesses which prevent them from expanding are critical to the creation of jobs in RI.
I will also continue my work on oversight and review of all of our economic development related tax incentives to make sure they are being spent in the manner intended while creating the desired result. For decades, hundreds of millions of dollars have been handed out with little-to-no-oversight. Since my first term in 2011, I have worked to include clear parameters on new incentives and review existing ones. Doing so would allow RI to reallocate millions of dollars each year to invest in programs we know are working for our state. If I once again receive the trust of the voters and return in January, I will continue my work with the fiscal staff and executive branch to create and implement clear pathways to achieve these goals.
3.) What new initiatives would you like to introduce to the House, if re-elected?
Of course, I will continue my work on many public health issues, but have committed myself to fighting for increased funding and accessibility for mental health throughout Washington County. When we can no longer find money to fund low cost and highly effective peer programs like we have at Oasis in Wakefield, and when we watch as cuts to providers means the only center left for patients to receive treatment is in a place without public transit access, there is a serious problem with our state's priorities. I will fight for mental health parity on par with other healthcare services, and to restore our state to a place where opioid addiction treatment and prevention can counter the tragedies of the overdose epidemic we currently face.
In addition to the ethics reform and legislative grant reform proposals discussed earlier, I believe increased funding for our Higher Ed institutions is long overdue. While I know the cost of sending a student to college is out of reach for so many already, and I have supported recent tuition freezes, we cannot expect a world class, competitive product from these institutions without increased investments from the state.
I am also looking forward to continuing discussions with URI to house more freshman on campus, and make public transit more available to students and faculty to relieve the pressure on the families in the host communities I represent.
4.) What is your top issue during your campaign?
I am proud of my accomplishments, and highlighting them has been a focus in this campaign. My constituents know where I stand on issues, and that I bring strong values and a clear voice to the State House. I am not afraid to stand up and fight for an issue I believe in. I’ve earned the respect of my colleagues as a serious legislator, who takes the time to study an issue and effectively advocate. Whether it is working to support our local economy, restore and invest our local tourism dollars, provide more transit options, enact common sense gun reforms, ensure adequate funding to complete the bike path to the beach, protect the environment or expand access to renewable energy programs, my constituents know I will be leading the way.
5.) The ethics bill was unanimously approved this past session. Do you think further measures should be taken with ethics reform?
I have been an ardent supporter of transparency and good government policies and am very pleased to have played a part in the passage of ethics reform this year. There is more work to be done, and I would like to see changes to the “revolving door” policy; expand it to two years out of office, and have it be more clearly defined in the case of who is considered covered in the executive branch hiring exceptions. I would also like to see separation of powers clarified in the case of dual office holders, i.e. municipal judges as legislators. I do not see how an individual can simultaneously be a member of two branches of government.
6.) How would you change the budget process at the State House so it doesn't last overnight as it has in previous years - or until 6:30 a.m. as it did this past year?
Allow for one extension, for 2 hours, past 11 pm before we adjourn until the next day.