Putting Out the Litigatory Fire

These two items aren’t directly related, but reading them in close proximity to each other, I discerned some dots that could be connected. First is RI Senate Majority Leader Teresa Paiva Weed’s defense of the General Assembly’s failure to reform our state’s fire code:

Following enactment of the new code in 2003, the Senate has responded when necessary with legislation to address concerns that were expressed to us about the code by the business community. Clarifying the code’s flexibility in 2005 is one example. Additionally, Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski championed the effort to create more flexible options for fire safety in churches and houses of worship. Using the flexibility of the existing code, I worked to ensure that consideration was given for bed-and-breakfast establishments. The Senate provided substantial staff support to the Council of Churches and the Bed and Breakfast Association in these successful efforts to find workable and practical interpretations of the code.

I’m not sure what “concerns” the “business community” has “expressed” to the legislature, but I’ve heard tales from electricians on various jobsites, and seen evidence, of ridiculous requirements that cost much more money than they appear to be worth. I’ve also discovered that the school next to my house is being rebuilt in part so that the younger children can actually enter the cafeteria, which the current code forbids.
On to the next, which is a bit of autobiography from Eric of Classical Values (who is not speaking of Rhode Island, specifically):

After spending years running a very popular but commercially unsuccessful nightclub, I was advised (by some attorneys who meant well) that the ideal career change for me would be to sue business owners for non-compliance with the ADA.
“Attorneys fees are there by statute!” I was told.
Great. Now that I was out of business, I could be born again as a despicable parasite and help ensure that other business owners would be put out of business. It struck me that if I became a homeless derelict, I’d be doing more for the world than if I helped ruin other people’s businesses. (It didn’t help much that one of the many reasons my business failed was that the building was cited by the fire marshall for inadequate handicapped access, and there was no way to remedy this without major alterations to the building, which I did not own, for patrons in wheelchairs who never came.)

Senator Paiva Weed makes much of the fire code’s flexibility, but there’s flexibility, and then there’s flexibility. I’d suggest that the flexibility of business owners and taxpayers to switch jobs and rebuild buildings should not count.

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SusanD
SusanD
14 years ago

Rhode Island has one of the toughest fire codes in the country. It was passed as a completely pointless, feel-good response to the Station Club fire. If the present code had been in effect five years ago, those one hundred people would still have died because, of course, the cause of the fire was failure to enforce fire laws, not inadequacy of those laws.
Our present fire code, accordingly, is indefensible, as is the Legislature’s (this year, the Senate’s) failure to rachet it back.
What strikes me in observing our state legislature at work is how remote and unaware they are of the real-life effects of the laws that they pass. The state is rife with examples of the effect of this disconnect; the new fire code is perhaps one of the more dramatic.

Ragin' Rhode Islander
Ragin' Rhode Islander
14 years ago

Senator Paiva-Weed sayz:
“Why, we all know that you business owners are rich people … nasty rich people who live to exploit your employees, by the way. I read all about it in Das Kapital. So what’s your problem, you’re rich and so you can afford it. I’m sick and tired of you rich people complaining! ‘The fire codes are too tough!’ ‘My taxes are too high!’ I’m on a ‘progressive’ mission to make Rhode Island a better place for the downtrodden, no matter their immigration status. So would you rich people please just shut up and cough up!”

Anthony
Anthony
14 years ago

SusanD adequately explains the problem, but I’d go further than blaming code enforcement. When a fire inspector knowingly disregards the fire code as happened in West Warwick, it’s the AG’s job to make sure there are consequences.
But Lynch is the most political AG we’ve seen in decades and it didn’t happen. Members of the Station Fire grand jury indicated that they would have indicted the individual who performed the inspection, but the AG’s office would not allow them to do so. Was there an outcry from the voters? No.
You might have expected a “Station Fire Family” group to come out against Lynch and support a guy Bill Harsch, much like there are 9/11 victims rights group. It didn’t happen. Maybe Harsch just wasn’t “warm” enough. But he would have made a far better AG than Patrick Lynch and I have no doubt that he would have handled the Station Fire properly rather than politically.
Our problems aren’t with the fire code or even code enforcement. The problem is that someone charged with enforcing the code can ignore the code and not face any consequences.
The people could have demanded better. They didn’t.

Bobby Oliveira
Bobby Oliveira
14 years ago

Dear Anthony,
You little tale only has one problem: there was no law under which he could be indicted.
Bill Harsch is a clown who regularly gets his head kicked in whenever he tries to do anything. A few years back, I took him to school on a Tiverton issue in front of the BOE and I’m not even a lawyer.
Please don’t make the rest of us laugh.
By the way, you’re not winning the AG slot in 2010 no matter who we run.

Thomas
Thomas
14 years ago

Ragin’,
Is that a different Paiva-Weed than the one who sponsored the cap on property taxes? Or was that also a Marxist plot?

Greg
Greg
14 years ago

I’m a believer that the property tax cap was just the foot in the door the GA wanted in order to create a whole new bunch of fees and taxes which, once the property tax cap is overturned in a few years, won’t ever go away.

Anthony
Anthony
14 years ago

Bobby,
Not true. Lynch couldn’t charge him with arson, but if you read RI’s definition of criminally negligent battery, it would be enough to let a jury decide. And as any avid Law & Order viewer knows, public employees don’t have protection if they’re criminally negligent.
The abbreviated version-
Battery – Criminal negligence. – (a) When serious bodily injury, as defined in § 11-5-2, of any person, occurs as a proximate result of criminal negligence, the person committing the criminal negligence shall be guilty of battery and shall be deemed to have committed a felony
For the purposes of this section: (i) “Criminal negligence” shall mean: Conduct which is such a departure from what would be that of an ordinary prudent or careful person in the same circumstance as to be incompatible with a proper regard for human life or an indifference to consequences. Criminal negligence is negligence that is aggravated, culpable or gross

Ragin' Rhode Islander
Ragin' Rhode Islander
14 years ago

>>Is that a different Paiva-Weed than the one who sponsored the cap on property taxes? Or was that also a Marxist plot?
If there’d also been a concurrent cap on increases in the State budget, I’d be impressed.
Money is fungible. A dollar taken from me is still gone, whether it’s taken under the label of property or income or sales or excise tax.
It is also fungible within government. If the dollar that isn’t taken from me in the form of income tax is taken from me in the form of income tax, which in turn is used to fund “state aid to education” for municipalities, I’m still out the dollar.
So unless there are caps on spending throughout the municipal AND state funding regime, her property tax cap is just a gimmick.

Ragin' Rhode Islander
Ragin' Rhode Islander
14 years ago

>>If the dollar that isn’t taken from me in the form of income tax is taken from me in the form of income tax
Sorry, should’ve said: “If the dollar that isn’t taken from me in the form of property tax is taken from me in the form of income tax …”

Thomas
Thomas
14 years ago

Greg said: “I’m a believer that the property tax cap was just the foot in the door the GA wanted in order to create a whole new bunch of fees and taxes which, once the property tax cap is overturned in a few years, won’t ever go away.”
So, even limits on taxes are actually a nefarious plot to increase taxes? Remarkable. That’s one scary world you live in.

Thomas
Thomas
14 years ago

Ragin,
I don’t disagree with you when you say taxes are fungible. We may disagree on policy, as I happen to think that a cap on property taxes would be a good thing IF it included increases in other taxes. I’d rather see education paid for by income taxes rather than property taxes. Then, people on fixed incomes, such as retirees could hang on to their homes. Funding of education via property taxes is highly regressive, and leads to radical disparities in funds. I don’t think the quality of my child’s education should depend on what town she lives in.
None of this was my point, however. I just found your portrayal of Sen. Paiva-Weed was some kind of Marxist to be bizarre.

Ragin' Rhode Islander
Ragin' Rhode Islander
14 years ago

I don’t disagree with you when you say taxes are fungible. We may disagree on policy, as I happen to think that a cap on property taxes would be a good thing IF it included increases in other taxes. I’d rather see education paid for by income taxes rather than property taxes. Then, people on fixed incomes, such as retirees could hang on to their homes. >>Funding of education via property taxes is highly regressive, and leads to radical disparities in funds. I don’t think the quality of my child’s education should depend on what town she lives in. Education IS (mostly) funded by the state income tax – if you live in Providence, Central Falls, Woonsocket … And don’t forget how we were told back in the 1970’s how the Lottery (and thus gambling proceeds) would be used to fund education, and thus have a salutary impact on (regressive) property taxes … And let us not confuse “education” and “education funding” with teachers contracts, which are related but not synonymous. In most school districts are black holes sucking in 70-80% of school department budgets. Some of this is inevitably, but a lot of it is attributable to union featherbedding (minimal actual classroom time for teachers; teachers aides; smaller than educationally optimum class sizes; excessive pay and benefit packages; etc.). >>None of this was my point, however. I just found your portrayal of Sen. Paiva-Weed was some kind of Marxist to be bizarre. Her record is that she’s never seen a welfare program that she didn’t like and that shouldn’t have ever-greater funding. She is a major reason why RI is a welfare magnet. The best anti-poverty measures are high quality education and jobs. She supports the teachers unions (and thus is de facto opposed to high quality public education)… Read more »

Thomas
Thomas
14 years ago

RR: “Education IS (mostly) funded by the state income tax – if you live in Providence, Central Falls, Woonsocket …”
First, would you please provide a source to support this statement? Second, if it is true, why is that? (You might look at property tax rates and effort across the 39 cities and towns) Third, are you saying that it’s a bad thing? If so, why?
I say again, we should fund all education through income tax, and per-student expenses should be equal (adjusted for special ed, english language learners, disabled and other populations).
RR-“And let us not confuse “education” and “education funding” with teachers contracts, which are related but not synonymous. In most school districts are black holes sucking in 70-80% of school department budgets”
Is there some reason to expect why salaries and benefits of teachers should NOT be the vast majority of outlays? I can’t imagine that it would be otherwise. Where is it significantly less than in RI?
RR: “Classic Marxism”
I can only conclude that you have only the vaguest notion of what Marxism means. Welfare-state liberalism is hardly the same thing. Like here or not, calling Paiva-Weed a Marxist is, as I said, bizarre.

Frank
Frank
14 years ago

Thomas,
Like it or not, the quality of education in RI, to the extent that it is variable, does depend on what town you live in. Interestingly there is no correlation between district performance and teacher pay or district performance and the cost of education in a particular district. The correlation is to the relative socioeconomic status of the towns. It’s who your child is in school with that largely determines student performance and the overall quality of education in a school system. The primary predictors of student performance are the educational level of the parents, income level, the presence of both parents in the household, and a couple of other factors. In the end, there are more good students and a better learning environment created in towns whose parents are educated, earn more, are present, and take a serious interest in the child’s education.
The table for RI state aid to education for towns can be found on the state budget website, pg. 496: http://www.budget.ri.gov/Documents/CurrentFY/ProgramSupplement/55_Special%20Reports.pdf. Right now RI is footing the entire bill for education in Central Falls. There is plenty of RI education data available on the RIDE website, the INFOWORKS! section is worth a look, it gives a breakdown of much of the test score and budget data.

Ragin' Rhode Islander
Ragin' Rhode Islander
14 years ago

>>RR: “Education IS (mostly) funded by the state income tax – if you live in Providence, Central Falls, Woonsocket …” >>Thomas: First, would you please provide a source to support this statement? Second, if it is true, why is that? (You might look at property tax rates and effort across the 39 cities and towns) Third, are you saying that it’s a bad thing? If so, why? RR: The amount of “state aid” going to the “urban cores” is hugely disproportionate on a per capita / per student basis. Central Falls schools are almost entirely paid for the by the State. In effect state funding for education has been turned into a welfare program in drag – the General Assembly is using it to redistribute wealth from the suburbs into the urban areas. So the suburbs are in effect paying for two school systems at once – their own and “urbans.” Various RIPEC and state budget reports confirm this. >>Thomas: I say again, we should fund all education through income tax, and per-student expenses should be equal (adjusted for special ed, english language learners, disabled and other populations). RR: Sounds OK in theory. But the devil is in the details. For example, the education establishment in this state has made an art of classifying students as “special needs” in order to garner more funding and as a means of putting more unionized teachers and aides to featherbed the payroll. Something like one-in-five RI students is classified as “special needs” . >>RR-“And let us not confuse “education” and “education funding” with teachers contracts, which are related but not synonymous. In most school districts are black holes sucking in 70-80% of school department budgets” >>Thomas: Is there some reason to expect why salaries and benefits of teachers should NOT be the vast… Read more »

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