Proposals as Defense

In response to my inquiry to RI Senate President Joseph Montalbano as to the reason that “not one of the proposals that came out of last year’s [small-business economic] summit, including revisions to the stringent new fire code, made it into law,” Senate Director of Communications Greg Paré emailed that Senator William Walaska (D, Warwick) and Senator Joshua Miller (D, Cranston/Warwick) were the members of that body in attendance at this year’s summit. Mr. Paré sent along Sen. Walaska’s prepared comments for the meeting (which readers will find “below the fold” of this post), and I followed up by pursuing the thoughts of the Senate president, himself, about the meeting, as well as about this interesting bit of Walaska’s speech:

I sponsored legislation last session to place a moratorium on mandates to health insurance companies, and I will introduce similar legislation this year.

Specifically, I asked to what Mr. Montalbano ascribes the failure of the moratorium to materialize and whether he intends to back the repeat bill this year. I haven’t been keeping a tally, but my impression is that citizens hear a bit too frequently such formulations as: “I submitted potentially helpful legislation last year and will do so again.” That’s all well and good, but simply sponsoring legislation doesn’t provide cover for a failure to see it through into law, bucking the General Assembly powers that be if necessary.
Once again, readers’ sending Senator Montalbano a quick note requesting that he take a moment to answer my questions couldn’t hurt. (I still haven’t heard from House Speaker Murphy regarding this matter, by the way.)

Senator William Walaska’s opening remarks to the SBA Economic Summit Plenary Panel Discussion, January 11, 2008:

It is wonderful to be here, and I am pleased to join my colleagues in government in this important interaction between the public and private sectors. This is a tremendous opportunity, and I welcome this dialogue with the small business leaders in our state. On behalf of President of the Senate Joseph Montalbano and Senate Majority Leader Teresa Paiva Weed, thank you to Mark Hayward and the Small Business Administration for again putting together this wonderful event.
The economic development committees that met today focused on issues that remain priorities for us in the General Assembly, and the exchange of ideas among small business leaders and government leaders has proven invaluable towards achieving results.
Indeed, we have made progress around many of the ideas introduced during last year’s summit. For instance, last session I worked in conjunction with the Department of Business Regulation to pass legislation that allows Rhode Island to participate in a national, online licensing system for mortgage originators. This web-based system allows state licensees, companies, branches and loan officers to apply for, amend, update or renew licenses online in Rhode Island as well as other participating states.
Rhode Island is on the cutting edge in this regard. We are one of just seven states to offer this service. Over the next several years I would like to see more licensing services available online. It is the direction we should be heading … utilizing technology to help small businesses cut through the red tape of government regulation.
Another example of the progress that has been made since last year’s summit is the appointment of a Director of the Department of Revenue. Last year, you joined in our call for appointment of a director. The letter making the appointment of Gary Sasse official arrived in the Senate earlier this week. This position is essential as we try to make smart decisions to establish a more efficient government.
Around health care, we passed legislation last year establishing a commission to look at the restructuring of the health insurance market for small business, looking at the rules that apply to small business and the rules that apply to the individual market, and taking the best of both. Senator Miller has participated in that effort from the Senate side, along with Health Insurance Commissioner Chris Koller.
I sponsored legislation last session to place a moratorium on mandates to health insurance companies, and I will introduce similar legislation this year. Additionally, I would anticipate legislation related to development of a technology-based health information exchange, although it is likely to be controversial.
I would also anticipate legislation that would move us closer to universal health care. The senate has traditionally resisted efforts that would erode health care coverage.
On education and workforce development, I think a major step forward has been taken with the implementation of new graduation standards, designed to ensure workforce preparedness. Today, students must demonstrate a certain skill set in order to graduate high school.
This session, the education funding formula will remain a major issue. We need a funding formula. I would note that last session’s proposal took into account and sought to remedy discrepancies in career and technical education, increasing standards and accountability to improve quality.
Another important goal this year along these lines is to make the workforce training programs more user friendly. We look to small business for input in this area, and in all of the areas I have mentioned.
Finally, I have been pleased to have worked for a number of years on energy issues, particularly with regard to renewable energy. This year you can expect a proposal from the leadership in the Senate to create a Power Authority. The Senate passed a measure last year, but it did not become law. It is our view that a Power Authority is a critical piece of the puzzle for making renewable energy projects a reality.
The Senate welcomes this opportunity for us to work together to address the issues that we are all concerned with. Working together, we can make more progress this year to further improve the business climate in Rhode Island. Thank you for having me today.

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