Legislative News – Jan. 13: State of the State Address; Arming Campus Police; School District raising funds

The following three press releases were provided by the press office at the General Assembly on January 13th.

MEDIA ADVISORY: State of the State Address scheduled for Jan. 14

STATE HOUSE — A joint session of the General Assembly will receive Gov. Gina M. Raimondo’s State of the State Address at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 14, in the House chamber in the State House.     

The Senate and House of Representatives will each hold their regular floor session at 5 p.m. that day. Senators will then join representatives in the House chamber for the governor’s address at 7 p.m.

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In addition to the members of the General Assembly, also expected to be present to hear the governor’s remarks will be the state’s other general officers, members of the judiciary, heads of various state departments and agencies, municipal officials and other guests.

The address will be broadcast live by Capitol TV, seen on Channel 15 for Cox Communications and Full Channel, Channel 1013 for Cox HD, and Channel 34 for Verizon. It will also be live streamed at www.rilegislature.gov/captv.

Rep. O’Brien once again questions CCRI President over arming campus police

STATE HOUSE – Rep. William W. O’Brien (D-Dist. 54, North Providence) is once again questioning Community College of Rhode Island (CCRI) President Dr. Meghan Hughes over her refusal to arm the campus police at CCRI’s campuses.  CCRI recently provided a report to Representative O’Brien regarding the feasibility of arming their police force which ultimately cited cost, approximately $200,000 in one-time costs, as a reason not to arm the CCRI police officers.

The report was a result of a House resolution (2019-H 5138A), sponsored by Representative O’Brien, that passed the House last legislative session.

“If the cost of arming CCRI campus police is the main concern to President Hughes, I would like to know how much taxpayer money has been spent paying for off-campus law enforcement during her tenure.  Also, how much is the safety and well-being of everyone who steps foot on a CCRI campus worth to President Hughes?  It’s simple common-sense that having well-trained and armed campus police force quickly responding to mass shooting threats is better than having to wait, causing precious seconds and minutes to go by, for outside help to come to the rescue.  Total safety of the students, faculty, and staff is my only concern, not a one-time cost that is currently being spent on hiring outside law enforcement to help on campus,” said Representative O’Brien.

In response to the report received last week, Representative O’Brien has reintroduced legislation (2020-H 7034) which mandates the arming of campus police officers at the state’s public colleges.  Currently, the University of Rhode Island is the only public institute of higher education that has armed its campus police officers.  URI instituted this policy in 2015.

“As I asked President Hughes last year, if there is no need for armed campus police at CCRI, why did she feel it necessary to hire armed security, costing taxpayers thousands of dollars, to protect her during an incident that lasted a significant amount of time?  If there is a need for armed off-campus police officers, whether during security incidents or events held on campus, CCRI campus police should be handling these situations.  The amount of money spent on hiring outside armed law enforcement would be better served arming and training CCRI campus police, saving taxpayers the annual cost of hiring outside armed help and more importantly, providing the quickest and closest safety net for our students, faculty, and staff,” concluded Representative O’Brien.

Last April, at a House Finance Subcommittee on Education meeting, Representative O’Brien questioned CCRI President Dr. Meghan Hughes about why at times armed police details were being hired to patrol the campuses of CCRI.  He also asked if there was no need for the campus police to be armed why were armed police details being hired from neighboring communities.  Representative O’Brien also pointed out that the hiring of outside police details costs the taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars every year.

McNamara bill would allow school districts to raise funds for field trips, dances, activities

STATE HOUSE — Rep. Joseph M. McNamara (D-Dist. 19, Warwick, Cranston) has introduced legislation that would allow school districts to raise the money necessary to fund certain extracurricular activities, including field trips and dances.

The legislation (2020-H 7069) would allow a school district to request a contribution of money from a student or the student’s parent or legal guardian to pay, in whole or in part, for the cost of district sponsored field trips, dances, clubs, and other district sponsored or based programs of extracurricular activities, provided that the district would pay the costs to meet any deficit.

“Field trips are an important part of learning, enriching the curriculum, strengthening observation skills by immersing children into sensory activities,” said Representative McNamara, a former educator who chairs the House Health, Education and Welfare Committee. “The current policy of the Department of Education regarding the way these activities can be funded has caused many school districts to do away with field trips entirely. That’s just unacceptable, because they are vital in increasing a child’s knowledge of specific subjects, even generating the interest, enthusiasm and passion for subjects that will remain with them for the rest of their lives.”

Last year, many school districts canceled field trips in the wake of a Rhode Island Department of Education policy that was established in April by the former commissioner, Dr. Ken Wagner. The policy stated that school departments may not charge students to participate in public school field trips. Since it was interpreted that no fund raising could be done for these trips either, the policy effectively eliminated the field trips in many places.

The legislation proposed by Representative McNamara with the support of House leadership would codify the ability of school districts to request money, establish a minimum goal for fundraising and to receive contributions or gifts of money as a prerequisite to determining whether the district would participate in the activity.

The legislation, which is cosponsored by Representatives Justine A. Caldwell (D-Dist. 30, East Greenwich, West Greenwich), Thomas E. Noret (D-Dist. 25, Coventry, West Warwick), Mia Ackerman (D-Dist. 45, Cumberland, Lincoln), and John W. Lyle Jr. (R-Dist. 46, Lincoln, Pawtucket), has been referred to the Health, Education and Welfare Committee.

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