Under the Radar
While the Rhode Island General Assembly still hasn't figured out how to balance this year's budget, lawmakers have filed hundreds of extraneous bills that have nothing to do with jobs, the economy or an exploding deficit. This week Jim Hummel takes a closer look at legislation that may leave you....perplexed.
The General Assembly still hasn't figured out how to balance this year's budget, let alone tackle the gaping hole of next year and beyond. But that hasn't stopped the men and women of Rhode Island's legislature from proposing hundreds of bills that for the most part are flying under the public radar. This week we shine a little light on a sampling of legislation that may leave you....wondering.
* We start with the Assembly itself: a bill filed in January would require the vote of each legislator to be posted on the Assembly's website. My question: do we really need a *law* to get this done, and why haven't we been doing it already since everybody up here is jumping on the `transparency' bandwagon?
* At the same time legislation is now pending to actually decrease the number of microphones in the chamber. I think we can probably all agree that's a good thing.
* It reminds me of a bill filed nearly 20 years ago. For years the top legislative leaders parked their cars on the front patio. Getting one of these spaces was the legislative equivalent of scoring a low-numbered plate. But the oil drips got so bad - and the preservationists howled loudly enough - that lawmakers decided they shouldn't park there anymore. The only way to stop themsevles: Pass a law.
* Of course the legislature is looking for extra money wherever it can. But I'm not quite sure the proposal for a new lottery game is going to be the answer. A representative from Charlestown wants the lottery to create the ``Scratch-A-Tick Game.'' - with some of the proceeds going to tick-bite prevention. I'm sure it will rank right up there with Powerball in popularity.
* There's been a lot of talk about education lately. How's this for a proposal: one lawmaker filed a bill requiring children who are being promoted beyond 5th grade to have the language skills at least that of an average....3rd grader. Is this what they consider educational reform?
* Speaking of kids....some visionary proposed a bill that would allow School Committees to begin selling advertising space on school buses. That's just what our kids need - to be bombarded on the way to and from school, before getting it all over again on TV when they get home.
* In the category of `We're looking out for you' - a Pawtucket representative filed a bill that would quote: clarify that the Public Utilities Commission must balance the interests of the taxpayers against the interest of a public utility carrier when determining rate increases.'' Now wouldn't that be refreshing?
* Every year dozens of bills are filed relating the court system. But I must admit this one surprised even a veteran court-watcher like me. It would authorize anyone involved in a case who is 65 or older to ask for an accelerated trial. If I were 65 I'm not sure if I'd take that as compliment or an insult.
* Have you ever sat next to the guy in your office who refuses to leave his desk when the fire alarm goes off. Okay...I was usually that guy. But my feeling is: I stay at my own risk. Now a Bristol representative feels the need to play Mr. Safety and make it illegal not to get up and get out. I just wonder who's gonna rat out the offenders? Don't you think the firefighters have enough to keep track of?
* Finally, it happens every year. Some well-meaning lawmaker tries to rename popular highways, or bridges or landmarks in the state. Among this year's offerings: a Cranston rep who wants to rename Route 37 the ``Potter's Field Memorial Highway'' in recognition of thousands of wards of the state buried nearby.
Likewise, a Portsmouth rep has began her annual campaign to rename the Sakonnet River Bridge after Anne Hutchinson - who apparently was the Roger Williams of her time.
What these reps fail to realize is that in Rhode Island - even if it's a worthy proposal and actually does go through - it will take three generations before any of us actually start calling this the Anne Hutchinson Bridge.
And then it will get shortened to `The Hutch.'
I'm Jim Hummel, and that's this week's Hummel Report.