Talking Politics

Gun debate looms large in General Assembly’s final days

By Ian Donnis
Posted 6/7/22

 

 

The Senate Judiciary Committee is the key battleground for contentious legislation in Rhode Island. So what happens when the majority of support on the committee for gun rights …

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Talking Politics

Gun debate looms large in General Assembly’s final days

Posted

 

 

The Senate Judiciary Committee is the key battleground for contentious legislation in Rhode Island. So what happens when the majority of support on the committee for gun rights bumps into a louder chorus of Rhode Islanders calling for action on gun-related bills? Legislative leaders have shown their hand by pledging to pass some legislation this session.

In 2019, the composition of Judiciary was such that leadership used an obscure rule to move an abortion-rights bill to a different committee, thereby clearing the path of the legislation to the Senate floor. Now, amid the latest spate of mass shootings across America, five ‘gun-safety’ bills are in the spotlight as the legislative session enters its final weeks.

Supporters of the legislation (including all five state general officers and labor heavyweights like the AFL-CIO’s George Nee) gathered outside the Statehouse last week, arguing that the bills to cap magazine capacity, ban new sales of “assault weapons,” and add other restrictions will make Rhode Island safer. Opponents responded in the rotunda on Thursday, calling the legislation misplaced and ineffective.

In a significant development, House Speaker Joe Shekarchi and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio released a statement this week expressing their commitment “to passing meaningful gun reform legislation this session,” although the outlook for what bills may move forward remains unclear.

Gun-rights supporters have the edge on the eight-member Senate Judiciary Committee, since Sens. Stephen Archambault (D-Smithfield), Leonidas Raptakis (D-Coventry), Frank Lombardi (D-Cranston), Gordon Rogers (R-Foster) have gotten A ratings from the NRA and Sen. John Burke (D-West Warwick) is close to former speaker-turned-lobbyist William Murphy, whose has represented the NRA in the past. On the other side of the issue are Judiciary Chairwoman Cynthia Coyne (D-Barrington) and Sens. Dawn Euer (D-Newport) and Ana Quezada (D-Providence).

Still, the 5-3 alignment of the committee is not necessarily a barrier to gun bills moving to the floor. (Last year, the Senate’s top two leaders, President Ruggerio and Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey, voted ex officio in Judiciary to stop gun legislation from being defeated.) For now, the question remains, which bills will leadership support – perhaps magazine capacity and raising the age to possess a long gun — and how will the legislation with a green light change on the way to the floor of the House and Senate?

BUDGET: House Speaker Joe Shekarchi and House Fiscal Adviser Sharon Reynolds Ferland face an unusual circumstance – a surplus of almost $900 million – as they oversee the revising of the next state budget. Deficits have been the norm in Rhode Island for many years. The House spending plan could emerge as soon as next week. Suffice it to say, the budget – typically approved by the House Finance Committee in under an hour – is likely to include some voter-friendly tax relief in this election year.

FUNG’S MOMENT: After weathering two losses while running for governor, Allan Fung is now the GOP’s big hope for nabbing a congressional seat in the blue state of Rhode Island. (Fung is the heads-on favorite in a primary with former state Rep. Robert Lancia). During an interview on Political Roundtable, Fung focused his message, as might be expected, on inflation, the economy and President Biden, while not directly engaging with some questions.

For example, asked how Fung – a proud Asian-American – reconciles his support for Donald Trump with Trump’s use of the phrases “kung flu” and “Chinese virus” for COVID, the former Cranston mayor lamented the rise of anti-Asian hate. Asked if Trump’s behavior is suitable for someone who might seek another term as president, Fung said in part, “For me, I think we just have to move on and address the issues at hand.” On guns, Fung said he opposes legislative proposals to cap magazines at 10 rounds and ban new sales of “automatic weapons.” 

ELSEWHERE IN CD2: On the Democratic side of the race to succeed outgoing U.S. Rep. Jim Langevin, the question is whether rival Democrats can overcome General Treasurer Seth Magaziner’s advantages in name recognition and fundraising. Among some of the others, Joy Fox is pressing her outreach, Sarah Morgenthau has gone on the air, and David Segal is heartened by his polling. (Caveat emptor: without the release of a full poll, it’s impossible to independently assess the accuracy of this data).

According to Segal pollster Dan Cohen, Segal could benefit as undecided voters focus in, with just more than three months until the primary. “Among respondents who were able to rate 3 or 4 of the top four candidates, Seth was at 28.8, David was at 17.5, Joy was at 16.3, and Sarah was at 10.0,” Cohen told me via email. “Among respondents who could rate only 1 or 2 candidates, Seth had better than a 30-point lead …. While Seth has been a known quantity for seven years, the polling clearly shows that voters are not sold on him and, even with just a minimal amount of campaigning from other candidates, the numbers will be very different, very fast. For David in particular, we see that as voters hear David's background of building coalitions that can overcome corporate interests and deliver for everyday people, they are clearly moving toward him.”

PRIDE: Gov. Dan McKee was among those who this week recognized the start of Pride, a celebration of LGBTQ rights and culture. That’s a sign of how much has changed in the last two decades or so. Back in 2002, the stigma associated by some with homosexuality was cited in the suicide of a Connecticut man who killed himself after being arrested during a vice bust at an adult theater in Johnston.

That was the same year when David Cicilline first ran for mayor of Providence. He decisively won the September 2002 primary, showing that his status as an openly gay man was a non-issue for voters. Rapidly changing public attitudes (and a strong grassroots campaign) propelled Rhode Island’s legalization of same-sex marriage in 2013. Still, the U.S. Supreme Court’s leaked opinion on Roe v. Wade shows how some rights are on shaky ground, and about a dozen states have passed laws preventing transgender students from playing girls’ or women’s sports. 

ODDS & ENDS: The host committee for a June 21 fundraiser for Seth Magaziner – headlined by Boston Mayor Michelle Wu – includes Larry Lucchino of the WooSox …. GOP candidate for governor Ashley Kalus has hired a campaign manager, Evan Gillissie, a Cranston native who most recently has worked in DC in government relations for a network of technology CEOs …. The RI Working Families Party is out with some of its first legislative endorsements of the 2022 cycle, for Cherie Cruz, running for the seat held by Rep. Carlos Tobon (D-Pawtucket), and Giona Picheco, competing for the seat held by Rep. Charlene Lima (D-Cranston) …. CD2 candidate Sarah Morgenthau, who recently hired Bryan McNamara as her campaign manager, snagged an endorsement from the New Shoreham Democratic Committee. 

OPINION: David Ng, executive editor of the ProJo, has announced the Journal will no longer publish opinion pieces during the week. This came almost exactly two years after Rhode Island’s statewide daily eliminated its editorial editor position. At the same time, other local outlets, including the Valley Breeze, The Public’s Radio, UpriseRI and Globe RI have expanded their opinion offerings. 

HEALTH: Dr. James V. McDonald, interim director of the state Department of Health, is leaving that job. In a resignation letter, McDonald said he made the decision due to the need to assist his 91-year-old father and his mother, who has Alzheimer’s. Via my colleague Lynn Arditi: “A pediatrician known for his upbeat tone and teacherly approach to explaining medical science, McDonald held many roles during his 10 years in the department, including administrator of the state Board of Medical Licensure and Discipline. McDonald’s profile rose during the pandemic, when he began speaking publicly at news briefings and co-hosting a podcast, Public Health Out Loud, with infectious disease specialist Dr. Philip Chan.

Saying that he ‘never expected to be the voice of the Department,’ McDonald said in his letter to McKee that ‘leaving the Department of Health is something I thought I would never do.’ He said the job has been ‘the highlight of my career.’ ”   

SHORELINE: If the Rhode Island House of Representatives unanimously votes to clarify where Rhode Islanders can walk along the shoreline, getting the bill across the finish line should be relatively easy, no? Well, not so fast.

As my colleague Alex Nunes reports, “Despite passing in the House in a 64-0 vote, the future of the legislation is unclear. There is no Senate companion bill, and Senate spokesperson Greg Paré said in an email the proposal ‘is not a focus at this time’ and Senate lawmakers ‘have not had hearings on it or conducted any of the necessary diligence on it at this point.’ Paré said …. In a recent interview, Governor Dan McKee also did not commit either way on the House bill.”

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE: The Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence is staging a public awareness campaign throughout June. The focus involves helping men learn “how they can show up for all people -- including women and trans and gender non-conforming people – in positive, affirming ways, and by doing so, how men can help prevent violence. By modeling respectful relationships and being a voice for equality, men can help change the culture that allows domestic abuse and other forms of violence.” RICADM is also continuing its related “Ten Men” program to actively involve men in opposing domestic violence.

Ian Donnis can be reached at idonnis@ripr.org. You can follow him on Twitter @IanDon. For a longer version of this column or to sign up for email delivery, visit thepublicsradio.org

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