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1540 WADK.com Updates

Economic forecast sees growth, challenges for New England

Taken as a whole the New England economy is expected to continue improving over the next two years, but experts say significant state-by-state disparities remain.

The New England Economic Partnership released its annual outlook on Tuesday during a conference at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.

In its report, the group pointed to Massachusetts and New Hampshire as having the strongest economies in the region, as indicated by unemployment rates that are among the four lowest in the nation. But that could lead to constraints in the labor force that limit future growth in those states.

The economists say Maine and Vermont are troubled by "demographic factors and rural area economic stagnation."

Connecticut and Rhode Island, meanwhile, are lagging behind the rest of the region in overall economic vitality.


Providence mayor issues plan for improving infrastructure

The mayor of Providence has unveiled a five-year capital improvement plan that calls for spending between $16 million and $34 million annually on repairs and infrastructure improvement projects in the city.

Mayor Jorge Elorza's proposal will be reviewed by the City Plan Commission.

Elorza's plan calls for spending $21.4 million in the upcoming fiscal year, with $10 million of that spent on resurfacing and street repairs and $2.2 million spent on sanitary sewers and stormwater management.

Stormwater sewer improvements are required under the terms of a consent agreement between the city and the state Department of Environmental Management.

The proposal foresees spending $19 million in fiscal 2019, $34 million in 2020, $31 million in 2021 and $16 million in 2022.


Mom charged with taking her kids 3 decades ago to face judge

A mother charged with snatching her two daughters from Rhode Island in 1985 is scheduled to appear before a judge after police found the three living in the Houston area.

Rhode Island State Police say an anonymous tip two days before Christmas led authorities to Kimberly and Kelly Yates and their 69-year-old mother, Elaine.

Elaine Yates had been living under the name Liana Lynn Waldberg.

The mother was arrested Monday without incident, and faces arraignment today in Superior Court in Warwick.

Kelly Yates was 10 months old and her sister, Kimberly Yates, was 3 years old when they disappeared. They're now in their 30s.

Their father says he wants to see his children, and is waiting for them to get in touch.


Raimondo speech pitches economic initiatives

Gov. Gina Raimondo says she wants to reinvent Rhode Island's manufacturing industry, provide free tuition at state colleges, raise the minimum wage and cut car taxes by 30 percent.

The governor outlined several initiatives to improve the state's economy as she delivered her annual State of the State speech Tuesday night. It was her third since taking office in 2015. It roughly marks the halfway point of her term as she eyes re-election in 2018.

Raimondo is pitching her initiatives as a way of helping the state adapt to a changing economy.

The speech advances priorities from the budget plan she plans to release Thursday.

She says the state's leaders for years have missed opportunities to revive the state's manufacturing industry as factories closed and jobs disappeared.


Retired cop wrongly barred from traffic details

A retired police sergeant is suing Newport and its police department in federal court, accusing them of wrongfully preventing him from working traffic details.

Albert Quinn retired in 2011.  Quinn says he was barred from working traffic details after talking publicly that a relative was scammed by a caller claiming the family's cafe owed more than $1,400.

The lawsuit states Police Chief Gary Silva accused Quinn of interfering with the investigation and asked him to resign.

Quinn says he reached out to the city manager and was told he could return, but that Silva later said it wasn't going to happen.

Quinn seeks unspecified damages and his reinstatement.

Silva hasn't returned a call seeking comment. City Manager Joseph Nicholson Jr. couldn't immediately be reached.


Providence police buying tool to retrieve vehicle data

Providence police are buying a tool that can remove information from data recorders in modern vehicles in order to aid in crash investigations and educate the public about roadway dangers.

The city last month approved a request from Police Chief Hugh Clements Jr. to buy the $9,500 tool.

Police say event data recorders collect information from a vehicle's electronic system, including the speed of a vehicle just before a crash, wheel angles and application of the brake or accelerator pedal. Police can also see how many people were in the vehicle and whether they were wearing seatbelts.

Police must apply for a warrant or have the driver's consent to use the tool.

Officials say there were more than 10,000 crashes in Providence last year.


Acting tax administrator appointed permanently to the post

The state's acting tax administrator has been appointed to permanently fill the post.

The Rhode Island Department of Revenue says Neena Savage was selected to oversee the Rhode Island Division of Taxation. Savage became the acting tax administrator in December 2015.

Robert Hull, the department's director, says Savage is well-versed in Rhode Island tax functions and committed to continuous improvements.

Savage, an attorney, started working for the state in 1997 at the Department of Business Regulation. She eventually became the acting deputy director and executive counsel there.

The taxation division has about 230 employees and a budget of $23.7 million for the current fiscal year.

It's projected to collect $3.2 billion in revenue this fiscal year.


Gov. Raimondo prepares State of the State speech

Gov. Gina Raimondo is expected to talk about past accomplishments as well as her goals for the future during her State of the State address.

The speech tonight will be the Democrat's third since taking office in 2015.

In a change from the previous two years, she won't be presenting her budget plan on the same day as the speech. Her tax-and-spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year will be rolled out Thursday.

State officials have projected a $58.7 million surplus for the current fiscal year but are expecting a $112 million budget shortfall for the following year. Raimondo has said it's important to preserve education aid but other cuts are possible.

She plans to run for a second four-year term in 2018.


Deer hunting season to open on Block Island

Deer hunting season is set to open on Block Island.

The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management says the season will open today at the island's Black Rock and Rodman Hollow and run through Feb. 10.

DEM Director Janet Coit says the Black Rock hunt is a popular draw and is also a vital part of controlling the island's deer population.

Hunters allowed to participate were selected by lottery.

DEM is reminding the public that they should use caution while walking on trails around Black Rock. Anyone who walks on the property during the season, including hunters and hikers, must wear 500 square inches of blaze orange.


Free coats offered to homeless and low-income vets

A nonprofit group is working with the Providence VA Medical Center to give away winter clothing to homeless and low-income veterans.

Operation Stand Down Rhode Island is holding a coat giveaway for veterans at the medical center on Chalkstone Avenue in Providence from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Friday.

The group helps homeless veterans and veterans who are at risk of becoming homeless.

It's giving away coats, gloves, hats, sweatshirts, blankets and care packages to help keep veterans warm this winter.

More than 100 coats were donated for the giveaway.

Operation Stand Down says about 200 veterans benefited from a similar coat giveaway in November.


Gov. proposes 90-cent hike in RI minimum wage

Gov. Gina Raimondo is proposing a 90-cent hike in the state's minimum wage.

Raimondo announced the proposal to raise the wage from $9.60 to $10.50 an hour during a breakfast Monday to honor civil rights leaders Martin Luther King Jr.

Raimondo's minimum wage increase would take effect on Oct. 1, 2017 if she can persuade state lawmakers to go along with the hike.

Raimondo was unable last year to convince lawmakers to raise the wage to $10.10 an hour.

Raimondo said no one working full-time should live in poverty.

Massachusetts and Washington state currently have the highest new minimum wages in the country, at $11 per hour. Connecticut's minimum wage climbed to $10.10 at the start of the year.


Gov. Raimondo to propose free-tuition plan

Gov. Gina Raimondo is unveiling a plan to provide two years of free tuition to the state's residents at any of its public colleges.

Raimondo discussed the plan in an interview and will present it to state lawmakers this week as part of her fiscal 2018 budget.

Raimondo's plan is being called the Rhode Island Promise Scholarship. It would offer residents in good academic standing two years of free tuition at the Community College of Rhode Island, Rhode Island College and the University of Rhode Island. The program is estimated to cost $30 million a year.

Raimondo told The Journal that it's time to give middle-class families a break and that she wants to give the people of Rhode Island a chance.


Mohegan Tribe details plans for former hospital site

The Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority is unveiling its plans to redevelop the site of a former psychiatric hospital in Connecticut.

Tribal officials announced plans Saturday for a $600 million non-gambling resort on the property of the shuttered Norwich State Hospital. The resort is to include a large performance venue, a water park, hotels, a senior living center, a sports complex and other attractions.

Residents in the town of Preston voted unanimously last year to support the proposed sale of the hospital to the Mohegan Tribe. The property has been vacant since the hospital closed in 1996. The town and the tribe are now finalizing details of the sale.

Gov. Dannel Malloy applauded the tribe's plan in a prepared statement, saying it would make southeast Connecticut a premier tourism destination.


Senate considers RI's new public safety director

Rhode Island state senators are holding a hearing to consider the governor's pick to lead the state police.

Col. Ann Assumpico (ah-SUHM-pih-koh) was appointed to the top job in November by Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo.

Assumpico holds dual roles of state police superintendent and the state's director of public safety. The public safety director position requires the Senate's advice and consent.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has a scheduled hearing Tuesday to discuss her appointment.

Assumpico is the first woman to lead the state police or any of Rhode Island's law enforcement agencies. She replaces Col. Steven O'Donnell, who retired last year.

Raimondo has expressed interest in eventually splitting the roles of superintendent and public safety director, as other states do.


Hundreds rally in RI in support of 'Obamacare'

Hundreds of people have gathered alongside a group of Rhode Island Democrats to protest Republican efforts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act.

Among those taking part in Sunday's rally at the Johnston Senior Center were both of Rhode Island's U.S. senators, its two U.S. representatives and Gov. Gina Raimondo.

Speakers took turns at a podium defending President Barack Obama's signature health care law and criticizing efforts to repeal it.

President-elect Donald Trump has promised to repeal and replace the law, and the Republican-controlled Senate on Thursday passed a measure taking the first steps to dismantle it.

The rally was one of many being staged across the country in advance of Trump's inauguration on Jan. 20.


Bomb squad blamed for booms heard around Narragansett Bay

Loud booms heard around Narragansett Bay were the result of a bomb squad disposing of old ordnance around Quonset Business Park in North Kingstown.

The Newport Daily News reports that booms could be heard Thursday all the way across the bay in Newport.

Police dispatchers in North Kingstown and Jamestown told the newspaper that the state bomb squad was getting rid of old ordnance. Jamestown Police dispatcher Conrad Fuesz says the sound travels depending on the wind.

He says the detonations usually happen three or four times a year and last a few hours.


Deficiencies found in RI College educator programs

State regulators have found multiple deficiencies with educator programs at Rhode Island College.

A panel of 19 educators from Rhode Island and other states reviewed the Providence college last fall.

The state Department of Education declined to renew the school's administrator and school counselor programs. Both are master's degree-level programs.

The college says students currently in those programs will be eligible for certification when they graduate. The programs won't accept new students until the state approves the college's new application.

Seven programs were conditionally approved. A tenth passed "with distinction."

The college must create a corrective plan with implementation deadlines that continue into fall 2018. It must also appoint a "change mentor," or overseer, and send proof of reform to the commissioner of education.


Ex-lawmaker whose residency was disputed in police custody

A former Rhode Island state representative who withdrew his re-election bid after questions were raised about his residency is in police custody.

State police confirm Democrat John Carnevale turned himself in Thursday afternoon. There was no word on what charges he might face.

Lt. Col. Joseph Philbin says Carnevale will appear Friday in Providence Superior Court.

Carnevale insisted his residence was in the Providence district he represented. But WPRI-TV reported last year he spent much of his time at a home in Johnston that wasn't listed on ethics filings.

The Providence Board of Canvassers ruled in July that Carnevale doesn't live at the Providence home where he registered to vote.


Raimondo shakes up staff over troubled benefits system

Two Rhode Island state officials are resigning over the troubled rollout of a new public benefits system and the state is withholding further payment to contractor Deloitte Consulting.

Gov. Gina Raimondo announced Thursday she's accepted the resignations of Department of Human Services Director Melba Depena Affigne and Chief Digital Officer Thom Guertin.

A $364 million computer system that launched in September has been beset by problems. It's caused thousands of delays in distributing food stamp benefits.

Raimondo says she's suspending payments to Deloitte as the state reviews the vendor's work.

State lawmakers have held oversight hearings, federal officials have demanded fixes and the Rhode Island chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has sued the state over the faulty rollout of the Unified Health Infrastructure Project, known as UHIP


Nanny accused of pilfering thousands of dollars from family

Police say a Rhode Island nanny has been charged with pilfering thousands of dollars from a Massachusetts home where she babysits.

Police say 22-year-old Michelle O'Kane, of Bristol was arrested on Wednesday on a charge of larceny over $250. She is free on personal recognizance.

Police say they responded to a Rehoboth home on Tuesday for a report that $3,000 to $4,000 was stolen from a watch box in a wardrobe drawer.

Police say O'Kane went back to the home on Wednesday and tried to return the cash. Police recovered about $2,600.


Liberal RI lawmakers introduce Fair Shot Agenda

A group of more than 20 Democrats in the Rhode Island House of Representatives is launching a campaign to fight for a $15 hourly minimum wage, paid sick leave and other progressive causes.

The contingent launched what it calls its Fair Shot Agenda on Thursday.

Democrats already control both chambers of the General Assembly but Providence Democratic Rep. Aaron Regunberg says it's new to have a large wing of legislators within the party that is collectively and publicly pushing its own agenda. Several in the group are newcomers to the legislature.

The group is preparing a four-part package of legislation that will propose a minimum wage increase to $15 over five years, paid sick days, school building repairs and reducing car taxes for working families.


Rhode Island legal pot proponents kick off fight

The legalization of recreational marijuana in Massachusetts is causing some Rhode Island lawmakers to say it's time to race ahead of their neighbor.

Rhode Island's legal pot proponents on Wednesday kicked off their fight to pass state legislation that could take effect before marijuana shops open across the border.

The same Democratic lawmakers who sponsored pot legalization bills in previous legislative sessions, Providence Rep. Scott Slater and Cranston Sen. Josh Miller, are drafting new bills and plan to introduce them soon.

Proponents cite polls showing support for legalization and what will soon be the ease of buying the drug in Massachusetts.

Massachusetts voters approved a November ballot initiative to legalize pot for adults, but a new law delays the opening of retail marijuana stores until mid-2018.


RI lawmakers propose $10.50 minimum wage

A group of Rhode Island state lawmakers has proposed raising the state's hourly minimum wage by 90 cents this summer.

The bill introduced Wednesday proposes increasing the minimum wage to $10.50 on July 1. The current $9.60 minimum took effect a year ago.

Warwick Democratic Rep. David Bennett is the sponsor. He has four Democratic co-sponsors.

Democratic House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and Democratic Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed have expressed support for raising the minimum wage this year but haven't specified an amount. Mattiello says it could be more competitive with neighboring states.

Connecticut's hourly minimum is $10.10. It's $11 in Massachusetts.

It would be unusual but not unprecedented for Rhode Island to have a summertime minimum wage increase. Increases typically take effect on the first of the year.


Domestic violence gun control bill back in General Assembly

A debate over whether domestic abusers can have guns is returning to the Rhode Island General Assembly this year after similar legislation was defeated during the final hours of last year's session.

East Providence Democratic Rep. Gregg Amore introduced a bill Wednesday that would block people with misdemeanor domestic violence convictions from owning guns. Four other Democrats are co-sponsors.

It would exclude offenses punishable as petty misdemeanors. It would also restore the ability to buy a gun after 10 years or if the conviction is expunged.

Amore had introduced a bill last year that was gutted by House leadership and replaced with a weaker Senate version. Domestic violence prevention advocates say the bill that passed last year merely clarified how felons who can't have guns must surrender them.


N. Providence planners OK $30M public-safety building

North Providence's planning board has passed a preliminary plan to build a $30-million public-safety complex that would house the traffic court and most of the town's police and fire operations.

The plan for the 52,000-square-foot building was approved Wednesday night. The building would have a basement for storage and two parking lots.

Mayor Charles Lombardi says the municipal court would meet in the building twice a month at night.

Documents provided by the Department of Justice indicate that the facility would be paid for using money secured from a Google federal forfeiture case in 2011.

Project officials plan to meet with the state Department of Environmental Management and the state Department of Transportation for water permits.

A public hearing is also planned.


Man sentenced to probation for unemployment benefits fraud

A Providence man has been sentenced to five years of probation after pleading no contest to collecting unemployment benefits while working two jobs.

Brent Paquin  pleaded no contest to obtaining money under false pretenses, meaning he doesn't admit guilt but won't offer a defense. He has been ordered to repay nearly $10,000.

Authorities say Paquin failed to accurately report his weekly earnings from June 2012 to April 2013, when he called into the state Department of Labor and Training to authorize weekly unemployment benefits.

The state attorney general's office says Paquin received benefits while working for an electrician and an Italian restaurant.


Central Falls police chief 'troubled' by prison escape

The police chief in Central Falls says he is "deeply troubled" by the escape of a prisoner at the city's privately run detention center.

James Morales escaped from the Wyatt Detention Facility on New Year's Eve and was captured Thursday.

In a city council meeting on Monday, council members grilled Col. James Mendonca on why police did not alert residents.

Mendonca told them it was because it took hours for corrections officers to discover he was gone, and then another hour and 13 minutes to alert authorities. He says by the time police found out, it was clear Morales was already in Massachusetts and there was no imminent danger in Central Falls.

Mendonca says the prison should have notified police of the escape much sooner.


Ex-lawmaker, Raimondo appointee gets revolving door fine

A former lawmaker has agreed to a $5,000 fine to settle charges that he violated Rhode Island's revolving door law by taking a job in the Raimondo administration.

A lawyer for former Rep. Donald Lally says that Lally agreed to the fine Tuesday to settle with the Rhode Island Ethics Commission.

The Democrat from Narragansett was accused of breaking "revolving door" rules blocking legislators from accepting state employment for one year after leaving office.

He joined Raimondo's staff less than four months after giving up his House seat in March 2015. Investigators say neither Lally nor the governor's office sought the commission's advice on the hiring. Lally resigned in April.


New director picked for RI child welfare agency

A health official for Ohio's most populous county has been picked to lead Rhode Island's child welfare system.

Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo announced Tuesday her choice of Trista Piccola as director of the state Department of Children, Youth and Families. The Democratic governor submitted Piccola's name to the state Senate for advice and consent.

Piccola works in Cleveland as deputy director of performance evaluation and innovation for Cuyahoga County's health and human services agency. She has a doctorate in social welfare and began her career as a protective services case manager.

Piccola will succeed Jamia McDonald, who announced in September she was stepping down. McDonald has been seeking an advisory opinion from the state Ethics Commission on whether she can take a job with Deloitte Consulting, a state contractor.


EB says it can meet Navy goal for adding subs

The president of defense contractor Electric Boat has told the U.S. Navy that given time and resources, the company can "absolutely" achieve the service's goal of ramping up the number of submarines in the fleet.

The Navy released a 355-ship proposal last month that calls for adding 47 ships, including 18 attack submarines.

The General Dynamics Corp. subsidiary builds two Virginia-class attack submarines with Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia annually. It's also designing a new class of ballistic-missile submarines.

Company President Jeffrey Geiger said on Monday that the Navy is asking whether the company could still build two attack submarines a year, or even three, when the ballistic-missile submarines are under construction.

He says yes, but it would have to grow its workforce, supplier base and facilities.


RWU official charged with DUI in crash

Roger Williams University's head of student conduct is facing DUI charges stemming from a crash in Middletown last month.

Police say Heidi Hartzell was arrested in Portsmouth on Dec. 28.

Police say an SUV driver was hit by another vehicle and followed Hartzell until police could find her and pull her over.

Hartzell has been charged with driving under the influence failing to stop for an accident, both misdemeanors

The university on Monday said it doesn't comment on specific personnel matters. The university will conduct a thorough internal investigation before taking action.


PC receives grant to help veterans

Providence College has received a $50,000 gift from a 1958 graduate to help military veterans who want to continue and complete their education.

The scholarship gift announced Monday is from Col. and Mrs. Noel J. Doyle Jr.

Col. Doyle served 30 years in the Army, including two tours in Vietnam, before his retirement in 1989 and he credits PC for much of his success.

The money will help veterans or the eligible dependents of veterans pursue their degrees at the Catholic college's School of Continuing Education and whose needs may exceed their VA educational benefits or whose benefits have run out.

Providence has a long history of serving veterans and is home to an Army ROTC unit with 100 cadets from seven schools.


Gas prices up 4 cents in RI, to $2.35 per gallon

Gas prices in Rhode Island are rising again, for the sixth week in a row.

AAA Northeast says its weekly survey on Monday found a gallon of regular unleaded gas had risen to an average of $2.35, up 4 cents per gallon from last week. It's 17 cents higher than it was the week of Thanksgiving.

The price of gas in Rhode island is still 2 cents lower than the national average price of $2.37 gallon.

But it's 18 percent higher than at this time last year, when gas was averaging $1.99 per gallon, 36 cents less than this week.


Former lawmaker cited by probate judge

A former Rhode Island lawmaker might have to pay $500,000 back to a dead man's estate.

A probate court judge on Monday cited former Democratic Rep. Raymond Gallison for "unfaithful administration" of a Barrington man's will.

The judge also says a performance bond taken out by Gallison as the lawyer for the estate wasn't backed by an insurance company.

Gallison was an executor for Ray Medley, who died in 2012. Probate court records show the Rhode Island U.S. Attorney's office issued a subpoena last March to obtain the Medley estate case file.

Gallison was the House finance chairman until he resigned his Bristol seat in May amid a state and federal investigation.

Gallison hasn't commented. His lawyer says he hasn't appeared at probate hearings because of the ongoing criminal investigation.


Mansion-owner wins round in fight over visitors center

The group that owns The Breakers in Newport has inched closer to victory in a fight that has drawn the scorn of many members of the Vanderbilt family, which built the historic oceanside mansion.

The Rhode Island Supreme Court on Monday upheld a decision giving the Preservation Society of Newport County zoning approval to build a visitors center on The Breakers grounds.

Many Vanderbilts oppose it, and a neighbors' group sued to stop the plan, saying it would hurt the neighborhood and destroy the historic nature of the grounds.

A lawyer for the Preservation Society says the decision is a significant step, and his clients are anxious to move forward.

Both sides say other zoning issues remain, so the battle is not yet over.


Brothers admit running Providence law firm without license

Two brothers have admitted operating the Providence law firm Lovett & Lovett for nearly two decades without a license from the state.

Samuel and Carl Lovett pleaded no contest in Superior Court on Friday to charges including practicing law in Rhode Island without a license and receiving compensation for unlawful legal services.

The brothers agreed to a consent order that bars them from practicing law in Rhode Island in the future.

Magistrate Patrick Burke did not sentence the Lovetts to prison and said their cases would be dismissed in a year if they stay out of further trouble.

An attorney representing the brothers said they were licensed in Massachusetts and planned to continue practicing there.


Retiree tax relief on lawmakers' agenda

Taxes on Rhode Island retirees could be cut again.

A bill introduced Friday in the state House of Representatives would exempt the first $30,000 in Social Security income from state income taxes. A pending Senate proposal would exempt the first $20,000. Either would be an increase from the current $15,000.

Warwick Democratic Rep. Joseph McNamara sponsored the House bill.

Chipping away at retirees' tax burdens has been an annual cause for House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello. The Cranston Democrat named it one of his six priorities this year during opening remarks at the start of the new House session this week.

A similar 2015 initiative provided exemptions on up to $15,000 of Social Security income. An initiative passed last year expanded tax relief to other retirement income such as pensions.


Trump planning biggest fleet expansion since Cold War

Navy shipbuilders like what they're hearing from President-elect Donald Trump, who's vowed to build up the fleet to meet new threats from Russia and China.

Emboldened by the promise, the Navy last month revised upward the number of ships it needs to 355, more than the number used by Trump during his election campaign.

The proposal calls for adding another aircraft carrier, 16 large surface warships and 18 more nuclear-powered attack submarines, among other ships.

Shipbuilders like the idea but wonder where the funding will come from. The naval analyst at the Congressional Research Service suggests the Navy will need an additional $5 billion to $5.5 billion a year over the Navy's current spending goal.


Lawmakers target "double tax" on leased vehicles

A bill being introduced in the Rhode Island General Assembly with the support of Democratic House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello would eliminate a so-called double tax on leased vehicles.

Mattiello named eliminating the double tax as one of six priorities he wants to look at closely this year during his opening day remarks to the state House of Representatives on Tuesday.

Providence Democratic Rep. Raymond Hull says he plans to reintroduce a bill he had sought to get passed in previous sessions.

It would prohibit collecting a sales or use tax on taxes already included in a motor vehicle lease payment.


State lawmaker tries again to establish a sales tax holiday

A Rhode Island lawmaker is trying again to establish a sales tax holiday in August to keep shoppers from flooding into neighboring Massachusetts for a similar incentive.

Rep. Joseph Solomon filed the bill to give shoppers and businesses a weekend break from Rhode Island's 7 percent sales tax from Aug. 12 to 13.

Last year the Warwick Democrat's holiday proposal stalled, as have similar proposals by other lawmakers for being too costly to the state.

As in Massachusetts, Solomon's proposal would apply to most tangible personal property costing less than $2,500.

Massachusetts lawmakers chose to forego the holiday last year, citing the state's tenuous fiscal condition.

Connecticut also has a sales tax holiday in August but only affecting clothes and shoes, which are already exempt from Rhode Island sales taxes.


Pair of Providence fire stations to be decommissioned

Two Providence fire stations are no longer providing services.

Battalion Chief Kenneth Rainone, the department's acting deputy assistant chief, says firefighting operations are ending at the Humboldt Avenue and Rochambeau Avenue firehouses.

The East Side stations stopped receiving fresh crews of firefighters on Sunday. The Providence Journal reports the fire engines at each station will be put out of use and the firefighters who previously worked there will now work out of other stations.

The firehouses will be decommissioned under a five year contract approved by city council and the firefighters' union last week.

Mayor Jorge Elorza says two studies show there was redundancy in coverage in the area.


Regulators changing fishing rules to protect endangered tuna

The federal government is changing some of the rules about how fishermen harvest tuna in an attempt to protect one of the species of the fish.

The National Marine Fisheries Service says the rule change is designed to steer fishermen who catch yellowfin tuna and swordfish via longline away from bluefin tuna.

Atlantic bluefin tuna are listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Fishing boats sometimes catch them incidentally while targeting other species.

The fisheries service says the rule change will modify the way it handles distribution of quota transfers in the longline tuna fishery. The service says that flexibility will improve fishing opportunities while limiting the number of bluefin tuna that are incidentally caught.

The new rules go into effect on Jan. 28.


Ex-school bus driver pleads not guilty to drunken driving

A former Rhode Island school bus driver charged with drunken driving shortly after a high school track team had gotten off her bus has pleaded not guilty.

Shelly Way was released on bail after her arraignment Wednesday.

Police say the 52-year-old Way failed field sobriety tests, had a blood-alcohol content more than twice the legal limit to drive, and had empty liquor bottles on her bus when she was pulled over in West Greenwich last month.

There were no students on the bus at the time because the Westerly High boys' track coach noticed that Way was driving erratically and asked her to stop so the 18 members of the team could unload.

She has since been fired.

Neither Way nor her lawyer would comment outside court.


Democrat-led legislature congratulates Trump

One of the first items of business for the Democrat-controlled Rhode Island General Assembly was a congratulatory message to Republican President-elect Donald Trump.

The state House of Representatives passed a resolution by a voice vote Wednesday congratulating Trump. Some lawmakers could be heard voting "nay" but it's not clear how many. GOP House Minority Leader Patricia Morgan introduced the resolution.

The House also passed a resolution congratulating Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton for being the first woman to be a major party's nominee.

About 86 percent of Rhode Island's state lawmakers are Democrats, giving the state the second-biggest Democratic legislative majority after Hawaii.

All of the lawmakers were sworn in during an oath ceremony Tuesday. Wednesday was the first working day but legislative committee leaders haven't yet been appointed.


Remains found in S.K. aren't missing bootlegger's

Officials say human remains unearthed last month on property once owned by a Prohibition-era bootlegger who mysteriously vanished 84 years ago don't belong to the missing man.

State archaeologist Timothy Ives confirmed that the roughly two dozen bones recovered from a construction site in South Kingstown on Dec. 10 is not what's left of Danny Walsh.

Walsh, one of the East Coast's premier bootleggers during the 1920s, was last seen alive on Feb. 2, 1933. The newspaper ran a front-page story a little more than a week later that proclaimed Walsh may have been kidnapped for a $40,000 ransom.

Authorities now believe a contractor setting foundations on Walsh's former property accidentally disturbed an unmarked grave plot from the 19th century.


New law fines motorists who block RI intersections

Motorists once shamed with an angry glare for blocking Rhode Island intersections could also now be subjected to a fine.

A new law that took effect Sunday penalizes drivers who enter signal-controlled intersections when there's not enough room on the other end because cars are backed up.

It's meant to stop cars from getting stuck in the middle of an intersection and blocking the passage of other vehicles and pedestrians.

It's called the "Don't Block the Box" law because it also encourages cities and towns to paint a 4-sided box at dangerous intersections.

Fines are $100 for the first violation, $250 for the second and $500 for the third and subsequent violations.

Legislation passed by the General Assembly in June became law in September without the governor's signature.


Fung sworn in to 4th, final term as Cranston mayor

Cranston Mayor Allan Fung was sworn in for his fourth and final term leading the state's third-largest city.

The Republican mayor is term-limited and took his final oath of office last evening at Cranston High School West.

Fung was first elected in 2008. He served two 2-year terms before the city charter was changed to make mayoral terms four years. He has been re-elected twice since then.

Fung was the Republican nominee for governor in 2014 and has been mentioned as one of several possible Republican candidates for the office in 2018.

He came in second for the job in a three-way race in 2014 behind Democrat Gina Raimondo and ahead of Moderate Party candidate Bob Healey.


Legislative leaders begin new session with different goals

The two top leaders of Rhode Island's Democratic-controlled General Assembly are beginning the year with competing priorities that could balance out by the time the six-month session ends.

Democratic House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello plans to fulfill a campaign promise of phasing out municipal car taxes over the next five years. Democratic Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed wants to pass reforms to the criminal justice and mental health care systems. The Senate's package of criminal justice bills was defeated in June when the House didn't vote on it before adjourning for the year.

Paiva Weed says it's not unusual for her and Mattiello to advocate different approaches that aim for the same goal of improving the economy. She says it's led to a mix of tax cuts and important investments.


RI General Assembly set to begin its new session

The Rhode Island General Assembly is set to begin its new session with the swearing in of all 113 lawmakers.

The session begins Tuesday.

Democrats maintained their control of both chambers and gained a handful of seats. The party's small and informal progressive wing has also grown.

The House now has 64 Democrats and 11 Republicans. The Senate now has 33 Democrats and five Republicans.

The opening day activities include choosing the leaders of each chamber. Democratic House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and Democratic Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed are both expected to be re-elected after winning unanimous support in their party caucuses.

Four new senators and 12 new representatives are joining the part-time legislature.

The year's first bills won't be introduced until Wednesday. The annual session typically lasts until June.


Round-the-clock federal manhunt underway for escaped inmate

A round-the-clock state and federal manhunt is underway for an inmate who escaped from a Rhode Island detention center.

The Wyatt Correctional Center warden says 35-year-old former Army reservist James Morales fled Saturday by climbing a basketball hoop to reach a rooftop, cutting through a fence and climbing through razor wire.

Warden Daniel Martin says it took more than three hours to discover Morales was missing. Two officers have been placed on paid leave.

The prison in Central Falls remains locked down as officials review procedures.

Morales is charged with stealing 16 guns from a U.S. Army Reserve Center and faces child rape charges.

Police believe Morales fled to Attleboro, Massachusetts, and stole a car that was found Sunday.

Officials say Morales may be armed and is considered extremely dangerous.


1 hospitalized, several displaced after RI fires

Fire crews in Rhode Island have battled several blazes in the state that left many people displaced and one person hospitalized.

Firefighters responded to a West Warwick apartment building early Tuesday for a report of smoke coming from the residence.

Authorities say the fire was contained within about 30 minutes. One person was hospitalized for smoke inhalation. Two people were displaced.

Authorities say eight people were displaced after a blaze broke out at a home in Bristol around 1 p.m. No injuries were reported.

Fire officials say a more than 100-year-old home in Richmond was heavily damaged by a fire that broke out around 3 p.m. One dog died and another was saved. Authorities are investigating what sparked the flames at the home.


Weeklong occupation of tribal headquarters ends peacefully

The weeklong occupation of a tribal government building by a faction of the Rhode Island Narragansett tribe has ended.

The occupiers left the building and handed over its keys to U.S. Attorney Peter Neronha at about 11:30 p.m. Monday.

The breakthrough came after days of mediation that included telephone calls and face-to-face meetings on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

The occupying group was led by tribal council members who impeached Chief Sachem Matthew Thomas and wanted him to step down. Councilwoman Chastity Machado, who spent six nights inside the building, says it's now time to settle issues as a family.

Thomas and his supporters don't recognize the results of an election or the impeachment.

Charlestown's police chief, the U.S. Interior Department and a nonviolence institute joined in the mediation talks.


Former Catholic priest dies before facing sex assault trial

A former Roman Catholic priest awaiting trial on sexual assault charges has died.

The Rhode Island Medical Examiner's Office says Barry Meehan died of a heart attack on Dec. 8. He was 67.

Meehan pleaded not guilty in 2014 to five counts of first-degree sexual assault on two young men in the late 1980s and early 1990s while Meehan was a priest at parishes in Providence and Cranston.

He resigned as pastor of St. Timothy's Church in Warwick in 2013 after state police conducted a joint investigation with the Providence Catholic Diocese beginning in 2012. The Vatican laicized Meehan last year.

Attorney General Peter Kilmartin's office says the charges will be formally dismissed on Jan. 4, which was Meehan's next scheduled court date.

Meehan lived in West Warwick.


Price of gas up 4 cents per gallon in RI

A decision by oil-producing countries to cut back production is affecting Rhode Islanders at the gas pump.

AAA Northeast reports Tuesday that the price of a gallon of regular is up 4 cents in the past week to an average of $2.28.

Rhode Island's price is a penny lower than the national average of $2.29, but 27 cents per gallon higher than the in-state price a year ago.

AAA found a range of 24 cents, from a low of $2.15 per gallon of regular to a high of $2.39.

The immediate future of gas prices depends in large part on whether OPEC countries and other oil-producing countries stick to production agreements.


Ronald McDonald House raises $5M for expansion in Providence

The Ronald McDonald House of Providence says it has reached its $5 million fundraising goal to help expand the facility.

The nonprofit organization launched its "Always Room at the House" fundraising campaign in 2014 to help offset the cost of adding 10 new bedrooms and program space to its downtown facility, the largest expansion project since the house opened in 1989.

It said  that the goal has been reached, thanks to the generosity of 855 households, 95 local businesses and several charitable foundations.

The house welcomes sick children and families who need to be close to local hospitals.

The new bedrooms officially opened earlier this year. The nonprofit says it can now help an additional 130 families annually, an increase of nearly 40 percent.


Programs helping the homeless to get $5.9M in federal grants

Programs that help the homeless in Rhode Island have been awarded $5.9 million in federal grants.

U.S. Sen. Jack Reed says the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded the Continuum of Care grants to support more than 40 homeless assistance projects.

The Rhode Island Democrat says the federal funds are vital to keeping a commitment to prevent and end homelessness throughout the state.

The federal funds are jointly administered by nonprofits for a variety of housing programs and services, including transitional and permanent supportive housing, rapid rehousing, outreach efforts and client assessments.

Homelessness remains a challenge in Rhode Island.

According to HUD's 2016 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress, nearly 1,200 people across Rhode Island were experiencing homelessness on a single night in late January 2016.


Sales of single-family homes in RI continue rising

Sales of single-family homes in Rhode Island continue to rise.

The Rhode Island Association of Realtors says sales were up 19 percent in November compared to November 2015.

November's median sales price also rose to $245,000 despite more foreclosures and short sales which typically lower the median price.

The association said last month that sales were up nearly 5 percent in October compared to October 2015, and the median sales price was $235,000.

Condominium and multifamily property sales are also up.

The supply of single-family homes for sale decreased in November, which may begin to slow sales later.

The association says Rhode Island's housing market is still seeing remarkable gains, though the market may settle a bit in 2017.


Standoff over leadership RI tribe continues

The occupation of a tribal government building by a faction of the Rhode Island Narragansett tribe that's demanding a leadership change is now in its seventh day.

One occupier, Bella Noka, says elected tribal council members met with authorities Sunday to discuss vacating while the dispute is resolved through mediation.

She says they didn't reach an agreement and about 20 people remain inside Monday.

The occupiers include council members who impeached Chief Sachem Matthew Thomas and want him to step down.

Thomas and his supporters don't recognize the results of a July election or the impeachment.

A federal judge and Rhode Island's governor have both said they have no jurisdiction over the sovereign tribe.

Noka says a generator is supplying power to the building after someone cut power Friday.


New director chosen for RI's Port of Davisville

A new director has been chosen to lead the Port of Davisville, a busy port for automobile imports in Rhode Island.

The Quonset Development Corp. says Robert Blackburn will lead the day-to-day operations and management of the port in the Quonset Business Park in North Kingstown.

The corporation says more than 200,000 vehicles were imported there this year, making it one of the top auto importing sites in North America.

Blackburn worked for the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority for more than 23 years, most recently as the senior deputy executive director.

Rhode Island voters approved a bond measure in November to invest $50 million in infrastructure at the Port of Davisville.

The port's previous director, Evan Matthews, left to become the Connecticut Port Authority's executive director in September.


Female police officer sues, cites hostile work environment

The highest ranking female police officer in North Providence has filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against superiors.

Lt. Diana Perez says in the suit filed on Wednesday that her civil rights were violated. The city's acting police chief, Christopher Pelagio, and Mayor Charles Lombardi are named in the complaint.

Perez initially wrote the mayor to say she was being subjected to a hostile and humiliating work environment. She later filed a petition with the Rhode Island Human Rights Commission stating she was routinely discriminated against because of her gender.

Perez has been on leave due to stress since April.

Lombardi has said he'll fire Pelagio if Perez's claims are proven true.

Pelagio says he's confident that an ongoing investigation will vindicate him.


State council passes plan to let charter triple enrollment

The Rhode Island Council on Elementary and Secondary Education is giving a charter school the green light to triple its enrollment.

The council voted on Tuesday to allow Achievement First, which operates two elementary schools in Providence, to grow to more than 3,100 students by 2025.

Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza chairs the charter school's board of directors and must sign off on the plan.

Elorza has said he would defer supporting the expansion until Achievement First can show it will help cover any financial losses felt by the city's public schools.

The state Department of Education estimates the district would lose about $35 million each year after Achievement First reaches full enrollment.


Health department: 1st baby born with Zika in RI

Rhode Island health officials are reporting that a baby was born with Zika virus in the state for the first time.

Spokeswoman Andrea Bagnall-Degos on Wednesday said transmission of the virus happened while the mother was traveling.

She said the child was born in November, and no birth defects have been identified at this time. The child's family lives in Rhode Island, and Bagnall-Degos says the department is following the case.

The baby has been added to the state's Zika registry, which then transmits information to the federal Centers for Disease Control.


Woman charged with stealing from church collection boxes

A Westerly woman has been charged with stealing money from two church collection boxes.

Darlene Kripps is charged with larceny of less than $1,500. The actual theft likely amounted to $15 or less.

Police say surveillance footage at Immaculate Conception Church shows the 52-year-old walk into the candle room last week donning a long, hooded dark jacket and a red scarf.

Police say she used a tool to remove money from the offering boxes..

The church's secretary recognized Kripps, who has been banned from the church and has a pending court date. It wasn't immediately known if she had an attorney.


2 companies accused of violating false claims act to pay $1M

Two Rhode Island construction companies and several of their executives have agreed to pay $1 million to settle allegations that they wrongly took federal money meant for small businesses owned by women and minorities.

Wallace Construction, of Warwick; Rosciti Construction, of Johnston; and four former and current company officials agreed to the settlement. They don't admit fault or liability under the terms.

Authorities say they falsely submitted reimbursement requests for money earmarked for businesses owned by minorities and women, violating the federal false claims act.

Rosciti and Wallace have agreed to appoint internal compliance officers and external monitors to ensure they remain in compliance with disadvantaged business enterprise requirements.


House Speaker stands by "illegal aliens" campaign mailer

Rhode Island Democratic state House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello is standing by his campaign mailer that used the phrase "illegal aliens" and touted his power to halt legislation to grant driver's licenses to immigrants in the country illegally.

Mattiello said in a recent interview he was unaware of any criticism of the mailer, which included a protest letter circulated on social media. He says the message reflects the opinion of his constituents.

Mattiello narrowly won re-election last month after sending out the mailer to residents in his Cranston legislative district. It said he "stopped driver's licenses for illegal aliens" and single-handedly blocked the legislation, which never moved to a House floor vote.

Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo said Friday she still supports the licenses but Mattiello's opposition makes legislation unlikely to happen.


New tribal leaders assume power in RI

New leaders have assumed power among the Narragansett Indian tribe in Rhode Island.

Tribal members elected in July have taken control of the federally-recognized tribe's administration building in Charlestown Tuesday.

Bella Noka, the tribal election committee chairperson, told the station that members hired retired police officers for security as the locks were changed on the building.

Longtime tribe chief Matthew Thomas, who was impeached by the council in October, has refused to cooperate in the transfer of power. He and other supporters claim the new council members are impostors and that Thomas' impeachment was invalid. Thomas has also sued in federal court.

Opponents say Thomas' residency disqualifies him to be chief. WPRI-TV says documents they obtained show he's been a legal resident of Florida since 2015.


Several costumes stolen from 'The Nutcracker' are returned

The Grinch who stole the Nutcracker's mask and the Sugar Plum Fairy's tutu from a Rhode Island warehouse has had a change of heart.

Several costumes from "The Nutcracker" were returned Tuesday to police in Pawtucket.

An attorney gave the costumes to police from a client. Neither was identified publicly.

The Festival Ballet Providence discovered in November that 57 costumes and costume parts were missing from a Pawtucket warehouse.

Artistic director Misha Djuric  is assessing the condition of the returned costumes. One of the Nutcracker's masks was damaged.

The show was performed this past weekend. Ballet companies from across the country lent costumes and props.

The artistic director says he's glad some costumes won't have to be replaced next year and hopes the rest will be returned.


Cross pen maker seeks revival with flagship store

The 170-year-old company that makes Cross pens is opening a flagship retail store at its new Providence headquarters.

A ribbon-cutting for the new A.T. Cross Co. store is planned today.

CEO Robert Baird says the company's recent move from suburban Lincoln, Rhode Island, to the Foundry complex near downtown Providence is part of a broader strategy to boost talent and reinvigorate the luxury pen brand.

Rhode Island has offered the company $1.9 million in incentives based in part on plans to add 35 new jobs in coming years. Baird says he previously considered relocating to Connecticut but preferred staying in Rhode Island, where the company was founded in 1846.

Most of its pens are now manufactured in China. It's owned by New York private equity firm Clarion Capital Partners.


Raimondo: Benefits system better but 'not good enough'

Gov. Gina Raimondo says progress is being made in efforts to fix technical problems with the state's new public benefits system.

She told the House Oversight and House Finance committees at a Tuesday hearing that the system is improving weekly but added that "it's not good enough."

Rhode Island is transitioning to a new, $364 million computer system to administer benefits such as food stamps and health care. The system launched in September.

Rhode Island Partnership for Home Care's executive director said at the hearing that some home care providers are no longer taking new Medicaid patients because they aren't sure if they will get paid.

State officials noted some areas of improvement, saying a long-term care backlog has shrunk from 700 to less than 400.


Lincoln rescue fined over $63K, ordered to forfeit license

An animal rescue organization in Lincoln has been fined more than $63,000 and ordered to surrender its operating license.

A notice of violation dated Dec. 5 has been sent to Amna Memon and her husband, James Baribeau, who run Broken Tail Foster and Rescue and the retail store Oh My Dog.

The notice charges them with violating regulations involving license application, animal sickness disclosure, and taking sick animals to a veterinarian, among other offenses.

Memon disputes some of the allegations and says they're trying to reach a resolution with the state Department of Environmental Management.

Memon and Baribeau can either appeal or try to negotiate a settlement.

The rescue is trying to raise money to pay down its debt.


Gas prices rise 2 cents to $2.24 per gallon in RI

Gas prices are continuing to rise in Rhode Island.

AAA Northeast says its weekly survey Monday found the price of a gallon of regular unleaded gas rose 2 cents per gallon from last week, to an average of $2.24.

That's the same as the national average.

Gas prices in Rhode Island have increased 9 percent from last year at this time, when a gallon of regular unleaded was averaging $2.05, 19 cents lower than today.


DEM, Nature Conservancy purchase Coventry farm for $660K

The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management says a historic farm will be preserved for agricultural and environmental conservation after it was purchased by the agency in partnership with the Nature Conservancy.

The agency said Monday the 224-acre Broadwall Farm in Coventry was bought for $660,000 with state bond funds administered by the Agricultural Lands Preservation Commission.

The Nature Conservancy put $284,788 toward the purchase in grants through the Champlin Foundations.

The farm includes an 18th-century farmhouse and the property includes pasture, forestland, wetlands and small streams.

The agency says DEM and partners have permanently protected 105 farms, or 7,174 acres, since 1985.


Johnson & Johnson to open health- tech center in RI

Health care company Johnson & Johnson is opening a new health technology center in Rhode Island, bringing about 75 jobs to the state.

Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo announced the plans Monday.

The New Brunswick, New Jersey-based company develops drugs and makes medical devices and other consumer products, including Band-Aids.

The center will specialize in optimizing information technology and data analytics to create health-related software applications.

Johnson & Johnson says Rhode Island gives it access to economic development tools and university assets necessary to stay competitive in a rapidly growing industry.

It expects to move to Providence by the spring and apply for tax credits and business incentives developed by the Raimondo administration.

Raimondo is trying to make Rhode Island a hub for advanced industries and train residents for high-skilled jobs.


RI electors cast 4 votes for Clinton

Rhode Island's four members of the U.S. Electoral College have cast their votes for Democrat Hillary Clinton.

The four Democratic electors voted Monday at the Rhode Island State House for Clinton, who won the state's popular vote by more than 15 percentage points over Republican Donald Trump.

The electors also passed a motion asking Congress and the president-elect for an independent, bipartisan investigation into Russian interference into the election.

All 538 members of the Electoral College met in their respective states Monday to formally elect Trump president.

Protesters carrying anti-Trump signs watched from the gallery as the vote occurred, and they and others cheered loudly when votes were cast for Clinton.


Priest replaces statues stolen from RI crèche

A Roman Catholic priest has donated two statutes to replace those stolen from a nativity scene outside an assisted living center in the Rhode Island city of Pawtucket.

The Mary and Joseph statues were stolen from the crèche at the Jeanne Jugan Residence of the Little Sisters of the Poor on Dec. 10.

The home's operators say the nativity scene will be placed behind Plexiglas to prevent further thefts.

The facility also is seeking donations to pay for an upgrade to its security system, which is expected to cost about $15,000.

Police are looking for three men who are seen on a video taking the three-foot-high porcelain statues.

The new statues, which cost a total of about $900, were donated by a priest at St. Thomas More Church.


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