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1540 WADK.com Updates


More than 31,000 people signed up for coverage on Rhode Island's health insurance exchange during the latest open enrollment period.

HealthSource RI was set up as part of the federal Affordable Care Act.

Enrollment figures released Thursday show that 31,513 people enrolled for coverage for 2015, including 83 percent of customers who were covered in 2014. About 10,300 people signed up for the first time and 450 small employers enrolled.

Enrollment for 2015 ended Feb. 15. There was a short special enrollment period afterward, due to weather-related closings at the contact center and walk-in locations.

More than 25,000 people signed up for coverage last year.

Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island, United HealthCare and Neighborhood Health Plan of Rhode Island are offering plans through the exchange.



Portsmouth officials have rejected a pay-as-you-throw system for trash collection, citing potential costs for users.

The Newport Daily News reports that a town committee urged the council to adopt a pay-as-you-throw program that would have required residents to purchase bags with a Portsmouth logo and color.

Only trash in those bags could be dumped at transfer stations. The cost would be $2 for a 30-gallon bag and $1.25 for a 15-gallon bag. The fee for an annual sticker for the transfer station would be reduced to $40 from the current $135. But one council member said families would still spend more.

The intent is that the cost of the bags would encourage residents to recycle, reducing fees the town pays for disposing of trash at the Central Landfill in Johnston.



Rhode Island is receiving more than five-million-dollars from the federal government to help reduce homelessness.  The HUD grant will be used to expand rental assistance for disabled people.  It's estimated that the funding will help place 150 of the state's most vulnerable people into affordable homes.  Senator Jack Reed says this is a smart investment that will help people with disabilities to live independently with dignity and security.



Dozens of people are facing charges as part of a long investigation into drug activity in Providence.  Police yesterday announced the arrests of 35 men and that 15 firearms have been seized as part of a long running investigation into drugs and guns.  The investigation largely focused on activity at and near the Hartford Park public housing complex.  The investigation was run by the Rhode Island Violent Crime Initiative, which consists of federal, state and local law enforcement officials in the Providence area.



Governor Gina Raimondo is forming a working group to help deal with soaring Medicaid costs the state is incurring.  Raimondo has issued an executive order establishing the working group charged with reinventing Medicaid.  The state expects to spend well over two-billion dollars this fiscal year on Medicaid, which is the state health coverage plan for low income residents.  The state's per person cost of a Medicaid enrollee is the highest in the nation.



A legislative effort is underway to protect victims of domestic violence from people with restraining orders.  A bill under consideration would force anyone who's the subject of a restraining order to surrender all of their firearms immediately.  The bill would also prevent anyone from purchasing a gun legally if they have a restraining order against them.  The Senate Judiciary Committee is considering the bill, which has multiple co-sponsors in both chambers.



Rhode Island's medical director is resigning after four years on the job.

Gov. Gina Raimondo announced Wednesday that Michael Fine, director of the Rhode Island Department of Health, is stepping down March 27.

She says Fine submitted his resignation Tuesday. She says he is leaving to pursue new opportunities. The governor says Fine drew attention to the state's drug overdose epidemic and was instrumental in increasing immunization rates among adults and children.

Fine was awarded a community partnership award from the Liberian Community Association in December for his efforts to educate residents about Ebola during last year's outbreak, which primarily occurred in parts of West Africa. Rhode Island has a large West African population, and many residents have relatives who were affected by the outbreak.



Environmental officials say areas of Mount Hope Bay and the Kickemuit River are being closed to shellfishing over discharge from a wastewater treatment facility in Massachusetts.

The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management says the areas will be closed to shellfishing from sunrise Thursday until March 5.

DEM officials say the disinfection system failed at Fall River's Regional Wastewater Treatment Facility Wednesday morning and 600,000 gallons of non-disinfected effluent were discharged.

They say they enacted the emergency closure in response.



Gov. Gina Raimondo and House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello have made up after a public dispute over the state's budget procedure.

Raimondo said at a conference on Friday that the General Assembly and lobbyists take the governor's proposed budget and "hack it up every which way."

She said her job is "to shine a light" on the process.

Mattiello called it an "inaccurate depiction" of the budget process.

The governor phoned the speaker Tuesday and the two officials met in Mattiello's office for about two hours Wednesday. Mattiello said he no longer expects "placeholders" for large, undefined cuts in Medicaid or programs in the budget Raimondo will submit next month.

He said he considers the governor a friend and that the two have "always worked very well together."



The board of the Coventry Fire District has voted to terminate the contract of its suspended chief.

The board debated the validity of the contract Wednesday. Chief Paul Labbadia did not attend the meeting.

The board began investigating Labbadia in response to a WPRI-TV story in October. Labbadia was accused of drinking alcohol and playing golf during the work day and using his fire district vehicle for recreation.

Labbadia has denied wrongdoing.

The board's lawyers claim Labbadia's five-year contract was invalid because government employee contracts are limited to three years by the state, and the contract could be terminated without cause.

Labbadia's lawyer, Thomas DeSimone, says the contract is valid and he plans to appeal the firing in court.



The suspect wanted for a drive-by killing last May in Providence is now in police custody.  Chaquiro Blandino turned himself in to police yesterday and quickly faced a judge.  He's accused in a shooting last May in Elmwood that killed Francis Rodriguez and wounded another man.  Blandino is charges with murder, felony assault, drive-by shooting and weapons offenses.



Not everyone at the State House is lining up behind the plan to move the Pawtucket Red Sox to Providence.  Narragansett Senator James Sheehan says he feels an allegiance to the team being in Pawtucket.  He would also like to see the former I-195 land in Providence where the ballpark is planned occupied by a building full of good jobs.  Sheehan says the state had planned to support emerging industries like bioscience on the land.



A bill is being introduced in the Rhode Island Legislature today that would allow a hotel on the Twin River Casino property.  The bill will be offered today by Lincoln Representative Jeremiah O'Grady in an effort to compete with casino resorts coming to Massachusetts.  Twin River is seeking to add a four story, 200-room hotel to the casino property.  Current law bans hotels at the casino, which was put into place in an effort to protect Providence hotels.



Brown University researchers say the Afghanistan and Iraq wars have cost Rhode Island more than $70 million to date, and will cost millions more.

Two new papers produced as part of the Watson Institute's Costs of War Project at Brown were released Tuesday. Researchers Brian Smith and Luke Lattanzi-Silveus examined Rhode Island and Texas to highlight the forms of local funding for returning veterans.

They say Rhode Island has spent $73.6 million to $79.8 million so far on housing, employment benefits, counseling and other services for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan.

They say the costs are likely to increase dramatically as the state begins to maintain a new veterans' home.

Smith says he's hopes the data will enhance the discourse on foreign policy and intervention so the public can make informed choices.



Former Providence Mayor Angel Tavaras has a new job.  Tavaras is joining the Boston based law firm of Greenberg Trauerig LLP as a litigation shareholder.  The firm says Tavaras is an accomplished executive and respected litigator who brings a wealth of experience to the table.  Tavaras ran for governor instead of reelection as mayor last year, losing the Democratic primary to now Governor Gina Raimondo.



The Federal Emergency Management Agency has approved the governor's request to extend the deadline to file a disaster declaration for last month's blizzard.

Gov. Gina Raimondo announced Tuesday that FEMA has extended the deadline to March 27. Raimondo said the state's Emergency Management Agency is working to complete assessments following January's blizzard.

The governor said the extended deadline will give cities and towns additional time to assess damage caused by the blizzard and evaluate costs incurred.

She said she is doing everything she can to make sure the state receives any federal assistance available.

Raimondo declared a state of emergency and imposed a travel ban Jan. 27 when a nasty winter storm brought high winds and dumped nearly 2 feet of snow on parts of the state.



Lawmakers say they're trying to confront changing technology by proposing new protections against identity theft, amending the definition of cyberstalking and making it a crime to access another person's computer to view confidential information.

Sen. Louis DiPalma of Middletown proposed amending the identity theft protection act to require stronger encryption methods for personal information, among other changes, saying the methods have been developed since the act was last updated.

Rep. Kathleen Fogarty proposed considering a single act as cyberstalking rather than just a pattern of conduct.

Rep. Robert Craven says people are accessing computers in ways the computer crime law never anticipated.

The state attorney general's spokeswoman says the laws need to address how technology is being used while the Rhode Island ACLU opposes the cyberstalking and computer crime bills.

 

 



Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island says about 15,000 of its current and former Rhode Island customers have been affected by the data breach at Anthem Inc.

Blue Cross says hackers gained access to personal information from Anthem members, and information from consumers covered by independent Blue Cross & Blue Shield plans working with Anthem.

Hackers recently broke into a database storing information for about 80 million people. Anthem, the nation's second-largest health insurer, says it's providing credit monitoring, identity theft repair assistance if someone experiences fraud and identity protection designed specifically for children, for two years.

The services are available to all current and former customers who date back to 2004.



House Speaker Nick Mattiello is criticizing Governor Gina Raimondo's recent comments on the state budget.  Raimondo recently said the legislature routinely carves up budget proposals from governors in private, saying that's not good for anyone.  Mattiello says her comments are not an accurate description of the budget process.  He says the House will continue to be a gatekeeper and will reject any of the governor's proposals that are not good for the state.



Republican members of the General Assembly have formed a policy group to identify wasteful spending and they're looking at the Rhode Island Convention Center Authority's finances first.

The authority operates the convention center, the Dunkin' Donuts Center, Veterans Memorial Auditorium and two parking garages.

Deputy Minority Leader Patricia Morgan says the state pays $20 million to $25 million annually for the debt issued by the authority nearly 30 years ago to build the facilities. She says the authority should be making enough by now to contribute to the debt service and other expenses.

An authority spokeswoman didn't immediately return a message seeking comment.

The authority says in a recent report it continues to feel the effects of the recession, as consumers continue to choose their entertainment options cautiously.

 



The Providence School Board has voted to ask the state to drop one school day from its attendance requirement this year because of days lost during recent snowstorms.

The five-member board said it passed the unanimous motion Monday night.

School Superintendent Susan Lusi said she wouldn't have sought to shorten the school year if six snow days hadn't pushed the school calendar into the July Fourth holiday week. She said that "would pose a host of challenges for families and staff alike."

The request notes that the state was under a state of emergency because of extreme winter weather when the school days were canceled. The state allows districts to ask for some leeway from its 180-day requirement.

The board's request will go to the Rhode Island Board of Education.



Rhode Island gas prices have climbed another 5 cents per gallon in the past week.

A weekly survey by AAA Northeast released Monday finds that the average price of a gallon of regular was up to $2.29.

Rhode Island prices are 19 cents higher per gallon than a month ago and $1.23 lower than on the same date a year ago.

The current price is a penny less than the national average.

AAA says self-serve, regular is selling for as low as $2.12 and as high as $2.43 per gallon.

Earlier this month Rhode Island gas prices jumped 11 cents per gallon, driven by higher crude oil prices.



A new study places Providence as the third most organic city in the country.  The study from the Campbell Soup Company and Sperling Best Places rates cities based on the amount of organic food its residents eat.  The study says that Providence only trails Portland, Oregon and San Francisco as the most organic consuming cities.  Rounding out the top five are Sacramento and Minneapolis.



Police are working to identify a man who robbed a woman after she won money at Twin River Casino.  Police say the robbery occurred February 20th after the woman collected her winning voucher.  The suspect approached and claimed to be with casino security, saying something was wrong with her voucher.  The man took it and walked away, and was seen on surveillance video cashing the voucher and fleeing the casino.



A guard at Adult Correctional Institutions in Cranston is injured after being assaulted by an inmate.  The correctional officers union says the unidentified officer was punched in the face by inmate Tychonn Banks on Sunday.  The officer reportedly suffered a broken jaw in the attack.  Banks has a criminal record spanning two decades, and is charged with assaulting a correctional officer.



The Pawtucket Red Sox are moving away from the city they have called home for decades.  The team has been sold for 20-million dollars to a ten-member ownership group that includes Boston Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino.  The PawSox are reportedly headed to a state of the art stadium that will be built in Providence.  The team will remain in Pawtucket for at least the next two years.



The Miss Cranston Diner is back in business.  The diner is back open in a new location on Oaklawn Avenue in Cranston, not far from where the old location burned down ten months ago.  The new location opened last month after ownership was forced to refinance, as insurance did not cover all of the rebuilding costs.  The cause of the kitchen fire that destroyed the old location has not been determined.



No injuries are being reported after part of the roof collapsed at a Lowe's home improvement store in Warwick.  Officials say a 20 foot by 60 foot section of the garden center roof collapsed under the weight of snow and ice early yesterday.  The store was closed at the time of the collapse, and opened as usual yesterday morning. 



The Providence School Board today will consider whether to shorten the school year by a day.  The city has already called six snow days this year, which pushes the school year until June 26th.  Any more missed days could force the city to extend the school year into Independence Day week.  School officials say shortening the school year by a day will give them a little breathing room heading into the final weeks of winter.



A dozen bills have been introduced in the legislature regulating license plates, including offering more specialty plates.

One bill proposes to cut the number of plates for each vehicle from two to one. Another would allow vehicles heavier than 9,000 pounds to order vanity plates.

Rep. Joseph Solomon, D-Warwick, plans to introduce a bill memorializing what he calls "the Coney Island of Rhode Island." He said it's to honor the nonprofit Rocky Point Foundation Inc., which works to preserve the land where the Warwick amusement park once stood, and provide some financial help.

The plates would cost $40, with $20 going to the state's general fund and the other $20 going to the Rocky Point Foundation.



Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien says Pawtucket's Triple A baseball club has been sold and is leaving the city.

The mayor says that he was briefed by the team Sunday. He did not disclose the new owners or where they will move the team.

Grebien said that until Sunday there was hope the team would remain in Pawtucket. However, he said he was presented with a plan that doesn't include Pawtucket.

He said the move is "devastating."

Grebien said the new owners told him it didn't make sense to spend money on the stadium and they are instead looking at establishing a destination stadium.

The team's principal owner is Madelaine Mondor, widow of longtime owner Ben Mondor who owned the team from 1977 until his death in 2010.



A Republican lawmaker has proposed ending the state's health insurance exchange.

HealthSource RI was set up as part of the federal Affordable Care Act.

Deputy Minority Leader Patricia Morgan introduced a bill to prohibit the state from funding HealthSource RI and direct the governor to transfer the operation to the federal government beginning Jan. 1, 2016.

Morgan says the estimated annual price of operating the exchange appears to be $14 million to $20 million. She says that's too much, and it threatens the state's fiscal health.

She says current enrollees would retain their coverage through the federal exchange. More than 30,000 people are currently enrolled.

Democratic lawmakers have said they'd like to see the state shift to the federal system.

Morgan's bill was referred to the House Finance Committee.



Less than two months after taking office, Gov. Gina Raimondo is headed to Washington, D.C., to attend a National Governors Association conference, White House meetings and dinner with President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama.

Her office said in a statement her participation in the weekend conference sessions is an "important opportunity" to meet with other governors and officials from across the United States to discuss policy prescriptions.

Raimondo also will meet with Obama administration officials about how Rhode Island can tap federal resources to boost economic development.



After auditing the unemployment insurance division, the Department of Labor and Training is asking for a state police investigation.  A manager told higher-ups at the DLT about the possible fraud last week.  Investigators say the fraud involves at least tens of thousands of dollars.  Investigators think at least one person is involved but aren't ruling out the possibility of more.



Fewer homeless people are living on the streets in Rhode Island.  The Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless reports about 41-hundred people used a homeless shelter last year, down by nearly 800 since 2012 and about 300 from last year.  The coalition says that although the numbers are going down, they still have waiting lists for some family facilities.



Federal authorities have two men in custody after finding a meth lab in a Cranston apartment.  Forty-eight-year-old Michael Fortes and 33-year-old Nicholas Selser were arrested on Wednesday after authorities raided an apartment reportedly belonging to the pair.  Investigators say they found ingredients and supplies to make methamphetamine inside but didn't find any drugs.  Both men are facing three charges following their arrest.



With rain possible this weekend, emergency officials are asking for your help to clear storm drains.  The wet weather and warmer temperatures expected for at least the second half of the weekend could result in flooding on streets.  With emergency crews already stretched thin, Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency officials are asking homeowners to dig the drains clear.  They also advise you to clear snow off your roof because the rain can add a lot of extra weight.



The former chief of the Central Coventry Fire District is dead after apparently suffering cardiac arrest while in Florida.  Andrew Baynes was on vacation in Florida when he passed away on Tuesday.  Baynes worked for more than three decades at the Warwick Fire Department.  He was chief in Central Coventry for more than two years before resigning last year.



The Narragansett Tribe is receiving a federal affordable housing grant of more than a half-million-dollars.  The funds come from a federal Department of Housing and Urban Development program that seeks to help Native American tribes.  The money is distributed to eligible projects that benefit low income families living on reservations.



A fugitive wanted for a Massachusetts home invasion is in custody in Warwick.  Police say they obtained information that Tramaine McNeill might be staying at a house on Vanderbilt Road in Warwick.  Police went to the house yesterday, and after about a half-hour he emerged and peacefully surrendered.  McNeill was arraigned as a fugitive from justice and waived extradition back to Massachusetts.



Workers at Rhode Island Hospital are authorizing a ten day strike notice against facility owner Lifespan Corporation.  Teamsters Local 251 represents more than two-thousand workers at the hospital, including nurses, maintenance and food service employees.  The union is seeking better pay, health insurance, retirement benefits and layoff protection for the workers.  The hospital says the union's demands are not sustainable, but they remain optimistic that a deal can be reached to avert a strike.



Leaders from multiple religions are united in condemning anti-Islamic vandalism at the Islamic School of Rhode Island.  More than 20 religious leaders visited the school yesterday to show solidarity over the spray painted graffiti on the door and wall of the school this past weekend.  The school is currently closed for February vacation, and officials say the graffiti will be removed before students return for classes.



Governor Gina Raimondo is issuing an executive order seeking to streamline  Rhode Island's business regulations.  The executive order is designed as a way to test proposed state regulations that affect businesses.  Proposed business rules will be scrutinized by her executive team under the order, with proposals being subject to a cost benefit analysis and other reviews.  The governor says Rhode Island has long been considered unfriendly to business, something she is seeking to change. 



Governor Gina Raimondo is announcing major changes at the state Department of Transportation.  Raimondo says DOT Director Michael Lewis is resigning at the end of the month after six years of service.  Raimondo says she intends to appoint Peter Alviti Jr. to the position as DOT director.  He has previously served as Cranston public works director and most recently was director of programs for the Laborers International Union of North America. 



Unionized  Rhode  Island Hospital workers are planning to vote today to issue a ten day strike notice.  The Teamsters Local 251 are seeking better wages, benefits, job security and working conditions for their 22-hundred workers at the hospital.  The union says the vote is being taken because they have not been able to reach an agreement with Lifespan, the company that owns the hospital.  The union says Lifespan's latest proposal eliminates a no layoff clause and freezes wages for a 21 month period.



A Providence man has pleaded not guilty to a charge that he murdered a Cranston woman by selling her a fatal dose of a drug laced with the painkiller fentanyl.

Aaron Andrade appeared in Superior Court Monday on counts of murder, possession of a controlled substance with the intent to deliver and delivery of a controlled substance.

A Providence County grand jury indicted the 23-year-old Andrade last week in connection with the overdose last year of a 29-year-old Kristen Coutu.

Andrade is accused of selling an illicit drug containing "nearly pure fentanyl" to Coutu, who was found unresponsive in her mother's car on Feb. 17, 2014. The cause of death was ruled to be fentanyl intoxication.

The state Department of Health says 83 deaths involved fentanyl



U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse is hosting a community dinner tonight for constituents in Coventry.  Whitehouse frequently hosts these free events to hear concerns of residents first hand and to take questions.  The event is being held at the Coventry High School cafeteria beginning at six p.m.  While the event is free and open to anyone, it is first come, first served.



Gas prices are up again in Rhode Island.  Triple-A Southern New England says gas prices rose five-cents in the last week, and currently stand at two-dollars and 24-cents for a gallon of self serve regular.  The good news is that gasoline is still substantially lower today than it was a year ago, when drivers were paying an average of three-dollars and 48-cents a gallon.



Providence school bus drivers are threatening to go on strike.  The city's bus drivers say they have reached an impasse with operator First Student, and plan to walk out when classes resume Monday.  The drivers are currently guaranteed two and a half hours each shift, and are fighting for three-hours a shift.  Around 20-thousand Providence students would be impacted by a school bus strike.



The Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency is urging people to remove snow from the roof of their home or business.  More than 50 inches of snow have been recorded at TF Green Airport since the beginning of the year.  Officials say that with more snow on the way, roofs may be experiencing stress that can lead to collapse.  Long handled snow rakes are being recommended for use in removing snow from the roof.



Rhode Island officials are taking extra steps to combat tax refund fraud after a nationwide increase in fraudulent returns filed through TurboTax.

Tax Administrator David M. Sullivan says it may take up to five additional business days for taxpayers who file electronically to receive refunds due to the additional safeguards. It normally takes 10 to 15 business days.

He says it may take an additional week, beyond the normal four to six weeks, for paper returns.

The Division of Taxation reassigned additional staff to review personal income tax returns and claims for refunds and look for patterns of fraudulent activity.

It's working with software providers on improving technology to help weed out suspect refund claims, and collaborating with other states and federal tax officials to identify possible patterns of fraud.



Rhode Island authorities are awarding grants worth a total of $28,150 to organizers of local Earth Day cleanup projects.

The Department of Environmental Management says the program highlights Earth Day and the value of the environment, and recognizes the importance of people improving their communities.

Rhode Island nonprofit organizations and municipalities hosting volunteer Earth Day cleanup projects between April 1 and May 17 are eligible for the grants. The funds can be used to pay for outreach activities, cleanup supplies, hauling fees and other eligible expenses.

Last year the department awarded 38 grants, totaling $16,850.

Applications must be submitted online to DEM by March 11.

The department is partnering with the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation and the JR Vinagro Corporation to offer the grants.



Police are investigating hate vandalism that was spray painted at the Islamic School of Rhode Island in West Warwick.  Police say the spray painted slurs were discovered yesterday, with profanity used against Allah and the prophet Muhammad.  The school is located on Rear Providence Road in West Warwick.  No arrests have been made.



The Rhode Island Public Transit Authority is planning to run a full schedule today, despite the President's Day holiday.  The transit authority suspended all service yesterday afternoon following the latest snow storm and the bitter cold that followed.  The decision was made partially because snow blocked bus stops and passengers were force to wait in the street for buses to arrive.  Riders should expect delays on all routes today because of the ongoing snow issues.



Rhode Island continues to deal with an onslaught of brutal winter weather, and it looks like the snow is not done yet.  The National Weather Service is calling for more snow tomorrow, with two to four inches the initial projection.  The state was blanketed with more than a foot of snow in some areas over the weekend, which was followed by bitter cold that remains today. 



West Warwick Fire Department officials say no one was injured after snow caused a roof at a warehouse on Division Road to collapse Sunday afternoon.

Firefighters had to turn off the water and gas in the building after a 50 foot-by- 50 foot section of the warehouse caved in. The collapse happened around 4:30

Officials said the collapse caused a sprinkler pipe to break, which sounded an alarm inside the building.



A service marking the 12th anniversary of a nightclub fire that killed 100 people in Rhode Island has been postponed because of a forecast for blizzard conditions.

The Station Fire Memorial Foundation announced Saturday that the service planned for Sunday afternoon at West Warwick High School will be rescheduled.

Pyrotechnics for the band Great White set fire to flammable foam inside The Station nightclub in West Warwick on Feb. 20, 2003.

Survivors of the fire and friends and family of the victims had planned to attend Sunday's ceremony.

Organizers also planned to discuss the construction and fundraising efforts for a permanent memorial at the site of the fire.

Gina Russo of the foundation has said she hopes next year's gathering can be held at a finished memorial.




The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has announced nearly $12.5 million for local public housing authorities in Rhode Island.

The money will pay for large-scale improvements such as replacing roofs or energy-efficient upgrades to replace aging plumbing and electrical systems.

HUD said the nation continues to lose about 10,000 public housing units each year, primarily due to disrepair.

In 2011, HUD released a study that found the nation's 1.1 million public housing units face about $25.6 billion in large-scale repairs.

Aid amounts ranged from nearly $3.5 million for the Housing Authority of Providence to $29,064 for the Jamestown Housing Authority.



Support is growing for a measure that would eliminate the lower minimum wage for workers who receive tips.  The tipped minimum wage is currently less than three-dollars an hour, and has not been increased in decades.  The bill being considered in the state Legislature would gradually raise the tipped minimum wage until 2020, when it would be the same as the non-tipped minimum wage.  The bill has dozens of sponsors in the House and Senate.




A state lawmaker wants Governor Gina Raimondo to hire Beverly Scott to run the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority.  Scott resigned her position this week as the head of the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority.  Providence Representative Raymond Hull says Scott would bring strong leadership with a proven background in public transportation.  Before taking the Massachusetts job in 2012, Scott held transportation positions in Atlanta, New York, Washington and Dallas.


 



A man who was stabbed to death this week in Pawtucket is being identified as the brother of a Rhode Island Supreme Court justice.  Police say William McKenna died after being stabbed Tuesday on Benefit Street in Providence.  He was the brother of Justice Maureen McKenna Goldberg.  No arrests have been made in McKenna's killing. 



Two Providence men are under indictment for murder in connection with a North Providence home invasion.  A grand jury has handed down the indictments against Dari Garcia and Viclei Hernandez.  The men allegedly stormed the home of Richard Catalano last year in a robbery attempt, killing him and wounding two others.  In addition to murder, both men face multiple other charges that include conspiracy to commit robbery and assault with a dangerous weapon.



Newport Second Ward  City Councilor Lynn Ceglie will host a ward meeting at Fenner Hall this evening at 7. Joseph Nicholson, interim City Manager will be her guest. All Second Ward residents are invited to attend.



Amanda Lyons is going to spend 15 years in prison for a car accident that killed her passenger.  Attorney General Kilmartin said she will also lose her driver's license for five years and pay a five-thousand-dollar fine.  Lyons was driving under the influence of drugs on Route One in South Kingstown when she crashed into a light pole in 2013.



Black History Month is being celebrated in Pawtucket.  Governor Gina Raimondo attended the event yesterday.  The festival was dedicated to poet Maya Angelou whose message of freedom and hope was heard by more than 80 people at the Anchor Recovery Community Center.



Radio Shack is closing some stores in Rhode Island.  The electronic giant filed for bankruptcy protection and will shut down 18-hundred outlets, including nearly a dozen in the state.  Some may be sold to Spirit Corporation and reopen under a new name. The Radio Shack stores in Newport and Middletown were not included on the closure list.



Providence is the third best city for Valentine's Day.  WalletHub.com based the ranking on meal expenses, number of attractions, number of florists, and price for wine.  San Francisco is number one in the nation, while Detroit is the worst city. 



Tonight's Powerball drawing is worth 485-million dollars.  Lottery machines are expected to be humming in Rhode Island as people spend money for tickets.  No one has matched all six numbers to win the top prize since November 29th.



A tip line will allow Rhode Islanders to report gender-based wage discrimination.

The tip line is operated by the state Department of Labor and Training, which enforces labor laws and investigates wage complaints and hiring violations.

Tipsters also can lodge a complaint about pay disparity on the Department of Labor and Training website.

The agency's department's work force regulation and safety team will operate the tip line, follow up on leads and investigate complaints.

State law authorizes the state to enforce equal pay.



An attorney for Rhode Island's Public Utilities Commission is warning lawmakers that setting a limit on how much electricity rates can rise could result in even higher bills for consumers.

Utility regulators in December approved a contentious 24 percent rate increase spread over all of this year. Now the General Assembly is considering several proposals to limit rate hikes, even though National Grid is required to procure power and is allowed to recover the costs.

Some of the proposals would require that large rate increases be approved by the General Assembly before taking effect.

Cynthia G. Wilson-Frias, deputy chief of legal services for the Public Utilities Commission, told lawmakers that if they delayed approving needed rate increases to National Grid, the amount owed to the utility would continue to grow, resulting in even higher costs for consumers in the future. If lawmakers denied an increase, National Grid may be able to take legal action and argue that the law would be unconstitutional as applied, she said.



The deputy majority whip of the Rhode Island House of Representatives has resigned his leadership position after being arrested and charged with misappropriating more than $6,000 in campaign contributions.

State Police arrested Democratic Rep. Joseph Almeida on Tuesday. Almeida's lawyer entered a not-guilty plea on his behalf in district court, and he was released on $10,000 personal recognizance.

Almeida said in a letter to Speaker Nicholas Mattiello he's resigning due to his legal issues and for the good of the leadership team.

Mattiello said he was "very disappointed" to learn of the arrest and he thinks it's appropriate that Almeida resign his position. Mattiello said he's accepting the resignation.

Col. Steven O'Donnell said in a press release announcing Almeida's arrest that the charges stemmed from an audit by the Rhode Island Board of Elections.

Police say the board found Almeida withdrew cash and wrote several checks from his campaign account to himself and couldn't show satisfactory documentation to support $6,122.03 in expenditures.

The 57-year-old from Providence is a retired police officer. He did not attend Tuesday's House session.



Fourteen police departments in Rhode Island are considering ways to incinerate discarded prescription drugs.

Medications have piled up in collection boxes and evidence-storage rooms in the nearly five months since the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency ended its National Prescription Drug Take Back Day program.

The program was established to stem prescription drug abuse by removing unwanted drugs from home medicine cabinets. In Rhode Island, nearly 2,500 pounds of discarded prescriptions and other medications were collected during the final take-back day in September.

Law-enforcement officials say incineration is the proper way to dispose of prescription drugs.

At least one company is in the business of removing unwanted medication from sites around the country during the past four years.



With six weeks to go before spring, snow-removal budgets are running low after numerous storms that have slammed New England.

Mayor Donald Grebien says Pawtucket has exhausted its $700,000 snow removal budget.

Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian said the city has spent about 80 percent of its $435,000 for snow removal.

A spokesman for Mayor Jorge Elorza says about two-thirds of Providence's $1.6 million snow removal budget will be used up by the time the city finishes dealing with Monday's snowstorm.

Public Services Director Jon Schock says South Kingstown spent 61 percent of its budget for snow removal overtime, sand and salt by Friday.

And state Department of Transportation Director Michael Lewis says $14 million earmarked for winter storms will be reached with the cleanup from Monday's snowstorm.



A snow plow is being blamed for knocking out several runway lights at TF Green Airport.  The plow struck the landing lights after 5:30 yesterday morning.  Airport officials say repairs were being made yesterday afternoon, and no permanent damage is reported.  The loss of the lights did not cause any flight cancellations or delays.



After weeks of steady decline, gasoline prices have turned upward in Rhode Island.  Triple-A Southern New England says a gallon of self serve regular is eleven cents higher than a week ago.  The average cost of a gallon of gas is two-dollars and 19-cents, which is still low by recent standards.  At this time last year, Rhode Island drivers were paying three-dollars and 46-cents a gallon on average.



Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo and House Speaker Nick Mattiello say they're open to regulating and taxing marijuana.  However, Senate President Teresa Pavia Weed is not as supportive of legalizing the drug.  Pavia Weed says she remains concerned about potential health effects of marijuana.  She says the possible revenue the state could bring in from legal pot should not be their top motivation.



Providence College says it vaccinated more than 3,000 students Sunday as it deals with two cases of meningococcal meningitis.

The college confirmed a second student has meningitis among its student body of more than 3,800 undergraduates and about 700 graduate students.

The school reported that 3,060 students were immunized at a Sunday clinic.

Students were told to report to clinics Sunday or Wednesday whether they planned to get vaccinated or not. The vaccines are free.

Spokeswoman Christine Centazzo said earlier the two students remain hospitalized and appeared to be responding to treatment and doing well. People who had close contact with the students were given antibiotics.

The college warns that prior vaccinations likely do not protect against the Group B strain of meningitis.

 



Brown University is increasing undergraduate tuition and fees 4.4 percent to help fund a $967.4 million budget.

The university's governing body said Sunday the tuition and fee increase is for the university's 2016 budget year.

The total undergraduate charge for 2015-16 will increase to $62,046. Undergraduate tuition will rise to $48,272 and room and board will jump to $12,700.

Other fees will increase to $1,074.

Tuition for Ph.D. and on-campus master's students will rise 4 percent, to $48,272.the Corporation of Brown approved a spending plan that anticipates $964 million in revenue and an additional $7.5 million in one-time revenue.

The university will tap reserves to cover a $4.4-million deficit.

The financial aid budget will rise 8 percent, to $112.5 million.



Westerly has sent trucks to Providence to fetch road salt after distribution problems hindered delivery.

The Westerly Sun reports that Amy Grzybowski, Westerly's director of planning, code enforcement and grant administration, said the trouble isn't due to a lack of road salt, but distribution problems. Westerly dispatched trucks Friday and Saturday in advance of another storm early in the week.

Morton Salt Inc. of Chicago won the state contract to supply and deliver salt in Rhode Island. A spokeswoman says the distribution problems are due to higher demand. She said the company is working to deliver salt as quickly as possible.

Rhode Island Department of Transportation spokesman Brian Lussier said the state was assessing how much salt is available. He would not comment on possible delivery issues.



The administration of Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza is looking to hire a fire chief able to control costs.

Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare said Thursday the next chief must be able to analyze demands for emergency medical and fire-suppression services with an eye toward consolidation. He said targets of that consolidation could include the number and location of fire stations.

The Fire Department has 14 engine companies, eight ladder companies, seven rescue companies and a special hazard unit.

Fire Chief Clarence A. Cunha will reach age 60 in April, the legally required retirement age.

The administration is now looking locally, regionally and nationally for his successor in a job. The salary is advertised at between $118,000 and $153,000 a year.



Westerly's School Committee has dropped a proposed ethics policy that would have required members to support committee decisions in public and discouraged them from using social media to discuss committee business.

The Westerly Sun reports that the vote was 4-3.

Committee member Marianne Nardone, who was in the majority, said she was "sort of embarrassed" by the issue.

Members said the dysfunction of the School Committee and "not working as productively" as possible led to the policy at a retreat on Jan. 24s.

One resident, Kevin Plunkett, called the policy a "bully in the room."

Steven Brown, executive director of the ACLU of Rhode Island, said the policy potentially raised "serious First Amendment concerns" and asked the committee to reject or revise the proposal.



Warwick police are issuing $100 tickets to businesses and homeowners who fail to remove snow from their sidewalks.

The Police Department was to begin handing out violations at 7 a.m. today to businesses and homeowners not complying with an ordinance requiring snow to be removed from sidewalks. Ticketing will continue through 7 p.m. Saturday.

Police say sidewalks covered with snow and ice are safety hazards, particularly for the elderly.

Police say they've used discretion and tried to educate residents. But officials say ample time has passed since the late-January storm dumped nearly 2 feet of snow in some areas, and homeowners and businesses must comply with the ordinance.

 



Rhode Island lawmakers are considering raising the state's minimum wage again.

Rep. David Bennett has introduced a bill to raise the hourly minimum by $1.10 to $10.10 per hour. The increase would go into effect Jan. 1.

The Warwick Democrat successfully lobbied last year to raise the wage by $1 to $9 per hour. The higher wage went into effect at the start of this year and put Rhode Island on par with Massachusetts.

Gov. Gina Raimondo has said she favors a higher minimum wage.

The Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training estimates that 45,000 of the state's residents — or about 8 percent of the labor force — earn $9 an hour.

Bennett said it's hard for people to live on $9 per hour. He said if workers made more, they would spend more locally and stimulate the economy.



The state Senate has approved Gov. Gina Raimondo's picks to lead the state commerce, corrections and health and human services agencies.

The Senate voted Thursday to approve Stefan Pryor as secretary of Commerce RI and former Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts as the new health and human services secretary. Senators also confirmed the reappointment of Ashbell "A.T." Wall as director of the Department of Corrections.

Although Senate rules say there must be two days' notice before any matter can be considered, notice of the votes on Pryor and Roberts wasn't provided until Wednesday night.

Senate spokesman Greg Pare defended the decision to provide notice of the votes Wednesday, telling the Journal that it was the "normal course of business in accordance with the Senate Rules."



Gov. Gina Raimondo says she's nominating five people to serve on the state Board of Education.

Raimondo announced Thursday that she will ask the Senate to confirm her choices.

Eva-Marie Mancuso is the current chairwoman.

Raimondo's pick for chairwoman is Barbara Cottam. Cottam is the executive vice president for Citizens Financial Group. She is a founding member of the child advocacy organization Rhode Island Kids Count.

Raimondo also nominated Jim Karam, Marta V. Martínez and Betsy Shimberg, and re-nominated current member, the Rev. Jeffery Williams.

Raimondo thanked Mancuso and the other outgoing members for their public service.



One Rhode Island state lawmaker want to make it an expensive decision for protesters thinking of blocking a state highway.  Portsmouth Representative Dennis Canario's bill would make it a one-thousand-dollar fine to intentionally restrict flow of a freeway.  Canario says he believes in the right to assemble and protest, but people cross the line when they threaten the safety of others.  The House Judiciary Committee is studying the bill.



A former Providence mayor is suing the city over a property tax deal.

Joseph Paolino Jr. filed suit Tuesday in Superior Court.

Paolino, a real estate developer, owns Paolino Properties. His company owns buildings and parking lots in the city.

Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island owns a building on Exchange Street and rents out some space to commercial tenants.

Paolino claims a tax stabilization agreement the city struck to keep the insurer's workers downtown gives the insurer an unfair advantage acquiring tenants.

The paper reports Paolino is suing the city and the Massachusetts private equity fund that owns the land, Intercontinental Fund IV Waterplace. Paolino says Blue Cross didn't sign the stabilization but benefited from it.

Blue Cross declined to comment.



A new report places Providence among the most romantic cities in the nation.  The report from the restaurant reservation website OpenTable lists Providence as the third most romantic city.  The report considers the number of dinner reservations made for two and the percentage of people who dined out last Valentine's Day.  Atlantic City was listed as the most romantic, followed by San Antonio and then Providence.



Gov. Gina Raimondo has picked six people to join the commission overseeing the development of land opened up by the relocation of Interstate 195 in downtown Providence.

Raimondo announced Wednesday she'll ask the Senate to confirm six nominees for the I-195 Redevelopment Commission.

Real estate developer Colin Kane recently resigned as commission chairman.

Raimondo picked Joseph F. Azrack to be the new chairman. He's the principal owner of Azrack & Company, an investment and advisory firm focused on the real estate industry.

Her other nominees are: Robert C. Davis, Elizabeth Huidekoper, Melissa Husband, Edwin J. Santos and Sandra Smith.

She says the nominations are a first step in advancing efforts to revitalize the land. Twenty acres on the edge of downtown Providence were freed up for redevelopment by the relocation.



A Superior Court magistrate has expunged the public record of a felony conviction against a former Providence police detective to.

Robert R. DeCarlo was caught on a security camera video as he attacked a handcuffed suspect with a flashlight in a widely publicized incident in 2009.

However, he remains guilty of simple assault, a misdemeanor, on trespassing suspect Luis A. Mendonca.

Expunging the public record means the case will be kept sealed at the courthouse, unavailable except in special circumstances. DeCarlo, generally speaking, will be able to swear lawfully that he was never convicted of a felony.

A jury in 2011 convicted DeCarlo of the felony charge of assault with a dangerous weapon, his flashlight, on Mendonca. A judge declared a mistrial, which was appealed by Attorney General Peter Kilmartin.



Former Providence Mayor Joseph R. Paolino Jr. has again reached an agreement to buy Newport Grand, but only if a court ruling clears title to the property.

The Newport Daily News reports that Paolino confirmed Wednesday he has reached an agreement to buy Newport Grand, but only if title to the property is cleared up.

Deeds in 1975 transferring ownership of the former city landfill to Newport Grand CEO Diane S. Hurley's father stipulated the city could buy back the property if it was not used in connection with a jai alai fronton or civic center.

Newport Grand has filed a legal complaint seeking a ruling that the so-called reverter rights are no longer relevant. It says an agreement is in place with unidentified developers to buy the slot-machine parlor.



 

A new report places Newport as one of the top 50 cities to visit in the country.  The report from the hotel search site Trivago.com places Newport as 17th in the country.  The site attributes Newport's high ranking to the quality of hotel rooms offered to travelers, along with seaside culture and history.  Sedona, Arizona is the top ranked city on the list, with Boston in tenth place.



Survivors of a 2003 nightclub fire and friends and family members of the 100 people who died are planning to mark the 12th anniversary of the fire at a local high school instead of at the site.

Gina Russo of the Station Fire Memorial Foundation says the decision was due to ongoing construction to build a permanent memorial and safety concerns.

Pyrotechnics for the band Great White set fire to flammable foam inside The Station nightclub in West Warwick Feb. 20, 2003. Russo says the 11th anniversary memorial service was also held off-site.

Russo says this year's event begins at 1 p.m., Feb. 15, at West Warwick High School. Organizers plan to discuss the construction and fundraising efforts.

Russo hopes next year's ceremony can be held at a finished memorial.



Gov. Gina Raimondo is asking state lawmakers for more time to prepare her first budget.

Raimondo wrote to House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed on Monday to ask for an extension to March 12.

The budget is due by Thursday under Rhode Island law.

Raimondo says she's a new governor and past governors have been granted extensions.

Her predecessor, Gov. Lincoln Chafee, submitted his first budget on March 9, 2011. His predecessor, Gov. Donald Carcieri, submitted his first budget on March 11, 2003.

House Finance Committee Chairman Raymond Gallison is expected to introduce legislation extending the due date.



A state Senate panel is giving unanimous approval to Governor Gina Raimondo's commerce secretary appointment.  The Commerce Committee yesterday approved Stefan Pryor for the position.  Pryor most recently served as Connecticut education commissioner, leaving that position last month.  Pryor says Rhode Island is on the cusp of an economic revival, but must deal with high unemployment and poverty rates.



The owner and crew of an 18th century replica ship damaged in the late-January storm are preparing it for repairs.

The Newport Daily News reports that owner and captain Thorpe Leeson said the Continental Sloop Providence has a hole in the hull and a broken mast. He says it will take time before it can be lifted.

Strong winds blew the vessel onto its side at Newport Shipyard. Leeson says insurance will likely cover the damage and he plans to get the ship in the water by the end of the summer.

He bought it in 2010 from the Providence Maritime Heritage Foundation and is looking to sell it.

The ship was built for the 1976 bicentennial and is a replica of John Paul Jones' 18th century first command ship.



 

 

Rhode Island Education Commissioner Deborah Gist has started contract negotiations to become the schools superintendent in her hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma.

The Tulsa School Board voted to authorize contract negotiations Monday night.

Gist says she's proud of the efforts to improve Rhode Island's education system, and moving on was a difficult decision. But she says she couldn't pass up the opportunity to lead a school district in the city where she was raised and where her family still lives.

Gist says she'll work with Gov. Gina Raimondo (ray-MAHN'-doh) and education officials to develop a transition plan.

Raimondo says she's thankful for Gist's great work on behalf of Rhode Island's children.

Tulsa's current superintendent retires in June.



Six University of Rhode Island students were arrested Sunday night after the New England Patriots won the Super Bowl.

University police received a report about 10:30 p.m. that students on campus were gathering to celebrate the victory.

The group had grown to about 800 students, and some students starting throwing snowballs and other objects, university officials said, prompting URI police to seek assistance from other departments. South Kingstown police responded with four officers and Narragansett police sent three. Seven State Police troopers also responded.

A South Kingstown police officer badly sprained his wrist during the incident. Another South Kingstown police officer was hit in the back of the head with a full can of beer. One URI police officer suffered a minor cut, and another was hit in the leg with a bottle or can of beer. Other officers were hit with snowballs and blocks of ice. URI’s EMS ambulance was pelted with snowballs, ice and other items, police and university officials said.

Police said up to eight lights on the “Elephant Walk” were damaged and a Ronzio’s Pizza delivery car was damaged. Otherwise, police said, damage to the campus was not extensive. By midnight, the gathering had been dispersed and the campus was quiet, police said.


 



Rhode Island gas prices are down another two cents, according to AAA.

A Feb. 2 survey of gas prices around the state found that self-serve, regular unleaded is averaging at $2.08 per gallon — two cents less than last week.

The current Rhode Island price is two cents more than the national average for regular unleaded. This time last year, Rhode Island gas prices were averaging at $3.44 per gallon.



 Rhode Island health officials say a Providence College student is being treated for meningococcal meningitis.

The state Department of Health announced the case Monday. The department says the student has been admitted to a hospital in the Boston area and is improving.

People who came into close contact with the student were given antibiotics.

The health department says it's collaborating with the Massachusetts Department of Health.

Rhode Island's health director, Dr. Michael Fine, says the risk of contracting meningitis is low for Providence College students and staff. But he says meningitis is a dangerous disease and his department takes even a single case seriously.

 



End-of-year campaign filings show Gov. Gina Raimondo and her Democratic challenger, Clay Pell, broke spending records last year.

Raimondo outspent her Republican rival, Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, nearly 3 to 1. She spent $6.3 million over the four-year election cycle.

Pell spent $3.9 million for 34,515 primary votes, or $114 a vote. He spent nearly $3.5 million of his own money.

Most of what Republican Ken Block spent on his unsuccessful campaign for the GOP nomination to run for governor also came out of his own pocket. He spent $857,557, including $720,264 of his own money, on his second run for governor.

Fung spent $2.2 million during the four-year campaign cycle, financed in part by $1.1 million in public matching funds he received after winning the primary.



Authorities in the Hudson Valley have identified a 19-year-old man who died after suffering an electric shock from utility wires.

Hyde Park police identify the victim as Noah Black, of Portsmouth, a sophomore at the Culinary Institute of America.

Police say Black was with three other people hiking on property of the federally owned Franklin D. Roosevelt estate on Saturday. He had not been following a specific trail and police said he came into contact with low-hanging electrical lines.

Emergency responders had to walk more than a half mile to reach Black, administered CPR, and brought him to MidHudson Regional Hospital, where he died.

No foul play is suspected, but the police are still investigating.

Cause of death is still pending.



Congressman David Cicilline is looking to honor the memory of the late Sister Ann Keefe.  Cicilline is introducing a bill that would rename the post office on Elmwood Avenue in the South Side of Providence for Keefe.  The social justice activist died last month from cancer at the age of 62.  Cicilline says he hopes the permanent memorial will remind people who Sister Ann was and what she stood for.


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