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1540 WADK.com Updates Archives for 2017-02

Raimondo: Trump gave few details during White House meeting

Gov. Gina Raimondo says she heard a lot of rhetoric but little detail from President Donald Trump on his health care plans during a White House meeting.

The governor was among dozens of governors who gathered with the Republican president Monday after a weekend meeting of the National Governors Association in Washington.

Raimondo says she spent time talking with Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and pressed him on the importance of making sure the tens of thousands of Rhode Island residents who are insured because of the Affordable Care Act stay insured.

Trump and GOP leaders have pledged to repeal and replace the 2010 national health care law.

Raimondo says she also met Trump for the first time, but their comments were brief and social.

Gas Prices Down Slightly In RI

There's good news for motorists as gas prices have dropped in the Ocean State.  Triple-A Northeast says the cost per gallon dropped three-cents from last week.  The average price per gallon is now two-dollars and 21-cents, eight cents below the national average.  A year ago motorists were paying one-dollar and 74-cents at the pump.

RI Real Estate Sales Show Improvement

The real estate market in Rhode Island is on the upswing.  The state Realtors association says 668 homes were sold in January.  That's a 21-percent increase over the same month a year ago.  However, the median price is off by 15-hundred dollars compared with year ago sales.  Realtors say the current inventory is the lowest it's been in years.

Proposed Bill Elevates Assault Of Delivery Person To Felony

There could be some serious consequences for criminals who assault the pizza delivery person under a proposed bill in the state Senate.  Democratic Senate Majority Leader Dominick Ruggerio bill calls for sentences up to three years in prison and fines up to three-thousand dollars.  For those convicted of using a weapon in an assault on a delivery person the penalty could be stiffer with up to 20 years behind bars.  The Senate Committee on the Judiciary is expected to discuss Senate Bill 230 at today's meeting.

House Speaker Ryan To Visit Rhode Island

House Speaker Paul Ryan will be visiting Rhode Island this week.  A spokesman for Ryan says the Speaker will meet with supporters and attend several events.  Zack Roday says Ryan "is committed to keeping a strong Republican majority in Congress so we can solve the big problems facing our country."  There's been no word as to when Ryan will arrive or which events he will attend.

Commerce Commission Approves Millions In Incentives

Two companies expecting to add hundreds of new jobs in Rhode Island are getting more than nine-million dollars in incentives.   The Rhode Island Commerce Commission has approved more than three-million dollars in Qualified Jobs tax credits for Providence-based United Natural Foods.  The board approved more than four-million dollars in tax credits for hotel-booking firm Agoda Travel Operations of Singapore which will move into the Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island building.  SAT Development will receive incentives for a construction project in Bristol.   

RI Senate to talk about Amtrak bypass proposal

Rhode Island state senators are holding a meeting to talk about the proposed new Amtrak line that would speed up rail travel between Boston and New York City by creating a bypass through parts of southern New England.

The proposal that would straighten the route through coastal eastern Connecticut and southwest Rhode Island has met with opposition from several towns and the state legislators and members of Congress who represent them.

It's part of broader changes being considered for Amtrak's Boston-to-Washington Northeast Corridor over the coming decades.

Doug Gascon, a deputy director of governmental affairs at the Federal Railroad Administration, will present his agency's recommendations to a state Senate finance committee on Tuesday at the Rhode Island State House.

It's a public meeting but senators won't be taking public comments.

State funds new regional groups to prevent substance abuse

The state has awarded grants to create five regional task forces to prevent substance use disorder and reduce opioid overdose deaths.

The Rhode Island Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals awarded $1.4 million in federal grant funding to the new task forces. The money will be used in part to assess community substance use prevention needs and resources.

The state says there were at least 326 drug overdose deaths in 2016, and 57 percent of those were related to fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid. That's compared with 290 deaths in 2015, of which about 47 percent were fentanyl-related.

Previously, 34 organizations served as prevention task forces for municipalities.

The state plans to fund two more regional groups. They'll oversee activities to prevent substance use and promote health regionally.

Providence seeks to acquire over 300 abandoned properties

The Providence Redevelopment Agency has approved a draft plan that would allow it to buy more than 300 abandoned residential properties as part of an effort to reduce neighborhood blight.

The draft, approved last week, identifies vacant properties that satisfy criteria to be deemed "deteriorated blight." City officials say all have at least one housing code violation. Many are also tax delinquent.

If approved by the City Council, the redevelopment agency would try to acquire the properties, including through purchase, eminent domain or tax takings.

The redevelopment agency says it's exploring a pilot project where private partners could buy the properties in bulk.

The city unveiled the EveryHome initiative two years ago with the goal of removing an estimated 600 abandoned properties.

Judge dismisses pension reform agreement suit against city

A Rhode Island judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by more than 60 public-sector retirees against the city of Providence over its pension reform agreement.

A decision issued Thursday by Superior Court Judge Sarah Taft-Carter says the retired police officers and firefighters aren't entitled to lifetime health benefits and an annual cost-of-living adjustment.

Taft-Carter's decision says the retirees "failed to meet their burden of demonstrating their claims."

The November 2013 lawsuit was filed in opposition to a settlement between the city, its municipal unions and retirees that froze 3 percent cost-of-living adjustments for 10 years.

The agreement also shifted retirees over the age of 65 to Medicare and eliminated 5 percent and 6 percent cost-of-living adjustments indefinitely. Taft-Carter approved the pension settlement in 2015.

Doctor charged with pushing painkiller, receiving kickbacks

A doctor has been indicted on 19 federal counts that accuse him of receiving kickbacks on prescriptions of a highly addictive painkiller that were written for patients who didn't need the drug.

Jerrold Rosenberg of Jamestown, a clinical assistant professor at Brown University, pleaded not guilty Thursday.

He's the latest person to be caught up in a federal investigation in multiple states surrounding the Arizona-based drug manufacturer, Insys Therapeutics.

Former Insys executives are accused of leading a nationwide conspiracy to bribe doctors to prescribe large amounts of the company's fentanyl spray. They've pleaded not guilty in Massachusetts. Insys couldn't immediately be reached for comment on Thursday.

Prosecutors say Rosenberg refused patients' requests to switch drugs and received $180,000 in speaking fees.

They say his son earned commissions as an Insys sales representative.

Bishop of Providence denounces Trump's executive order

The Bishop of Providence took to social media to speak out against President Donald Trump's executive order to curb immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries.

Bishop Thomas Tobin echoed the sentiments of other religious leaders who denounced the Republican's moves earlier this week.

Tobin wrote on Facebook and the Diocesan website that he believes Trump's recent executive order clashes with the agenda pushed by the Bishops of the United States in promoting "comprehensive and compassionate" immigration reform.

In previous interviews the Bishop has stated that he wasn't convinced Trump was competent enough for office and he didn't approve of his crude and vulgar language.

RI Senate passes criminal justice reform bills

The Rhode Island Senate has approved a package of criminal justice reform bills emphasizing mental health treatment over incarceration.

Supporters say the measures would help decrease the state's high probation rate.

The Senate unanimously passed the seven-bill package of reforms Thursday. One would set up a program for people with mental illness charged with minor crimes to be diverted to counseling instead of jail. Another bill would create a batterer's intervention program.

The bills now move to the state House of Representatives.

Democratic Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed has called the legislation a top priority. She has moved for swift passage because similar legislation died last year after getting stalled in the House.

The legislation emerged from the findings of a 2015 criminal justice reform working group.

Providence police bureau to focus on community relations

A new bureau has been created in the Providence Police Department that aims to improve police relations with the community.

Mayor Jorge Elorza, Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare and Police Chief Col. Hugh Clements on Wednesday announced the formation of the Community Relations Bureau.

The bureau will work with community crime watch partners and establish an officer mentoring program for the city's youth. It will also work with the Providence Police Advisory Board on concerns and issues in the community.

Maj. Oscar Perez will oversee the bureau. Officials say Perez will work to "build, enhance and maintain" police relations with residents.

RI lawmakers consider allowing sunscreen at school

Children in Rhode Island public schools would no longer need a doctor's note to bring in sunscreen under a bill moving through the state legislature.

Warwick Democratic Rep. David Bennett says he introduced the bill after hearing about a student who came home from a field trip sunburned because she wasn't allowed to have sunscreen.

The legislation would allow students to possess and use topical sunscreen at school and school-related events. It would stop sunscreen from being considered as an over-the-counter medication requiring a written doctor's order.

Bennett says the current rules are outdated because of what's been learned about the dangers of sun exposure and skin cancer.

38 Studios defendant agrees to $16 million settlement

Rhode Island is settling with the final defendant in its lawsuit over the failure of 38 Studios, the video game company started by former Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling.

The state Commerce Corporation says it has agreed to a $16 million settlement with Hilltop Securities Inc., formerly known as the First Southwest Co.

The settlement was filed Wednesday. It's contingent on court approval.

The state provided Schilling's company with $75 million in loan guarantees before it folded in 2012. First Southwest was the state's financial adviser.

A spokeswoman for Hilltop Securities says the settlement isn't an admission of liability or wrongdoing.

The state previously settled its claims against Schilling and others involved with the deal, including Wells Fargo Securities and Barclays Capital, for a combined $61 million.

RI lawmakers push to affirm abortion rights

Dozens of Rhode Island state legislators have signed onto a bill to affirm a woman's right to have an abortion.

Rep. Edith Ajello and Sen. Gayle Goldin, both Providence Democrats, announced the legislation at a State House rally Wednesday.

Similar bills were proposed in previous years but never went to a vote.

Ajello says there's momentum this year with new pro-choice Democrats in the state House of Representatives and amid fears about Republican President Donald Trump. Proponents say it would protect abortion rights even if the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling is overturned.

Ajello is also for the first time speaking in deeply personal terms, sharing her own story of finding a Pennsylvania doctor to perform an abortion when she was a college student in 1965.

Retired cop files ethics complaints against Warwick official

A retired Providence police officer has filed two complaints with the state Ethics Commission against a Warwick city councilwoman alleging she and her husband used a nonprofit organization to avoid paying taxes.

The complaints were filed against Ward 6 Councilwoman Donna Travis last month by Warwick resident John Simoneau Sr.

Simoneau alleges in the complaints that Travis "failed to disclose" her own and her husband's involvement in nonprofit organizations on her 2015 financial statement to the commission.

Travis' lawyer says Travis had asked to amend the form, acknowledging she had failed to disclose her involvement.

The case is expected to be on the Ethics Commission's agenda on Tuesday. Members will determine if there's probable cause to conduct a full investigation.

Bus riders make last-minute push to reinstate free passes

Elderly or disabled people on low incomes who have been allowed to ride Rhode Island's public bus system for free aren't happy that they will have to start paying this week.

Dozens of riders gathered in Providence on Tuesday to urge Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo to stop the change that takes effect Wednesday.

Passengers who had qualified for the free rides will have to pay 50 cents per ride on Rhode Island Public Transit Authority buses. The full fare is $2.

The Raimondo administration announced a pilot program Tuesday to give away free 10-trip tickets each month for some people who were previously able to ride for free.

Advocates and riders say it's inadequate in part because it's only for senior citizens and veterans, not the disabled.

Brown seeks return of Syrian doctor blocked by travel ban

A Brown University official says the school is seeking the return of a Syrian student who's stuck overseas because of President Donald Trump's ban on travelers from seven Muslim countries.

Khaled Almilaji is now in Turkey while his pregnant wife is in the United States.

The 35-year-old doctor received a scholarship to earn a master's degree in public health at Brown University so he could learn how to rebuild his country's health system.

Terrie Fox Wetle, dean of Brown's School of Public Health, says the university is contacting humanitarian organizations and trying to figure out the most effective path to help Almilaji return to his studies.

She says he's an excellent student and one of many "good, good people who got caught up in a terrible situation."

RI House approves bill shielding research records

The Rhode Island House of Representatives has approved a bill that would shield climate scientists and other university researchers from public records requests.

The House voted 58-6 to pass the bill Tuesday.

Democratic House Judiciary Chairman Cale Keable says the legislation is meant to help guarantee academic freedom, especially for those whose study of climate change has been impeded by records requests from opponents of the research.

It would exempt researchers at state institutions from having to disclose preliminary drafts, notes and working papers.

Republican Rep. Mike Chippendale, who voted against it, says it's an affront to transparency.

University of Rhode Island professors backed the bill. Open government groups didn't object, arguing it merely adds clarity to an existing exemption in the law.

The bill now moves to the state Senate.

Officer under probe for alleged misuse of computer system

Law enforcement officials in Providence say an internal investigation is underway into allegations a city officer ran a background check on someone for a personal reason.

Providence Police Col. Hugh Clements confirmed to WPRI-TV that the patrolman is under investigation. The officer has not been named.

Clements says it's against departmental policy to use law enforcement systems and records to compile a background check on someone outside of official police business.

He says he expects the department to hand down disciplinary actions soon.

State police respond to 55 crashes during snowfall

Authorities in Rhode Island say state police troopers handled 55 crashes throughout the state in snowy conditions.

Police say they responded to crashes between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. Tuesday. No serious injuries were reported.

Lt. Col Kevin Barry says that about 25 crashes took place in the Lincoln area. Reports from the state Department of Transportation show that more than a dozen crashes took place on Route 95 over 90 minutes on Tuesday afternoon.

The DOT's online reporting system listed crashes in Warwick, Providence, East Greenwich and other areas.

One incident involved a bus that was hit by a vehicle in Providence around 3:45 p.m. Three children were taken to the hospital for evaluation.


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