The Rhode Island General Assembly began its 2018 session on Tuesday, January 2.

In addresses delivered to their respective chambers on Tuesday, January 2, Senate President Dominick Ruggerio and House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello provided some insight into those top issues which are expected to dominate discussion and debate during the 2018 session: the PawSox, the budget deficit, and marijuana legislation. Another key issue that we expect to come up is legislation surrounding sports betting and, just recently, gun control legislation.

The PawSox: The debate on whether Rhode Island should build a new stadium for the Pawtucket Red Sox garnered much attention at the beginning of the session. Speaker Mattiello has consistently been very skeptical about any deal. The Senate passed a stadium financing bill out of committee on Tuesday, January 16, but the Speaker has made it clear that he does not believe that there is widespread public support. The Senate has taken the view so far that this is something that is good for RI in the long run.

The Budget: There is a looming $204 million deficit that lawmakers will have to deal with this session. While the current economy is the strongest economy RI has seen at least in the past 10 years (with unprecedented job growth), we still are in a bad budget year. Budget deficits are not unusual, but nevertheless still call for difficult decisions. While it is uncertain what is on the line, neither chamber wants to see a repeat of last sessionÕs ending with a budget impasse.

Marijuana: Prior to the start of the session, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded President ObamaÕs directive that eased federal enforcement on marijuana, putting a federal crackdown on dispensaries on the table. Article 17 from the GovernorÕs budget legislation (H 7200) would expand the number of compassion centers from three to fifteen and would also consolidate the registration and oversight of caregivers and authorized purchasers under the Department of Business Regulation. There seems to be a sense of nervousness and caution around the legalization of marijuana debate. The legislature has set up a Special Legislative Commission to Study the Effects of Legalizing Marijuana to look at the pros and cons and will report back to the General Assembly in May.

School Rebuilding: Governor RaimondoÕs school-building reconstruction proposal is a hot topic at the top of this sessionÕs agenda. The task force committee assigned to look at the stateÕs crumbling schools has recommended $500M in bond financing for public school construction and repair over the next 10 years, with the first bonds of $250M to be proposed to voters in a referendum in 2018.

Elections: The 2018 session began with thirty-eight (38) members of the Senate; however, currently stands at thirty-six (36). That is because former (District 8) State Senator James Doyle and former (District 21) State Senator Nicholas D. Kettle have both resigned their seats to deal with personal issues. An election for the District 8 Senate seat will be held on Tuesday, April 3 with Democratic Pawtucket City Councilwoman Sandra Cano expected to win. District 21 will vote for a new senator in the November general election. In the meantime, the District 21 Senate seat will remain vacant as Kettle resigned after the special election deadline, February 2.

The GovernorÕs race has heated up well ahead of the 2018 November election. Republican Cranston Mayor Allan Fung and Republican State Representative Patricia Morgan, who is the House minority leader, are both running on the Republican ticket while President TrumpÕs 2016 Rhode Island campaign chairman, Joe Trillo, plans to run as an independent. Most recently, former RI Secretary of State Matt Brown has thrown his name into the race, and also plans to run as an independent.

Stay tuned for future updates on legislation and other topics of relevant importance during the 2018 Assembly session. No matter the issue, the Pannone Lopes Devereaux & OÕGara Government Relations team is at the State House every day on behalf of its government relations clients.

PLDO has extensive experience as a legislative advocate for clients in the private and public sectors. Our experience and deep understanding of our clients' operations and the issues facing them enables us to communicate effectively to legislators and state agencies. For more information about PLDO's government relations capabilities and services, please contact our firm at (401) 824-5100.

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