Speaker Shekarchi delivers remarks to
begin 2022 legislative session
Below is the text of Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi’s remarks to House members on the opening day of the 2022 legislative session.
My Friends.... welcome to the official start of the 2022 session.
We did great work together last year under historic circumstances, rising to the occasion again and again. In fact, we only just completed that work today with the passage of the first investment of the American Rescue Plan funding. Just moments ago, Governor McKee signed that legislation into law.
This historic investment of $119 million is the first down-payment on $1.1 billion in federal funds that will boost our economy and assist families and businesses.
Now, there's much more to do – more investments to be made, challenges to overcome, and historic opportunities to seize.
Beginning today, we will do all these things together.
A good deal of our work – as was the case last year – will focus on the health and economic issues related to the pandemic, which still has us in its grip.
A major goal for this session is to build on what we achieved together last year, when we essentially passed two years' worth of legislation in only six months. We will maintain that momentum – with the proper precautions in place – and meet regularly in 2022. We will continue our work to find ways to protect and honor the dignity inherent in every human being.
Through all of your efforts, let me cite a few laws that made last year so outstanding:
· We finally achieved long overdue pay equity, and committed to a path towards a $15 dollar an hour minimum wage.
· We tackled the complex, multi-layered issues of affordable housing like no other General Assembly in history. We did this by creating both a permanent funding stream for housing and a housing production fund. We addressed discrimination in housing, initiated a permanent supportive housing program to assist the homeless, and created the position of housing czar to coordinate all of these efforts.
· We addressed critical environmental concerns with the passage of the Act on Climate, the most significant piece of environmental legislation in decades.
· With an understanding that higher education is truly the pathway to success, we made the College Promise Program at CCRI permanent, offering a brighter future for the next generation.
· We made certain that two of our largest companies, IGT and Twin River – now Bally's – will remain in Rhode Island for the next 20 years, expanding their workforce and providing good-paying jobs - a commitment they have already begun to keep.
· We enacted significant advances in health care – from extending insurance coverage for doulas and the screening of colon cancer to lowering the cost of insulin.
· We took steps to strengthen trust between law enforcement and our communities by making body cameras available to every police department in the state, along with $15 million dollars in funding.
· And we adopted not one, but two budgets with no tax increases. These budgets assisted small businesses, provided services for the most vulnerable, and included $10 million dollars more than the Governor requested to hire more staff at DCYF.
Those are just a few of the highlights of what was truly a remarkable session, where my good faith commitment to collaboration and your energy and hard work produced real results for Rhode Islanders. You should be proud of what we achieved together.
Now, as we begin this new session, we rededicate ourselves to finding long-term sustainable solutions for many of the problems we continue to face. And just like last year, these challenges will be met through the creativity in this room.
When Leader Blazejewski and I earned your confidence one year ago, we pledged to make this House a Member-Driven body. Today, we renew that pledge as we embark upon the 2022 session. Bringing people together – to get things done!
In fact, we've already begun. Since we were last in this room, ten different committees and commissions have held dozens of bi-partisan hearings, preparing the way for many of the bills we will address this year. There is no such thing as an “off-session” anymore.
I also want to acknowledge the service of the members of the Reapportionment Commission. This group has held 16 meetings throughout the state and will continue their work over the next few weeks to bring their recommendations to us.
Also, we have also spent months analyzing the complex issue of marijuana legalization. The House and Senate intend to soon have draft legislation ready which will serve as a framework to begin a robust public hearing process. We may not be the first state to legalize marijuana, but our goal is to do it in the way that is best for all Rhode Islanders.
Our most important responsibility in the House, and one we don't take lightly, is the adoption of the state budget. Governor McKee will begin that process later this month with his budget proposal. From there, we will get to work adopting a budget that meets the needs of Rhode Islanders in these difficult times.
At the same time, we will turn our attention to other issues, such as the staffing shortages straining our hospitals and the entire field of health care. We will continue to listen to the concerns of the business community struggling with the pandemic and meeting the challenges before us in education. We are ready to make the appropriate investments with federal funding through ARPA and other federal programs.
Already, we have made certain that immediate needs, like Early Intervention and child care, are being addressed - and we're ready to do more. We are presented with an historic opportunity to make critical long-term investments to ensure our state is in a better place for everyone, including businesses, workers, families, children and seniors -- for decades to come.
To achieve these goals, we welcome input from all stake-holders. In fact, our legislative website already has more than 40 proposals presented to us by groups like the Rhode Island Foundation, the AFL-CIO and many more. Finance Committee hearings will soon be scheduled as we address these potentially transformative proposals.
Through the emergencies of 2021, there was an emergence of solidarity and collaboration in this chamber. We must continue that effort as we face the choices and challenges ahead. So, let's get to work!
As I stand here looking out at the tremendous talent and expertise in this room, I have great confidence that our 2022 session, like the one before it, will truly be historic!
Thank you, God bless you, and God bless the people of Rhode Island.