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Monday, November 14, 2011

LWVRI Workshop, "Addicted to Oil" 11/16

League of Women Voters of Rhode Island
Barrington Public Library

Wednesday, November 16th, 7 PM
Barrington Public Library Auditorium
281 County Road (Rte. 114), Barrington

“ADDICTED TO OIL”, A WORKSHOP ON AMERICAN ENERGY POLICY will be held on Wednesday, November 16th, 7 PM, in the Barrington Public Library Auditorium, 281 County Road (Rte. 114), Barrington, RI, co-sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Rhode Island and the Barrington Public Library.

America is addicted to oil. This is a threat to our economic, environmental, and homeland security. It is time to find a cure. The League of Women Voters of RI and the Barrington Public Library will sponsor a workshop to explore the treatment options. Dr Geoffrey Berg will conduct the workshop. In a brief power point presentation he will lay out the problem and a few concrete parameters that would define the results of a successful solution. He will then open the floor for discussion and see if by the end of the evening the public can come up with a workable solution to this vexing and intractable problem that plagues our nation.
Dr Berg is a physician with an abiding interest in the subject of energy independence and has done extensive research in this area for more than a decade.

The League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan political organization, encourages informed and active participation in government, works to increase understanding of major public policy issues, and influences public policy through education and advocacy. This workshop promotes the League national position on energy, summarized as, "Support environmentally sound policies that reduce energy growth rates, emphasize energy conservation and encourage use of renewable sources."

The Barrington Public Library is a place for enrichment, enjoyment and education. All of the library's programming is free and open to the public. It is fully handicapped accessible.

For more information, please contact Joanne DeVoe, joanned@qis.net, 401-247-3004.

League-Common Cause meeting on Redistricting

We heard two able speakers at our our jointly sponsored meeting on redistricting November 3.  Ryan Taylor, staff to the Reapportionment Commission, discussed the fact that while RI did only gained about 4,400 people since the last census, our population concentrations shifted, which means that we will have to change district lines.   The shift away from the coast may be partly due to the rise in real estate prices there, children growing up and being unable to continue to live in those communities.  Also, while ten years ago the coastal homes were largely owned by Rhode Islanders, now they are owned by people whose main residences are out of state.  Ryan wants to talk with people from all around the state to find out what about the current districts has worked well, and what has not.  He generously offered to make appointments to show anyone who wants to try drawing new districts how to do it.  Anyone wishing to contact him or to see the dates and times of upcoming meetings at the state house and in each county to show residents the new preliminary plans, should check the web site at www.riredistricting.com.  Times and dates will be changed with little notice due to the pension discussions going on at the State House.  The old schedule may no longer be valid. 
John Marion, director of Common Cause, talked about how Rhode Island’s redistricting requirements and process are different than those in other states.  The Department of Justice, under the current administration, has mandated that state office districts should have no more than 5% variation in population.  Rhode Island is trying for 2%.  US Congressional districts are required to have no more than 1% variation in population.  Members of the US Congress are not required to live in their districts.  Only ten states mandate that electoral districts have competition as a goal.  Rhode Island is not one of them.  Two states, Arizona and California, tried have non-partisan redistricting commissions this year, in an effort to remove partisan bias.  Arizona’s governor did not like the results of the process, which did not favor her party, and has removed the head of the commission.  Suits are raging there.  California’s commission created sixty newly competitive districts, and those results appear to be standing so far.  Since Rhode Island does not allow initiative and referendum, John said the only way to make our redistricting commissions more competitive would be at a constitutional convention.  There may be one on the ballot in 2014.
John mentioned that the following website will allow you to play with redistricting.  However, unlike the software used by the RI consultants, which is too enormous to use on home computers, the downloadable version does not have political boundaries drawn on it, so you would have to draw them in yourself.    http://gardow.com/davebradlee/redistricting/launchapp.html
PRELIMINARY PLANS are to be given to the Commission November 16 at 6:00 pm.  Check the schedule before leaving for the meeting, as all times and dates are subject to change due to the Pension hearings going on at the State House.

LWVRI 2nd Story Fundraiser 11/20

Join the RI League as the 2nd Story Theater presents:
Racine's “The Suitors”
Sunday, November 20, 3 PM
At:  The Bristol Statehouse, 240 High Street
Tickets are $30 each; reservations are due Monday, November 7th.

The fall theater party fundraiser is becoming a RI League tradition.  To quote the 2nd Story website about the play,
Our first full-fledged comedy at the Courthouse! A la mode de Moliere, Jean Racine's riotous rhyming verse romp provides ample opportunity for disorder in the court, ambling iambically from the sacred to the profane. Few escape the writer's comic wrath as translator Richard Wilbur aids in hazing both the legal profession and the lawsuit-happy litigants who keep the judges well bribed, the lawyers well heeled, and the audience, well, in stitches. C'est un tort meringue!

Please join us at 1 PM beforehand if you like for lunch/brunch at Leo's Ristorante, 365 Hope St, Bristol, at the corner of Hope St (Rte 114) and Church Street. The restaurant is two blocks from the Bristol Statehouse. Parking is in a free public lot on Court St. which runs between the Statehouse on High St. and the restaurant on Hope St. Leo's has everything from soups, pizzas, salads, sandwiches to entrees (generally $10.99 to under $20). The restaurant website is www.leosristoranteri.com. We will make reservations for all who indicate that they are interested; we’ll each order from the menu. To make reservations for the play and restaurant, see below.
Reservations Due November 7. Ticket cost $30

Nov 3 Redistricting in Rhode Island: a Forum

Thursday, November 3rd, 7 PM,
First Unitarian Church, 1 Benevolent Street, Providence

co-sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Rhode Island and Common Cause RI.

All states must redraw their electoral districts according to shifts in population after the U. S. Census is completed every 10 years.  The 2010 census showed a gain of 7,263 people in Rhode Island Congressional District 2.  Half that number will have to be reapportioned to District 1. Additionally, most of the communities in the southern part of the state have lost population. How will districts be redrawn to make them more equal? What does this mean for you and your neighborhood? 

Ryan Taylor, the redistricting consultant’s chief staff person in RI, will give an overview of what has, and is expected, to happen as RI redraws its electoral districts. John Marion, Director of Common Cause RI will discuss the politics of redistricting and possibilities for reform. There will be plenty of time for questions, answers, and discussion.

The League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan political organization, encourages informed and active participation in government, works to increase understanding of major public policy issues, and influences public policy through education and advocacy.

Common Cause RI promotes representative democracy by ensuring open, ethical, accountable, effective government processes at local, state and national levels, and by educating and mobilizing the citizens of RI.

This program is free and open to the public. The church is fully handicapped accessible.

For more information, please contact Joanne DeVoe, joanned@qis.net, 401-247-3004.

Bristol County Public Hearing on Redistricting Oct. 24

Most of the Commission attended, but only about sixteen members of the public.  One person, a resident of Barrington and a member of Common Cause, spoke, asking the commission to redraw the district lines so that the district would be contiguous on land, not just by water, and so towns would not be split. Currently, Barrington and Bristol are combined into one district, omitting Warren.
Kim Brace, the consultant, showed that Rhode Island has only a couple of thousand more people than Montana, so if our population continues to decrease over the next decade, we may lose one of our Congressional districts.  He also pointed out that currently Congressional district 1 is 7,263 people low and district 2 is high by that amount, so half that number will need to be moved from district 2 to district 1.  The question is, where to move them.  One of the goals of redistricting is to keep towns together where possible. Commission member Rickman is concerned about keeping neighborhoods together.  Commissioner Trillo suggested giving half of Providence to each Congressional district.
The next meeting of the Commission is at the State House, November 2, to receive the results of the public hearings.  The League and Common Cause are holding a joint meeting on November 3, 7:00 pm in Providence to discuss the process and politics of redistricting and prospects for reform in the future.  One of the tenets of the League's position is that redistricting commissions should be independent.  How can we work towards that goal?  An announcement will follow.  Come and show your support!
Susan Escherich

Newport meeting of the RI Redistricting Committee, October 19

October 19, 2011,  Community College of Rhode Island

Committee Members in attendance: Sen. Michael McCaffrey, Rep. Grace Diaz, Sen. Maryellen Goodwin, Rep. Joseph Trillo, Sen. Juan M. Pichardo, Sen. David Bates, Franicis Flanagan, Matthew F. Gunnip, Arthur V. Strother, Sr.

Committee member Rep. Daniel P. Riley, who represents District 72, Middletown, Newport, and Portsmouth) was not present.

There were perhaps 5 members of the public, including me, at the meeting. Others in attendance were Rep. Peter Martin of Newport, Sen. Teresa Paiva-Weed, Rep Raymond Gallison District 79), Rep. Deborah Ruggiero (District 74). Joe Baker of the Newport Daily News and Rick O’Neil, head of Newport’s Board of Canvassers were also in attendance.

The meeting began at about 7:10. Kimball Brace announced that he was trying to organize to have a member of the US Census Regional Bureau in Boston come and speak to the committee tomorrow. Mr. Brace did not explain why this representative would be coming to speak, but I suspect that it was in relation to Rep Trillo’s concerns about the number of vacant houses listed in the 2010 census.

Mr. Brace also noted that there were new updates on the web site and people can also sign up for latest commission reports from the site. He noted that videos and records of the meetings are available on the redistricting website. (http://www.riredistricting.com/commission/meetings)

Mr. Brace pointed out  that the bottom (the southern) part of the state seems to be the most impacted by loss of population. Newport County is in that part of the state. Newport and the town of Middletown have lost almost 7% each, almost 4,000 people total. The Middletown loss is the largest percentage in the state. In some census blocks, the loss is up to 26%. Population increases are primarily in Providence County.  These changes, he notes, will most dramatically affect the house districts, but the senate districts will be affected as well.

[It had been reported in the Newport Daily News on October 18 in advance of the meeting that with these changes in population, the legislative district lines will all be pushed northward from Newport County.]
Mr. Brace then showed maps of the “vacant houses” in the state. He compared them in various ways to show that the percent of vacant houses (which in the area are seasonal, summer homes) is similar to the situation in 2000.

The decrease in population may not be related to the vacant houses. He noted, for example, that the town clerk in So. Kingston pointed out to him that in 2000, the census might have found a family of four, 2 adults and 2 children, but in 2010, those children are gone. The census data backs this up because the median age  is rising especially in the southern part of the state, showing an aging population. This interpretation was further backed up by the decrease in family size indicated by the census.

Mr. Brace added that he had spoken to the Newport Tax Assessor on Wednesday and that conversation confirmed that interpretation. He said the assessor noted that many of the homes in Newport were owned by people who lived elsewhere.

Mr. Brace also noted that the census takers returned 6 times to all the houses. All of this was by way of explaining the decrease in population in the southern part of the state and why that decrease was not caused by the number of vacant houses or people not being counted. Representative Trillo asked if perhaps these houses were called vacant because the seasonal residents don’t arrive until after April 1.

Sen. Picardo asked if RI must use the US Census numbers? Can we count another way? Can the state do its own census? Mr. Brace explained that there was only one successful court case for using something other than the census. That occurred in Hawaii and was related to the counting of members of the military. He pointed out that doing a census was very expensive and he did not see that as an alternative in the current state economic climate.

Rep. Peter Martin was the only person who made comments. He represents Newport and noted that there are many “dark” houses in the city (by this he means they are not lived in for part of the year). He reported anecdotally that when he canvases in his district, he is surprised at the number of people who are actually registered elsewhere (that is in their primary states or cities of residence). He noted that there is a lot of student housing in Newport for Salve Regina University, and those people would have been counted on their parents’ census. Other anomalies were the number of military families and retirees who lived in the area.
After his remarks the meeting ended at about 7:45.

Mr. Brace invited members to come up and speak to Ryan Taylor and draw their neighborhood on a map. Ryan said that among other things this information may be used in helping to draw city ward districts. I showed Ryan my neighborhood and directed him to the Alliance for a Livable Newport which has neighborhood association members. I later emailed Ryan to give him the contact information for ALN.

I also spoke to Joe Baker, political reporter for the Newport Daily News. He asked to speak to me since I was one of the few members of the public there. I explained that I was a resident of Newport, but was there to represent the League. He asked if there was anything that I heard that surprised me and I basically said that because I was a League member I had been following the process and so was pretty well informed about the committee and its actions up to that point.

As I was leaving, I was approached by Tom Corderre, chief of staff for Sen. Paiva-Weed. I think it was the League button that served as the entrée or the fact that I was one of the few people who was not known to the others in the room. I explained I was a resident but was there to observe the meeting for the League and he said, “Oh, the League has been at all the meetings, hasn’t it?”
Nice to be noticed!
Patty MacLeish

State House hearing, October 17, 2011

I made it to the meeting.  Greta Abbott was there, too. John Marion, a person from the ACLU, and someone from the Urban League spoke. Mr Brace showed some maps of Providence showing the increase in Hispanic population.  Things seem to be quite open and above board.  No one else spoke.
Barbara Feldman
LWV Providence

Washington County Redistricting meeting Oct. 13

The RI Reapportionment Commission met at South Kingstown High School on Thursday, October 13th at 7 PM. A quorum of commissioners was there, including Co-Chairs: Rep. Stephen Ucci and Sen. Michael McCaffrey, RI House members: Rep. Donald Lally. Rep. Daniel Reilly, Rep. Joseph Trillo, RI Senate members: Sen. Bartrice Lanzi, Sen. Francis Maher and public members: Felix Appolonia, Matthew Gunnip, Ray Richman.

Attendees were met at the door by staffer, Ryan Taylor, who asked people to  sign in and was handing out Percent Population Change by Census Tract maps for the state as a whole and Washington and Kent Counties, along with Percentage of Housing Units Considered Vacant maps for the South Coast and the Narragansett Bay coastline. He said they were available on the website (http://www.riredistricting.com//), but I couldn't find the maps by census  tract, only those by county and town, which are listed under Research along with many other tables and maps. However, Kimball Brace of Election Data Services said there were updates to the site daily.

There were fewer than 20 people in the audience, not including the commissioners and staffers. The following current or former legislators were in the audience: Representatives Doreen Marie Costa, Spencer Dickinson, Laurence Ehrhardt (Deputy Minority Leader), Larry Valencia, Donna Walsh and former Representative Michael Rice.

Kimball Brace gave a PowerPoint presentation to the Commissioners. He said it would be available on the website. He explained some terminology with a "census block" equaling 100 people and a "Census tract" equaling 4000. Boundaries of "census tracts" have not changed since the 1950s. If the population has increased, the have been split by boundaries have remained the same. Washington County has had the largest percentage increase in population, but not the largest raw number; the largest raw number increase is Providence. The town of South Kingstown has gained population, while the town of Narragansett has lost population. However the coastal areas of South Kingstown, south of RT 1, have lost population, even though the town as a whole has gained. He discussed the Vacant Housing maps and said they were done on the "census block" level and the results depend on how many houses are in a block, which can skew the results, which are calculated as a percentage of vacant houses within a block. Maps of the Percentage Population Change by House and Senate district were part of the PowerPoint presentation. He said representatives from the Census Bureau will be attending upcoming hearings to answer Commissioners questions about the

Large maps of current RI Senate and House districts were posted on the wall, along with a blank street map of Washington County on which audience members were encouraged to draw their neighborhood lines. The Commission staff is interested in learning how residents group themselves or identify themselves in geographic terms.

Rep. Trillo questioned the large increase in vacant housing in coastal areas in the last 10 years. He wondered if the census being conducted in April caused a lower tally. Kim Brace said the census takers returned 6 times to any house where no one had been at home. Rep. Lally asked if RI tax payers could be cross referenced with specific houses to determine, if the houses were 2nd homes or owned by out-of-state residents. Kim Brace said the Census Bureau is not allowed to release any information identifying an individual, so that cross referencing couldn't be done. Audience member Dale Holberton, South Kingstown Town Clerk, said the neighborhoods on the south shore have many seasonal homes, snowbird owners and older owners, whose children have grown and moved away. which might account for the large increase in vacant houses.

Commissioner Ray Rickman spoke of the trend of increasing non-white population in the country and in RI. It is estimated that the US will be majority non-white in 2030 and RI in 2050. In the last census, the percentage Hispanic population increased significantly, the percentage African American population slightly and the percentage white population decreased slightly.

Kim Brace said the Commission would be back in South Kingstown in about 8 weeks with maps for possible district changes. Ryan Taylor said anyone is welcome to come by the Redistricting office at the State House and he will walk them through how to use the software to draw a map. He also said that he or Kim Brace would be willing to attend the forums on Redistricting that the League is planning. He seemed very interested in getting feedback from the public.

The next meeting is Monday, October 17th at the State House in Room 313 at 7 PM.

The meeting adjourned by 8 PM.

Notes taken by Nancy Burroughs, LWV South Kingstown/Narragansett