COVENTRY — Ahead of the next legislative session, Sen. Leonidas Raptakis (D-Dist. 33, Coventry, West Greenwich, East Greenwich) has announced plans to reintroduce a couple of bills that he’s argued for several years would give Rhode Islanders the “open and accountable government that they thoroughly deserve.”
“These are two good government reform bills that the public wants and I hope this session will see them pass and become law,” Raptakis said of the bills, one of which would establish an Office of Inspector General, and the other which would give voters the opportunity to vote on a constitutional amendment granting the governor power to utilize a line-item veto in the state budget.
Raptakis first introduced legislation to establish an Office of Inspector General in 2008, and has since remained a staunch advocate for creating such an office.
Charged with detecting fraud, waste and mismanagement in the expenditure of public funds, Raptakis said the inspector general would play a crucial role in protecting taxpayers.
“The state’s taxpayers deserve to have someone in place who can alert law enforcement officials to instances of fraud and mismanagement so that steps can be taken before millions of taxpayer dollars go down the drain,” he said.
Raptakis has estimated that the annual cost of funding the office, which would include an inspector general, chief of staff and a handful of staff members, would likely range between $500,000 and $750,000. Still, he added, it could ultimately save the state millions of dollars.
According to the legislation, the inspector general would be appointed for a five-year term by a majority vote of the governor, attorney general and general treasurer without regard for political affiliation.
As for the legislation regarding the governor’s ability to veto individual line-items in the state budget, Raptakis has argued since 2015 that it’s time Rhode Island joins the 44 other states that allow the governor that power.
“The budget has grown tremendously,” he said of the state budget, which has reached nearly $10 billion.
Raptakis added that if, for example, the governor doesn’t agree with a particular piece of legislation within the budget, he or she should have the ability to veto that without having to reject the budget entirely.
“I don’t like all or nothing,” Raptakis continued, adding that he thinks the power would improve transparency in the budget process.
Just as with any other legislation, he added, the General Assembly would still have the power to override any of the governor’s vetoes.
“So you’re really not giving away any power,” he said. “It’s a win-win for everybody. A governor gets the authority to have line item veto, but then again the General Assembly has the authority to override that veto.”
While the purpose of those two bills is to improve government efficiency, another bill that Raptakis plans to reintroduce in the coming year focuses on child safety.
That legislation, which Raptakis said will be sponsored in the House by Rep. Pat Serpa (D-Dist. 27, West Warwick, Coventry, Warwick), would make it an offense to leave a child under the age of seven in an unattended vehicle for more than 15 minutes — there currently is no serious penalty in Rhode Island for leaving a child in an unattended car.
“If you have two vehicles side-by-side in hot or cold weather, and you have an animal in one vehicle and an infant in another vehicle, the vehicle with the child gets a verbal warning and the vehicle with the animal gets up to one year in jail and up to a $1,000 fine,” Raptakis said.
By repealing the current requirement in the “cruelty to or neglect of child” statute that allows law enforcement officers to issue only verbal warnings in such incidents, Raptakis said, the proposed bill would give first responders more leeway in protecting children in those types of situations.
He added that he hopes the law would serve as a wake-up call to parents about the various dangers of leaving a child in an unattended vehicle.
Raptakis has been sponsoring similar legislation for the past six years.
“I’m hopeful that this is the year that we’re going to pass this legislation,” he said, noting that the bill passed in the Senate last year.
Raptakis also plans to sponsor a package of bills that would stiffen the penalties in Rhode Island for driving under the influence.
“Rhode Island has some of the weakest laws pertaining going after drunk drivers,” he said.
And on a more local level, Raptakis said he’ll continue in the upcoming session to fight for lower sewer assessments for Coventry sewer customers.
The next legislative session begins Jan. 7.