Harwood/Kelly Legislative Priorities (posted January 10, 2000)
On January 9, 2000, Rhode Island House Speaker John Harwood and Senate Majority Leader Paul Kelly appeared on the Ch12 television show Newsmakers and outlined their views on issues facing the state. The following is a summary of their opinions on a number of important subjects.
Dealing with health care
Harwood: We need real cooperation from other states. A regional approach might work.
Kelly: The chances for Harvard Pilgrim recovering are not too good.
For-profit medical care
Kelly: We didn't go too far in a couple of years ago in limiting entry of for-profit hospitals. Health care problems are happening everywhere.
Martineau Commission on health care
Harwood: The commission is looking at possible solutions. Representative Martineau has developing a great idea. All subscribers to health care carriers would pay small premium that would be put into a pool to act as a bond. If a carrier goes bankrupt, money would be like an insurance policy and all the doctors and hospitals wouldn't take a hit. Similar to performance bonds on state highway contracts.
Prescription drug costs
Kelly: Lt. Governor Fogarty has idea of taking RIPAE program (Rhode Island Pharmaceutical Assistance to Elderly), putting a $500 cap on its coverage of prescription drugs for elderly, and letting state cover cost above that for needy elderly. Proposal would cost $4.5 million. Real problem is balanced budget act of federal government. This idea would help the most needy people.
Regional drug purchases
Harwood: I have been talking with Speakers in Vermont and Massachusetts about a regional approach that would establish a collective New England buying group for prescription drugs. We would go as a region to the drug companies and say we are not being treated fairly and try to get better prices.
Kelly: I am willing to listen to the argument. But it is not as simple as it seems. It involves legal contracts, inheritances, health care, and survivor benefits. Not ready to support it now because of business aspects of the legislation. It gets into a lot of issues. It probably wouldn't pass the Senate now.
Harwood: The legal ramifications would be mind-boggling. Would be a major problems getting it passed.
Statewide teacher contracts and property taxes
Harwood: The concept should be explored. I have set up a committee to look at this. The Rhode Island Supreme Court has said it is the duty of the legislature to resolve issues of education funding.
Suburban lawsuits on education formula
Kelly: It doesn't do us any good for communities to be suing the state. We have looked at the various formulas. Rural communities now feel disadvantaged. Need to explore disbursement of education funding. It is a Herculean task.
Narragansett Casino referendum for 2000
Harwood: I have no opinion and am staying clear on that. Want to avoid conflict of interest on this [due to law firm representation of Lincoln Park] and will let Representative Martineau handle it.
Kelly: My only concern is we have Lincoln, Newport Jai-Alai, and the lottery. Last year, we netted $140 million. The revenue estimating committee is putting in a figure of $160 million for this year. My question is the impact on the state. If we lose $50 million out of revenues, and gain $50 million [from a casino], we gain nothing. That is one question I would like to see answered and I haven't seen it answered yet.
Use of $52 million in tobacco settlement money
Harwood: It should go into the general fund. Then we can split it up on an equitable basis and solve many problems, not just putting it into one area.
Kelly: I basically agree with that. I am sympathetic to health proponents. They are looking for $11 million. The Governor is proposing $1 million. Money should go into several health programs.
U.S. Senate Democratic Endorsement
Harwood: I have an open mind on the process. I want all voting members to make an independent judgment. We have two quality people running in Licht and Weygand.
Kelly: Both are strong candidates.
Prediction of Democratic Endorsement
Harwood: That is a difficult question. One candidate is pro-life and one isn't. I know that it is one issue that state Democratic committee members care about. Could go one way or another. I really don't know.
Quonset Point Port Proposal
Kelly: Quonset should not be on the backburner. It needs leadership and concern for the environment and the future of Rhode Island. We need a comprehensive proposal. The general idea still has leadership support.
Harwood: I look forward to working with the Senate, House, and Governor. We gotta protect the environment, but also get that program going. It is too much of an economic force within the state.