My greatest priority as an elected official will be addressing the abysmal problems in the Providence Public School District. We must fix this injustice before we lose another generation to a broken system. The State recently took charge of the schools but there has been no reduction in violence or any improvement in educational outcomes. Our children will not prosper without a focused solution from the State. Every day that I am in the Senate, I will promote change to benefit the 24,000 students in all 41 Providence schools.
There is an immediate opportunity to increase school funding. The State of Rhode Island owns a 60-year-old nuclear reactor that generates no energy and produces no research, and costs taxpayers more than $17 million a year. I would immediately file a bill to decommission the reactor and reallocate the money to improve education.
Fixing our schools requires investing in the physical infrastructure and developing true wrap-around services that address the underlying needs of our students. Everyone agrees we should not expect students to learn in decrepit buildings with unhealthy air quality, extreme temperatures due to lack of air conditioning, ceilings that literally fall down on students, and other environmental problems. We also should not expect students to learn while they are hungry, afraid for their physical safety, or worried about their family facing eviction or even homelessness. Achieving educational equality will require a holistic approach that deals with these broader problems alongside the pressing physical needs of our school buildings.
The Providence Public School District also needs to improve teacher diversity. 92% of students are Black, Latino, or Asian but the teachers are 80% white. While white teachers can certainly do an excellent job teaching non-white students, there needs to be a major push to recruit more teachers that look like their students and understand their backgrounds.
Improved educational outcomes help everybody; when grades go up, crime goes down.
I have always supported a woman's right to choose. As a State Representative in the 1980s, when the vast majority of Rhode Island Democratic lawmakers were staunchly against abortion rights, I voted the pro-choice position 100% of the time. In the State Senate, I will continue to champion this crucial issue, not only with my votes but with my rhetorical platform as a lawmaker.
This is more important now than ever, because federal right-wing judges are determined to rip up Roe v. Wade. States need to act quickly to make sure the right to choose and access to abortion are protected. I will work to pass laws making it explicitly clear that abortion is healthcare and needs to be treated as such; that government employees and Medicaid recipients must be able to access abortion with their insurance; and to shut down misleading "crisis pregnancy centers" that give vulnerable pregnant women misleading information about abortion.
Gun Control & Public Safety
I know what it’s like to be afraid on the streets of your own neighborhood. Growing up in Detroit, crime and violence was an all-too-common part of my life. That is why I know this deadly trend will only be reversed through action at every level of the problem.
Violence has taken a terrible toll on Providence in the last few years. In 2020, our city had 18 murders and 55 non-fatal shootings. This year has been even worse and we have already exceeded those numbers. While law enforcement has a vital role to play in stopping this, we cannot arrest our way to a safer city. Police react to crime — other parts of government need to work to prevent the conditions that cause crime.
In regard to gun violence, that means strengthening gun control laws and also promoting nonviolent intervention. The Providence Nonviolence Institute has been a leader at community-driven intervention, especially to prevent gang violence, for over two decades. It is a model for similar organizations all over the country. As a State Senator, I will work to increase funding for the Nonviolence Institute and expand the role of community-driven interventions.
For nonviolent crimes, I have always supported diversionary programs and opposed mandatory minimum sentences. The vast majority of these crimes are caused by addiction, mental illness, or extreme poverty. In the situations where incarceration is necessary for habitual offenders, the state needs to improve rehabilitation and reentry programs so that prison doesn’t become a revolving door.
As a member of the Rhode Island Parole Board for two years, I saw it all. I’ve have stared into the eyes of mainly young men with fifth and sixth grade education. We know what needs to be done to enhance their lives so that they quit being involved in car break-ins, house robberies, domestic violence and shootings. When I was a State Representative for the East Side, I fought against mass incarceration, mainly young people going to prison for three years for stealing a bicycle. They didn’t need to be imprisoned; they needed mental health services, or a job, or some other solution.
Improving access to mental health services and treatment is a crucial component of addressing several other policy areas, from homelessness to public safety to economic empowerment. I will work not only to address the needs of people living with mental illness but to promote overall mental health.
Access to mental health should be affordable and simple, with anybody who wants help being able to get it. This means expanding insurance coverage of mental health treatment, fighting insurance industry efforts to restrict care, and integrating mental health treatment into primary care. It also means developing specialized alternatives to emergency rooms for urgent mental health crises.
I want to change the conversation. Trying to fix problem they way we have come at them in the past thirty years is generally not productive. The State may need to consider creating an insurance company that is more interested in serving people than it is in making profit for its executive and stockholders.
State Budget Fairness
I strongly support a strategic plan and legislation to refocus state resources toward Providence and other cities, which have the greatest need for state aid and government services. Currently, these funds are distributed unfairly.
For example, Rhode Island spends more than 90% of its environmental and recreational dollars as far from Providence as possible. 80% of the state lives in eight urban cities and towns. The budget should reflect that. A change in how the State spends its recreational resources would allow funds to be used for improvements for Providence’s schools, infrastructure, and the East Side's 21 parks.
Combating Climate Change
Rhode Island needs to do our part in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and combating catastrophic climate change. As a State Senator, I will support expanding our use of renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power. I will also advocate for divesting Rhode Island’s pension funds from fossil fuel companies and other polluters. I remember when divestment was used to combat the Apartheid regime in South Africa. This is another situation where it can be used to promote justice and change.
I have been part of the struggle for voting rights since I was a teenager marching to register Black voters in Jim Crow Mississippi. There is nothing more important to a democracy than making sure every citizen has an equal right to access the ballot. Unfortunately, though we have made tremendous progress, there is still more work to be done to ensure everyone can easily vote.
We should expand early voting to include more weekend options, so people working long hours (often at multiple jobs) have easier access to the ballot. I also support eliminating the state’s Voter ID law. There is no evidence that in-person voter fraud is a problem but there is plenty of evidence that lower income and minority voters are more likely not to have government issued photo identification.
Coronavirus & Recovery
The Coronavirus pandemic has caused immeasurable harm, not only tragically cutting short the lives of over 2700 Rhode Islanders, but also devastating our small businesses and shattering our sense of normalcy. It also revealed underlying inequalities in our society as, like in so many other situations, already marginalized populations suffered the most. As we recover from the pandemic, we need to make sure we address the issues it revealed.
Rhode Island must continue to increase vaccination rates. Vaccination is still our best way to slow the spread and prevent further mutations like the highly contagious Delta Variant. Now that the Pfizer vaccine has received full FDA approval, Rhode Island should mandate vaccination for all state employees. We must also combat lingering vaccine hesitancy with increased public outreach and education campaigns.