Education, Local News, News, Providence, Top Video

Raimondo testifies in favor of school infrastructure bond

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Calling it her “top priority this year,” Gov. Gina Raimondo testified in support of a school bonding measure Thursday that would ask voters to approve $250 million to repair or rebuild aging school buildings across the state.

Raimondo spoke before the House Finance Committee, which is considering the borrowing plan as part of Raimondo’s budget proposal. She asked lawmakers to put it on the ballot this November. If passed, the $250 million would be borrowed over five years.

“It’s time that we come together and do the right thing to rebuild our schools,” Raimondo told the committee.

Raimondo, a Democrat, typically saves in-person testimony for high-priority agenda items. The last time she testified before a committee was in 2017, for her Rhode Island Promise scholarship program that would give two years of free college to Rhode Islanders. A scaled-back version of her original proposal ended up becoming law.

The school buildings proposal would combine the $250 million from the bonds with existing state and city funds, for a total of $1 billion invested in school buildings over the five years, according to the governor’s office.

In her testimony, Raimondo brought up a recent cold snap that led to burst pipes and other weather-related damage at schools earlier this winter, forcing some to close for multiple days.

“This is about making sure that every single school in every single community is warm, safe and dry,” Raimondo said, adding that the crumbling buildings are not unique to urban schools.

”There are schools falling apart in every single school district,” she said. “It’s East Greenwich, it’s Johnston, it’s Providence, it’s Portsmouth.”

The school construction plan came out of a task force formed last year after the Jacobs consulting firm released a study showing $627 million is needed to reach the “warm, safe and dry” criteria for Rhode Island public schools. $2.2 billion would be needed to bring schools to good condition.

“There is a cost to not doing more and not investing up front,” said General Treasurer Seth Magaziner, who co-chaired the School Buidling Task Force with Education Commissioner Ken Wagner.

“Our kids deserve it, our families deserve it, our teachers deserve it,” Magaziner told the committee Thursday. “And we don’t want to wait anymore.”

Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza also testified before the committee, describing buckets collecting dripping rainwater at some Providence schools, and students bundled in winter coats due to poor insulation and dysfunctional heating systems.

”We are not investing in [kids] in the way that we should,” Elorza said.

Bill Murray, the mayor of Cumberland and vice-president of the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns, also testified in support.

“Safe and clean schools are important for our children,” Murray said. He lamented the fact that school building maintenance has been neglected over the years, leading to the problem at hand.

House Minority Leader Patricia Morgan, who is also running for the Republican nomination for the governor, expressed skepticism about the funding for the school buildings plan.

“It’s not responsible,” she said in an interview with Eyewitness News. “We need to find other ways to budget.”

“Absolutely, we need to repair schools,” Morgan said. “I think there are better ways to do it.” She suggested foregoing $23 million in proposed bonds to help construct a new PawSox stadium, and putting the money towards school buildings instead.

Morgan also said she is introducing a bill to exempt school building repair and replacement from state prevailing wage requirements.

The school buildings plan is part of the budget being considered by the General Assembly for the fiscal year starting July 1. If passed, the bond would be on the ballot for voters this November.

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Local News, News, Top Video, Weather, Winter Weather

Snow day costs the state extra in overtime pay

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Some state employees were paid overtime to go to work during what turned out to be a mostly dry workday on Wednesday, after the decision to close state offices triggered overtime pay for essential workers.

Gov. Gina Raimondo elected to close state offices due to predicted snow, telling all non-essential employees to stay home. The decision was made Tuesday night, when forecasts called for a possible messy evening commute. The morning commute was expected to be fine.

According to a Department of Administration memo sent to department heads and payroll officers, non-essential workers on the 8:30 am to 4:30 pm shift stayed home and were compensated like a typical workday. Essential workers who needed to work during the snow day were paid time and a half, and correctional officers were paid double time and a half, per the union contract.

While the costs of Wednesday’s snow day has not yet been calculated, Department of Administration spokesperson Brenna McCabe said the personnel overtime costs from a previous storm-related state office closure totaled $310,000. Some of those costs were part of the RIDOT winter storm budget, which includes labor costs.

The $19.3 million RIDOT budget still had $3 million remaining for the season before Wednesday’s storm, according to a spokesperson.

Raimondo defended the decision to close state offices despite some criticism, after snow did not begin to fall until the afternoon, leaving the roads wet but not snowy during the evening commute.

”Storms are expensive,” Raimondo said in a noontime news conference. “We prepare for it, we err on the side of safety. Storms bring with them expenses: salt, plows, trucks, etc. We’re prepared for it and we knew that when we made that decision.”

The state relies on forecasts from the National Weather Service and the State Meteorologist when deciding whether to close state offices.

”We make decisions based on the information we have at the moment we make the decision,” EMA Director Peter Gaynor said in an interview Wednesday. “These things can go either way in a minute, so in this case I think we erred on the side of public safety, which we always do. Sometimes it turns out exactly how you think it is, and sometimes it doesn’t. I think that’s just weather in New England.”

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Local News, News, Politics, Top Video

Raimondo signs ‘red flag’ policy aimed at disarming dangerous people

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WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — Gov. Gina Raimondo has signed an executive order establishing a statewide “red flag” policy, ordering police to “take all available legal steps” to remove guns from dangerous individuals.

The executive order is more narrow than a proposed red flag bill in the General Assembly, also supported by Raimondo, which would create a new “extreme risk protective order” and give the courts power to take guns away from possibly violent people for a year.

Raimondo, a Democrat, said the deadly mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14 increased the urgency for the policy to be implemented immediately.

”We cannot wait a minute longer for Washington to take action to prevent gun violence,” Raimondo said, adding that she has lowered the flags to half-mast nine times for mass shootings since becoming governor.

The executive order directs the Rhode Island State Police to investigate any reports of red flags, including threats, posts on social media, recent acquisition of firearms or suspicious statements. After an investigation, which would include speaking to the person, police could remove firearms from the person’s home using existing law or ask them to surrender their firearms.

PDF: Read the executive order in full »

Raimondo emphasized that new legislation is required to give police additional powers to disarm individuals, which the executive order does not do. Existing law prohibits gun possession by convicted felons, convicted domestic abusers (including for misdemeanors), people who have been adjudicated as a danger to themselves and others due to mental illness, and people subject to a domestic abuse restraining order.

The executive order also calls for police to refer the person to a mental health facility and initiate criminal proceedings if appropriate.

“We have no doubt that having a Red Flag Law in Rhode Island will help us keep guns out of the hands of people when they are desperate and/or dangerous,” State Police Col. Ann Assumpico said in a statement. “In addition, we hope that away the opportunity to use a gun will prevent these individuals with a new opportunity — to seek the help and treatment they need.”

The executive order tees up broader legislation introduced in the General Assembly to give courts the power to remove guns from a person who has been deemed by a judge to be dangerous. The bill, introduced in the House Friday and scheduled to be introduced in the Senate Tuesday, would create the new protective order for people in danger of committing violence.

“This is not about taking guns away from people who are law-abiding citizens,” Raimondo said. “This is about keeping Rhode Islanders safe.”

The House bill would allow police, the attorney general’s office or family/household members to petition for the protective order. A hearing would be held within 21 days to determine if the person is indeed dangerous, and the guns would need to be surrendered to police if the order is put in place. The bill would also allow for a temporary protective order from owning guns while awaiting the hearing.

House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, a Democrat who has been backed by the NRA, has signed on as a co-sponsor to the legislation.

“I believe that the Second Amendment’s an important constitutional right,” Mattiello said Friday. “However, kids are being shot in school. So that gives you pause, and it makes you think about it and you have to try and find the most effective ways of dealing with it.”

After the executive order was signed Monday, Mattiello said in a statement: “I was proud to co-sponsor the Red Flag proposal and it will be given a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee in the near future. It is positive that the Governor is placing attention on the Red Flag issue, but the law need to be changed by the General Assembly so law enforcement has the tools to take firearms away from individuals who pose a danger to themselves and the public.”

The Senate version is being introduced by Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin, the chamber’s No. 3 Democrat.

Mike Stenhouse, the CEO of the conservative RI Center for Freedom and Prosperity, said his group supports red flag policies in general, but accused Raimondo of “trying to exploit recent events to advance an extreme political agenda,” and expressed concerns about due process rights for gun owners.

”While the Center supports the ‘red flag’ concept, it urges the General Assembly lawmakers to ensure that any new laws include adequate civil rights protections, with a high bar clearly set, and due process assured, before anyone’s constitutional rights are nullified or anyone’s property is seized,” Stenhouse said.”

“There’s no real opportunity for the person to advocate for themselves,” added Justin Katz, the research director for the center. “They are instantly on the defense. It’s up to a single judge to determine that they can take this person’s guns away.”

Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, who is running for the GOP gubernatorial nomination to challenge Raimondo, said he could support the red flag bill if due process rights are respected.

“There has to be some kind of trained medical professional involved in that process that provides the opinion, that solidifies the opinion and the observations,” Fung said in an interview with Eyewitness News.

The National Rifle Association has not responded to repeated requests for comment on the legislation.

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Local News, News, Politics, Providence, Top Video

Mattiello co-sponsors ‘red flag’ gun bill; Raimondo to sign executive order

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) —  A bill to take firearms away from people deemed at risk for violence has the support of House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, a Democrat who was endorsed by the National Rifle Association in 2016.

The bill was introduced Friday by Rep. Dennis Canario and co-sponsored by other representatives, including Mattiello. Gov. Gina Raimondo also announced Friday she would sign an executive order on Monday to institute the so-called “red flag” policy on a temporary basis while lawmakers debate the policy in the General Assembly.

“The tragedy in Parkland has renewed the urgency once again for states to take action to prevent gun violence,” Raimondo said in a statement. “On Monday I will sign an Executive Order establishing a statewide red flag policy that will take effect immediately, but we still need to pass legislation so these protections are in place permanently.”

The bill was recommended by the Rhode Island Police Chiefs’ Association, whose executive director said police are often told about a person’s concerning behavior, but can’t do anything until a crime is actually committed.

Mattiello said in an interview Friday he believes the legislation could have prevented the school shooting in Parkland, Florida last week.

“I believe that the Second Amendment’s an important constitutional right,” Mattiello said. “However, kids are being shot in schools. So that gives you pause, and makes you think about it and you have to try and find the most effective ways of dealing with it.”

“It easily could have helped avert that tragedy,” Mattiello added.

The bill would create an “extreme risk protective order,” which a court could impose on a person who “is an imminent danger to cause personal injury to self or others by having access to a firearm.”

A family member, household member, police or the attorney general’s office would be able to petition the Superior Court for the extreme risk protective order. A hearing would be held on the matter within 21 days, but a temporary order could be put in place while awaiting the hearing.

If a judge certifies the order, the person would need to surrender his or her guns for a year. The court could extend the order after that, and the person would have a chance every year to petition to get his or her firearms back.

“I think it would be a real, practical way to protect our children,” Mattiello said.

People convicted of certain crimes are banned by federal law from possessing firearms, but police have lamented their inability to remove guns from a person who exhibits red flags but has not yet committed a crime.

“What we see as a challenge is when we receive this information – very concerning information – there is really no tool in place for us to prevent those individuals from possessing a firearm or going out and obtaining a firearm,” Jamestown Police Chief Edward Mello told Eyewitness News on Thursday.

“This legislation is a way to stop tragedies before they happen,” said Sen. Maryellen Goodwin, D-Providence, who plans to introduce similar legislation in the Senate on Tuesday. “Of course someone who has guns and is making serious threats to harm people with them should not be armed.”

Prior to the Florida shooting, the National Rifle Association had opposed red flag legislation proposed in other states. The NRA did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Rhode Island’s red flag proposal.

The NRA has donated $3,675 to Mattiello’s campaigns since 2006, endorsed his most recent re-election campaign and rated his stance on gun rights an A+. Asked if he was fine with potentially losing NRA support, Mattiello said he was more concerned about the public.

Frank Saccoccio from the Rhode Island 2nd Amendment Coalition said he thinks the idea for the red flag bill is a good one, but he would need to read through the specific language before taking a position.

Steven Brown, the executive director of the ACLU, said the Rhode Island chapter would be reviewing the legislation next week to determine if there are any civil rights issues.

Local News, News, Politics, Providence

Superintendent: ‘We are in dire need’ of school funding proposed by Raimondo

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — There was a bipartisan standing ovation when Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo proposed a “once in a generation” investment in public school buildings in her State of the State address Tuesday night, and superintendents across the state are already planning for how to make the most of the possible funding.

Raimondo proposed spending $1 billion on school repairs over the next five years, which breaks down to $650 million in state funds and $350 million in municipal funds. If passed by the General Assembly, the plan would ask voters to approve a $250 million general-obligation bond on the ballot in November, and would continue the current $80 million annual appropriation for school repairs.

“I’m so glad she emphasized the school bonding issue,” East Providence Schools Superintendent Kathryn Crowley said Wednesday. “We are in dire need of that money.”

Like districts across the state, East Providence schools are in need of repairs; Riverside Middle School flooded on Tuesday, and Myron Francis Elementary School had to close last week after a pipe burst. The 67-year-old East Providence High School is in such disrepair, Crowley says the city needs to build a brand new one.

“The mechanical and the electrical beneath that high school has deteriorated to such a point that we’re constantly band-aiding it,” Crowley said. “I’m operating on a wing and a prayer.”

Eyewitness News took a tour of the school last month, where some areas have been blocked off to students due to cracked ceilings, crumbling concrete and rusty pipes.

Raimondo’s speech was music to Crowley’s ears.

“It would be really impossible to raise that kind of money without state help,” Crowley said. Plans are already in the works to build the new school, with an estimated cost of $170 to $190 million.

While Raimondo has not yet released all the details of the program including how cities and towns will qualify for the money, Crowley believes East Providence could get up to 75% of the cost of a new high school from the state. She said she met with the governor about the proposal last week.

“Cities and towns will continue to have to invest in their owns schools,” Raimondo told reporters Wednesday. “But they do that now, and every city and town will be made better because of this program.”

She said more specifics would be released Thursday, along with her entire tax-and-spending plan for the 2018-19 state budget year.

A task force slated with reviewing the problem of crumbling schools recommended last month that the state borrow $500 million by 2022 for the repairs, in addition to continuing to set aside $80 million per year for school infrastructure projects.

The task force also recommended a “bonus system” that would incentivize towns and cities that move quickly to make repairs.

Raimondo’s pitch was generally well-received at the State House Tuesday night. Republican House Minority Leader Patricia Morgan, who was critical of much the governor’s speech, said she’s open to the school funding proposal.

“I think children and teachers deserve healthy schools to spend their days in,” Morgan said. “I just want to know the details.”

Crowley, who is also the chair of the legislative committee of the Rhode Island Schools Superintendents’ Association, said she plans to testify in favor of the plan in the General Assembly.

“It’s so important to the children, and the children are our future,” Crowley said.

Kim Kalunian contributed to this report.

Local News, Massachusetts, National, News, Politics, Top Video, US & World

Raimondo, Baker join US Climate Alliance

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo and Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker have both joined a new coalition of states responding to President Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement.

The United States Climate Alliance was formed Thursday night by the governors of New York, California and Washington State. Democratic Governor Raimondo and Republican Governor Baker joined Friday, along with Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy, a Democrat, and Vermont Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican.

The coalition says its aim is to uphold the principles of the Paris Climate Agreement, even if the federal government will not.

“My position is that we’re going to still lead here in Rhode Island. Climate change is real, we’re going to meet the challenge,” Raimondo told Eyewitness News on Friday.

Raimondo has previously announced a plan for Rhode Island to have 1,000 megawatts of clean energy by 2020, which would represent 10 times more clean energy than the state had in 2016. She has also said she wants to double the amount of clean energy jobs by that date.

Rhode Island recently received national attention when it became home to the first offshore wind farm in the United States.

“America ought to be the leader,” Raimondo said. “We should be leading the way in the world on issues like climate change. And if Washington won’t do that, then we’re going to lead the way right here in Rhode Island.”

While opposition to Trump’s decision to pull out of the 200-country deal was swift and widespread, some supporters of his action said the deal was unfair, and leaving it would not stop the country from achieving climate goals.

“Withdrawal from the Paris Accord doesn’t mean we as a country will not still invest our time in climate concerns, it just means we will do it at our pace,” said state Rep. Bobby Nardolillo, a Coventry Republican. “Do not be fooled by scare tactics from extreme activists in response to the President’s decision.”

Nardolillo is running for U.S. Senate against Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse in 2018.

Whitehouse, a second-term Democrat who has prioritized climate change during his time in Congress, lambasted Trump’s decision. “Trump is betraying the country, in the service of Breitbart fake news, the shameless fossil fuel industry, and the Koch brothers’ climate denial operation,” he said in a statement.

Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, the last Republican nominee for Rhode Island governor who is considering a rematch against Raimondo in 2018, will be forging ahead with efforts to thwart climate change, according to spokesman Mark Schieldrop.

“The president’s decision won’t change Cranston’s efforts to address climate impacts, protect the environment and promote sustainability,” Schieldrop said. He said the city will be kicking off new participation in a solar program next week.

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Local News, Military, News, South County

Fallen heroes honored at Rhode Island state cemetery

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EXETER, R.I. (WPRI) — Amid the somber notes of Taps and the firing of rifles, Gold Star Families laid a wreath at the Rhode Island Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Exeter on Monday.

The rainy ceremony honored the thousands of Rhode Island service members who have died, along with living veterans and active-duty service members. An American flag was placed on each one of the 24,000 graves at the cemetery.

Ron Gill from Cranston lost his son, PS3 Ron Gill Junior, on March 24, 2007. He was serving in the Coast Guard in Seattle when he was killed.

“The longer they’re gone, the harder it is,” Gill said in an interview with Eyewitness News. “We would much rather not be at these ceremonies. We’d much rather have our children back. But we’re glad that they’re recognized and honored for their sacrifice.”

Gill said his son’s daughter Gracie, who also attended Monday’s ceremony, was born six months after he died.

“That’s the greatest tragedy, they they never got to meet,” Gill said. “Besides losing him…she never got to meet her dad.”

Gill’s family was one of several Gold Star Families who attended the Memorial Day service, attended by Gov. Gina Raimondo and other dignitaries including Veterans Affairs Director Kasim Yarn and Retired Admiral James Kelly from the U.S. Naval War College.

“In my family, Memorial Day was always about gratitude,” Gov. Raimondo told the crowd. “It wasn’t really that much about hot dogs and hamburgers and BBQ.”

The at-times pouring rain did not stop people from visiting graves in the vast cemetery on Monday. Doug Williams of Coventry stopped by to enjoy a cigar with his dad, Capt. C. Roger Williams (the name is not a coincidence–the family descends from Rhode Island’s founder.) Capt. Williams served in the Army Air Corps in World War Two and died in 2004.

“He stood by his comrades and he was a great American,” Williams said. “That’s why I come out here and show my respect.”

The ceremony served as a reminder that freedom is not free; many thousands of Rhode Islanders have fought to protect that ideal, including 29 who have died in the wars since 9/11.

Marine Sgt. Brian St. Germain from West Warwick was just 22 when he was killed in Iraq back in 2006. His mother, Lynn St. German-Lundh, has attended every single Memorial Day ceremony in Exeter ever since.

“I would wish with my whole heart that he was here with me,” St. Germain-Lundh said. She worked to get a new high school track dedicated in his honor last year.

“I knew him as a civilian…but his fellow Marines have shared with me what an amazing person he was and how he continued to put himself before others,” she said.

Local News, News, Politics, Providence, Religion, Top Video

Faith groups ask General Assembly to help the poor

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – An interfaith group of clergy and Rhode Islanders from more than two dozen religious groups marched from a downtown church to the State House on Wednesday, calling on the newly reconvened General Assembly to pass legislation to help the poor.

The Rhode Island Interfaith Coalition’s vigil, which they entitled “Fighting Poverty with Faith,” was bolstered by Gov. Gina Raimondo and Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed, both Democrats, who attended the event and spoke in favor of the group’s agenda.

“The things that we’re here to talk about today are the basic issues of how human beings treat each other, how we care for people who are in need, and that’s an awful lot of people in Rhode Island,” said Rabbi Jeff Goldwasser, one of the religious leaders in the coalition.

The vigil in the State House rotunda included prayers, songs, and a reading out of the names of every representative, senator, mayor and other political leader in the state, with a plea for them to “govern with wisdom, care and compassion.”

The groups’ legislative priorities include raising the minimum wage; protecting the free RIPTA fare for disabled, low-income, and elderly riders that is slated to disappear on Feb. 1; increasing access to early childhood education; and securing driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants.

“So they don’t have to be afraid of being deported every time they get pulled over,” Rabbi Goldwasser said.

Raimondo pledged to bring driving privileges to immigrants when she ran for governor in 2014, but the measure has so far been stymied by the General Assembly, and she has declined to take action by executive order.

“The legislature has made it crystal clear that they are not interested in it,” Raimondo said in an interview with Eyewitness News. “So we’ll put the legislation up, we will fight for it, but I’m not hopeful that it’s going to happen.”

As for the RIPTA fares, Paiva Weed told the crowd at the vigil she was working on a solution that would help those people who will no longer be receiving free fares.

Both Raimondo and Paiva Weed expressed support for increasing the minimum wage, which House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello has also said he supports. Mattiello was invited to attend Wednesday’s event but was not there due to his busy schedule, according to spokesperson Larry Berman.

Berman said the House would consider bills in 2017 related to poverty and the coalition’s priorities, none of which have been introduced yet. He said Mattiello does not support driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants, but does still plan on pushing legislation to raise the minimum wage.

Rabbi Goldwasser, who leads the Temple Sinai congregation in Mattiello’s Cranston district, said he would make a personal plea to the speaker.

“I’m going to go pay a visit to the speaker, tell him about what we said here and what we did here, and ask for his support,” Goldwasser said.

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Local News, News, Politics, Providence, Your Local Election Headquarters

Clinton campaign kicks off RI operations, Sanders to follow

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The Rhode Island campaign headquarters for the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign opened Thursday evening, kicking off a flurry of phone calls and door knocks sure to take place ahead of the April 26 primary.

The Bernie Sanders Rhode Island campaign is set to formally kick off on Sunday.

At the Clinton campaign office on Reservoir Avenue in Providence, Gov. Gina Raimondo (D-Rhode Island) was the headliner, revving up the crowd and reminding them that nothing should be taken for granted.

“Rhode Island is, and always has been, Clinton country,” Raimondo told the crowd of supporters. “We gotta deliver Rhode Island big for Hillary…not just winning, we want to win big.”

Clinton beat President Barack Obama in the 2008 Democratic Primary in Rhode Island by a whopping 18 points.

“She ought to carry Rhode Island,” Raimondo told Eyewitness News. “But we’re taking nothing for granted.”

Clinton won Massachusetts over Senator Bernie Sanders on Super Tuesday last month, but only by less than two percentage points. She ended up with just one more pledged delegate than Sanders, in a state that has historically supported Clinton.

“We’re still fighting for every vote throughout the primary,” said Nick Black, the State Director for Clinton’s campaign in Rhode Island. “We’re going to do everything we can do to win the delegates here in Rhode Island.”

Nine of Rhode Island’s 33 delegates are so-called “superdelegates,” and have already said they’ll vote for Hillary in the Democratic convention this summer. The other 24 are up for grabs on April 26.

“We’re going to fight very hard for each and every one of those 24 pledged delegates,” said Joe Caiazzo, the Rhode Island Political Director for the Bernie Sanders campaign.

That campaign will kick off its operations at its Broad street headquarters in Providence on Sunday.

In an interview with Eyewitness News, Caiazzo highlighted the tight race last month in Massachusetts.

“We were able to move the dial about 30 points,” he said. “I know we came up short there, but we were able to move the dial.”

The race for the Democratic nomination has become more vitriolic in recent weeks, with Sanders recently doubting if Hillary Clinton was qualified for the presidency.

“She clearly is qualified,” Raimondo said Thursday night. “Former United States Senator, former Secretary of State, successful lawyer.”

She also looked toward the general election, where Clinton could face Republican front-runner Donald Trump, if each of them wins their respective party’s nomination. Raimondo said Trump was “absolutely” a threat.

“That’s what’s so scary about it,” she said. “I think a President Trump would be awful.”

Neither Clinton nor Sanders has formally scheduled a campaign stop in Rhode Island, though both campaigns indicated a possibility of a visit.

 

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Local News, News, Politics, Top Video

State leaders address concerns over Syrian refugees, safety following Paris attacks

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — As the governors of several states, including Massachusetts, announced they will refuse to host Syrian refugees in their state, at least two Rhode Island lawmakers are urging Gov. Gina Raimondo to do the same.

Following Friday’s terrorist attacks in Paris, in which more than 120 people were killed, Rep. Bobby Nardolillo (R-Coventry) wrote Raimondo a letter, urging her to reconsider.

The Governor of Michigan has made the decision to reverse his offer to host Syrian refugees. He was not swayed by political correctness or the conflicted concerns for those who genuinely seek asylum. He did what he could do that was within his own control to protect the residents of his state. I call on you to do the same for all residents of Rhode Island.”

Eyewitness News spoke to Raimondo about Nardolillo’s letter during an event Monday. She said she’ll take her cues from the President, and added that the White House has not requested that Rhode Island take in refugees.

“It all depends on the details,” Raimondo told Eyewitness News. “We can’t let ourselves get caught up in the politics or any hysteria. We’ll look at it when it comes…and I’m not going to weigh in on hypothetical decisions because it’s just too important.”

In September, Raimondo said Rhode Island was open to sheltering refugees in the state if the White House asked. Later that month, Central Falls Mayor James Diossa pledged to house two or three Syrian families.

Refugees have been fleeing Syria and flooding into Europe in order to escape the civil war between rebel factions, including ISIS, and the authoritarian government of President Bashar Assad.

The refugee question intensified after the Paris attacks. Authorities said a Syrian passport was found near one of the attackers, and the Paris prosecutors’ office says fingerprints from the attacker match those of someone who passed through Greece in October.

Rep. Doreen Costa also urged Raimondo not to accept refugees.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island condemned the call to deny Syrians refuge in the state.

“Rather than ceding to this parochialism, Governor Raimondo should instead be reaffirming the position she espoused just two months ago in response to this humanitarian crisis, when she stated that “if Rhode Island is called upon … we’ll be ready to help,” the organization said in a statement Monday. “The attacks in France were horrific, but to essentially blame these heinous acts on all the innocent residents of Syria who are themselves fleeing from violence does an injustice to what our country and our state stand for. We urge Governor Raimondo not to lend credence to this message of intolerance, and to instead affirm the need to welcome Syrian refugees who are fleeing the brutality of ISIS.”

Gov. Raimondo said the safety of Rhode Islanders was he top priority. She said Rhode Island State Police are on heightened alert, particularly at public events, but there are no specific threats to Rhode Island.

Congressional delegation weighs in on refugees, safety

Eyewitness News spoke with all four members of Rhode Island’s congressional delegation Monday. All said there are no credible threats to the U.S. while adding that we must always be vigilant.

“I think America is a frontline target for the Islamic extremists and the Jihadis,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse said.

“We live in a world where we have to be constantly aware of these kinds of threats,” Rep. David Cicilline added.

That vigilance includes making sure terrorists don’t enter America under the guise of a refugee escaping Syria.

“At the same time, we’re balancing that against the humanitarian crisis that is occurring in Syria,” Rep. Jim Langevin said.

Eyewitness News asked the lawmakers how the refugees are vetted.

According to Sen. Jack Reed, officials will ask them where they have worked and why they want to be in America.

“There’s typically an interview with a state department person who asks pointed questions about their background,” he said.

In a an interview over the weekend, Massachusetts Rep. Bill Keating told Eyewitness News about the vast differences between the vetting process for refugees in the Unites States and the vetting process in Europe. He called Europe “wide-open,” based on recent travels there to help combat terrorism.

The congressmen all agreed that residents of Southern New England should feel safe, and should not let the threat of terror interrupt their daily lives.

Annie Shalvey contributed to this report. 

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