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Stories about Rhode Island

Rhode Island enacts new legislative districts

Rhode Island enacted new legislative district boundaries on Feb. 16, 2022, when Gov. Dan McKee (D) signed redistricting legislation approved by the General Assembly. The maps will take effect for Rhode Island’s 2022 state legislative elections.

The state House of Representatives passed the new maps 57-6, and the state Senate approved them 29-9 on Feb. 15. State Representative Robert Phillips (D), co-chair of the state’s legislative Reapportionment Commission, said, “It was an honor and pleasure to work with such a dedicated group of individuals on this commission. I’m particularly proud of the fact that we obtained so much input from citizens around the state, holding our meetings in several cities and towns to make it more accessible to everyone. Reapportionment can be daunting and complex, but I’m glad we took everyone’s concerns into account and came up with a fair and equitable system of reapportionment.” 

John M. Marion, executive director of Common Cause Rhode Island, criticized the process and final maps because he felt incumbents were expressly favored. “This is the culmination of a years long effort to maintain the status quo. They did not hide the fact that the goal was to let the incumbents draw the maps as they pleased,” Marion said. Common Cause Rhode Island is an organization that describes itself as promoting “representative democracy by ensuring open, ethical, accountable, effective government processes.”

As of Feb. 17, 35 states have adopted legislative district maps for both chambers, and one state has adopted maps that have not yet gone into effect. The state supreme courts in two states have overturned previously enacted maps, and 12 states have not yet adopted legislative redistricting plans after the 2020 census. As of Feb. 16, 2012, 38 states had enacted legislative redistricting plans after the 2010 census.

Nationwide, states have completed legislative redistricting for 1,492 of 1,972 state Senate seats (75.7%) and 3,465 of 5,411 state House seats (64.0%).

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Rhode Island enacts new congressional districts

Rhode Island enacted new congressional districts on Feb. 16, 2022, when Gov. Dan McKee (D) signed redistricting legislation that the General Assembly had approved the day before. Rhode Island was apportioned two seats in the U.S. House of Representatives after the 2020 census, the same number it received after the 2010 census. This map will take effect for Rhode Island’s 2022 congressional elections.

The State House of Representatives passed the district boundaries 57-6, with 53 Democrats and four Republicans voting in favor and four Republicans and two Democrats voting against. The State Senate approved the new maps 29-9 with all ‘yes’ votes from Democrats and five Republicans and four Democrats voting ‘no.’

Representative Barbara Ann Fenton-Fung (R) praised House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi (D), saying the plan made minimal changes to congressional district boundaries even though Democrats had majorities in both chambers of the legislature: “I think a lesser person might have played some games and the fact that the bills came through as is says a lot about your leadership in Rhode Island, where we are used to games happening.” Senator Jessica de la Cruz (R) criticized the process, saying, “There was not ample time for the community to comment on them.”

As of Feb. 17, 34 states have adopted congressional district maps, and one state has approved congressional district boundaries that have not yet taken effect. Federal or state courts have blocked previously adopted maps in two states, and seven states have not yet adopted congressional redistricting plans after the 2020 census. Six states were apportioned one U.S. House district, so no congressional redistricting is required. As of Feb. 16, 2012, 39 states had enacted congressional redistricting plans.

States have completed congressional redistricting for 330 of the 435 seats (75.9%) in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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Rhode Island Reapportionment Commission approves new guidelines for counting of incarcerated individuals

On Jan. 5, 2022, the Rhode Island Reapportionment Commission voted 15-1 to approve new guidelines concerning the counting of incarcerated individuals for the purpose of redistricting. Under the new rules, people incarcerated for less than two years will be counted as residents of their former residences in future General Assembly and Congressional map drafts. Previously, incarcerated individuals were considered residents of the districts where they were incarcerated.

The Commission is made up of 18 legislators and citizens nominated by the majority and minority leaders of the Rhode Island state Senate and House of Representatives. It can recommend congressional and state legislative redistricting plans to the state legislature, which may “adopt, modify, or ignore the commission’s proposals.” The legislature has not yet held votes on congressional or legislative maps for the 2020 redistricting cycle.

Twelve other states require redistricting authorities to count prison inmates who are state residents at their pre-incarceration address, rather than in the community where their detention facility is located. Five of those states counted incarcerated persons at their pre-incarceration addresses for legislative maps only, and seven counted them at their pre-incarceration residences for both legislative and congressional maps.

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Special primary election held in Rhode Island Senate district

A special primary election was held on Oct. 5 for District 3 of the Rhode Island State Senate. According to unofficial results, former Providence City Council member Sam Zurier won the Democratic primary with 1,282 votes (37%). Geena Pham came in second with 982 votes (24%). Bret Jacob received 908 votes (22%), Hilary Levey Friedman received 613 votes (15%), and Ray Rickman received 269 votes (7%).

Zurier will now face Alex Cannon (R) in the Nov. 2 special election. The Republican primary was canceled after Cannon was the only candidate to file.

The winner of the general election will serve until January 2023. The seat became vacant after the resignation of Gayle Goldin (D) on Aug. 17. Goldin resigned to accept a position in President Joe Biden’s (D) administration as a senior adviser for the U.S. Department of Labor Women’s Bureau. Prior to her resignation, Goldin had served in the state Senate since 2013.

Democrats have a 32-5 majority in the Rhode Island Senate with one vacancy. Rhode Island has a Democratic state government trifecta. A trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and majorities in both state legislative chambers.

As of October, 64 state legislative special elections have been scheduled for 2021 in 21 states. Between 2011 and 2020, an average of 75 special elections took place each year. Rhode Island held seven state legislative special elections from 2011 to 2020.

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Seven states retain statewide mask requirements

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Rhode Island Gov. Dan McKee (D) signed an executive order ending the statewide mask requirement for vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals on July 6. In accordance with CDC guidelines, vaccinated and unvaccinated people still have to wear masks on public transportation and at public transportation hubs (like bus stations and airports).

Rhode Island was the only state that ended its statewide public mask requirement for vaccinated and unvaccinated people between July 1 and July 15.

In total, 39 states issued statewide public mask requirements during the pandemic. At the time of writing, 7 states had statewide mask orders. All 7 states have Democratic governors. Six of the seven states exempted fully vaccinated people from most requirements.

Of the 32 states that have fully ended statewide public mask requirements, 16 have Republican governors, and 16 have Democratic governors. Twenty-nine states ended mask requirements through executive order, two (Kansas and Utah) ended mask requirements through legislative action, and one (Wisconsin) ended its mandate through court order.



Sabina Matos sworn in as Rhode Island lieutenant governor 

The Rhode Island Senate unanimously confirmed Sabina Matos (D) as lieutenant governor on April 13. She was sworn in the following day. 

Governor Daniel McKee (D) nominated Matos as lieutenant governor on March 31. McKee resigned as lieutenant governor to be sworn in as governor on March 2, replacing Gina Raimondo (D) when she became U.S. secretary of commerce under the Biden administration.

Before serving as lieutenant governor, Matos served on the Providence City Council since 2011. She became president of the council in January 2019.

According to NBC, around 80 people applied to be the state’s lieutenant governor. After selecting Matos, McKee said, “I was looking for someone to be a true governing partner…someone who shares my commitment to supporting our 39 cities and towns and our small businesses, and that’s exactly what I found in Sabina.” Matos is the first person of color and second woman to serve as lieutenant governor of Rhode Island.    

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Rhode Island Gov. Dan McKee nominates Providence City Council President Sabina Matos as lieutenant governor

Gov. Daniel McKee (D) nominated Providence City Council President Sabina Matos as lieutenant governor on March 31. McKee was responsible for choosing a new lieutenant governor after leaving the position to be sworn in as governor on March 2. McKee replaced Gina Raimondo (D) as governor when she resigned to become U.S. secretary of commerce.

Matos is the president of the Providence City Council. She was elected to the council in 2010, re-elected in 2018, and elected president in 2019. Her appointment must be confirmed by the Rhode Island State Senate.

According to NECN-TV, around 80 people applied for the position. Upon selecting Matos, McKee said, “I was looking for someone to be a true governing partner…someone who shares my commitment to supporting our 39 cities and towns and our small businesses, and that’s exactly what I found in Sabina.” If confirmed, Matos would be Rhode Island’s first lieutenant governor who is a person of color.

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More than 70 people apply to be the next lieutenant governor of Rhode Island

Daniel McKee (D) was sworn in as governor of Rhode Island on March 2. The previous incumbent, Gina Raimondo (D), resigned after she was confirmed as the U.S. secretary of commerce in the Biden administration. McKee was Raimondo’s lieutenant governor.

Under the Rhode Island Constitution, if the incumbent governor resigns, the lieutenant governor fills the office until the next election. Neither the constitution nor state law prescribes how the lieutenant governor’s office is filled if the incumbent resigns. In 1997, when Lt. Gov. Robert Weygand resigned, Gov. Lincoln Almond appointed his replacement. McKee referred to that event when saying that he, as governor, would select the next lieutenant governor.

According to WPRI-TV, more than 75 people have applied, including several state legislators. State Sen. Louis DiPalma (D) and state Reps. Robert Phillips (D), Grace Diaz (D), and Anastasia Williams (D) are among the candidates seeking the position. Several former lawmakers have applied as well.

The initial application deadline—Feb. 2—was extended indefinitely, but The Boston Globe reported that McKee is expected to choose his successor sometime in the next few weeks. The Rhode Island state Senate must confirm McKee’s choice. 

The lieutenant governor of Rhode Island is the second-ranking officer of the executive branch of Rhode Island, and the first officer in line to succeed the governor. Their duties include emergency management, intergovernmental relations, and making appointments to boards and commissions, among others. 

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Dan McKee (D) sworn in as governor of Rhode Island

Rhode Island Lieutenant Governor Dan McKee (D) was sworn in as the state’s new governor after former Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) resigned on March 2. Raimondo, who was first elected in 2014, resigned after being confirmed as secretary of commerce in the Biden administration.

McKee was first elected as lieutenant governor in 2014, before he served as the mayor of Cumberland, Rhode Island, for six terms. He was in his second of two possible four-year-terms as lieutenant governor. 

According to the state’s constitution, gubernatorial vacancies are filled by the lieutenant governor, who serves until the next regularly-scheduled election in 2022. While McKee has not yet announced his successor, he began taking applications for the position several weeks ago. According to his communications director, he has received 62 applications and will be releasing the names of the candidates that are interviewed.

McKee will be the 76th person and 34th Democrat to serve as the governor of Rhode Island. Of the previous officeholders dating back to 1921, 14 were Democrats, and 10 were Republicans. Rhode Island is currently one of 15 states with a Democratic state government trifecta.

There will be a public swearing-in ceremony on Sunday, March 7.

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