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Stories about Rhode Island

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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Rhode Island voters approve $400 million in bonds in special election

Voters in Rhode Island approved all seven bond measures—totaling $400 million—in a special election on March 2. The Rhode Island Legislature referred the questions to the ballot.

Here are the details for all seven approved measures:

  • Question 1: Authorized $107.3 million in bonds for the University of Rhode Island Fine Arts Center, the Rhode Island College Clarke Science Building, and the Community College of Rhode Island
  • Question 2: Authorized $74 million in bonds for state beaches, parks, recreational facilities, and water projects
  • Question 3: Authorized $65 million in bonds for building and renovating housing projects
  • Question 4: Authorized $71.7 million in bonds for transportation infrastructure
  • Question 5: Authorized $15 million in bonds for the Early Childhood Care and Education Capital Fund
  • Question 6: Authorized $7 million in bonds for the Cultural Arts and the Economy Grant Program and the State Preservation Grants Program
  • Question 7: Authorized $60 million in bonds to fund improvements to industrial facilities infrastructure

In Rhode Island, the legislature must ask voters to issue general obligation bonds over $50,000, except in the case of war, insurrection, or invasion. To put a legislatively referred bond question before voters, a simple majority vote is required in both chambers.

Between 2008 and 2020, voters in Rhode Island had decided 22 bond measures, totaling $1.3 billion in principal value. Voters approved 100 percent of the bond measures, with support ranging from 55.23% (Question 2 of 2010) to 83.89% (Question 3 of 2016). The last odd-year bond election in Rhode Island was in 1985 where voters approved nine bond measures.



Voter registration deadline for Rhode Island bond election is January 31

The voter registration deadline for the Rhode Island bond election to be held on March 2 is January 31. The deadline to apply for a mail ballot is February 9.

The Rhode Island legislature referred seven bond questions totaling $400 million to the ballot as part of the state budget approved in December. The ballot titles, amounts, and purposes are listed below:

Question 1: Issues $107.3 million in bonds for the University of Rhode Island Fine Arts Center, the Rhode Island College Clarke Science Building, and the Community College of Rhode Island

Question 2: Issues $74 million in bonds for state beaches, parks, recreational facilities, and water projects

Question 3: Issues $65 million in bonds for building and renovating public housing projects

Question 4: Issues $71.7 million in bonds for transportation infrastructure

Question 5: Issues $15 million in bonds for the Early Childhood Care and Education Capital Fund

Question 6: Issues $7 million in bonds for the Cultural Arts and the Economy Grant Program and the State Preservation Grants Program

Question 7: Issues $60 million in bonds to fund improvements to industrial facilities infrastructure

To put a legislatively referred bond question before voters, a simple majority vote is required in both the Rhode Island State Senate and the Rhode Island House of Representatives. Between 2008 and 2020, voters in Rhode Island had decided 22 bond measures, totaling $1.3 billion in principal value. Voters approved 100 percent of the bond measures, with support ranging from 55.23 percent (Question 2 of 2010) to 83.89 percent (Question 3 of 2016). The last odd-year bond election in Rhode Island was in 1985 where nine bond measures were approved.

Voters can register online, by mailing in a voter registration form, or in person at the local board of canvassers, the board of elections, or other state agencies such as the Department of Motor Vehicles, the Department of Human Services, and the Department of Mental Health.



Rhode Island voters will decide seven bond issues at a special election in March

On December 18, Governor Gina Raimondo (D) signed the 2021 state budget that included seven bond issues totaling $400 million. Rhode Island voters will decide the questions at a special election on March 2, 2021. The ballot titles, amounts, and purposes are listed below:

  • Question 1: Issues $107.3 million in bonds for the University of Rhode Island Fine Arts Center, the Rhode Island College Clarke Science Building, and the Community College of Rhode Island
  • Question 2: Issues $74 million in bonds for state beaches, parks, recreational facilities, and water projects
  • Question 3: Issues $65 million in bonds for building and renovating public housing projects
  • Question 4: Issues $71.7 million in bonds for transportation infrastructure
  • Question 5: Issues $15 million in bonds for the Early Childhood Care and Education Capital Fund
  • Question 6: Issues $7 million in bonds for the Cultural Arts and the Economy Grant Program and the State Preservation Grants Program
  • Question 7: Issues $60 million in bonds to fund improvements to industrial facilities infrastructure

To put a legislatively referred bond question before voters, a simple majority vote is required in both the Rhode Island State Senate and the Rhode Island House of Representatives. In Rhode Island, the state General Assembly must ask voters to issue general obligation bonds over $50,000, except in the case of war, insurrection, or invasion.

The bond measures were introduced into the Rhode Island General Assembly as provisions of Article II of House Bill 7171 (HB 7171) on January 16, 2020. On December 16, 2020, Article II of HB 7171 passed in a vote of 58-7, with 10 members not voting, in the state House. On December 18, 2020, the state Senate voted 31 to five, with one member not voting, to approve HB 7171.

Between 2008 and 2020, voters in Rhode Island decided on 22 bond measures, totaling $1.3 billion in principal value. Voters approved 100 percent of the bond measures, with support ranging from 55.23 percent (Question 2 of 2010) to 83.89 percent (Question 3 of 2016). Voters have not rejected a bond measure since 2006 when 50.56 percent of electors rejected a $4.0 million bond for improvements in Fort Adams State Park.

The last odd-year bond election in Rhode Island was in 1985 where nine bond measures were approved.

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Rhode Island governor nominates two justices to state supreme court

Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) made her first and second nominations to the state Supreme Court on December 8, 2020. Raimondo nominated Erin Lynch Prata to succeed Justice Gilbert Indeglia, who retired on June 30, 2020, and Melissa Long to succeed Justice Francis Flaherty, who is retiring on December 31, 2020.

Selection of Supreme Court justices begins with the Judicial Nominating Commission. The commission submits three to five names to the Governor of Rhode Island, and upon receiving the names, the governor selects and appoints one. The nominations must be confirmed by both chambers of the Rhode Island General Assembly, which have Democratic majorities as of the nominations.

Before Justice Indeglia’s retirement, all five judges on the court were appointed by a Republican governor. If both nominees are confirmed, the Rhode Island Supreme Court will have a majority of female justices for the first time in the state’s history. Long would also be the first black justice to sit on the court.

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Rhode Island Supreme Court justice set to retire in December

Rhode Island Supreme Court Justice Francis Flaherty is retiring on December 31, 2020. Flaherty announced plans to pursue other interests following his retirement.

Flaherty earned a bachelor’s degree from Providence College in 1968. He earned a J.D., cum laude, from Suffolk University Law School in 1975.

Flaherty’s career experience includes working as an attorney in private practice in Warwick, Rhode Island, serving as an assistant city solicitor, and serving with the Warwick City Council from 1978 to 1985. Flaherty was elected Mayor of Warwick and served from 1984 to 1991. He also served as a member of the Rhode Island Board of Governors for Higher Education from 1988 to 2003. He was appointed to the Rhode Island Supreme Court by Gov. Donald Carcieri (R) in 2003.

The five justices of the Rhode Island Supreme Court are appointed by the governor with help from a nominating commission. Supreme court nominees must be approved by both the state House and the state Senate.

The current chief justice of the court is Paul Suttell, who was appointed by Gov. Carcieri in 2003. Gov. Carcieri named Suttell as the chief justice of the court in 2009.

The remaining two active justices of the court are:
• Maureen McKenna Goldberg – Appointed by Gov. Lincoln Almond (R) in 1997
• William Robinson – Appointed by Gov. Donald Carcieri (R) in 2004

Rhode Island Supreme Court Justice Gilbert Indeglia retired from the court on June 30, 2020. Indeglia’s seat is currently vacant.

In 2020, there have been 22 supreme court vacancies in 16 of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. One vacancy occurred when a chief justice died, and 21 vacancies were caused by retirements. Thirteen vacancies are in states where a Democratic governor appoints the replacement. Eight are in states where a Republican governor appoints the replacement. One vacancy is in a state where the state supreme court votes to appoint the replacement.

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