Filippi: Bills have ’shot of moving forward’

Thu, 04/25/2019 - 5:30pm
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State Rep. Blake Filippi said the two pieces of legislation the town is pursuing in the Rhode Island General Assembly “have a shot at moving forward.” Filippi, Republican House Minority Leader, made that comment while speaking with The Block Island Times on Wednesday, April 17.  He was referring to the bills that would expand New Shoreham’s affordable housing pool, and preclude Uber-type services from operating on the island. 

Filippi and The Times toured the island while discussing the two pieces of legislation: H5451, which would increase the median income from 120 percent to 140 percent for New Shoreham residents to make more households eligible for affordable housing, and H5450 that would allow the town to regulate transportation network company services such as Uber and Lyft.

Filippi, who sponsored the bills, said that he didn’t “want to give anyone false hope,” but he thought that both pieces of legislation had a chance. He said the process moving forward is going to involve speaking with Nicholas Mattiello, the Speaker of the House, over the next few months. “The dynamics in the General Assembly are favorable. It’s a give and take up there.”

Filippi said most legislation that comes out of further study goes up for a vote and stands a good chance at passage. He said his relationship with the speaker has grown since being elected Minority Leader in November. “We have a positive relationship. I continue to have conversations with the speaker about the town’s legislation. He and I meet every two weeks.”

“The piece of legislation the speaker’s aware of is Uber,” said Filippi. “He’s educated on the issue. He knows the facts. We’ve talked about the legislation multiple times already. He’s receptive. He understands the issue.” 

Filippi said he now has “more influence” as Minority Leader to drive policy, and that could be helpful with lobbying for the legislation. “It’s helpful,” he said, noting that he wanted to be Minority Leader. “There’s a lot more administrative work, but you drive policy. You become the one who drives policy.”  

When he was told that some people were disappointed in his absence from the hearings on April 11 and weren’t optimistic about the passage of the bills, he said, “I don’t want them to feel that way. It’s not dead in the water.” Filippi said his absence was due to a work conflict; he works as a lawyer. One of his clients was engaged in a business transaction, but he “had planned on attending both hearings.”

“When I had a break I called Chairman Solomon,” said Filippi, referencing Joseph Solomon, Chairman of the House Committee on Municipal Government. “I told him how important the bills were to Block Island. I heard from some of the committee members afterwards. They said the taxicab owners from Block Island gave one of the more thoughtful presentations than they’ve seen in a long time.”

Filippi said the reality is “there are 1,200 piece of legislation that get submitted in the General Assembly every year. The perception is that things will be held for further study. Everything seems to get held for further study. Most bills die there. So many bills don’t come out of further study. I don’t like the process but that’s how it works.”

When asked if a letter writing campaign, as proposed by New Shoreham First Warden Ken Lacoste, would aid in boosting support for the legislation, Filippi said, “It couldn’t hurt.” He encouraged town officials to draft and submit a letter supporting both pieces of legislation.

The Times informed Filippi that Town Manager Ed Roberge said the House Committee had concerns about setting a precedent with the housing legislation. In response, Filippi said, “Nobody should be worried about precedent. I don’t buy those arguments. Block Island is unique.”

In the end, he said, “The only thing that matters is whether the legislation passes or not.”

Municipal projects

During the tour of the island, Filippi marveled at the work that’s been done to stabilize the West Beach revetment. “I thought the slope was just going to be armored with stone, and not capped like this. This is great. What a view,” he said, while standing atop the revetment on the stone walking path. The West Beach revetment project, which has a budget of $1,995,000, is scheduled to be completed by May 22.

Filippi drove his truck into the newly revamped south parking lot at the Town Beach, where he parked and looked around.

He said he liked what’s been done and that there is more room in the lot due to the Highways Department’s expansion of the area. The parking lot was expanded as part of the Fred Benson Beach Pavilion renovations that were completed last spring.