Protesters greet lawmakers returning to RI Statehouse

Protesters rallied against a plan to use tolls to pay for bridge repairs in Rhode Island. (Photo: Scott Del Sole / WPRI 12)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island lawmakers who returned to the statehouse for the start of the new session are already facing some hot button issues.

Among them, Gov. Gina Raimondo’s toll proposal to help fund repairs to the state’s crumbling bridges. Tuesday night, the state revealed the tentative locations of 14 toll gantries that would be installed if the RhodeWorks plan is enacted.

Protesters from the group “Stop Tolls RI” showed up before the session started Tuesday, showing their support for an alternative pay-as-you-go plan to fund infrastructure repairs through budget cuts.

Lawmakers are also expected to debate a plan that would allow undocumented immigrants to carry driver’s licenses.

Demostrators holding signs reading Licencias Para Todos – Driver’s Licenses for All – marched Tuesday, demanding Gov. Raimondo make good on a campaign promise.

“You feel defrauded. If you can’t believe in the authorities of the state, who can you believe in?” asked Lidia Jimenez of the workers’ rights group Fuerza Laboral through an interpreter.

Raimondo said she wants the legislature to take up and pass a law to allow the driver’s licenses. The proposal didn’t make it far in the General Assembly last year.

“I think that would take a very long time, and she committed to do an executive order so I think if she said she would do it, then she has to do it,” Jimenez added.

Rep. Bobby Nardolillo, R-Coventry, said he’s pleased the governor wants a legislative debate on the topic but said he won’t support licensing undocumented workers.

“To reward somebody for coming here illegally, you’re doing a disservice to those who have gone through the citizenship process properly,” Nardolillo said Tuesday.

“That man must be very privileged in his life because all of us who came here as immigrants came here to work, and work hard, and we deserve the benefits and respect that come with that,” Jimenez said in response to Nardolillo’s comment.

A spokesperson for House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello said Mattiello doesn’t have a stance for or against the driver’s licenses but promises a fair public hearing and testimony in the House if the bill is introduced.

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