Raimondo talks guns, UHIP, recess and more

Governor Raimondo speaks to reporters on June 22, 2016. (photo: Ted Nesi/WPRI)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Gov. Gina Raimondo sat down with reporters Wednesday for one of her periodic question-and-answer sessions.

Many of the inquiries dealt with the conclusion of this year’s General Assembly session, which ended when bleary-eyed lawmakers finally left the State House around 6 a.m. Saturday morning. Asked whether it’s advisable for legislative sessions to end at dawn, Raimondo noted it’s happened many times but added: “There’s got to be a better way.”  Still, she acknowledged many of the same decisions would likely be made even if the process transpired in the afternoon.

Here are some other highlights from the governor’s comments to reporters.

• Guns: Raimondo expressed shock that the Rhode Island House voted overwhelmingly, 60-12, late Friday to change the rules for carrying a concealed weapon in Rhode Island. Supporters said the bill reinforced due process rights for gun owners, but Raimondo questioned the timing. “It surprised me,” she said. “It kind of came out of nowhere in the waning hours of the session. And particularly in the wake of the mass shooting in Orlando, when the federal government and other states are taking steps to make people safer, it was surprising and upsetting that the legislature would go the other way, to make it easier to get a gun.” Raimondo said she was never personally lobbied on the bill by former House Speaker William Murphy, who now represents the 2nd Amendment Coalition.

• UHIP: Raimondo described it as “frustrating” that launch of the Unified Health Infrastructure Project (UHIP), a $364-million new computer system for social-assistance programs that’s now the largest government IT project in state history, has been delayed once again. “I have to say, in all my years in business and government I don’t think I’ve ever seen a major IT project be on time and on budget,” she said. “It’s the nature of these projects.” Raimondo said the 60-day delay announced Tuesday was necessary to ensure the launch is successful. She also said the state wants accountability from Deloitte, the lead contractor on UHIP, because “it’s not OK to just spend more money and miss your timeline,” adding that for contractors, “it’s in their interest to take as long as possible.” (A spokesman later clarified that Deloitte is not charging for its additional work during the 60-day delay, and the administration is not currently in talks to try and recoup some taxpayer money from the company.)

Recess and vetoes: Raimondo said she plans to sign a bill that requires all schools to offer 20 minutes of recess to students in kindergarten through 6th grade, despite previously expressing concerns about making that a state mandate. (She joked that her school-age children would never forgive her if she vetoed recess.) After issuing her first-ever veto Tuesday, the governor declined to say whether she will veto more of the 300-plus bills passed in the final days of the session, but acknowledged it’s “very possible.” Raimondo signaled mixed feelings about a bill to require local approval for new charter schools, saying she was pleased its restrictions do not apply to existing charters but doesn’t want to send a message that Rhode Island isn’t supportive of such schools.

• Chief of staff: Raimondo’s top aide, chief of staff Stephen Neuman, announced Tuesday he is leaving her office to join Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Neuman came to Rhode Island by way of Maryland, and Raimondo said she’s hoping to secure the services of a Rhode Islander as his successor, though it’s not a requirement. “I’m looking for someone I can trust, someone who has great judgment, someone who is a good manager and someone who takes the job because they believe in the work we’re doing to make Rhode Island better,” she said. Raimondo also praised Neuman’s work. “If you had interviewed me in my transition and said, ‘Hey, governor, you’re going to get every single major initiative in your first two years that you propose,’ I would say, that’s never happened – no governor gets that,” she said. “So I’m really pleased.”

• Tax returns: Asked about months of complaints that state tax returns are coming in far more slowly than usual this year, Raimondo again said it’s a one-time problem tied to the launch of a new computer system and she does not expect it to happen again in 2017. “This was the year that we did the implementation,” she said. “There were glitches.” The governor also said she was surprised by how many errors and how much fraud was discovered as the new system scrutinized returns more closely.

• DCYF: Raimondo said she expects to find a permanent director for the long-troubled child-welfare agency by the end of 2016. Veteran state official Jamia McDonald has been leading the agency since Raimondo took office even though she does not have the statutory qualifications required to become its permanent chief. “She’s doing a fabulous job,” Raimondo said, describing DCYF as “dysfunctional” before McDonald arrived there but indicating she thinks it’s now on the right track. “It’s a thing that I monitor pretty closely,” she said.

• ProvPort: Raimondo offered relatively few details about the $20-million bond referendum for the Port of Providence that was added to the state budget just hours before lawmakers voted to approve it. She said she generally supports infrastructure investments and agreed that there is an opportunity if the port is upgraded, but said many of the details about the state’s involvement still need to be worked out.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He writes The Saturday Morning Post and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram

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