The Issues

Healthcare

In budget after budget, Rhode Island has made deep cuts to Medicaid.  After hundreds of millions of dollars slashed from the program, we’ve seen heartrending suffering in our state.  Provider after provider has closed, including Park View Nursing Home on Dexter Park.  Memorial Hospital has gone under, and others are teetering on the edge of collapse.  Sam believes it is time to stand up and resist.  Sam believes it is time to repeal the Medicaid cuts, and it is a major reason he voted no on the FY 2020 budget, which contained yet more cuts to Medicaid.  Working with activists and other legislators, Sam was proud to defeat the Medicaid cuts the Governor proposed in the FY2021 and FY2022 budgets.  Working with the Medicaid Director, Sam saw his initiative to repeal Medicaid co-pay authorization signed into law as part of the FY2022 budget.

 

In the Senate, Sam has consistently fought the health insurance companies and their lobbyists and allies.  He strongly supports legislation to prevent insurance companies from abusing patients and denying coverage.  Sam vocally opposed the nomination of controversial former health insurance executive Patrick Tigue to be Health Insurance Commissioner, warning of the damage that would be done to Rhode Island families if Tigue gained the ability to ram through rate hikes.  Unfortunately, despite an unusually strong showing of opposition in the Senate, Tigue was confirmed in a lame duck session before a more progressive Senate could be seated.  Tigue since went on to raise health insurance rates during the pandemic despite massive insurance company profits showing that rates needed to be lowered, not raised.

 

Sam believes that healthcare is a human right.  No Rhode Islander should have to worry that they won't be able to afford care.  That's why Sam is the lead sponsor of legislation to create a Medicare for All system here in Rhode Island.  In 2021, he was part of the coalition of Senators on the Health and Human Services Committee that successfully passed Senator Calkin’s resolution to push congress to pass Medicare for All at the federal level.  It was the first bill passed out of committee against the wishes of the Senate leadership in many years.

 

As part of the movement towards Medicare for All, Sam believes much work must be done to transform healthcare in our state.  Most importantly, Sam supports deprivatizing Medicaid in Rhode Island.  He introduced legislation to audit the private insurance companies who run Medicaid in our state.  A similar audit in Connecticut led to the deprivatization of Medicaid in our neighboring state.  Sam also supports an array of healthcare policies, including: expanding eligibility for Medicaid coverage of long-term care, deep investments in harm reduction and treatment beds to combat substance use disorder, and increased Medicaid reimbursement rates (especially for behavioral health).

COVID SAFETY

As a scientist, Sam believes in an evidence-based approach.  He believes that vaccines are the most important tool we have to combat this pandemic.  He supported the healthcare worker vaccine mandate, and he has been fighting for much more robust investments in the social service work needed to increase vaccination rates.  Sam believes we must pay special attention to COVID safety in schools.  He was part of the coalition of lawmakers who successfully won a mask mandate in our schools, and strongly opposes the no quarantine policy.  During the height of the COVID crisis, Sam called for the General Assembly to convene remotely to appropriate emergency funding for public health, and he strongly supported the Governor’s social distancing protections, which saved lives from this pandemic.

ECONOMIC RECOVERY

Sam worked hard to fight the drive for brutal cuts during the height of the pandemic crisis.  In the last economic crisis, the Great Recession, Rhode Island slashed taxes for the rich and made brutal cuts that crippled Rhode Island’s economy.  For months, we had the highest unemployment rate in the nation.  This time around, the same forces fought for brutal cuts, but Sam worked with activists and fellow legislators to successfully defeat the majority of the proposed cuts.  It wasn’t a total victory.  For the most part, while the cuts were mostly defeated, Rhode Island did not do nearly enough to provide the economic relief Rhode Islanders desperately needed.  But compared to the damage Rhode Island’s government did to our economy last time around, things were much better this time, and Sam believes that matters.  As a result, Rhode Island’s recovery has only mildly underperformed the national average.  Sam will always fight for direct relief in economic crises.  He will always oppose brutal budget cuts that would harm struggling Rhode Islanders.

repealing tax cuts for the rich 

In 2006, Rhode Island passed one of the biggest tax cuts for the rich in American history.  Only one red state--North Dakota--has ever cut income taxes for the rich by more than Rhode Island.  In North Dakota, they had oil money to balance the budget.  Here in Rhode Island, we’ve dealt with budget crisis after budget crisis ever since those tax cuts for the rich.  

That is why Sam believes we must repeal the tax cuts for the rich to fund programs that help working families.  He has introduced legislation to repeal Rhode Island’s tax cuts for the rich.

Affordable Housing

Here in Providence, we face a legacy of segregationary housing policies that have resulted in a crippling affordability crisis.  Everyone deserves a warm, dry bed to sleep in.  We must take action on the housing crisis.  The 2004 housing law was a small step forward, but it focused on the suburbs and largely excluded Providence.  That is why Sam is working to mitigate the crisis by addressing zoning and fighting for drastically increased funding for affordable housing.  He has introduced a systemic reform to Rhode Island's zoning laws to prevent housing from being abandoned.  He also introduced an important protection for people living in an apartment who aren't the official leaseholder, such as live-in caretakers or family members.  Currently, when the leaseholder dies, if you aren't on the lease, you have no protections, and you can be homeless the next day.  Sam introduced a bill to give people in that terrible situation a right to extend the existing lease for up to three months.  Sam has successfully fought the Elorza administration’s efforts to repeal the state law requiring that people evicted from condemned homes be given housing.


Most importantly, Sam believes that we need to put real money behind addressing this crisis, and he believes we need to focus the investments on those who need it most.  Sam has proposed a plan for building the 731 units of public housing that Rhode Island can build without hitting the federal limits.  He also has consistently supported increased state investments in affordable housing.  He has also opposed efforts to funnel state housing subsidies towards more high-income families at the expense of more low-income families.  For instance, in 2019, he was the only member of the Senate to vote against a special carveout bill that would have raised the income threshold even higher than it already is for affordable housing on Block Island.  He has proposed replacing the enormous amounts of city and state funds currently used to subsidize luxury housing with investments in affordable and low-income housing.

Racial Equality

The most disturbing part of the Trump agenda has been the increased tide of racism.  It is an issue we must confront.  Our country has made great progress, but systemic racism remains one of our greatest challenges.  Everyone in our country--no matter their race or ethnicity--must be treated equally.  We must dismantle the school to prison pipeline, address mass incarceration, and protect our immigrant neighbors.  Sam believes that Black Lives Matter, and he is deeply concerned about police misconduct. 

Reproductive Justice

A staunch supporter of reproductive rights, Sam has spent years fighting to protect a the right to choose.  Unfortunately, many sitting Rhode Island State Senators, including the Senate President and Senate Majority Leader, are pro-life.  Sam was proud to have signed on to the original Reproductive Healthcare Act to codify Roe v. Wade into Rhode Island Law.  And he was proud to stand with the inspiring activists and vote for the codification of Roe v. Wade.  Sam strongly supports Senator Valverde’s proposal to allow Medicaid and state employee insurance plans to cover abortion

Gun Violence

After 20 first graders were murdered in the tragedy at Newtown, Sam felt heartbroken.  He knew he had to do something to protect Rhode Islanders from gun violence.  When he talked to people about the NRA’s power in our statehouse, the conversation always came back to one thing: all of the money that the NRA was funneling to top Democrats in our state.  So he launched an investigation into where the NRA’s funds came from, uncovering an illegal scheme to funnel national money into our state.  As a result of his investigation, the NRA's Rhode Island PAC had to shut down until they paid a $63,000 fine, and the flow of illegal money stopped.

After Sam got the NRA's illegal funding scheme shut down, Rhode Island was finally able to pass some much-needed gun control, specifically a bill taking guns out of the hands of domestic abusers.  Sam was proud to volunteer on that campaign, along with so many incredible activists from around our state.  But we need to do more.  Sam supports banning military-style assault weapons, strengthening our mental health background checks system, and banning guns from schools and bars. He also introduced a senate resolution to study the impact of trauma inflicted on children exposed to this kind of violence, echoing Rep. Ranglin Vassell in the house. 

 

When designing gun control legislation, Sam believes we must always guard against overcriminalizing communities of color.  He has spoken out against excessively long sentences, mandatory minimums, and bans on sentence suspension in gun control laws.  He believes in a vision of gun control that does much more to go after guns and much less to incarcerate yet more Rhode Islanders.  Sam believes that it is not enough to only target certain types of guns.  He believes stronger regulation to restrict the easy access to handguns will be necessary to make meaningful progress against gun violence.

EDUCATION

Sam is deeply concerned with the many problems plaguing the Providence public schools.  He believes in increased support for English Language Learners, repairing our crumbling school buildings, and comprehensive investments in student transportation to reduce absenteeism.  He knows we need to do more to combat de facto segregation, mental health problems, and poor working conditions in our schools.  Sam will always oppose the privatization agenda and push for more state funding for our public schools.  Sam will never vote for a budget that cuts the Providence public schools, and he has fought very hard against cuts to the schools in the Senate.

 

Sam believes that it is time to hand the Providence schools to an elected school committee.  He believes rule by political insiders has failed our schools for decades, and it is time to give the people of our city a say in how our schools will be run.

Finally, Sam believes that our public school system must do more to prepare students for the duties of citizenship.  Since a strong democracy requires educated citizens, Sam will work with his colleagues in both parties to fight for increased investments in civics education.  Knowledge, after all, is power.

The Environment

As a scientist, Sam knows we need to combat the climate crisis.  He believes that Rhode Island needs a state Green New Deal, one that will fully decarbonize our state economy.  The climate crisis is extremely urgent.  Rhode Island must do our part.  Sam supports an aggressive expansion of solar and wind power and a full decarbonization of Rhode Island’s electricity production.  Sam opposes expanding fossil fuel infrastructure in our state, and he fought hard against the reckless proposal to build a new natural gas pipeline to Aquidneck Island that would increase pipeline capacity by a factor of five.  

 

Sam believes the fight for environmental justice means taking on the powerful administrators who stand in the way.  Working with Representative Lombardi and Attorney General Neronha, Sam fought against the Department of Transportation’s dumping of toxic waste in the Olneyville neighborhood.  While getting the toxic waste removed was an important victory, Sam continues to push for removing the officials who exposed the people of Olneyville to chemicals linked to cancer.  Sam has spoken out against the Department of Environmental Management's failure to enforce basic pollution controls against businesses that harm our environment.  He was proud to vote against the reconfirmation of a former director of that department who voted for the South Providence liquefied natural gas terminal, ignoring neighborhood concerns.  He also was proud to oppose the nomination of a former Senior VP at fossil fuel monopoly National Grid for Chair of the Public Utilities Commission.

Immigration

As the descendant of a Holocaust refugee, Sam will always fight to protect immigrant families from the unfortunate threats they face.  As the lead sponsor of the sanctuary state bill, he believes that Rhode Island must adopt comprehensive sanctuary state policies to protect undocumented Rhode Islanders.  Sam believes that state and local legislation should always seek to include non-citizen Rhode Islanders wherever possible.  For instance, he successfully led the drive to make sure non-citizens would have the same rights as citizens to officiate at marriages.  He opposed legislation tailored to allow Block Island to ban non-citizens and recent citizens from driving Uber and Lyft.  He strongly supports the Cover All Kids initiative to expand Medicaid coverage to all Rhode Island children regardless of immigration status.

LGBTq Rights

For Sam, this is personal.  As a bisexual, he knows first-hand how important acceptance and love are to the LGBT community.  He was proud to make the motion that ended the segregation of marriage solemnization for same gender identity marriages.  He spent many long hours volunteering for marriage equality, but he knows the movement for full equality still has crucial work to do.  In particular, Sam believes we must pass a comprehensive trans rights bill to remove the many hassles our antiquated laws put in place for our transgender neighbors.

Economic Development

Our state's approach to economic development is broken.  Sam believes that we need to replace the corporate welfare model with the proven techniques that have worked so well in Massachusetts.  Instead of just giving companies cash, we need to invest in public infrastructure, in creating great places where people want to be.  We need to develop an environmental cleanup fund, push for more European-style planning rules, and invest in affordable housing.  The results in Massachusetts speak for themselves.  Sam opposes the Fane Tower and voted against a special deal zoning override bill tailored for the Fane Tower.

Ethics Reform

Our state has seen scandal after scandal.  It is time to clean up the culture in the Statehouse, and it starts with doing something about the corrupting influence of money in our politics.  For years, Sam has fought to fix our completely broken public financing system, and he believes that we should adopt a system modeled off the New York City clean elections plan.  He believes in tougher campaign contribution limits and investing more resources in the woefully underfunded Board of Elections enforcement divisions.  He has fought hard for rules reform in the Senate.

NEW LEADERSHIP IN THE SENATE

Sam believes the Senate needs new leadership that is ethical and supports the core progressive values of the Democratic Party.  The President of the Senate, Dominick Ruggerio, voted against marriage equality, is pro-life, took thousands of dollars from the NRA, and cast doubt on congressional Democrats’ efforts to impeach Donald Trump.  While in office, Ruggerio was also arrested for shoplifting condoms and vandalizing a car.  In the details of these scandals, as well as Ruggerio’s drunk driving and mortgage fraud scandals, Sam has grave concerns about a consistent pattern of abuse of political power for personal gain.  Sam knows that the movement for new leadership won’t be easy.  He knows it means taking on a powerful machine, but Sam believes the cause is just, and it will succeed.  When he was first elected, Sam was one of only two Senators to vote against Ruggerio for President of the Senate.  In his second term, he was one of nine Senators to oppose Ruggerio in the caucus vote and seven to oppose him on the floor.