The Republican State of the State Response
Below is my full State of the State Response on behalf of Rhode Island's Republicans. The speech aired on Feb 3, 2021.
Good evening, if we haven’t met yet, I’m Jessica de la Cruz, the Republican Minority Whip in your State Senate. As a life-long Rhode Islander and a daughter of Portuguese immigrants, I am fortunate to be born in the greatest country and the best state. Rhode Island offers so much, with a rich heritage of innovators and independent thinkers -- a heritage we must harness to forge a new path for the Ocean State.
Unfortunately, Rhode Island, like the rest of the country, has been devastated by the Covid pandemic. Families have been shattered, businesses bankrupted, healthcare providers overwhelmed, the education of our children - interrupted, it has restricted the ability of people of faith to come together and worship, and it has eroded accountability in YOUR government.
At the same time, this horrible pandemic highlights the best in us-- from front-line first responders, health care workers, teachers, students, parents, grocery store workers - all of whom sacrifice so much to protect one another. That incredible spirit is the light in so much unprecedented darkness. That selflessness inspires hope for a better future which we, together, can create by embracing a new path for Rhode Island:
Tonight, I will touch on 5 points that Republicans will prioritize.
First, We need to restore Accountability and Oversight - A Governor’s Emergency Power must always be limited. However, the legislature's refusal to reconvene, or conduct basic oversight of the Governor, allowed for continual, unilateral, and unchecked power by the Executive Branch, which is tasked with enforcing the law, not making it. This goes against the very core of our constitutional system of government, and our identity as a state that has long recognized that a government with unchecked power is no longer a government by the people.
To correct this, Republicans have introduced legislation that will require the General Assembly to approve the extension of Emergency Executive Orders. It will also initiate mandated legislative oversight and accountability shortly after an Emergency is declared.
Secondly, we must do everything we can to manage and end this pandemic, but we can not do it at the expense of basic human dignity.
Throughout the past 11 months, we have all heard the many heart-wrenching stories of families denied access to their loved ones. Just prior to the pandemic, I had the privilege to celebrate the 100th birthday of my neighbor’s mother. She was cheerful, and social, surrounded by family members. Then COVID struck... and due to the lockdown, she was denied the ability to see her family. It was heartbreaking to hear my neighbor lament how her mother rapidly deteriorated in isolation from her loved ones. This family’s beautiful matriarch passed shortly after our conversation-- scared, confused, and all alone in her final moments.
Republicans recognize the gravity of this pandemic, but also recognize every person’s fundamental right to have access to their loved ones. In response, we offer the Designated Support Act -- so that all residents of healthcare facilities and group homes are empowered to designate a support person for safe, regular, in-person visits. The policy will assist facilities to balance disease transmission protocols with the benefits of having a loved one present.
Third, while many of Rhode Island’s schools were already failing, the pandemic has only exacerbated a terrible situation.
A little over a year ago, the Johns Hopkins report revealed the failure of the Providence Public Schools, ranking it among the worst in the nation. This needs to change -- students have only one chance. And this is why Republicans vigorously oppose the proposed charter school moratorium. These charter schools have been one of the few bright spots for many urban children. Yet, some of our leaders want to halt their progress. Rhode Island families deserve more choice and ownership over their child’s education. Whether it’s through school choice, educational freedom, or Educational Savings Accounts, Republicans have repeatedly affirmed that access to a quality education is the civil rights issue of our time. We can no longer allow a child’s zip code or a family’s wealth to determine the quality of their education.
So, I say to you tonight Rhode Island , we must stop failing our children. Now is the time for decisive action!
Fourth, to say that 2020 was a tough year for small businesses is a gross understatement. The heart of Rhode Island’s economy has been shattered with as many as 40% of the state’s small businesses closing last year. This represents lost wages, lost health insurance, and broken dreams. Our state diverted federal relief monies to shore up the state’s budget instead of prioritizing these small businesses.
Republicans will fight to make sure any future federal relief monies are distributed to where they belong - in our neighborhood small businesses. To save these enterprises, we must reduce current unreasonable restrictions and enact thoughtful tax policies that will nurture our economic health. We recognize that every small business preserved provides more than a product or service. They provide a wage, a career, stability, community and contribute to our tax base which funds our social safety net.
Fifth, Rhode Island’s Ballooning Budget is unsustainable. As businesses and non-profits suffered great losses last year, Rhode Island’s outlandish budget grew to $13 billion dollars! That’s $13,000 for every man, woman and child of our state. While there are talks of new taxes, you can’t squeeze water from a rock and you can’t squeeze more money out of Rhode Islanders and businesses beleaguered by taxes, fees and cumbersome regulations.
Republicans call for state budget reform. We must end unsustainable spending practices while still protecting core government services. We have identified cuts that are putting life, limb and property across our state at great risk. Last year, we experienced severe drought conditions; we were notified that our dam system is failing; and that some communities lost essential services like gas, water and power for days at a time. We must prioritize state funding that is designated to rebuild and sustain our infrastructure if we are going to avert costly catastrophes in the future. We also have a long history of inadequately funding core government services and departments like our Veterans Home, Zambarano Hospital, and DCYF. Just like in our family budget, our state must put its needs before its wants.
And this is why we need a line-item veto -- like 44 other states -- so our governor can finally cut the fat permeating our state budget. Republicans have fought for this along with protecting our elections by preserving our voting laws, upholding our constitutional rights, ending no-bid contracts to insiders, and opposing tax increases aimed at punishing the success of job creators.
Neighbors, Rhode Island has been living on “borrowed time.” Our budget should be a reminder that every government has its limits. That we can’t afford to keep kicking the can down the road. No matter how well-intentioned or well-meaning, we are constrained by the most pressing needs of our time -- addressing the pandemic, reviving our economy, providing adequate educational opportunities -- all while preserving the rights and dignity of every Rhode Islander.
We look forward to joining our Democrat and Independent colleagues to address the challenges we face. We can’t do this alone, but we can do it together.
Good night and God bless