K. Joseph Shekarchi (D) was
elected Speaker of the Rhode Island House of Representatives in January
From November 2016 through 2020, he served as House Majority Leader;
previously, he was Chairman of the House Labor Committee. He has served the
residents of District 23 in Warwick since first being elected in November
Upon his election as Speaker, he pledged to make housing issues
the cornerstone of his administration, putting forth a
seven-bill package of legislation designed to tackle the state's housing
crisis from multiple angles.
Legislation he successfully enacted into law in 2021 includes the
creation of Rhode Island's first-ever dedicated funding stream for
affordable housing; the establishment of a new position for a state “housing
czar" to serve as the state's lead official to coordinate and facilitate
housing production; a ban on housing discrimination against individuals who
receive government assistance to pay their rent; and the reduction of
regulatory barriers that deter development. Also in 2021, Speaker Shekarchi
supported a pilot program to create permanent supportive housing for 125
chronically homeless Rhode Islanders.
Speaker Shekarchi has also been
a strong proponent of economic development. During the 2021 legislative
session, he played a key role in negotiating the
agreement between the State of Rhode Island, IGT and Bally's Corporation,
which resulted in a $250 million economic development plan, secured 1,100
well-paying Rhode Island jobs, and proactively protected Rhode Island's
third-largest source of revenue. Previously, he sponsored the
Qualified Jobs Incentive Act, which created more than 3,000 new
well-paying private sector jobs with no fiscal impact to the state.
2021, Speaker Shekarchi championed the passage of
landmark pay equity legislation, the passage of which had been sought
by the bill's sponsors and supporters for years. The legislation
comprehensively addresses wage discrimination based on gender, race,
religion, or sexual orientation.
Speaker Shekarchi also supported the
Act on Climate, which is one of the most influential environmental bills
approved by the General Assembly in decades. The Act updates Rhode Island's
climate-emission reduction goals and makes them enforceable, positioning the
state to boldly address climate change and prepare for a global economy that
will be shifting to adapt to clean technology.
Shekarchi's leadership, legislation was enacted into law in 2021 which set
safe minimum staffing levels for Rhode Island nursing homes while
providing funding to raise wages for direct care staff to help recruit and
retain a stable and qualified workforce; made the
Rhode Island Promise program permanent, which provides up to two years
of free tuition at Community College of Rhode Island for eligible graduating
high school seniors; and continued the phase-out of the state car tax as
part of the budget that was enacted with no broad-based tax increases.
He has sponsored a law requiring health insurers to
cover mastectomies without copays or deductibles. He was also the
sponsor of several good government reforms, including the long sought-after
eliminating the “master lever" option on the ballot.
Shekarchi has been a leader in protecting animals, receiving the Golden Paw
Award from Animal Rescue Rhode Island for his advocacy. He was presented the
National Council for Behavioral Health's Excellence in Advocacy Award for
the passage of legislation he sponsored that requires training for law
enforcement officers on mental health and substance abuse emergencies. He
was also honored by the Hospitality Association as Ambassador of the Year,
by the Rhode Island Partnership for Home Care, and by AAA New England with a
Traffic Safety Leadership Award.
He is a graduate of Mount St. Charles
Academy, Class of 1980, and graduated from Suffolk University in 1984. He
returned to Suffolk to earn his law degree in 1990. In addition to his
duties as a legislator, Speaker Shekarchi is a successful attorney in
private practice for over 25 years. He has been the legal counsel to the
Warwick Housing Authority for over 25 years and is a former Warwick
solicitor. Speaker Shekarchi is a lifelong Warwick resident.