K. Joseph Shekarchi (D) was first
elected Speaker of the Rhode Island House of Representatives in January
2021; he was re-elected as Speaker in January 2023.
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 2012 and has been a strong proponent of economic development.
Upon his election as Speaker, Shekarchi 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 included the creation of Rhode Island's first-ever dedicated
funding stream for affordable housing, as well as a ban on housing
discrimination against individuals who receive government assistance to pay
the 2022 session, Speaker Shekarchi continued his efforts to address Rhode
Island’s housing shortage, making certain that a historic investment of $250
million was included in the budget for a variety of housing initiatives and
homelessness assistance. He also passed a ten-bill
package of housing legislation to streamline development, provide more
complete and timely information about housing and help municipalities meet
their affordable housing goals.
Also in 2022, Speaker Shekarchi successfully advocated for the permanent phase-out of the car tax, eliminating it one year ahead of schedule; a one-time child tax rebate of $250 per child, for up to three children per family, for eligible Rhode Island families; an increase of the “circuit breaker" tax credit available to qualifying elderly and disabled residents; and to raise the amount of annual pension income exempt from state taxation. He also ensured that $100 million was included in the budget for the state's unemployment trust fund to reduce businesses' unemployment tax rates.
Speaker Shekarchi enacted legislation in 2022 to substantially increase renewable energy production and supply, as well as a bill to increase new offshore wind capacity. This followed up on the achievements of a year earlier contained within the Act on Climate, one of the most influential environmental bills approved by the General Assembly in decades.
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.
In 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.
Under Speaker 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; and 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
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 30 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.