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 legislative initiatives. In three years as Speaker, he has shepherded 30 bills into law that are designed to tackle the state's housing crisis from multiple angles. Coupled with historic budget investments, his legislation addresses the long-lagging housing production rates, catalyzes expanded housing supply, and mitigates upward pressure on rents and home purchase prices.
Under his leadership, Rhode Island created its first-ever dedicated funding stream for affordable housing; banned housing discrimination against individuals who receive government assistance to pay their rent; created the first Department of Housing headed by a cabinet level secretary; and invested more than $350 million to address housing and homelessness in the past two budgets.
In the 2023 session, Speaker Shekarchi successfully proposed a $45 million investment into the life science sector for the development of wet lab incubator spaces and support grants, loans, business development and incentives to grow this sector. The budget he championed included the elimination of tangible taxes for 75 percent of the state's small businesses.
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.
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.