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This Hour: Latest Rhode Island news, sports, business and entertainment

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RI STATEHOUSE INVESTIGATION

Elections board says it was contacted in Fox probe

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - The Rhode Island Board of Elections says it has been contacted by law enforcement about former House Speaker Gordon Fox, whose home and Statehouse office were raided by the FBI last month.

Richard Thornton, the board's director of campaign finance, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the board "was contacted by law enforcement officials."

He would not specify which agency and would not disclose the nature of the contact or what they were asking for.

Last month's raid by the FBI, IRS and state police is part of a criminal investigation, although authorities have so far refused to say what it entails or whether Fox is the target.

Jim Martin, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office, would not comment about the Board of Elections contact with law enforcement.

SOCIAL HOST ARREST

MADD refuses $5,000 after dropped social host case

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - Mothers Against Drunk Driving is rejecting a $5,000 donation from a North Kingstown mother who offered the contribution after police dropped charges that she allowed teenagers to drink alcohol at her daughter's 16th birthday party.

Gabrielle Abbate, executive director of MADD in Rhode Island, says the sentence sends the wrong message about providing alcohol to those who are underage.

North Kingstown police agreed Tuesday to drop social host and assault charges against Jayne Donegan. She was charged in January after police discovered teenagers were drinking at her home. She also was charged with obstruction, and entered a not guilty filing. It will be dropped if she is not arrested in the next year.

Her lawyer, William Devereaux (DEV'-er-oh), says it's up to MADD if it chooses to reject the money.

XGR-PAY DAY LOANS

House panel hears bill on pay day loan curbs

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - The House Finance Committee has heard testimony on a bill that would prohibit "pay day" lenders from charging as much as 260 percent interest on the loans.

The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Frank Ferri, was being considered Wednesday afternoon. It would eliminate a special exemption for pay day lenders in Rhode Island that allows them to charge more than 36 percent.

Ferri and other lawmakers have tried unsuccessfully in recent years to cap the interest rates charged on pay day loans. Critics say the practice of charging as much as 260 percent is predatory and call the cash advances "debt traps." Those in the industry say the loans are a valuable tool for many.

Members of the Rhode Island Payday Lending Reform Coalition testified in favor of the bill.

XGR-MARIJUANA BILLS

House panel to hear bill to legalize marijuana

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - A House panel is set to hear several marijuana bills, including one that would legalize its use and regulate and tax it like alcohol.

The Judiciary Committee has scheduled a hearing for Wednesday.

Rep. Edith Ajello's bill would allow people 21 and older to have up to one ounce of marijuana and grow limited amounts of the plant. It would set up a system to regulate licensed marijuana retail stores and cultivation and testing facilities and would subject the drug to wholesale and retail taxes.

Ajello and other supporters of the legislation are planning a news conference ahead of the hearing.

Another pending bill reduces the number of allowable plants in cultivation by medical marijuana cardholders and requires national criminal background checks for all "caregiver" applicants.

MEDICAL MARIJUANA

RI law enforcement seek medical marijuana fixes

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - Rhode Island's attorney general and others in a working group are urging state lawmakers to make some fixes to the state's marijuana program.

For example, under the state's medical marijuana act, the only way police would know if a suspected drug offender has a state license for growing or possessing medical marijuana is to ask the person. State police Capt. Kevin O'Brien says that's usually not possible until after a raid.

The Providence Journal reports authorities say attacks on people licensed to possess medical marijuana killed two men last year. In several cases, caregivers, whose licenses allow them to grow but not use marijuana, have shot invaders.

About 15 members from the group plan to testify Wednesday before the House Committee on Judiciary on bills that would amend the medical marijuana law.

PENSION LAWSUIT-RI

Rhode Island judge: pension lawsuit may go forward

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - A Rhode Island judge has ruled a lawsuit brought over the state's 2011 pension overhaul can now move forward.

The decision by Superior Court Judge Sarah Taft-Carter on Wednesday comes days after both sides said a lengthy mediation in the lawsuit had failed.

The judge denied the state's motion to dismiss the lawsuit, which was filed before the closed-door mediation began more than a year ago.

A trial in the case has already been scheduled to start in September.

Public-sector unions and retirees had sued over the law, which was designed to save Rhode Island $4 billion over the next 20 years by reining in pension costs. The law has been used as a model for other states.

ENERGY SECRETARY-RI

US Energy Secretary Moniz to visit Rhode Island

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz (mo-NEEZ') is coming to Rhode Island as part of the Obama administration's reassessment of the nation's energy strategy.

The office of Sen. Jack Reed says on Wednesday that Moniz will be in Providence on Monday for the administration's Quadrennial Energy Review.

The review was established to develop a comprehensive strategy for affordable, clean and reliable energy. As part of the process, the department is holding a series of regional public meetings around the country, including Monday's in Rhode Island.

Reed and Moniz are both scheduled to speak.

Reed says the event will give Moniz the chance to focus on the specific energy challenges that face Rhode Island and New England, including the high cost of energy.

GAY AND LESBIAN CENTER-URI

URI breaks ground on gay and lesbian center

SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. (AP) - The University of Rhode Island has broken ground on a new center for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students.

URI President David Dooley was joined by Gov. Chafee and other officials at the groundbreaking Wednesday. The $2.1 million, 4,300-square-foot center will be built on the site of the vacant Ruggles House, which is being torn down.

The school says the free-standing center will be a safe and affirming place for members of the LGBTQ community and is designed to give the community a strong identity.

Dooley says the center's construction is to "acknowledge and celebrate the diversity that's part of our community now and will be in the future."

It's expected to be completed in spring of 2015.

CIANCI-PORTRAIT

Birthday bash to raise money for Cianci portrait

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - A $100-a-guest party celebrating former Providence Mayor Buddy Cianci's 73rd birthday will help pay for his official portrait at City Hall.

The Providence Journal reports the party and fundraiser on April 30 is part of an initiative begun by Paul Campbell, the city's archivist.

Donations of $25,000 paid to restore 13 of the 32 portraits in the collection. Next are three remaining portraits, including Cianci's, costing $10,000 to $15,000 each.

Cianci was elected in 1974 and resigned 10 years later after convicted of assaulting a man he believed was having an affair with his estranged wife. He was re-elected in 1990, but convicted and sent to prison in 2002 in a federal investigation into corruption in his administration.

He was released in 2007 and resumed his career as a broadcast personality.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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