- Associated Press - Thursday, February 6, 2014

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - When Rhode Island lawmakers voted last year to eliminate the state’s beleaguered Economic Development Corp. and replace it with the Commerce Corp., critics dismissed the move as a mere name change.

This year, to protect the agency’s federal funding, lawmakers are being forced to concede that is exactly what it was.

The House Finance Committee endorsed a measure Thursday clarifying that the EDC lives on as the Commerce Corp. Otherwise, millions in federal grants and program funding that had been flowing to the EDC could have dried up.

The bill amounts to a series of needed “technical changes” to clarify the 2013 law, according to state Rep. Helio Melo, D-East Providence and the chairman of the House Finance Committee.

According to a legislative news release on the bill, it addresses “a concern that the 2013 legislation could be misconstrued as dissolving the agency and replacing it with a new one, which was not the new law’s intent.”

Yet that seems to have been the legislation’s intent, according to an announcement last summer heralding the new law. It claimed the 2013 bill “eliminates the EDC, creating a new Rhode Island Commerce Corp. to take on its former duties.”

To confuse things even more: the Commerce Corp. now goes by the name Commerce RI.

Sen. James Sheehan, D-North Kingstown and the sponsor of the bill to clarify the name change, said in a statement that the General Assembly “looks forward to a new and reinvigorated partnership with Commerce RI, an agency of government fully committed to creating jobs and helping put our citizens to work.”

Lawmakers also passed legislation last year that called for the rechristened agency to create a mission statement and a code of ethics.

The EDC was roundly criticized for the state’s failed $75 million investment in former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling’s now-bankrupt video game company, 38 Studios.

The full House could vote as soon as next week on the legislation. The Senate has already approved the bill.

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