RI State Report: EDC Nominees, Unemployment & An E-Cigarette Ban

Saturday, March 09, 2013


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This week's State Report takes a look at the latest unemployment numbers, the Governor's nominees for the EDC and a couple of controversial bills regarding taxi drivers and cell phones.

In this week’s State Report, we focus on the newly-released jobs numbers for the month of January and Gov. Lincoln Chafee’s nominations for the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation Board of Directors.

Additionally, we’ll examine three pieces of legislation: a proposal to ban the sale of e-cigarettes to minors; a bill to prohibit hand-held cell phone use while driving and legislation that would mandate all taxi drivers to undergo a national and state criminal background check.

Unemployment rate reaches four-year low

Rhode Island’s persistently high unemployment rate has reached a four-year low. The state’s unemployment rate in January was 9.8 percent, according to statistics released by the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training on Thursday. January’s jobless rate was down one-tenth of a percentage point from December and one whole percentage point compared to a year ago.

Aside from the lowest unemployment rate in four years, the report also showed positive news on the hiring front. The state added 2,800 jobs in January thanks to strong job growth in the accommodations and food services and retail sectors.

That said, the report did illustrate a weakness in Rhode Island’s labor force. Not only did the state’s labor force decrease by 1,400, to 561,800, the number of employed residents also shrunk by 700, to 506,900.

Despite the mostly positive news, Rhode Island’s unemployment rate remains one of the highest in the nation.

The U.S. jobless rate in January was 7.9 percent, which is one-tenth of a percentage point higher than December.

Gov. Chafee names four nominees for EDC

On Thursday, Gov. Lincoln Chafee named four nominees for the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation (RIEDC) Board of Directors: Shannon Brawley, Roland Fiore, Nancy Carriuolo and Jason Kelly. Gov. Chaffee also reappointed state AFL-CIO President George Nee to serve another term on the EDC board. 

“These nominees reflect my commitment to changing the focus and priorities of the EDC,” Chafee said. “We are going to do all we can to help existing Rhode Island businesses – many of them small businesses – succeed and grow. And we are going to continue to improve our economy by building upon Rhode Island’s strengths and assets and investing in the fundamentals, such as education. These nominees bring with them valuable experience in a number of our state’s key industries. This is a new direction for the RIDEC and, I believe, a more promising path to a stronger economy for Rhode Island.”

RIEDC has incurred numerous vacancies since its failed investment in Curt Schilling’s video game company 38 Studios, which cost Rhode Island taxpayers $75 million.

In November, Gov. Chafee nominated William J. Parsons to lead RIDEC, but Parsons later asked that his name be withdrawn due to health reasons. The embattled state agency is still without an executive director.

Ruggerio looks to ban sale of e-cigarettes to minors

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Flikr Photo/Michael Dorausch/michaeldorausch.com. A proposal by Rep. Ruggerio would ban the sale of e-cigarettes to minors.

Electronic cigarettes may be a means for adults to quit smoking, but Senate Majority Leader Dominick J. Ruggerio believes that they get minors hooked on nicotine. On Wednesday, Ruggerio (D-Dist. 4, Providence, North Providence) introduced a bill that would prohibit the sale of e-cigarettes to anyone under the age of 18.

“Manufacturers of these e-cigarettes claim their product was designed to help smokers quit,” said Ruggerio. “That is very laudable, but it is also very laughable. Without a specific prohibition against sale of these items to minors, these products are simply a gateway to tobacco use and nicotine addiction. They may look like technological toys, but they are potentially dangerous to the health of our children.”

Ruggerio’s legislation is modeled after a bill currently making its way through the Wyoming legislature and similar to proposals in over 12 other states, including Massachusetts and Connecticut.

Electronic cigarettes, also known as e-cigarettes, are an electronic inhaler that vaporizes a liquid solution into an aerosol mist, simulating the act of smoking tobacco. They typically consist of battery-controlled heating elements and replaceable battery cartridges that contain nicotine.

Jacquard wants background checks for cab drivers

On Monday, Rep. Robert B. Jacquard introduced a bill that would require applicants and employees of taxicab companies and other limited public motor vehicle companies to undergo a national and state criminal background check.

“When you get in a cab, the only thing you should be concerned about it getting where you need to go,” Jacquard said (D-Dist. 17, Cranston). “You should certainly not have to worry if there is potential for harm from the individual driving the cab.”

The state’s Division of Motor Vehicles currently requires that prospective taxi drivers obtain a chauffeur’s license, which obligates the applicant to consent to a criminal background check, but Jacquard argues that this is insufficient.

“That check is limited to Rhode Island criminal records,” said Jacquard. “An individual with a record of crimes, including violent crimes, in another state but with a clean record in Rhode Island could be the person behind the wheel of the cab you get into.”

Jacquard’s bill is presently before the House Committee on Corporations and is co-sponsored by Rep. Jared R. Nunes.

Lawmakers consider prohibiting hand-held cell phone use

On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee reviewed a proposal to ban motorists from using hand-held cell phones while driving. The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Susan Sosnowski (D- Dist. 37, South Kingstown), would fine violators $100, though the penalty would be waived for first-time offenders if they prove that they’ve purchased an accessory allowing for hand-free cell phone use. The law does not apply to drivers attempting to call 911.

Lawmakers also examined legislation that would increase the fine for texting while driving from $85 for a first offense to $500. Two-time offenders would face a $1,000 fine, according to the proposal.

Both bills are being held for further study. Sosnowski previously proposed a ban on hand-held cell phone use during the 2012 legislation session. Sosnowski's hand-held cell phone ban is modeled after a Connecticut law, which passed in 2005. 

Ten states (California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Washington, and West Virginia) and the District of Columbia have banned hand-held cell phone use while driving.


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