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State House Report: Abortion, Term Limits & Health Insurance

Saturday, April 14, 2012


This week, the General Assembly held a number of hearing regarding bills that are significant to most average citizens in Rhode Island. The GA heard arguments dealing with foreclosure, childcare, abortion rights and tax preparation offenses (just in time for the April 17 deadline). Perhaps the most controversial hearing this week was Wednesday’s House Judiciary Committee meeting discussing nine separate abortion bills.

The majority of proposed abortion rights legislation was designed to limit a woman's right to choose, which will certainly anger those pro-choice proponents and please the pro-life community. Also on the agenda this week was a bill that will surely satisfy voters who wish to have their say in government. Would you like to vote on whether your Senators and Representatives have term limits? Well, you just may have your chance. Keep reading to discover the details.

House Bill No. 8066 – Establishing penalties for tax preparer offenses

With tax season in mind the General Assembly has proposed legislation that would penalize tax prepares for committing a number of infractions. The bill defines a tax preparer as an individual who prepares a significant amount of any tax return for compensation. Tax return preparers include any person required to register with the Internal Revenue Service as a tax return preparer.

The proposal, introduced by Rep. Helio Melo, sets a series of penalties for tax return offenses ranging from $500 to $50,000. Violations include not signing all returns, making fraudulent claims and tax evasion. Although fines start at $500, they jump to $5,000 for fraudulent claims and to $50,000 for serious cases of tax evasion. In some cases, the tax preparer may even face up to five years imprisonment.

For those readers who prepare their own taxes, the IRS offers a detailed checklist of the most common tax preparer mistakes to avoid. Click HERE to check out the list.

House Judiciary Committee Hearing: Abortion Rights Legislation

On Wednesday the House Judiciary Committee discussed nine proposals regarding abortion rights in the Ocean State. The first bill, introduced by Rep. Jon D. Brien (D) would define and impose penalties for acts of violence against an unborn child (defined as in utero). Brien also sponsored two other bills discussed by the House including legislation that would prohibit forced abortion and another, which would “make assault on a pregnant woman in the 12th week of gestation or further punishable by up to 30 years in prison if it causes the miscarriage or stillbirth of the fetus.”

Aside from Brien’s bills, there were several other bills limiting a woman’s right to choose. One such proposal, sponsored by Rep. John G. Edwards (D) would classify death of an unborn child as murder. Another piece of legislation requires all women seeking an abortion to have an ultrasound, which she will be forced to review.

There were two bills, however, which attempted to protect abortion rights. The first, introduced by House Judiciary Committee Chairwomen Edith H. Ajello (D), would bar the state from interfering with the decision of a woman to terminate a pregnancy. Chairwomen Ajello also proposed a bill that would allow Family Court judges, doctors or certified counselors to approve abortions being sought by minors.

Senate Hearing: Legislator Health Insurance Premiums and Term Limits

At a time when one in three everday Americans are uninsured, Sen. Paul W. Fogarty (D) is attempting to place the insurance premiums of Rhode Island Senators, Representatives and general office holders in the hands of the voters. On Wednesday the Senate heard testimony regarding Sen. Fogarty’s proposal to allow Rhode Islanders to decide whether state officials will pay 20 percent of their health insurance premiums. Currently, lawmakers and other officials are required to pay anywhere from 5 percent to 20 percent.

Also on Wednesday’s agenda was legislation introduced by Sen. Dawson Tucker Hodgson (R), which would let voters determine whether new term limits should be instituted for RI Congress members. As of now, RI Senators are elected to two-year terms with no limit placed on the number of terms he or she may serve. Rhode Island is in the minority in terms of two-year terms, as the majority of states opt for four-year terms. Sen. Hodgson’s bill would limit Senators to two consecutive four-year terms. Likewise, Sen. Hodgson would like to limit Representatives to four consecutive two-year terms. As is true with the Senate, state Representatives do not presently have term limitations.

House Judiciary Hearing: Housing, Tenant Bills

This week, the General Assembly made strides toward protecting the rights or tenants and the homeless in Rhode Island. First on the docket was a proposal introduced by Rep. Christopher Blazejewski (D) that creates a Homeless Bill of Rights. This bill of rights would ensure that all residents have an equal opportunity to live in “decent, safe and sanitary accommodations regardless of housing status. Rep. Blazejewski’s bill also takes aim at unjust rental practices that discriminate against seniors, disabled individuals and the LGBT community.

In addition to discussing the Homeless Bill of Rights, the House Judiciary also heard testimony regarding those affected by foreclosures. One bill, sponsored by Rep. John G. Edwards, gives tenants of foreclosed properties greater protection against eviction. The protection rights would apply to all tenants except for those who failed to pay rent prior to foreclosure. Aside from protecting tenants, Rep. Richard P. Morrison proposed a bill that helps homeowners evade foreclosure. Rep. Morrison’s legislation attempts to “facilitate an agreement between the lender and homeowner that will avoid foreclosure.”

Inaugural Child Care Awareness Day

On Thursday, the Permanent Legislative Commission on Child Care (PLCCC) celebrated its first “Child Care Awareness Day” with the intention of joining child care providers, professionals and legislators. Rep. Grace Diaz (D), who also serves as chairwoman of the PLCCC, spearheaded the event.

“When I finally got back into public service, I decided I was going to make child care one of my top priorities,” Rep. Diaz said. “I became the owner of a home-based child care program and reached out to the community through my legislative efforts. As a mother, I understand how important it is to provide support not just for children, but for parents and families of all kinds. Today is truly a landmark moment for the commission and parents who have provided their input to help shape the way child care has progressed in this state.”

The childcare industry is a fixture in Rhode Island, currently employing approximately 3,200 people in more than 1,050 licensed programs. Roughly 70 percent of Rhode Island children under the age of 6 have parents that work, hence are in need of childcare services. This total is noticeably higher than the national average of 64 percent. Although 7 out of every 10 children in the state may require childcare services, not all parents can afford it. Rep. Diaz recently introduced a bill (2012-H 7105) with this fact in mind. Rep. Diaz’ proposal would make it easier for individuals initially eligible for childcare to remain eligible as long as his or her income does not exceed 225 percent of the federal poverty level, which is $41,693 for a family of three.

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