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State House Report: Compassion Centers, Workforce Development & Second Hand Smoking

Saturday, May 19, 2012


This week the General Assembly once again dealt with Rhode Island’s proposed marijuana compassion centers. Although it may seem redundant, the state is now one step closer to finalizing a 2009 law, which first established such centers. Aside from compassion centers, the GA tackled unemployment and worker education through a pair of workforce development bills, secondhand smoke legislation, and a bill establishing new guidelines for electric utility companies. Though not a piece of legislation, last on the docket this week is a recap of Monday’s State House ceremony that honored veterans of the Vietnam War.

House Approves Compassion Centers Amendments

It appears that compassion centers in Rhode Island are all but a forgone conclusion at this point. On Wednesday, the House passed legislation designed to amend the 2009 state law, which established compassion centers. The bill (2012-H 7888A), sponsored by Rep. Scott A Slater (D), attempts address Gov. Lincoln Chafee’s concerns with the 2009 law. Gov. Chafee, as well as many lawmakers felt that there were numerous loopholes in the original bill, which could to federal intervention. As a result, Rep. Slater’s bill puts a cap on the amount of marijuana that compassion centers can grow and possess, as to not attract federal attention.

“Since the Rhode Island medical marijuana law invited federal action, I have been working with advocates on a remedy. I applaud Senator Perry and Representative Slater for their work and I look forward to passage of a bill that will avoid federal intervention and bring needed medicinal relief to those who stand to benefit,” said Gov. Chafee.

Despite Gov. Chafee’s approval, not everyone favors the legislation. Rep. Lisa P. Tomasso (D) has expressed her dissatisfaction with the bill because it allows caregivers to resell surplus back to compassion centers.

“I served on the Health, Education and Welfare Committee and passed this bill, but not without expressing these concerns,” Rep. Tomasso said. “Under the current law, a registered qualifying patient registered primary caregiver may give marijuana to another registered qualifying patient or registered primary caregiver to whom they are not connected by the department’s registration process, provided that no consideration is paid for the marijuana.”

The House bill will now make its way to the Senate.

Senate Labor Committee Vote on Workforce Development Bills

With a current unemployment rate of 11.1 percent, it’s no wonder that RI lawmakers are determined to bolster the skills of the state’s workforce. Although new jobs are being created both locally and nationally, they are not the traditional jobs Rhode Islanders may be familiar with. Unfortunately, Rhode Island’s days of being a manufacturing powerhouse are all but over. In fact, the state lost 37.1 percent of its manufacturing jobs in a 10-year period from 2001-2011. With that in mind, the Senate Committee on Labor overheard testimony regarding a pair of bills designed to give local citizens the skills they need to tackle the 21st Century employment jungle.

First up was 2012-S2377, a bill introduced by Sen. Erin P. Lynch (D), which would create a “Back to Work Rhode Island.” Modeled after a successful Georgia program, Rhode Island’s version allows individuals receiving unemployment benefits to volunteer to be paired with companies seeking employees. Complying businesses would agree to provide up to six weeks of job training for each individual, at no cost to the employer. Once the six weeks are up, the employer can then decide whether to hire the candidate.

The Senate also examined legislation that would create Enhanced Job Match, which will utilize the current department or labor and training web-based workforce and job system. Sponsored by Sen. James C. Sheenan (D), the bill aims to simplify the connection between employers and job seekers by removing various barriers to participation.

For more information visit http://www.MakingBusinessEasyRI.com.

Senate OKs Bill Allowing Police to Issue Warnings to Smokers in Cars with Children

This Thursday the Senate passed a bill, sponsored by Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski (D), which would authorize police officers to alert offending drivers of the dangers of exposing children to secondhand smoke. The legislation applies to any individual who is smoking in a vehicle with a restrained child. That said, Sen. Sosnowski’s proposal does not permit officers to stop and search a vehicle solely based on the fact that an individual is smoking in the presence of a child.

“This bill is for the children who do not have the power to prevent passengers from endangering their health with secondhand smoke,” Sen. Sosnowski said. “I congratulate my colleagues in the Senate for supporting this legislation and allowing our law enforcement officials to give parents and others a full understanding of what they are doing when they smoke cigarettes in close quarters with children.”

The legislation, which passed in a 31 to 4 vote, will now head to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Senate OKs Bill Requiring Electric Utilities to Check for Stray Voltage

Also this week, the Senate passed legislation requiring the Public Utilities Commission and the Division of Utilities and Carriers to require electric utilities companies to perform voltage recognition surveys and complete necessary repairs. The bill (2012-S 2387A) sponsored by Sen. Rhoda E. Perry (D), is the result of an unfortunate incident last year in which an 8-month old Labrador retriever died after stepping on an electrified manhole cover in Providence.

“It is the utility company’s duty to ensure that its system is safe and doesn’t pose a threat to the public. Electrified manhole covers, utility poles and other objects are lethally dangerous, and Rhode Islanders need to be protected and ensured that their streets are safe for themselves, their children and their pets,” said Sen. Perry.

Sen. Perry’s legislation would require electric companies to check their systems for stray voltage, including sidewalks, fences, grates and other metal objects. The proposal not only safeguards against animal fatalities, but also protects all individuals.

“This is a very serious threat to public safety. National Grid must be able to guarantee that their system isn’t going to electrocute someone else on a public street or sidewalk. It already happened once, and the company needs to do everything it can to avoid letting anyone else or their pet become the victim of electrocution as they walk down a public road,” Sen. Perry said.

Vietnam Veterans Honored at State House

On Monday, the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs held a ceremony commemorating the 51st anniversary of the start of the Vietnam War. The event, which was hosted by House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Raymond E. Gallison, honored members of the Vietnam Veterans of America Rhode Island Chapter 273 of Greater Providence, Chapter 325 of South County, Chapter 818 of Northern Rhode Island and the Rhode Island Vietnam Era Veterans Association. Gov. Lincoln Chafee, House Speaker Gordon D. Fox, Office of Health and Human Services Secretary Steven M. Constatino, Major General Kevin McBride and Chairman Gallison all spoke at the ceremony.

“Vietnam veterans were, in large part, young people whose lives were disrupted by the draft, who endured agonizing and eternally haunting conditions in service, and for decades were not properly honored because there was not broad public support of the war itself,” said Chairman Gallison. “Our country owes a great debt of honor to the 2.7 million soldiers who gave up their youth, their health and – in the case of more than 58,000 – their lives to serve. They deserve our eternal thanks and admiration, as well as acknowledgement that so many were denied the respect they deserve for so long.”

Click HERE to see a list of all Rhode Island soldiers who were killed in the Vietnam War. The list contains 209 names of Rhode Island based soldiers and their hometowns.


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