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State House Report: E-Verify, Legalizing Pot & Millions in Bond Money

Saturday, March 31, 2012


This week proved to be a slow one for the General Assembly in terms of new legislation. A total of just 60 bills were proposed this week, mainly consisting of resolutions recognizing anniversaries and marriages. Aside from numerous inconsequential bills, there were several meaningful GA hearings. So what was covered this week? Well, a number of controversial topics including E-Verify and marijuana decriminalization. Keep reading to see how the discussion unfolded.

House Bill No. 7315 – E-Verify Bill

This week a hearing was held regarding the controversial E-Verify bill, originally introduced by former Gov. Donald Carcieri. The former governor’s Executive Order titled “Illegal Immigration Control Order,” calls for state executive departments to use the E-Verify program, which verifies the employment eligibility of new hires. Introduced by Rep. Peter G. Palumbo, the bill attempts to codify Gov. Carcieri’s order, which was rescinded by Gov. Lincoln Chafee. If enacted, employers with three or more employees may apply to participate in the E-Verify system.

E-Verify is a free Internet-based program run by the federal government that evaluates employee’s Employment Eligibility Verification Form 1-9 to information from U.S. government records. If said information matches, the employee is eligible to work in the U.S. Employers will be alerted of prospective employees that are deemed ineligible to work in the U.S. In turn, the employer must contact the appropriate federal government agency.

Currently, 18 states utilize E-Verify in one form or another. Rhode Island and Minnesota are the only two states to rescind the legislation.

Senate Bill No. 2253 - Marijuana Decriminalization

This past week the Senate Judiciary Committee met to discuss legislation that would decriminalize small amounts of marijuana. Sponsored by Sen. Joshua Miller, the proposal would decriminalize the possession of one ounce or less of marijuana, making it a civil offense in most cases. If enacted, it would also make possession of under an ounce a civil offense for individuals under the age of 18. Although the legislation would downgrade possession crimes to a civil offense, civil penalties starting at $150 will apply for both minors and adults.

Rhode Island would become the 14th state to enact marijuana decriminalization laws for small amounts of the drug. Sen. Miller’s bill is the result of a study that looked at the potential impact that decriminalization would have on the state. Generally speaking, decriminalization simply implies no prison time or criminal record for first time possession of small amount of marijuana for personal use. The behavior is essentially treated like a minor traffic violation.

House Bill No. 7979 - Tax Amnesty Program in Coventry

Legislation has been proposed that would give Coventry taxpayers and additional 45 days to pay their quarterly tax bills when the new fiscal year begins in July. Furthermore, the bill ensures that taxpayers will not be subject to any interest penalties. Introduced by Rep. Scott J. Guthrie (D), this “tax amnesty program” would apply to property taxes and motor vehicle taxes for residents who have owned the property or vehicle for five years.

“I am happy to introduce this bill for the town because I know that Coventry residents are good and honorable people who will pay what they owe but who sometimes, especially in economic times like these, need a little breathing room,” said Rep. Guthrie. “Better for the town to wait an extra 45 days than to not receive a payment at all. Better for the town to lose a little interest on late payments then to put more pressure on struggling town residents, who may already be juggling to pay food, fuel and medical bills.”

If enacted, the program would only apply to the 2013 Fiscal Year. That said, Rep. Guthrie is open to extending the program if it is successful. “And if the town thinks it needs to or wants to extend it, I will be happy to introduce another bill next year,” Rep. Guthrie said.

Senate Resolution No. 2750 – Humanities Commission

Also on the docket this week was a resolution, which would create a humanities commission responsible for examining the role of the humanities in Rhode Island. Sponsored by Sen. Hanna M. Gallo, the joint resolution acknowledges the importance of the humanities in regard to economics, culture and public life. If approved the legislation would establish the “Senator Pell Legislative Commission on the Humanities.”

“The work of this commission will be in keeping with the vision of Senator Pell, who championed the creation of the National Endowment for the Humanities. By promoting the public understanding of the tradition of thought and accomplishment that is the humanities, we can inspire intellectual curiosity and imagination, something Senator Pell realized is important to the growth of a truly great society,” said Sen. Gallo.

Specifically, the resolution recommends a 12-member commission, which will consist of three Senate members, three House members, and six public members (three selected by the Senate President and three by the House Speaker).

Sen. Gallo explained the importance of the commission as follows:

“Our state has a long and proud history of promoting the humanities in public life and the creation of this commission, and the continued outstanding work of the Council on the Humanities, can help sustain and enhance those efforts to increase exposure to art, history, literature, philosophy, civics and other fields,” said Senator Gallo.

House Resolution No. 7730A - $7.5M bond for Davisville Port Dredging

Lastly, on Wednesday the RI House of Representatives approved a resolution that approves a $7.5-million bond for maintenance dredging at the Port of Davisville piers. The resolution is the result of a three-year study conducted by a special legislative commission centered on the economic potential of the state’s ports. Originally introduced by Rep. Helio Melo (D), the legislation authorizes the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation to issue a $7.5-million revenue bond, which will be at no cost to taxpayers. The decision to seek a state revenue bond was designed to avoid the federal Harbor Maintenance Tax on port users.

The Port of Davisville is located at Quonset Business Park, a state-owned former military base that is now an industrial park designed to service large companies. Quonset Park is home to over 165 companies, which employ roughly 8,800 people. Just last month the Port of Davisville was named the 7th largest auto importer in North America.

The legislation will now makes its way to the Senate for consideration. If enacted, the dredging project will start this October.

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