RI State Report: No More Free Healthcare for Lawmakers?

Saturday, February 02, 2013


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This week’s State Report centers on three new bills from the General Assembly involving government transparency; health insurance benefits for lawmakers and employment equality for ex-offenders. Aside from new legislation, we will also be examining a House Oversight Committee’s decision to review state election practices and a newly published report on hotel occupancy in the capital city.

House Minority Leader wants lawmakers to pay for healthcare

House Minority Leader Brian C. Newberry (R-District 48, North Smithfield, Burriville) is calling upon his fellow lawmakers to pay their fair share when it comes to health insurance. On Wednesday, Newberry once again introduced legislation that requires state senators and representatives to pay 20 percent of the cost of their health insurance benefits.

“I believe we should hold ourselves to the same standards that we ask of state employees,” Newberry said. “Currently part-time employees have a 20 percent co-share if they earn less than $90,000 annually and a 35 percent co-share if they work part-time and earn more than $90,000 annually. We are a part-time legislature. Why shouldn’t we pay the same amount that we ask other employees to pay?”

The bill (2013-H5202) also forbids legislators from receiving payments for waiving health insurance benefits. Furthermore, Newberry’s proposal also addresses state lawmakers who work for another state or municipality. If a legislator is working for another state and chooses to receive health insurance benefits from that state, he or she would be prohibited from taking a waiver payment from the other employer, according to Newberry’s bill.

Rep. Doreen Costa (R-District 31, North Kingstown, Exeter), Rep. Anthony Giarrusso (R-District 30, East Greenwich, West Greenwich), Rep. Michael W. Chippendale (R-District 40, Foster, Glocester, Coventry), and Rep. Patricia Morgan (R-District 26, Coventry, Warwick, West Warwick) have all signed on as co-sponsors. No Democrat has signed on thus far.

Sen. Hodgson proposes transparency bill

In an attempt to make the legislative process more transparent, Sen. Dawson Hodgson (R-Dist. 35, East Greenwich, North Kingstown, South Kingstown, Narragansett) has filed a proposal to electronically record committee hearings and post them online for the public to see. The bill (2013-S0154) would provide citizens with audio or video recordings of all committee hearings, debates and votes. All recordings will remain on the legislative website for three years.

"Citizens deserve to know how their laws are being made, and it is often difficult for them to accommodate their work schedules to the General Assembly's unique calendar patterns,” said Hodgson. "Posting these deliberations online allows our constituents to see firsthand what forces are shaping legislation. It is also a resource for examining legislative process and intent when courts are called upon to interpret our laws or when the legislature revisits an issue to address a law's unintended consequences."

Hodgson’s bill has 21 co-sponsors, a majority of the Senate. It will now make its way to the Committee on Special Legislation.

Sen. Metts wants to give ex-offenders an equal chance

On Thursday, Sen. Harold Metts (D-Dist. 6, Providence) introduced legislation that would prohibit companies from asking about criminal convictions on job applications. According to Metts, far too many ex-offenders are turned away from employment because they are forced to check a box asking whether they’ve ever been convicted of a felony.

“Individuals who have done wrong and paid for their mistakes should not be haunted for the rest of their lives. Yet many are currently not given a chance to move on and are routinely screened out of many jobs at which they could be successful and which they need to transition back to normal society.”

Metts is also working on a bill that would create “certificates of good conduct” for non-violent ex-criminals who exhibited good behavior in prison and are deemed ready to re-enter society by a parole board. Metts argues that the certificates would help ex-offenders reassure prospective employers and landlords that they are in fact reformed.

“We must move beyond punishment,” Metts said. “We must have a system that encourages restoration, that opens paths of opportunity for those who wish to lead good lives. Encouraging good behavior and sincere efforts at rehabilitation can help reduce recidivism and ultimately save taxpayer dollars.”

Efforts to “ban the box” began in 2004 and have picked up momentum in recent years. An estimated 65 million Americans or about one in four adults, have an arrest or conviction record that would show up on a typical criminal background check.

Oversight panel to focus on election problems

In an effort to avoid repeating last fall’s election night mishaps, the House Oversight Committee has announced it will examine the state’s election practices. The forthcoming review will be the first task the panel has taken on in two years.

The review will focus on poll place selection, poll worker training, voting machine testing and the process of ballot distribution, according to Committee Chairman Michael Marcello (D-Dist. 41, Situate).

Long lines and voter frustration were commonplace throughout Rhode Island in the November election. One-and-half-hour wait times were reported at multiple locations including Hope High School in Providence, as well as Cranston High School West. Additionally, incorrect ballots were delivered to polling stations in South Kingston and West Warwick, which contributed to further delays.

Providence hotel occupancy up in 2012

Providence hotel occupancy was up last year, besting both the New England and national averages. On Thursday, the Providence Warwick Convention & Visitors Bureau reported that the average occupancy in Providence was 68 percent in 2012, up three percent from the previous year. According to the bureau, the New England occupancy average was 62 percent, while the national average was 61 percent.

The increase in hotel occupancy is primarily due to the capital city’s success in attracting large conventions and events like the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority’s regional conference, which brought in 2,500 people. The Visitors Bureau also indicated that meeting and sporting event bookings played a major role in occupancy growth.

The city also enjoyed noticeable growth in the Average Daily Rate. ADR for 2012 was $137.36, a 5.7 percent increase over 2011. The figure is considerably higher than both the national and New England averages, which were $106.10 and 126.80 respectively.



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