State Report: Gay Marriage, Sawyer School Closure & Providence Tobacco Ban
Saturday, January 05, 2013
Although the 2013 General Assembly has been in session less than a week, it has already laid out its top priorities for upcoming legislative session. This week’s State Report focuses on lawmakers’ proposals to tackle the state’s struggling economy, as well as newly introduced same-sex marriage legislation.
Aside from State House matters, details on the state’s tax amnesty program and a new ban on flavored tobacco are also on the agenda.
2013 General Assembly faces struggling economy
On Tuesday, Rhode Island House Speaker Gordon Fox kicked off the General Assembly 2013 session promising to address the state’s business climate, economic development retooling, and a massive budget deficit.
Fox, who was overwhelmingly re-elected on Tuesday, said that the General Assembly’s top priority for this year must be the state’s struggling economy. Sitting atop Fox’s agenda is restructuring the state’s Economic Development Corp., the agency responsible for approving a $75 million loan guarantee for the failed video game company 38 Studios.
Aside from the EDC, Fox stated that changing Rhode Island’s business climate is also a main concern. Not only is the state’s 10.4 percent unemployment rate the second highest in the country, but it’s been routinely ranked amongst the worst states to do business in according to multiple national studies. In December, Forbes magazine named Rhode Island the 49th worst state to do business in, while CNBC ranked the Ocean State dead last in a July study.
In addition to revamping the way Rhode Island does business, lawmakers will also have to contend with the state’s $69 million projected deficit. Despite the sizable hole, the General Assembly has solved much larger deficits in years past.
Personnel wise, Secretary of State Ralph Mollis administered the oath of office to 113 lawmakers on Tuesday, including 24 freshmen elected in November. Once again, Democrats will overwhelmingly control the House and Senate. In fact, Republicans have just 11 Republicans is the 2013 General Assembly.
House and Senate introduce gay marriage legislation
While the reviving the state’s economy may be paramount during the upcoming legislation session, same sex marriage is also a top priority according to lawmakers. On Thursday, both chambers of Rhode Island’s General Assembly introduced gay marriage legislation.
Democratic Rep. Art Handy (District 18, Cranston) introduced his legislation in the House Thursday afternoon. Over 40 of fellow House members signed onto the bill as co-sponsors. A short while later, Democratic Sen. Donna Nesselbush (District 15, Pawtucket) introduced her version of the bill to the Senate. Unlike Handy, Nesselbush, who is a lesbian, did not receive a majority of support from her chamber. In fact, only 11 of 38 Senators signed on as co-sponsors.
House Speaker Gordon Fox, who is openly gay, has called for the House to vote on the measure by the end of January. Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed saud she expects the Senate Judiciary Committee to tackle gay marriage legislation if it passes the House. Paiva Weed is an opponent of same-sex marriage.
As of January 2013, nine states – Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, and Washington – have legalized same-sex marriage.
RI career training school unexpectedly shuts its doors
Over 300 students were left in the cold in on Wednesday as the Sawyer School abruptly closed its doors. Mike Trainor, a spokesman for the Rhode Island Board of Governors for Higher Education says that the career training school was set to resume classes on Wednesday, but students were told the school is closed.
Initial attempts to contact school officials on Wednesday were unsuccessful, but Trainor managed to talk to officials on Thursday. According to Trainor, he and school representatives had “a very productive conversation.” Trainor would not go into further details.
The story continued to develop on Friday as Capt. Michael Winquist announced that the Rhode Island State Police would examine records at the Sawyer School. It was also revealed on Friday that the school’s accreditation has been revoked.
Arrangements have been made for Sawyer School students to attend Lincoln Technical Institute. Sawyer Students can call 401-277-5018 or visit www.ribghe.org for more information.
There are two Sawyer School locations in Rhode Island: 550 Hartford Avenue Providence and 101 Main Street Pawtucket. The career training school specializes in medical assistant and office information systems training.
State tax amnesty program generate over $22 million
The state’s tax amnesty program brought in almost $22.4 million in payments from delinquent taxpayers, according to a new report by the RI Division of Taxation.
In order to entice participants, state officials waived penalties for individuals who submitted past-due returns with their taxes owed. Furthermore, the state reduced the interest on the owed amount by 25 percent and agreed to not pursue civil or criminal action.
In total, the state received and approved 7,752 applications during the 75-day amnesty period. The last amnesty program, which was conducted in 2006, garnered 2,162 applicants and brought in nearly $10 million.
A win-win for both the state and taxpayers alike, tax amnesty programs allow state tax collectors to bring in as much money as possible, while also enabling delinquent citizens to amend their tax transgressions. Aside from Rhode Island, many states have offered tax amnesty programs including Alabama, Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, Virginia and Wisconsin.
Providence bans flavored tobacco products
In an effort to prevent children and teens from using tobacco products, Providence has banned the sale of certain tobacco flavored products. Aside from banning fruit-, chocolate- and candy-flavored tobacco products, the new law also prohibits retailers from accepting tobacco coupons or offering discounts on multi-pack tobacco products. The new rules do not affect the sale of menthol-flavored cigarettes.
Providence Mayor Angel Taveras and the City Council created the regulations last year. Tobacco companies attempted to block the ban last month, but were denied by a U.S. District Court judge. Violators of the new law will be subject to fines.
The announcement comes one week after the Rhode Island Department of Health (HEALTH) launched a new anti-smoking campaign titled “Tobacco Made Me,” which presents a series of personal stories from local citizens whose lives have been impacted by smoking.
HEALTH indicates that 1,400 kids in Rhode Island under the age of 18 become new daily smokers each year. Half of these children and teens will ultimately die from a tobacco-related illness. Over 2 million packs of cigarettes are either bought or smoked by individuals under the age of 18 each year in Rhode Island.