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State Report: Senate Addresses Smoking in Cars with Kids + More

Saturday, March 15, 2014

 

This week's State Report centers on a piece of legislation approved by the Senate this week, which authorizes police officers to issue verbal warnings to individuals smoking in a vehicle containing children. Additionally, we'll examine several new bills that address a variety of issues—including renewable energy, state spending, and tax breaks for retirees. We'll also look at a pair of bills that the Senate approved this week that would set the stage for a possible constitutional convention in Rhode Island.

Senate OKs Bill Authorizing Police to Issue Warning to Smoking Parents

The Senate passed legislation (2014-S 2084) on Thursday authorizing police officers to provide a verbal warning to an individual who is smoking in a vehicle containing a restrained child. The Senate passed the legislation in a 35 to 0 vote.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski (D-Dist. 37, South Kingstown, New Shoreham), would allow law enforcement officials to notify the offending driver of the dangers of exposing young children to secondhand smoke. The act does not allow a police officer to stop or search a motor vehicle based solely on the individual’s decision to smoke with a child in the car.

“This bill is really about speaking up 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.”

A smoking ban in cars with kids exists in Arkansas, California, Louisiana, Maine, Oregon, and Utah. Hawaii, Indiana, New Jersey and New York have instituted bans in certain cities or counties. According to Global Advisors on Smoke-free Policy (GASP), 17 states in the nation have passed laws to prohibit people from smoking inside vehicles transporting foster children.

Senators Joshua Miller (D-Dist. 28, Cranston, Providence), Elizabeth A. Crowley (D-Dist. 16, Central Falls, Cumberland, Pawtucket), Juan M. Pichardo (D-Dist. 2, Providence) and Catherine Cool Rumsey (D-Dist. 34, Exeter, Charlestown, Hopkinton, Richmond, West Greenwich) cosponsor the bill.

Sen. Sosnowski's will now be transmitted to the House of Representatives for consideration.

 

To read more legislative news from the past week, check out the slideshow below.
 

 

Related Slideshow: RI State Report: More News of the Week - 3/15/14

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Renewable Energy

Rep. Deborah Ruggiero has introduced legislation to expand a program that encourages the development of renewable energy in Rhode Island.

The expansion would lead to the development of more wind turbines, solar panel arrays and other small-scale renewable energy generation projects around the state, supplying Rhode Island with clean energy as well as jobs and economic development.

“We have an opportunity to jumpstart a strong and robust residential solar industry very quickly in Rhode Island. This has already happened in Massachusetts and Connecticut; and developers have been clamoring for the opportunity to do the same in our state. This is a win-win situation where we can reduce our dependence on dirty, more-limited traditional energy sources, feed increasingly affordable renewable energy into our grid, and build an industry that will employ Rhode Islanders, generate tax revenue and keep Rhode Islanders’ dollars here in our own state,” said Deborah Ruggiero (D-Dist. 74, Jamestown, Middletown).

Click here to read the bill in its entirety.

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Smarter State Spending

Rep. Doreen Costa (R-North Kingstown, Exeter) has introduced a bill that would create a commission to oversee a new Smart Spending Award program. The program aims to improve state spending through recognizing and implementing ideas for saving money and spending more efficiently. Costa’s bill is part of House Republican “Getting to 25” legislative program, which seeks to change Rhode Island’s poor state rankings.

“Workers know their jobs best. This bill would use that knowledge and create a program based on good employee input. We have a budget that’s over eight billion dollars, so there’s lots of room for spending smarter,” said Costa.

This program is based on a successful federal program created in 2009, which has saved hundreds of millions of federal dollars over the last four years. The Rhode Island commission would accept savings ideas, evaluate them, and recommend good savings measures to department directors for review. Annually, the committee would select the best proposal for recognition as the Smart Savings Award of the Year.

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Tax Breaks for Retirees

Legislation cosponsored by Sen. Marc A. Cote would give senior citizens a break by exempting the first $15,000 of retirement income – whether from a pension, Social Security or any other recognized retirement plan – from the state income tax.

Many states exempt some part of, or in some cases, all retirement income from the state income tax. Rhode Island is one of the few that fully tax all such income, and Cote said he believes the state should do more to assist seniors living on fixed incomes. He also believes it would help encourage seniors to stay in Rhode Island instead of moving to states like Florida, which has no state income tax, or Massachusetts, which exempts Social Security and many pensions.

“Plenty of other states recognize that for most people, retirement means a substantially lower income. For many, the golden years are in fact, a pretty tight time, financially. Exempting the first $15,000 is a way of lightening the load for retirees and hopefully encouraging them to stay and spend their retirement in the state where they’ve spent their lives,” said Cote (D-Dist. 24, Woonsocket, North Smithfield).

The legislation (2014-S 2452), whose primary sponsor is Sen. Nicholas D. Kettle (R-Dist. 21, Coventry, Foster, Scituate, West Greenwich), would apply to the $15,000 of income paid annually to an individual by any retirement plan qualified as such under federal law.

Cote has also cosponsored legislation (2014-S 2191), this year to exempt Social Security benefits from the state income tax.

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Resilient Rhode Island Act

On Wednesday, Rep. Arthur Handy introduced the Resilient Rhode Island Act (2014-H 7904) to help the state begin planning to protect its people from the effects of climate change while stemming the state’s contribution to climate change. It builds on Rhode Island’s strengths and existing efforts to create long term economic growth and resiliency across the state.

“Rhode Island is particularly vulnerable to climate change, and well-positioned to become a global leader in expertise and technology to help communities and businesses become resilient to the changing world,” said Handy (D-Dist. 18, Cranston), who is chairman of the House Environment Committee. “If we act now, it will both bring more certainty to families and businesses that their homes and investments are safer here than elsewhere and it will spur the kind of entrepreneurship that can lead to the technological innovations humanity will need to respond to climate change.”

The legislation was developed with significant assistance from a group of students, educators and policy experts based at Brown University who partnered with numerous environmental and planning organizations, and gathered input from coastal stakeholders, state agencies, municipal governments, nonprofit organizations and others.

For more information visit the group's website: www.resilientri.org.

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Constitutional Convention

The Senate approved two bills on Wednesday sponsored by Sen. Paul W. Fogarty that would set the stage for a possible constitutional convention in Rhode Island.

The bills (2014-S 2538, 2014-S 2537), which will now head to the House of Representatives, would put in place the constitutionally required 12-member preparatory commission to hold public hearings to discuss what issues might be addressed if the state were to hold such a convention, and then put a question on the November statewide ballot that would ask voters whether they want to the state to have a constitutional convention. If voters approve the question, the convention would study the constitution and come back with recommended changes. Any changes would have to be approved by voters on another statewide ballot before they would become part of the constitution.

“The constitution, whether we’re talking about the one that governs our country or the one that governs our state, is meant to be a living document that reflects the will of the people who live under it. We have an excellent system in place in Rhode Island to ensure the consent of the governed, and that’s our periodic constitutional convention. At least once every decade, Rhode Islanders get to decide whether we should perform an in-depth study of the state constitution and suggest changes to make sure it’s relevant,” said Fogarty, a Democrat who represents District 23 in Glocester, Burrillville and North Smithfield.

A constitutional convention entails the election of delegates from across the state who come together to examine the constitution and recommend changes to the voters. Under the state constitution, voters are required to be asked every 10 years whether they’d like to have a convention. Rhode Islanders were asked the question on the 2004 ballot, but rejected it, 48 percent to 52 percent. The question was also rejected in 1994, although little preparatory work was done that time. Rhode Island’s last constitutional convention met in 1986.

 
 

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