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State Report: Food Stamp Photo IDs, Gas Tax + Abortion Rights

Saturday, March 08, 2014


This week’s State Report centers on a newly introduced bill that calls for photo identification on EBT cards. We’ll also examine several new bills that address a variety of topics, including the gas tax, income tax, animal and child abuse, and the expansion of farmers’ markets. Lastly, we’ll preview next Tuesday’s House Judiciary Committee meeting, which will examine numerous pieces of abortion-related legislation.

Bill requiring photo identification on EBT cards

Rep. Mary Messier (D-Dist. 62, Pawtucket) has introduced legislation calling for picture identification on electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

Formerly known as the food stamps program, SNAP helps those who are struggling financially to buy food and nutritious meals. The program is the largest food and nutrition support program in Rhode Island and functions through a partnership between the state and federal governments. The House bill (2014-H 7661) would require the issuance of EBT cards with photographs of cardholders between the ages of 18 and 60. Disabled individuals and victims of domestic violence would be exempt from the photo requirement.

Messier's argument

“SNAP serves as a precious resource,” Messier said. “If we want to continue to help Rhode Island’s struggling individuals and families, we have to take steps to ensure that SNAP funds are going directly to the people who are enrolled in the program and who have gone through the necessary steps to obtain assistance. In the post-recession world, we are certainly trying to tighten our belts. This would save the state money and crack down on fraud simultaneously. ”

Qualification for SNAP benefits is based on income, resources and number of people who live in the applicant’s household. According to the state Department of Human Services (DHS), people may qualify for SNAP benefits if their income is less than 185 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL). Representative Messier said she highly encourages members of the public to testify before the House Finance Committee when the bill comes up for a hearing.

Similar legislation

Last month, Rep. Patricia Morgan introduced legislation that would require EBT users to present photo ID when making purchases.

“To sell their benefit, the recipient must give the card to the illegal purchaser,” said Morgan. “Since the card has the recipients name on it, requiring any person using an EBT card to present photo ID would help stop the abuse. This does rely on retailer staff to check the identification, and this is difficult to ensure. But this is a preventive measure that we expect can be helpful in curtailing fraud.”


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


Related Slideshow: RI State Report: More News of the Week - 3/8/14

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Annual financial status report

Sen. James C. Sheehan has introduced legislation that looks to provide citizens with easy-to-understand and easy-to-access information about the state’s finances. The bill, 2014-S 2472, would require the state’s Office of Management and Budget to produce an annual report regarding the state’s financial status and to publish the report online no later than 90 days after the end of the state’s fiscal year, which is June 30. The bill also requires the OMB to provide the report in electronic form to the Office of the Secretary of State.

The Secretary of State, under the legislation, would be required to produce an easily readable and understandable citizens’ guide to state finances, which would be made available on the Secretary of State website no later than 60 days after the OMB issues its report.

“If we can better inform our citizens with solid, easy to understand information about our state finances, they can help elected officials be wiser stewards of public investments,” said Sheehan. “Citizens often ask how and how well their tax dollars are being spent. Government has a responsibility to make it easy for them to get an answer to those questions.”

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State income tax refunds exemption

Sen. Michael J. McCaffrey (D-Dist. 29, Warwick) is pushing for legislation that would essentially allow individuals to subtract state income tax refunds included in their federal adjusted gross income (AGI) where the refund was originally claimed as an itemized deduction for federal income tax purposes.

The bills (2014-H 24652014-H 2466) stem from the Rhode Island Special Legislative Commission to Study Installation and Implications of Itemizing State Income Tax Refunds as Federal Deductions’ report. Senator McCaffrey, chairman of the special legislative commission, said the information he was able to gather from the commission meetings proved valuable in the development of his legislation.

Under the 2010 personal income tax reform measure, itemized deductions were eliminated. Standard deduction amounts were increased to offset the elimination of itemized deductions. The reform took effect in 2011. Government officials testified that the current system amounts to double-taxation of income that is refunded from state taxes.

“We were able to gather testimony from state tax officials, who were extremely helpful in analyzing what would happen if the legislature decided to make this change to the tax code,” he said. “I’m proud of the work our commission has accomplished, and I think we can move forward now that we have explored all the different angles.”

For a copy of the report, click here.

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Bill looking to expand farmers’ markets

Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski (D-Dist. 37, South Kingstown, New Shoreham) has introduced a bill that would allow Rhode Island to join those states and creatively market its “buy local” initiative.

If enacted, the legislation (2014-S 2112) would amend current law so that a farmer-winery and a farmer-brewery may, under certain conditions, be licensed to sell wine and beer for off-premises consumption at farmers’ markets, similar to what is permitted in Massachusetts.

“I don’t think it’s fair to ban these breweries and wineries from what has really become a prosperous partnership of local business owners,” Sosnowski said. “We encourage Rhode Islanders to ‘buy local’ all the time, and farmers’ markets are some of our best opportunities to encourage that. When a family roams the farm stands on a nice spring or summer day, I want them to be able to peruse a diverse group of products while they sip on their iced coffee or Del’s Lemonade. It’s all about adding to the allure.”

In New York City, the highly successful Smorgasburg Brooklyn Flea Food Market has cropped up as a symbol of the transformation of farmers’ markets around the country. Recent years have redefined the concept of farmers’ markets as one-stop shops for rare culinary experiences and fresh farm produce. Markets that have sprouted across Rhode Island now tout the presence of food trucks, coffee vendors, fresh produce and stands carrying a wide assortment of baked delights.

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Bill introduced to stop animal and child abuse

Rep. Patricia Morgan (R-Coventry, Warwick, West Warwick) has introduced a bill aimed at stopping animal and child abuse in Rhode Island.  Morgan’s bill was introduced on behalf of Richard and Celeste Spencer of Coventry, members of the Rhode Island State Grange.           

“Rhode Island State Grange is a wonderful organization in our state.” said Morgan. “It is because of their hard work that we were able to submit this important bill to help stop domestic violence.”            

Morgan’s bill will empower workers to report abuse across agencies.  Specifically, animal control & humane officers will be asked to report abuse to the Department of Children, Youth, and Families. Equally, child protection and domestic case workers will report animal abuse to animal control offices.

“Better communication between government departments and the sharing of information will have a great impact on our state.” continued Morgan.            

Morgan said there are seven states that mandate this form of cross reporting. “The committee hearing went very well. There was support from everyone, state agencies and animal advocacy groups. It’s a good bill.  By taking proactive steps such as these, we can prevent the abuse of a pet or child in the future.”

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Gas tax reduction

Sen. Walter S. Felag Jr. has again this year introduced legislation that would reduce Rhode Island’s state gasoline tax by 5 cents a gallon, from the current 32 cents to 27 cents. Doing that, he believes, will level the playing field for Rhode Island gas stations in border communities and will encourage drivers to make their gas purchases locally, even further bolstering economic growth in the state.

“A nickel a gallon might not sound like much, but those nickels add up to quite a lot for a fill-up,” said Felag (D-Dist. 10, Warren, Bristol, Tiverton).     

“Bringing in higher taxes from drivers may be one way to get more money into the state treasury, but it’s not very sensible if it puts local businesses at risk because drivers are heading to Massachusetts to save money,” he added.

Coupled with the federal gas tax, purchasers of gas in Rhode Island are paying a little more than 51 cents per gallon in tax. The tax on gas in Massachusetts is about 45 cents per gallon, of which 26.5 cents is the state tax.

“We need tax equity or we will keep losing business to Massachusetts, and we may see gas stations close because they cannot compete fairly,” said Felag.

Click here to read Felag’s proposal.

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Abortion legislation

On Tuesday, March 11, the House Judiciary Committee will hear the following bills concerning abortion:

  • 2014-H 7222 – This bill sponsored by Rep. Lisa P. Tomasso (D-Dist. 29, Coventry, West Greenwich) would prohibit the state from interfering with certain personal decisions of a woman regarding pregnancy, including her decision to terminate pregnancy prior to fetal viability or at any time if such termination is necessary to protect the life or health.
  • 2014-H 7223 – This bill sponsored by Rep. J. Patrick O’Neill (D-Dist. 59, Pawtucket) would repeal the requirement that physicians performing abortions notify the husband of the patient before the abortion is performed.
  •  2014-H 7303 – Sponsored by Rep. Karen L. MacBeth (D-Dist. 52, Cumberland), this bill would require that an ultrasound image be made of every fetus about to be aborted for review by the woman seeking the abortion, and would add language that makes it clear that a woman can refuse an abortion.
  • 2014-H 7330 – This resolution sponsored by Rep. James N. McLaughlin (D-Dist. 57, Cumberland, Central Falls) would recognize the fetus as a human life upon existence of a heartbeat.
  • 2014-H 7383 – This bill sponsored by Rep. Deborah A. Fellela (D-Dist. 43, Johnston) would ban abortions solely as a means of sex selection.
  • 2014-H 7403 – This bill sponsored by Rep. Arthur J. Corvese (D-Dist. 55, North Providence) would prohibit state or federal funds from being used for abortions except where the life of the mother is endangered or the pregnancy results from rape or incest.
  • 2014-H 7472 – Sponsored by Rep. Linda Finn (D-Dist. 72, Middletown, Portsmouth), this bill would allow the RIte Start Program to pay for abortions necessary to preserve the life of the mother, or in the case of pregnancies as the result of rape or incest.
  • 2014-H 7779 – Sponsored by Rep. Frank Ferri (D-Dist. 22, Warwick), this bill would repeal the provisions of the general laws that prohibit health insurance coverage for induced abortions for all contracts including those policies covering state and municipal employees.
  • 2014-H 7837 – This bill sponsored by Rep. Arthur Handy (D-Dist. 18, Cranston) act would provide for freedom of access without interference to entrances of clinics as well as places of religious worship.
  • 2014-H 7853 – Sponsored by Rep. Teresa Tanzi (D-Dist. 34, South Kingstown, Narragansett) this bill would prohibit the disclosure of records of any client of a pregnancy resource center.
  • 2014-H 7854 – This bill sponsored by Rep. Peter G. Palumbo (D-Dist. 16, Cranston) would revise the definitions and penalties pertaining to partial-birth abortions, and provide that any physician who knowingly performs a partial-birth abortion would be guilty of a felony and may be liable for civil penalties and fines.
  • 2014-H 7890 – Sponsored by Rep. Joseph S. Almeida (D-Dist. 12, Providence), this bill requires the general public and medical assistance benefits plan recipients, including rape and incest victims, to have abortions covered.

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