State Report: The House Makes History, Taxes & Housing On The Rise

Saturday, January 26, 2013


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Not surprisingly, this week’s State Report centers on Thursday’s historic House vote in favor of gay marriage. Aside from marriage equality, we’ll also examine two other House bills: a call to repeal the pet services tax and a proposal to prohibit dogs from riding on the laps of motorists. Also on the docket this week, an update on the state’s housing market and a big award for Sen. Jack Reed.

Houses votes in favor of gay marriage

On Thursday, the House voted in favor of legislation that would allow for same-sex couples to marry in Rhode Island. The 51 to 19-vote margin was no surprise as both supporters and opponents of the bill expected it to easily pass the House. In fact, the bill had 42 sponsors in the 75-member house when it was introduced two weeks ago.

Although gay marriage legislation has been introduced each year in the General Assembly since 1997, this week’s vote marks the first time the issue has ever reached the House or Senate floor.

“All Rhode Islanders deserve to enjoy that security and support, and deserve to have their family recognized as equal to others. It feels good to see how far we’ve come in Rhode Island toward valuing all families, and I know we are close to the day when marriage equality becomes law here,” said the bill’s primary sponsor Rep. Arthur Handy (D-Dist. 18, Cranston), who has introduced the legislation each of the last 11 years.

While supporters of same-sex marriage can take solace in the House victory, the true challenge lies in the Senate, where Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed opposes the bill. Weed did state, however, that she would allow the Senate Judiciary Committee to review and vote on the bill if it passed the House.

Aside from Weed, other prominent Senators including Sen. Frank Ciccone (D-Dist. 7, Providence, North Providence) have come out in strong opposition of same-sex marriage. In fact, Ciccone introduced a proposed Constitutional Amendment on Wednesday that would define marriage as being between a man and a woman.

Rhode Island is currently the only New England state that has not legalized same-sex marriage. Look for a Senate vote on gay marriage in the upcoming weeks.

Rep. Shekarchi introduces bill to repeal pet services tax

On Wednesday, Rep. K. Joseph Shekarchi (D-Dist. 23, Warwick) introduced legislation that would that would repeal the recently imposed seven-percent sales tax on pet care services. The pet services tax, which includes board, grooming, sitting and training, took effect last July.

“It’s just another example of an attitude that our state should tax and tax and tax wherever and whatever it can,” said Sherkarchi.

The monetary value of the tax would be negligible at best, according to Shekarchi. Furthermore, it does nothing to address the state’s economic problems and could prove to be harmful in the future.

“Every tax is taking more money out of the pockets of our residents, and a tax like this can also be detrimental to many small businesses. In the face of an extra expense, some pet owners may cut back on grooming and other services. That may not be bad for the pet, but it could mean more small businesses that can’t stay open,” he said. “Which is more important – a few tax dollars from pet owners or keeping more businesses afloat and healthy in our state?”

Shekarchi’s bill, (2013-H5117) has been referred to the House Committee on Finance. The representative’s proposal has received bipartisan support amongst the House.

Aside from the pet services tax, Rhode Islanders are currently paying more for cigarettes, beverage containers and rental cars, as part of the new tax changes that took effect on July 1.

Rep. Palumbo wants pets off of drivers’ laps

On Tuesday, Rep. Peter Palumbo (D-Dist. 16, Cranston) introduced legislation, which would prohibit dogs from sitting on the lap of a motor vehicle operator. The bill would fine violators $85 for a first offense, $100 for a second and $125 for a third or subsequent offense.

“I know some people think this is frivolous, but I still believe it is a matter of public safety, for humans and animals alike,” said Palumbo. “It doesn’t take a lot for a driver to be distracted, and even minor distractions can lead to accidents and injuries.”

A recent study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that distracted driving causes nearly 80 percent of crashes. As for pet-related distractions, the Animal Planet website states, “A loose pet in a car may as well be a neon sign warning ‘accident ahead.’ Free roaming pets may distract the driver, whose main attention should be on the road.”

The bill has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee.

Home sales up 25 percent in 4th quarter of 2012

Rhode Island’s housing market is showing significant signs of improvement, according to new figures released by the Rhode Island Association of Realtors on Wednesday. The new report shows that single-family home sales increased 25 percent in the fourth quarter of last year compared to the fourth quarter of 2011. Additionally, the agency found that the median home price rose by five percent.

In total, there were 2,137 single-family homes sold in the last three months of 2012, compared to 1,716 during the same period in 2011. The median sale price of a single- family home increased to $195,000, up from $185,000 in the previous year.

The recession dramatically impacted the state’s housing landscape, causing home prices to fall 25 percent between the second quarter of 2007 and the second quarter of 2012.

Sen. Reed earns Navy’s highest civilian honor

On Thursday, U.S. Senator Jack Reed, the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower, received the Navy’s Distinguished Public Service Award, the highest civilian honor during a ceremony in Washington, DC.

Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus presented Reed with a medal and citation, which reads in part:

“For exceptional service to the Department of the Navy as a member of Congress and the Senate Armed Services Committee. Senator Reed’s selfless devotion to the Nation’s Sailors and Marines ensured they were provided the resources necessary to support and defend the Nation’s interests around the globe… As a member of the Senate Committee on Appropriations, Senator Reed’s tireless advocacy of shipbuilding programs and strong support of the Naval War College assured the highest levels of readiness for our combat forces.”

Established in 1951, the honor is presented to civilians for contributions, accomplishments, or exceptionally outstanding service of substantial and long-term benefit to the Navy, Marine Corps, or Department of the Navy.


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