Mental Health Measures Approved & Hearing on Gun Bills: This Week at the State House
Saturday, April 29, 2017
Senate approves mental health measures as Mental Health Month kicks off
As advocates gathered at the State House to kick off a month of activities promoting mental health, the Senate approved several measures aimed at improving access to effective mental health care in Rhode Island. The bills are part of a package of legislation aimed at improving mental illness prevention and early intervention, access to treatment, and the overall mental health care system, developed after months of hearings by the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, led by Chairman Joshua Miller (D-Dist. 28, Cranston, Providence).
Senate OKs bill giving veteran-owned companies a leg up for state contracts
The Senate approved legislation sponsored by Sen. Marc A. Cote (D-Dist. 24, Woonsocket, North Smithfield) to give veteran-owned small businesses a preference in the state purchasing process, akin to the benefit that is awarded women-owned and minority-owned businesses. The bill is meant to strengthen opportunities for veterans, many of whom have been discharged from active duty to a job market in which landing full-time employment is a serious challenge. Rep. Michael A. Morin (D-Dist. 49, Woonsocket) and Rep. Robert B. Lancia (R-Dist. 16, Cranston) have both introduced companion legislation in the House.
The House approved legislation sponsored by Rep. Arthur J. Corvese (D-Dist. 55, North Providence) to create a less-costly process for resolving minor disputes involving condominium associations and owners. The legislation would allow the parties in such disputes to use the existing court annexed arbitration program in Superior Court to come to a legally binding resolution.
Senate passes Conley bill ratifying charter change for mayor in East Providence
The Senate has approved legislation introduced by Sen. William J. Conley Jr. (D-Dist. 18, East Providence, Pawtucket) that would validate and ratify amendments to the Home Rule Charter of the city of East Providence to change the administrative framework of its local government from a city council-appointed city manager to a full-time mayor elected by the voters of the city. The House of Representatives has passed companion legislation introduced by Rep. Gregg Amore (D-Dist. 65, East Providence).
Rep. Fellela bill would permit naming rights for convention center
Rep. Deborah A. Fellela (D-Dist. 43, Johnston) has introduced legislation that would authorize the Rhode Island Convention Center Authority to solicit bids and enter into contracts for naming agreements for the convention center.
Sen. DiPalma, Rep. Tanzi bill would raise wages for direct care workers
Sen. Louis P. DiPalma (D-Dist. 12, Middletown, Little Compton, Newport, Tiverton) and Rep. Teresa A. Tanzi (D-Dist. 34, Narragansett, South Kingstown) have introduced legislation that would urge the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals and the Executive Office of Health and Human Services to increase the base wages for direct and home care workers who service the developmentally disabled community.
Rep. Canario introduces bill to exempt fees for elderly, disabled state ID cards
Rep. Dennis M. Canario (D-Dist. 71, Portsmouth, Little Compton, Tiverton) has introduced legislation that would exempt elderly and disabled Rhode Islanders who cannot operate a vehicle from paying for state-issued identification cards.
Rep. O’Brien’s Healthy Workplace Act would combat workplace bullying
Rep. William W. O’Brien (D-Dist. 54, North Providence) has introduced legislation that would establish a cause of action against employers and employees for workplace bullying, harassment and other abusive behavior that may not fall into other categories that are already protected, such as race, color, sex or sexual orientation. Similar legislation has been introduced in the Senate by Sen. Frank A. Ciccone III (D-Dist. 7, Providence, North Providence).
Senate panel hears results of tests for lead in school drinking water
The Senate Committee on Environment and Agriculture heard an overview of the results of baseline testing for lead in school water supplies from Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, director of the Department of Health. The committee is chaired by Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski (D-Dist. 37, South Kingstown, New Shoreham).
House Judiciary Committee holds hearing on gun bills
Advocates for greater gun control as well as those who defend gun rights testified on 15 bills concerning gun possession in a House Judiciary Committee hearing that stretched into the night. Among the bills heard were one sponsored by Rep. Katherine S. Kazarian (D-Dist. 63, East Providence) to prohibit anyone other than peace officers and those approved by school authorities from carrying firearms or other weapons on school grounds, and another sponsored by Rep. John G. Edwards (D-Dist. 70, Tiverton, Portsmouth) to establish application requirements for concealed-carry permits. Companion legislation to those bills have been introduced in the Senate by Sen. Harold M. Metts (D-Dist. 6, Providence) and Sen. Stephen R. Archambault (D-Dist. 22, Smithfield, North Providence, Johnston), respectively.
Related Slideshow: Winners and Losers in Raimondo’s FY18 Budget Proposal
Criminal Justice Reform
Per recommendations from the Justice Reinvestment Working Group, the Governor is proposing nearly $1 million in investments such as the public defender mental health program ($185,000), improved mental health services at the ACI ($410,000), recovery housing ($200,000) and domestic violence intervention, in her FY18 budget.
English Language Learners
Under the heading of “promoting 3rd grade reading,” Raimondo proposed adding $2.5 million to make English Language Learning (ELL) K-12 funding permanent. The Governor’s office points out that RI is one of four states that doesn’t have permanent funding.
The suggestion was one made by the Funding Formula Working Group in January 2016, who said that “in the event that Rhode Island chooses to make an additional investment in ELLs, the funding should be calculated to be responsive to the number of ELLs in the system and based on reliable data, and include reasonable restrictions to ensure that the money is used to benefit ELLs — and promote the appropriate exiting of ELL students from services.”
Car Owners - and Drivers
Governor Raimondo wants to reduce assessed motor vehicle values by 30% - a change that would reduce total car tax bills by about $58 million in calendar year 2018. Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello, however, has indicated that he might want to go further in its repeal.
In her budget proposal, Raimondo also put forth adding 8 staffers to the the Department of Motor Vehicles to "address wait times."
The “Air Services Development Fund” would get an influx of $500,000 to “provide incentives to airlines interested in launching new routes or increasing service to T.F. Green Airport.” The Commerce Corporation set the criteria at the end of 2016 for how to grant money through the new (at the time $1.5 million fund).
Also getting a shot in the arm is the I-195 development fund, which would receive $10.1 million from debt-service savings to “resupply” the Fund to “catalyze development & attract anchor employers.”
Minimum Wage Increase
An increase in the state minimum wage is part of Raimondo’s proposal, which would see it go from $9.60 an hour to $10.50 an hour. Raimondo was unsuccessful in her effort in 2016 to bring it up to $10.10 — it was June 2015 that she signed legislation into law that last raised Rhode Island’s minimum wage, from $9 to 9.60.
The state's minimum hourly wage has gone up from $6.75 in January 2004 to $7.75 in 2013, $8 in 2014, and $9 on Jan. 1, 2015. Business groups such as the National Federation of Independent Business however have historically been against such measures, citing a hamper on job creation.
Like the minimum wage, Raimondo is looking for an increase - in this instance, the cigarette tax, and revenue to state coffers. Raimondo was unsuccessful in her effort to go from a tax of $3.75 to $4 last year. Now she is looking for an increase to $4.25 per pack, which the administration says would equate to $8.7 million in general revenue — and go in part towards outdoor recreation and smoking cessation programs.
The National Federation of Independent Business and other trade groups have historically been against such an increase, saying it will hurt small businesses - i.e. convenience stores. And clearly, if you’re a smoker, you’re likely to place this squarely in the loser category instead.
As often happens in the state budget, winner one year, loser the next. As GoLocal reported in 2016, “the Rhode Island Hospital Association immediately lauded the budget following its introduction, and addressed that while it is facing some reductions, that it "applauds" this years budget after landing on the "loser" list last year.”
This year, it falls back on the loser list, with a Medicaid rate freeze to hospitals, nursing homes, providers, and payers — at FY 2017 levels, with a 1% rate cut come January 1, 2018.
The taxman cometh — maybe. Raimondo proposed an “Internet Sales Tax Initiative” — which would purportedly equate to $34.7 million in revenues.
"Online sales and the fact that online sellers do not collect sales tax has created a structural problem for Rhode Island's budget — our sales taxes have been flat," said Director of Administration Michael DiBiase, of the tax that Amazon collects in 33 states, but not Rhode Island. "We think mostly due to online sales, we’re able to capture the growth. The revenue number is $35 million dollars — it improves our structural deficit problem. It’s an important fiscal development."
Long Term Care Funding
The Governor’s proposal recommends “redesigning the nature” of the State’s Integrated Care Initiative, by transferring long-term stay nursing home members from Neighborhood Health to Medicaid Fee-for-Service and repurposing a portion of the anticipated savings (from reduced administrative payments to Neighborhood Health) for “enhanced services in the community.” “The investments in home- and community-based care will help achieve the goal of rebalancing the long-term care system," states the Administration.
Cutting that program is tagged at saving $12.2 million; cuts and “restructuring” at Health and Human Services is slated to save $46.3 million.
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