New Budget and Fantasy Sports Legislation: This Week at The State House
Saturday, February 06, 2016
Assembly receives budget, State of the State address
Members of the House and the Senate assembled to receive Gov. Gina M. Raimondo’s State of the State address as well as her $9 billion 2017 budget proposal, which includes $30 million in unemployment system savings for businesses, funding for school districts most affected by students attending charter schools, $39 million in Medicaid savings and an increase in the minimum wage, from $9.60 to $10.10. House Finance Committee Chairman Raymond E. Gallison Jr. (D-Dist. 69, Bristol, Portsmouth) has introduced the bill on the governor’s behalf, and his committee and the Senate Finance Committee will begin hearings on the plan soon.
Hearings held on RhodeWorks legislation
The House and Senate Finance committees held public hearings on the new iterations of the RhodeWorks legislation sponsored by House Majority Leader John J. DeSimone (D-Dist. 5, Providence) and Senate Majority Leader Dominick J. Ruggerio (D-Dist. 4, North Providence, Providence). The legislation puts people back to work repairing crumbling infrastructure and provides the reliable, sustainable source of revenue necessary to rebuild the state’s bridges, which are ranked the worst in the country.
Legislative leaders speak at Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce event
House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello (D-Dist. 15, Cranston), President of the Senate M. Teresa Paiva Weed (D-Dist. 13, Newport, Jamestown) and other legislative leaders addressed reducing regulatory burdens for businesses, the RhodeWorks bridge and road repair plan, redevelopment of the land formerly occupied by Route 195 in Providence and more at the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce annual legislative luncheon.
Rep. Gallison introduces bill to regulate fantasy sports
On the eve of Super Bowl weekend and the same day that the attorney general declared them legal, Rep. Raymond E. Gallison Jr. (D-Dist. 69, Bristol, Portsmouth) introduced legislation to allow the Department of Business Regulation to license online daily fantasy sports involving the exchange of money.
Click here to see news release.
Rep. Regunberg, Sen. Metts introduce bill curbing use of solitary confinement
Rep. Aaron Regunberg (D-Dist. 4, Providence) and Sen. Harold M. Metts (D-Dist. 6, Providence) have introduced legislation to reform the use of solitary confinement in the Rhode Island prison system, saying the practice causes psychological damage and often exacerbates the very problems it is intended to address.The bill sets limits on the length an inmate can be held in solitary confinement; bans its use on inmates who are 21 or younger, 55 or older or have a physical, mental or developmental disability; and sets parameters for humane treatment of those in solitary confinement.
Click here to see news release.
Rep. Melo bill would stiffen penalties for home invasions
Rep. Helio Melo (D-Dist. 64, East Providence) has introduced legislation to impose stricter penalties on people who commit home invasions. Current law makes little differentiation between invading an occupied home and breaking into an empty one. The bill ensures all home-invasion crimes are punished more severely than regular break-ins and provides even stronger penalties if a victim is assaulted during the ordeal.
Click here to see news release.
Rep. Solomon, Sen. Walaska reintroduce Rocky Point license plate legislation
As the Rocky Point Foundation continues to preserve and protect the natural and historic heritage and environment of the land formerly occupied by the Rocky Point Amusement Park in Warwick, Rep. Joseph J. Solomon Jr. (D-Dist. 22, Warwick) has reintroduced legislation (2016-H 7011) to create a special Rocky Point license plate. A companion bill has been introduced in the Senate by Sen. William A. Walaska (D-Dist. 30, Warwick).
Click here to see news release.
Rep. McNamara bill would establish fund to support solar panel installation
Rep. Joseph M. McNamara (D-Dist. 19, Warwick, Cranston) has introduced legislation that would establish a revolving fund to provide low interest loans and grants to support the installation of solar energy panels. The act would also establish a tax credit for companies involved in solar energy production.
Click here to see news release.
Rep. Marcello aims to ease student debt with Student Loan Authority legislation
Rep. Michael J. Marcello (D-Dist. 41, Scituate, Cranston) has introduced legislation (2016-H 7370) that would empower the Rhode Island Student Loan Authority (RISLA) to issue bonds to allow the refinancing and consolidation of existing eligible loans. The bill would also authorize RISLA to purchase and invest in its own bonds and notes.
Click here to see news release.
Rep. Azzinaro, Sen. Algiere announce CCRI Jobs Skills Training Center
Rep. Samuel A. Azzinaro (D-Dist. 37, Westerly), Senate Minority Leader Dennis L. Algiere (R-Dist. 38, Westerly, Charlestown, North Kingstown) and Gov. Gina Raimondo joined to announce plans for a new CCRI Jobs Skills Training Center in downtown Westerly. Permits for the project have been obtained and construction will commence soon on the site near the Westerly train station. The center will be dedicated to enrolling and training high-skill, high-wage workers in electrical, maritime pipefitting, maritime sheet metal, and carpentry.
Related Slideshow: Winners and Losers in Raimondo’s FY17 Budget Proposal
An $80 million appropriation for construction and renovation, including of $9.1 million for the school building authority.
A $40 million general obligation bond to renovate and modernize school facilities with a focus on immediate health and safety, and investing in STEAM learning spaces.
A requirement that all schools post their actual budget online.
The Governor continues to address the pressing needs of the state’s children and the condition of the schools they attend in her FY17 budget proposal; the public could have the opportunity to follow-suit by approving the general obligation bond in November — or not.
While the Governor delved little into structural healthcare issues in her budget address on Tuesday (she did propose a multi-million dollar comprehensive strategy to address the opioid overdose epidemic which includes medication assisted treatments at the prisons, and $187,000 to combat lead poisoning), 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.
“The Hospital Association of Rhode Island applauds Governor Raimondo’s commitment to strengthening our state’s health care system,” said Michael R. Souza, president, Hospital Association of Rhode Island. “Although hospitals will face reductions in the proposed budget, we look forward to working with the General Assembly and Administration to implement lasting solutions that provide us the resources and tools necessary to transform the health care delivery system. Hospitals will continue to invest in innovation, technology, and a high-quality workforce with the continued support of our State partners.”
Affordable Housing Advocates
Proponents of affordable housing opportunities in the state notched a preliminary victory by landing a spot in the Governor's’s budget. Now they need to make it through the General Assembly — and garner approval from voters in November.
Said the Housing Network of RI following Raimondo's budget address:
The Housing Network of Rhode Island and its membership of sixteen nonprofit affordable housing developers wish to thank Governor Raimondo for recognizing the importance of state investment in housing opportunities for low and moderate income Rhode Islanders. As we all work together to reinvigorate the state’s economy, affordable housing development plays a critical role in our state’s recovery plan. Governor Raimondo’s inclusion of an affordable housing bond in her FY 17 budget will not only stimulate the creation of new housing and boost economic growth by creating jobs in the construction, retail and service industries, but will also bring substantial additional outside financial resources into our state.
Data shows that many Rhode Island households continue to struggle to find housing options that are affordable to them. According to HousingWorks RI, two in every five Rhode Island households are cost burdened, spending more than thirty percent of their income on housing. Governor Raimondo’s inclusion of an affordable housing bond recognizes this need and is a notable step towards addressing a major need of working class Rhode Islanders. We commend Governor Raimondo’s efforts and are grateful for her leadership on such an important issue.
Raimondo continues to try to stave off the “brain drain” in Rhode Island by supporting incentives to keep recent college grads in the state.
In her FY17 budget proposal, the Governor upped the Wavemaker Fellowship to $5 million to increase the loan forgiveness program, and through the Ocean State Grad Grant looks continue funding through RI Housing to provide recent college graduates with up to $7,000 in down payment assistance on a first home.
Minimum Wage Increase
Good for employees, not so much for business owners. The Governor has proposed raising the state’s minimum wage to $10.10, making good on her campaign promise to do so (albeit one year later that planned).
The business community including the National Federation of Independent Business, who said that “any increase in the minimum wage will impact job create at small businesses for younger, less experience workers," continues to push back on the issue. The same arguments were made last year when the state raised the minimum wage to $9.60; watch and see if any new approaches are taken by employers during the session related to the issue.
Increase in Cigarette Tax
First blush win for the state — the state gets more revenue ($7.1 million) by increasing the cigarette tax twenty-five cents from $3.75 to $4.00. The price per pack would still be less than neighboring Massachusetts ($9.78 in RI vs $10.18 if it goes through — it’s now currently $9.49 in RI). More Rhode Islanders might be deterred from smoking with the increased cost.
The National Federation of Independent Business, however, said the proposed increase in the cigarette tax will hurt small convenience stores. When CVS stopped selling cigarettes, those smaller stores undoubtedly saw the windfall. Can they absorb a small tax increase?
Medical Marijuana Caregivers - and State of Rhode Island
The RIDOH and DBR along with the State Police are calling for medical marijuana caregivers and cultivators to now pay an annual fee for a tag on every medical marijuana plant. The state entities claim that “under current law, the caregiver market lacks accountability and oversight” as opposed to compassion centers. The state agencies say that the tags amount to just 2 percent of the value of the marijuana produced.
The Governor and the General Assembly however need to address an underlying issue that has plagued them since the implementation of the medical marijuana — which is that the oversight committee as mandated by law has never once met. The state should be included on the “loser” list for failing to adhere to the mandate as required by law, as they would have the input from stakeholder and empirical evidence to what is working — or not — in the current law. Instead, the state is clamping down with zero input from the community.
Home Care Agencies
The Rhode Island Partnership for Home Care blasted Raimondo's budget almost immediately after its unveiling:
“Governor Raimondo’s proposed budget does not provide for the substantial increase needed for home care agencies to comply with new federal and state mandates, the increased cost for delivering healthcare services in the home, the barriers that Rhode Islanders face when accessing home care, and the ability for home care agencies to retain direct care workers.”, said Nicholas Oliver, Executive Director of the Rhode Island Partnership for Home Care.
While the Governor proposed a seven-percent increase for Medicaid home and community-based long-term services and supports, including personal care attendant services provided by contracted home care agencies, the Governor also proposed another increase in the state’s minimum wage from $9.60 per hour to $10.10 per hour, a 50 cent increase. Because the current average home care aide starting wage is $10.50 per hour, the proposed increase, earmarked toward direct care worker wages, increases the wage to a minimum $11.00 per hour, but without financial support for compliance to the employer mandate for health insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act for home care agency employees and compliance with the U.S. Department of Labor overtime and travel rules impacting home care. Oliver added, “The Governor’s proposed increase is nothing more than an inflation adjustment that otherwise establishes a ninth consecutive year of frozen rates. This budget proposal does not reflect in writing what the Governor has publicly stated in the past year, such as the need to rebalance long-term care, the need to shift funding toward home and community-based healthcare services over nursing homes, and her interest to establish a comparable wage for home care workers to their counterparts throughout the healthcare sector.”
Governor Gina Raimondo's budget proposal raised some eyebrows in Republican (and Libertarian) circles for the expansive role of the state government in market-based conditions.
Justin Katz with the free-market Center for Freedom and Prosperity offered the following budget release.
After budget addresses from progressive governors, free-market commentators frequently refer to the budget's focus on special interests, but Governor Raimondo's fiscal year 2017 budget is a stunningly special-interest budget. Nearly every item is directly targeted toward a particular narrow group of recipients. It's the kind of budget a chief executive puts forward when she doesn't trust the people of her state to make their own decisions. For example, despite a projected increase of $85 million in income and sales taxes, next year, the governor offers offers no broadbased tax reductions. In fact, she wants to add nearly $250 million in debt to the $300 million she wants to incur without voter approval for her RhodeWork's program.
In short, this budget doubles down on the strategy of remaking Rhode Island in the governor's image. If you fit her vision for the state, there's money for you. If you're one of the existing special interests, in Rhode Island, you'll like what you're getting. But if you're a regular Rhode Island chasing your own dreams according to your own lights and supporting your own responsibilities, you'll find yourself holding the bill, and without subsidies.
It comes as no surprise that the Governor remains committed to pushing through her newly revised RhodeWorks plan — which includes truck tolls — to address the state’s infrastructure needs. On Tuesday, Raimdondo said the state needs to “stop playing the politics of procrastination” with fixing the state’s bridges and roads.
Pay-go proponents — as well as public-private partnership ones — will have a short window to contest the Governor’s new plan to have a $300 million Garvee bond in order to support the program, which is on the fast track for consideration at the General Assembly with the Speaker’s stated goal of sealing the deal before the body breaks for February vacation.
Expect the opposition to remain heated in these coming weeks, however.
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