The Right to Try Bill & Paid Sick Leave Legislation: This Week at the State House
Saturday, April 15, 2017
House passes Rep. McNamara’s Right to Try Act
The House of Representatives has approved legislation submitted by Rep. Joseph M. McNamara (D-Dist. 19, Warwick, Cranston) that would create the Rhode Island Terminally Ill Patients Right to Try Act, which allows terminally ill patients to obtain experimental drugs that have not yet been federally approved but are in the final stages of FDA testing. The measure now heads to the Senate for consideration.
Senate passes Sosnowski bill banning handheld cell phones for drivers
The Senate has approved legislation introduced by Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski (D-Dist. 37, South Kingstown, New Shoreham) that would outlaw the use of any non-hands-free personal wireless communication device while operating a motor vehicle. The measure now heads to the House of Representatives, where similar legislation has been introduced by Rep. Kathleen A. Fogarty (D-Dist. 35, South Kingstown).
House passes two pro-business bills sponsored by Rep. Ackerman
The House of Representatives passed two pro-business bills introduced by Rep. Mia Ackerman (D-Dist. 45, Cumberland, Lincoln). The first bill would include certain federal requirements within the selection criteria for cities or towns hiring architects or engineers. The second bill would simplify the application process of a foreign corporation to obtain a certificate of authority. Similar legislation has been introduced in the Senate by Sen. Frank S. Lombardo III (D-Dist. 25, Johnston). Both measures now head to the Senate for consideration.
Marijuana bills bring out advocates for and against legalization
Proponents and opponents of legalization of marijuana testified as the House Judiciary Committee heard several bills pertaining to marijuana. Among them were one sponsored by Rep. Scott A. Slater (D-Dist. 10, Providence) to legalize, regulate and tax adult use and cultivation of marijuana; and another sponsored by Rep. Dennis M. Canario (D-Dist. 71, Portsmouth, Tiverton, Little Compton) creating a study commission to review and make recommendations on the effects of legalizing marijuana. Companion legislation to the regulation bill has been filed in the Senate by Sen. Joshua Miller (D-Dist. 28, Cranston, Providence). Companion legislation to the study commission bill has been filed in the Senate by Sen. Cynthia A. Coyne (D-Dist. 32, Barrington, Bristol, East Providence).
Paid sick leave legislation heard
The Senate Labor Committee held a hearing on legislation sponsored by Senate Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin (D-Dist. 1, Providence) to require all employers to provide their employees with a minimum level of paid sick and safe leave, including time to care for the employee’s family members. Companion legislation is sponsored in the House by Rep. Aaron Regunberg (D-Dist. 4, Providence).
House Republicans seek General Assembly approval of any stadium deal
Rep. Kenneth J. Mendonça (R-Dist.72, Portsmouth, Middletown), with the backing of the House Republican Caucus, introduced legislation to require the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation to submit any financial arrangement it may negotiate with any sports entity seeking to build or renovate a stadium in Rhode Island to the General Assembly for approval before it can be finalized. The legislation comes as the PawSox are considering two potential plans for a new stadium in Pawtucket.
Rep. Nunes bill would create Rhode Island Pension Prudent Investor Act
Rep. Jared R. Nunes (D-Dist. 25, Coventry, West Warwick) has introduced the Rhode Island Pension Prudent Investor Act, which would guarantee that a trustee, director or retirement system employee must comply with certain prudent investor guidelines including risk and return objectives, diversification, loyalty, investment costs, compliance and delegation of management functions.
Rep. Canario announces State House will participate in ‘Good Night Lights’
Rep. Dennis M. Canario (D-Dist. 71, Portsmouth, Little Compton, Tiverton) announced that the Rhode Island State House will be participating in the “Good Night Lights” program. Buildings within the sightline of Hasbro Children’s Hospital will blink their lights on and off for one minute at 8:30 p.m. every night for three nights. Blinking room lights can be seen in the hospital as reciprocation to the nightly ritual.
Rep. McEntee bill for same-sex birth certificates heard in House Judiciary
Rep. Carol Hagan McEntee’s (D-Dist. 33, South Kingstown, Narragansett) legislation that would permit a parenting partner of a mother, with the mother's written consent, to be included on a birth certificate as a parent to the child was heard before the House Committee on Judiciary. According to the legislation, the child’s surname would be determined by the mother.
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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