Ruggerio Elected Senate President, Edwards Bill Passed: This Week at the State House
Saturday, March 25, 2017
Sen. Ruggerio elected Senate president, Sen. McCaffrey majority leader
Sen. Dominick J. Ruggerio (D-Dist. 4, North Providence, Providence) was unanimously elected president of the Senate after Sen. M. Teresa Paiva Weed (D-Dist. 13, Newport, Jamestown) stepped down from that post after eight years to accept a position as president of the Hospital Association of Rhode Island. Sen. Michael J. McCaffrey (D-Dist. 29, Warwick) was elected majority leader by his fellow Democrats, stepping into the role previously held by the new president. Sen. Maryellen Goodwin (D-Dist. 1, Providence) will continue to serve as majority whip.
House passes Serpa bill to stop insurers from halting substance abuse treatment
The House of Representatives passed legislation introduced by Rep. Patricia Serpa (D-Dist. 27, West Warwick, Coventry, Warwick) that would keep insurers from terminating residential or inpatient substance abuse treatment for patients currently in treatment. The measure now heads to the Senate, where similar legislation has been introduced by Sen. Elizabeth A. Crowley (D-Dist. 16, Central Falls, Pawtucket).
House OKs bill nixing state residency requirements for police, firefighters
The House approved legislation sponsored by Rep. David A. Bennett (D-Dist. 20, Warwick, Cranston) to prohibit municipal charters and ordinances from requiring that police officers and firefighters live in the state. The measure is intended to help attract the most qualified and diverse candidates available. Sen. Frank S. Lombardi (D-Dist. 26, Cranston) has introduced identical legislation in the Senate.
House passes Edwards bill allowing self-seal tires as substitute for jack, spare
The House of Representatives has passed legislation introduced by Majority Whip John G. Edwards (D-Dist. 70, Portsmouth, Tiverton) that would permit the selling of automobiles equipped with self-sealing tires or other technological improvements consistent with federal motor vehicle safety standards. The legislation now heads to the Senate for consideration, where similar legislation has been introduced by Sen. Cynthia A. Coyne (D-Dist. 32, Barrington, Bristol, East Providence).
Rep. Craven’s revenge porn and sextortion legislation passes the House
Rep. Robert E. Craven’s (D-Dist. 32, North Kingstown) legislation that criminalizes revenge porn and sextortion was passed by the House of Representatives. Revenge porn is sexually explicit media that is publicly shared online without the consent of the pictured individual. The legislation also creates criminal penalties for those who engage in “sextortion,” a relatively new cybercrime that occurs when offenders use personal images — often stolen or obtained by hacking — to force victims to engage in sending more sexually explicit photos or videos under threat the images will be made public. The measure now heads to the Senate, where similar legislation has been introduced by Sen. Erin Lynch Prata (D-Dist. 31, Warwick, Cranston).
Sen. Ciccone, Rep. Williams bill would give driving privileges to undocumented
Sen. Frank A. Ciccone III (D-Dist. 7, Providence, North Providence) and Rep. Anastasia P. Williams (D-Dist. 9, Providence) held a press conference at the State House announcing legislation they have reintroduced that would allow the Division of Motor Vehicles to issue driving privilege licenses and permits to applicants unable to establish lawful presence in the United States. The licenses and permits would not be valid for identification purposes.
Rep. Canario introduces bill to make left lanes on highways passing only
Rep. Dennis M. Canario (D-Dist. 71, Portsmouth, Little Compton, Tiverton) has introduced legislation that would fine drivers for using the far-left lane on three-lane highways when not passing another vehicle. The legislation would fine drivers $85 if they are caught driving in the far-left lane without passing cars in the other lanes.
Rep. Vella-Wilkinson bill would extend benefits to gay veterans
Rep. Camille F.J. Vella-Wilkinson (D-Dist. 21, Warwick) has introduced legislation that would extend veterans’ benefits to gay members of the armed forces who were discharged under the military’s “Undesirable” discharge when the discharge was based on the veteran’s sexual orientation.
Rep. McNamara, Sen. Felag announce Livable Home Tax Credit Act
Rep. Joseph M. McNamara (D-Dist. 19, Warwick, Cranston) and Sen. Walter S. Felag Jr. (D-Dist. 10, Warren, Bristol, Tiverton) joined with representatives of AARP Rhode Island at the State House to announce the introduction of the Rhode Island Livable Home Tax Credit Act. The legislation would provide a tax credit against the state’s personal income tax for taxpayers who purchase new residences or retrofit residences that meet or are modified to meet standards that make the residences more accessible for elderly and disabled persons.
Working Rhode Islanders, businesses, leaders rally for $15 minimum wage
Legislation sponsored by Rep. Marcia Ranglin-Vassell (D-Dist. 5, Providence) and Sen. Jeanine Calkin (D-Dist. 30, Warwick) to raise the minimum wages for hourly and tipped workers to $15 over the next several years was the subject of a rally at which working Rhode Islanders, business owners and community urged passage.
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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