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Coming up in Committee: Twenty-Eight Sets of Bills Being Heard by the RI General Assembly, May 5 – May 7


1. H5819: 1) Outlaws stop-and-frisk police procedures by extending the current requirement that motor vehicle stops be predicated on “reasonable suspicion or probable cause of criminal activity” to pedestrians, 2) requires that, whenever possible, motor vehicle stops be recorded (but not making the recordings part of the public record), and 3) mandates that the department of transportation gather data on whether “racial disparities in traffic stops exist”. (H Judiciary; Tue, May 5)

2A. S0739: 1) Requires that the local share of funding for school districts and charter schools (i.e. the non-state aid share) of be provided by the “the local district from local resources”, 2) freezes the number of students used for the state education “funding formula” calculation for public charter schools at their 2015 values and 3) requires the town/city council or school committee of every community to be served by a mayoral academy to give its approval before a charter school can increase its enrollment. (S Education; Wed, May 6) This looks to be the major anti-education-reform bill for this session, but also pay attention to some of the “smaller” ones in section 2B of the main post.

3. S0210: Exempts “any income from social security benefits” and “up to twenty-five thousand dollars of income received from public and private pensions, interest income, 401K plans and individual retirement accounts” from the state income tax. (S Finance; Tue, May 5)

4A. S0541: Authorizes the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority to issue $65M in bonds, without voter approval, resulting in $152M in debt to paid out over 30 years, “for the purpose of providing funds to finance the renovation, renewal, repair, rehabilitation, retrofitting, upgrading and improvement of the Pell Bridge, the Jamestown Verrazzano Bridge, the Sakonnet River Bridge, Mount Hope Bridge, and other projects authorized under the Act, replacement of the components thereof, working capital, capitalized interest, a debt service reserve and the costs of issuing and insuring the Bonds”. The bonds don’t need voter approval, because the resolution says “that the Bonds will not constitute indebtedness of the State or any of its subdivisions or a debt for which the full faith and credit of the State or any of its subdivisions is pledged”. (S Finance; Tue, May 5)

5. S0433: Prohibits non-compete agreements for licensed physicians. (S Judiciary; Tue, May 5)

Coming up in Committee: Twenty-Four Sets of Bills Being Heard by the RI General Assembly, April 28 – April 30


1. S0795: Resolution calling for a Constitutional Convention to propose amendments to the Federal Constitution (requiring 2/3 of state legislatures to agree), with an initial scope of narrowing First Amendment protections for political speech. (S Special Legislation and Veterans Affairs; Wed, Apr 29) Half of convention would be drawn exclusively from individuals “currently elected to state and local office” — so this would basically be a convention skewed towards political incumbents, for the purpose of restricting political speech. What could possibly go wrong?

2A. S0382: Government takeover of the siting and management of health provider networks in Rhode Island, giving the state health commissioner authority in such areas as hours of operation, staffing placement, criteria for evaluating doctor performance, approval of contract terms between health insurers and providers, etc. (S Health and Human Services; Tue, Apr 28)

2B. S0619: Charges the state health commissioner with “monitoring a transition away” from the use of private health insurance for primary care medicine and replacing it with a single-payer system. (S Health and Human Services; Tue, Apr 28)

2C. Bud. Art. 5: Some seemingly rigid medicaid price controls, e.g. “for the twelve (12) month period beginning July 1, 2015, Medicaid fee-for-service outpatient rates shall not exceed ninety-five percent (95.0%) of the rates in effect as of July 1, 2014. Also, amongst other items, Bud. Art. 4 sets a limit of $136.8 million to be paid out in “disproportionate share hospital payments” under the “uncompensated care” section of the law. (H Finance; Thu, Apr 30)

2D and 3A. Bud. Art. 28: Allows the secretary of Health and Human Services to directly impose taxes on the sale of small employer and individual health plans without General Assembly approval, with revenues earmarked for the Rhode Island health benefits exchange. (H Finance; Wed, Apr 29)

3B. H6095: Establishes a “Sustainable packaging advisory council…as a public body corporate and politic, constituting an instrument of the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation and exercising essential governmental functions”, and grants the council power to assess taxes on the owners of businesses with gross sales of more than $1M that sell products or materials in RI that result in waste packaging — “whether or not the producer is located in the state”(!). (H Environment and Natural Resources; Thu, Apr 30)

4. H6080: Creates a statewide individual retirement account program, that RI workers will be automatically enrolled into (and have at least 3% of their paychecks put into) unless they specifically opt-out. (H Labor; Thu, Apr 30)

5. S0816: Prohibits the “state guide plan” from establishing any affordable housing provisions beyond those already set in state law, and removes federal government officials from eligibility to serve on the state planning council. S0818 exempts municipal plans from having to comply with the state guide plan. S0819 requires that the state guide plan be approved by the General Assembly. S0820 allows cities and towns to opt-out of the affordable housing programs contained in the state guide plan. (S Housing and Municipal Government; Wed, Apr 29)

Coming up in Committee: Proposed Constitutional Amendments Being Heard by the RI General Assembly, April 14 – April 15


1. Proposed constitutional amendments, requiring voter approval if passed by the legislature, being heard in the Rhode Island General Assembly this week:

  • S0173: Subjects the General Assembly to the state Ethics Commission, while changing the composition of the commission so that 6 of its 11 members are appointed by the Governor from lists of candidates submitted by “the speaker of the house of representatives, the majority leader of the house of representatives, the minority leader of the house of representatives, the president of the senate, the majority leader of the senate, and the minority leader of the senate”, and allows Ethics Commission decisions to be appealed to the courts. (S Judiciary; Tue, Apr 14)
  • S0056: Subjects the General Assembly to the state Ethics Commission and that’s it. (S Judiciary; Tue, Apr 14)
  • S0057/S0059: Line-item veto for the Governor of Rhode Island. (S Judiciary; Tue, Apr 14)
  • S0062: Extends state Senator and state Representative terms to four years, in return for creating a term-limit of three terms. (S Judiciary; Tue, Apr 14)
  • S0436: Mandates instant-runoff voting for the state’s general officers (but doesn’t specify the details of the process, though that could reasonably left to legislation). (S Judiciary; Tue, Apr 14)
  • H6027: Eliminates the requirement of 30 days of residency at an address, before being allowed to vote in an election as a registered voter at that address. (H Judiciary; Wed, Apr 15)

Coming up in Committee: Gun Rights/Gun Control Bills Being Heard by the RI General Assembly, April 14 – April 15


2. Of this year’s raft of gun rights/gun-control bills, this one is the most significant:

  • H6017: Changes concealed carry permitting authority for the RI Attorney General from a “may issue” basis, to a “shall issue” basis, provided that the permit applicant passes a background check, and meets all criteria laid out in a detailed application specified in the law. (H Judiciary; Wed, Apr 15)

The other bills being heard are:

  • H5872: Extends the ban on individuals convicted of committing crimes of violence “purchasing, owning, carrying, transporting, or having in his or her possession any firearm” to individuals convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors. (H Judiciary; Tue, Apr 14)

Coming up in Committee: Twenty-Five Sets of Bills Being Heard by the RI General Assembly, April 14 – April 16


3. H5819: 1) Outlaws stop-and-frisk police procedures by extending the current requirement that motor vehicle stops be predicated on “reasonable suspicion or probable cause of criminal activity” to pedestrians, 2) requires that, whenever possible, motor vehicle stops be recorded (but not making the recordings part of the public record), and 3) mandates that the department of transportation gather data on whether “racial disparities in traffic stops exist”. (H Judiciary; Tue, Apr 14)

4. Bud. Art. 11, sec 15: Creates a statewide property tax on non-owner occupied residential property, applied to properties valued at $1M or more.(S Finance; Tue, Apr 14) The odd construction regarding taxing the privilege of owning property rather than the property itself is slated to be removed by amendment (h/t Katherine Gregg).

5. S0296: Repeals the section of the law allowing “deferred deposit” loans, i.e. “pay-day” loans, also eliminating the provisions in the law that allow check-cashing businesses to automatically operate as pay-day lenders. (S Commerce; Tue, Apr 14) According to the official description, this is a complete repeal of pay-day lending.

6. Bud. Art. 29: Gives the Commerce Corporation power to issue tax-credits for large construction projects, with special provisions allowing projects in Providence — oh, excuse me; in communities with 150,000 or more in population — to be fast-tracked, allowing them to bypass local building and inspection requirements. (H Finance; Wed, Apr 15)

Coming up in Committee: Ten Sets of Bills to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, Today, April 9


1. H5563: Inter-district school choice plan for Rhode Island public schools, where “any child may attend a public school, in a city or town where he/she does not reside, as provided for in this chapter”. (H Finance; Thu, Apr 9)

2. H5956: Bans union versus non-union status from being used as a criterion for the awarding of public contracts, and prohibits public-works contracting provisions requiring utilization of specific unions, or requiring that a union be recognized as an exclusive bargaining representative. (H Labor; Thu, Apr 9)

3. H5962: Extends the authority of the Director of Environment Management to regulate construction near freshwater wetlands, to include granting building approvals over “areas subject to flooding”, “contiguous areas that extend outward”, or land “two hundred feet from the edge”. (H Environment and Natural Resources; Thu, Apr 9)

Coming up in Committee: Nineteen Sets of Bills to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, Today, April 8


1. H5507: Establishes a legal regime for physician assisted suicide in Rhode Island. (H Health, Education and Welfare; Wed, Apr 8)

2. H5708: Bans non-competition agreements in Rhode Island “unless the non-competition agreement is integral to, and part of the consideration for the sale of the stock or assets of a business, or the dissolution of a partnership or the withdrawal of a partner from a partnership”. (H Corporations; Wed, Apr 8)

3. Bud. Art. 17: Limits General Assembly budgetary authority over the Department of Children, Youth and Families to authorizing a total amount, giving the director the power to spend his or her budget without regard to any specific allocations. (S Finance; Wed, Apr 8)

4. H5576: Requires that a photo-ID be shown when using an EBT card. (H Health, Education and Welfare; Wed, Apr 8)

5. Bud. Art. 11, sec 5: Allows the division of taxation to enter into contracts with private parties that can take a cut of “taxes, interest, or penalty or the reduction of refunds claimed” that they recover for the state. (H Corporations; Wed, Apr 8) Are these kinds of tax-privateering arrangements common in other states, or is this a Rhode Island thing?

Coming up in Committee: Twenty-Two Bills to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, Today, April 7


1. Bud. Art. 11, sec 15: The oddly-constructed statewide property tax, written not as a tax on property but on “the privilege of utilizing property as non-owner occupied residential property within the state during any privilege year commencing with the privilege year beginning July 1, 2015″, which applies to non-owner occupied properties valued at $1M or more. (H Finance; Tue, Apr 7) A tax on the “privilege” of owning property is very difficult to justify (using earth logic) from the perspective of trying to writing laws that are clear and fair, as a tax on a “privilege” can be assessed whether the privilege is exercised or not. But here’s an interesting question: Is a tax on “privilege” versus actual property deductible from Federal income tax? There are ramifications either way…

2. H5784: Requires that at least one health plan offered to individuals and small businesses by the Rhode Island health benefits exchange exclude “coverage for induced abortions”, with exceptions for cases involving rape and the life of the mother. (H Corporations; Tue, Apr 7)

3. H5903: Salary controls for hospital administrative staff, limiting non-health care professionals to “a rate of compensation [not] greater than one hundred and ten percent (110%) of the amount determined annually by the director to constitute the northeast regional average compensation level for comparable personnel serving in comparable hospitals”. (H Corporations; Tue, Apr 7)

4. S0620: Centralizes healthcare decision making in government in a new “office of health policy”, whose powers include the power to cap the amount of healthcare in RI paid for with commercial insurance. (S Health and Human Services; Tue, Apr 7)

5. H5374: Constitutional amendment (requiring voter approval) restoring Ethics Commission jurisdiction over the legislature. (H Judiciary; Tue, Apr 7)

Coming up in Committee: The Top Three Sets of Bills to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, March 31 – April 2


The top 3 issue areas being heard by the Rhode Island General Assembly deserve their own post…

1A. H5704: Allows Rhode Islanders to buy insurance policies provided by out-of-state insurers, “provided that the insurer conforms to requirements imposed upon insurers licensed to do business in this state”. (H Corporations; Tue, Mar 31)

1B. Bud. Art. 28: Allows the secretary of Health and Human Services to directly impose taxes on the sale of small employer and individual health plans without General Assembly approval, with revenues earmarked for the Rhode Island health benefits exchange. (S Finance; Wed, Apr 1)

1C. H5597: Government takeover of the siting and management of health provider networks in Rhode Island, giving the state health commissioner authority in such areas as hours of operation, staffing placement, criteria for evaluating doctor performance, approval of contract terms between health insurers and providers, etc. (H Corporations; Tue, Mar 31)

2A. H5845: Requires that Rhode Island students be able to opt-out of “the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for Colleges and Careers (‘PARCC’) assessment”. (H Health, Education and Welfare; Wed, Apr 1) Given that there is no time-limit on this bill, it basically assumes that a standardized test will never be a graduation requirement for Rhode Island public schools.

2B. Meanwhile, H5814 asks (via a non-binding resolution) for the Department of Education “to require all Rhode Island school districts to submit each district’s minimum high school graduation requirements” . (H Health, Education and Welfare; Wed, Apr 1). The resolution begins by saying “in 1999, in his State of the Union Address, former President Clinton stated ‘No child should graduate from high school with a diploma he or she can’t read'” — but will this General Assembly ever allow the state to make a direct assessment of whether students can read a part of earning their diplomas?

3. H5688: Requires that assigning students to Mayoral Academies be done by a random lottery involving all students in a participating district, with selected students able to opt out if they so choose. (H Health, Education and Welfare; Wed, Apr 1) I’m not sure what’s worse about this bill: the conscious lengths that progressive education reform opponents go to to show that they believe that government and not families should control the lives of children, or the unconscious bias amongst progressive education reform opponents it reveals, that life is just a big lottery that education cannot change..

Coming up in Committee: Bill Sets 4 thru 35 to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, March 31 – April 2


4. H5631: Allows individuals who have property confiscated as part of a civil forfeiture proceeding to “seek a court determination as to whether the forfeiture is disproportionately excessive to the gravity of the offense giving rise to the forfeiture”. (H Judiciary; Tue, Mar 31)

5A. H5610: Mandates that the Department of Public Safety begin “to implement an electronic automobile and commercial vehicle liability insurance confirmation and compliance system” that includes “an automatic license plate recognition system to electronically capture license plate images in two seconds or less and noninvasively attempt verification of the insurance and when possible, the registration status of the vehicle”. (H Finance; Wed, Apr 1)

5B. H5606: Requires that applicants for operators and chauffeur licenses have a valid social security number. (H Finance; Wed, Apr 1) It will be interesting to see how many legislators end up taking the position that requiring social security numbers for operators and chauffeur’s licenses is unreasonable, while supporting an electronic system that is supposed to watch every automobile in the state.

6. H5495: Minimum-manning for social workers at public schools, one per 400 students. (H Health, Education and Welfare; Wed, Apr 1)

7. H5961: Unambiguously establishes that holding a seat on the Cumberland Fire District board is holding public office — and that “members shall hold no other public office”. (H Judiciary; Wed, Apr 1) I understand and agree with the spirit of this bill: it’s crazy that here in Rhode Island, we pretend that there’s ambiguity about whether Fire Districts are part of the government or not. However, 1) a bill like this shouldn’t be confined to one community and 2) the authors of the bill need to carefully review the law in this area, to make sure there aren’t potential problems (legal and ethical) with burdening Cumberland Fire District Board members more than other local officials.

Coming up in Committee: Thirty-Five Sets of Bills Being Heard by the RI General Assembly, March 24 – March 26


1. H5621: Resolution calling for a Constitutional Convention to propose amendments to the Federal Constitution (requiring 2/3 of state legislatures to agree), with the initial scope of the Convention limited to narrowing First Amendment protections for political speech. (H Judiciary; Wed, Mar 25) Also, the article of describing the proposed make-up of the convention is grammatically awkward: “That this House hereby respectfully requests that the delegates to said convention be comprised equally of individuals currently elected to state and local office, or be selected by election, in each Congressional district for the purpose of serving as delegates”. Formally that could say we either get a split between state and local officials or a special election. Is that what’s meant?

2. Series of anti-Uber bills, H5808 prohibits non-taxicab rides from being arranged less than 2 hours in advance. H5809 requires non-taxicabs used for transporting passengers to obtain a “vehicle identification device” from the state. H5811 subjects “public motor vehicles” to the Public Utilities Commission. (H Corporations; Tue, Mar 24) A government that wants to tell people they can’t schedule rides with one another less than two hours in advance needs some deeper thought on the fundamental limits it should be allowed to place on its citizens, just because an activity is considered “commercial”.

3. S0488: Moratorium on opening new “licensed home care, home nursing care, inpatient hospice care, and outpatient hospice care agencies” in Rhode Island, and creates a “home healthcare system planning task force” that will lift the moratorium at some time in the future. Also, S0486 gives the Department of health new powers for shutting down unlicensed home healthcare agencies. (S Health and Human Services; Thu, Mar 26)

4. H5455: Anti patent trolling legislation. (H Judiciary; Tue, Mar 24) This seems to be as good a place as any for actual bi-partisan agreement in Rhode Island.

Some of the Larger, Seriously Ill-Advised Items In the Governor’s (What Kind of) “Jobs Budget”

During the days following its release, reporters, analysts and observers worked to unpack the budget that Governor Raimondo sent to the General Assembly — and found some unpleasant items therein. Here is a bullet list of some of the bigger ones.

Proposed Statewide Property Tax

… aka, the Taylor Swift tax.

Justin got clarification from Governor Raimondo’s office that the INTENT is not to include apartment buildings as properties to be taxed. This conforms to Governor Raimondo’s attempt to sell this tax as having only a narrow list of targeted properties. (So, gosh, don’t worry about it. And, anyways, we only want to tax those icky rich people.)

Intent, however, is completely secondary. If this tax passes into law, the door will be opened wide for future – and current! – governors and General Assemblies to tax apartment buildings (of all classes and sizes); commercial buildings; second homes of less than one million dollars; PRIMARY homes of more than one million dollars; primary homes of $750,000 – $1,000,000; et empty state cetera. The critical issue is not that the initial list of targeted properties is short. It’s that the list comes to exist at all. To subject just one property classification to a new, statewide tax would set the precedent to subject virtually all real estate in Rhode Island to a statewide property tax via an easy tweak of the targeted property list.

In a perfect bit of timing, RIPEC released an analysis right before the governor released her budget of just how much Rhode Islanders are already taxed. By one measure, Rhode Island already has the fourth highest property taxes in the country. The governor is seriously proposing to raise that ranking? In fact, the one thing above all that our elected officials should not do is exacerbate this burden.

Further, there’s the matter of Rhode Island’s already undesirable reputation as a high tax state. On Twitter, Gary Sasse correctly asks,

When Tax Foundation.et. al.rank tax climate will new statewide property tax impact rankings w resulting reputation risks?

Further to “reputation risks”, WPRO’s Gene Valicenti pointed out Friday morning that the governor’s mere proposal has made the national news via the AP’s feed. This is exactly the kind of publicity that Rhode Island needs to avoid, not curry.

Governor Raimondo’s Proposed Statewide Property Tax Redefines Ownership of Real Estate as a Privilege

This one was a great catch by Justin.

Coming up in Committee: Twenty-Nine Sets of Bills Being Heard by the RI General Assembly, March 17 – March 19


1. S0593: Eliminates the up-to six month prison sentence for instances of disorderly conduct — including for “obstruct[ing] a highway…to which the public or a substantial group of the public has access or any other place ordinarily used for the passage of persons, vehicles, or conveyances” — unless the case involves domestic violence. (S Judiciary; Tue, Mar 17)

2. H5589: Phases in a requirement that employers apply to participate in e-verify, with the last wave of employers,those with less than 50 employees, required to apply no later than January 1, 2017. (H Labor; Thu, Mar 19)

3. S0650: Imposes an additional $46 fee for a marriage license, $44 of which is to be administrated by the Rhode Island Coalition against Domestic Violence to fund domestic violence prevention programs. (S Judiciary; Tue, Mar 17) The Department of Justice reports that “intimate partner violence” rates for married women are significantly lower than are the rates for never married or divorced/widowed women, yet a group of RI legislators think it’s a good idea to make couples who are taking basic steps towards responsible commitment pay for the bad acts of everyone. This bill creates the impression that Rhode Island’s dour progressives really don’t like marriage very much.