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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.

Coming up in Committee: Twenty-Six Sets of Bills Being Heard by the RI General Assembly, March 10 – March 12


1A. H5343: Sensible fiscal rules for fire-districts, including a 4% annual cap on tax-increases, limitation of debt to 5% of annual operating budgets, a ban on tax-classification plans, and a ban on assessing supplemental taxes “without conducting a properly advertised special meeting which satisfies the annual budget meetings notice and attendance provisions”. (H Finance; Wed, Mar 11)

1B. H5344: Requires “2% of of the total registered and qualified voting members of the fire district” to be present at a fire-district financial meeting to establish a quorum. Also, H5345 establishes new notice requirements for fire-district meetings, including a minimum 60-day notice period for the annual budget meeting (H Finance; Wed, Mar 11)

2. H5519: Constitutional amendment (to be ratified by the voters) giving the Governor a line-item veto power over appropriations. (H Finance; Wed, Mar 11) I understand the desire to express this as a short amendment, but given the way the RI budget process works, given the currently proposed form, what’s to stop the GA from conducting a single en masse override of everything that was vetoed?

3. H5329: Terminates the “the Rhode Island health benefits exchange, known under the name ‘HealthSourceRI’, and the unified health infrastructure project” and transfers “all management and operation of the Rhode Island health benefits exchange to the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U. S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services”. (H Finance; Tue, Mar 10)

4. H5329: Exempts “Coventry, East Greenwich and West Greenwich from all the terms and provisions” of the “written long-term economic development vision and policy for the state of Rhode Island” and the “strategic plan for implementing this policy”. (S Finance; Tue, Mar 10)

5. H5651: 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. (H Judiciary; Wed, Mar 11) I’ll repeat what I said about a similar bill from last year: 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.

Coming up in Committee: Twenty-One Sets of Bills Being Heard by the RI General Assembly, March 3 – March 5


1A. H5350: Binding arbitration for municipal employees. (H Labor; Thu, Mar 5)

1B. H5475: Abolishes expiration dates from RI public-school teacher and municipal employee contracts, making their terms permanent until a new contract is agreed upon. (H Labor; Thu, Mar 5)

1C. H5473: Subjects fire-department “platoon structure and/or shift schedule” to collective bargaining. (H Labor; Thu, Mar 5)

2. H5317: Reduces the allowed difference in municipal property tax rates for different property classifications from 50% to 25%. (H Municipal Government; Thu, Mar 5)

3A. S0023/S0311/S0313: Mandates that for car-tax purposes, automobiles be assessed at trade-in rather than their retail value. (S Finance; Tue, Mar 3)

3B. S0043 raises the car-tax exemption for “distressed communities” to $6,000 (this is an automatic raise, not a local option). S0227 raises the car-tax exemption for “distressed communities” to $6,000 and compensates said distressed communities for the reduced revenue with state money. (S Finance; Tue, Mar 3) In present Rhode Island context, this means certain communities can receive a state subsidy for their financial mismanagement.

Coming up in Committee: Twenty-Nine Sets of Bills Being Heard by the RI General Assembly, February 24 – February 26


1A. S0134: Creates a crime of “unlawful interference with traffic” with reference to “any federal or state highway”, with a minimum prison sentence of one year for a first offense, 60 days of which cannot be suspended or deferred. (At present, the definition of disorderly conduct includes obstructing a “highway…to which the public or a substantial group 12 of the public has access”, punishable by imprisonment of up to 6 months, and a fine up to $500) (S Judiciary; Tue, Feb 24)

1B. H5417: Eliminates the up-to six month prison sentence for most 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” — except in cases involving domestic violence. (H Judiciary; Wed, Feb 25)

2. S0314: Extends the state’s “facilities support” funding to all charter schools (currently, it is only available to “district sponsored charter public schools”). (S Finance; Tue, Feb 24)

3. S0305 / H5228: Writes into law in-state tuition at RI public colleges and universities for students who graduated from a Rhode Island high school that they spent three years at, including illegal aliens (but not non-immigrant aliens) who have applied for “lawful immigration status” or who promise to when a process is made available under a Federal amnesty law. (S Finance; Tue, Feb 24 &; H Finance, Thu Feb 26)

4. S0122: Tax credits for Rhode Island residents who are college graduates “in an amount equal to the payments made in a given tax year…toward undergraduate or graduate student loan debt, up to a maximum amount for single tax year of one thousand dollars for an associate’s degree holder, five thousand dollars for a bachelor’s degree holder, and six thousand dollars for a graduate degree holder”. (S Finance; Tue, Feb 24)

Coming up in Committee: Seventeen Sets of Bills Being Heard by the RI General Assembly, February 10 – February 12


1. H5258/S0150: House and Senate Rules for 2015-2016 sessions, which will determine how business is conducted for the rest of the session. (H Rules; Tue Feb 10 & S Rules; Tue, Feb 10)

2. H5160: Requires that the town/city council and school committee of every municipality to be served by a proposed mayoral academy give explicit approval, before an academy can be opened. (H Health Education and Welfare; Wed, Feb 11)

3A. H5221: Limits electric rate increases to “two and one-half percent within any consecutive twenty-four month period”. (H Corporations; Tue, Feb 10)

3B. H5218 prohibits electric rates from being raised “in excess of five percent in any three year period without general assembly approval”. H5291 prohibits electric rates from being raised more than “five percent per year, unless the increase shall have been previously approved by affirmative action of the general assembly”. (H Corporations; Tue, Feb 10)

4. H5031: Proposed Constitutional Amendment (requiring voter ratification) extending the terms of State Representatives and Senators to four years, with a limit of “three full terms”. (H Judiciary; Tue, Feb 10)

5. H5124: “Any candidate for state or local office who has outstanding campaign finance reports or fines due the board of elections shall be ineligible to qualify for election to any state or local public office until all such reports are filed and/or all fines are paid. (H Judiciary; Tue, Feb 10)

Coming up in Committee, Wednesday, February 4: Penalties for Blocking a Highway


1. At present, the definition of disorderly conduct includes obstructing a “highway…to which the public or a substantial group 12 of the public has access”, punishable by imprisonment of up to 6 months, and a fine up to $500.

H5193 makes it a misdemeanor to “intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly, alone or with others, [restrict] traffic flow of a freeway”, punishable by a prison sentence of up to one year and a fine of up to $500. H5192 creates a crime of “unlawful interference with traffic” with reference to “any federal or state highway”, with a minimum prison sentence of 1 year for a first offense, 60 days of which cannot be suspended or deferred. (H Judiciary; Wed, Feb 4)