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

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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, among 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)

6. H5498: Requires “every person being employed as a personal care attendant or offering services as a personal care attendant” to register with the department of health, with “personal care assistant services” defined as “assistance with activities of daily living, homemaking, and companionship provided to a consumer that are intended to enable the consumer to remain safely and comfortable in their residence”, but not including activities done by certain already licensed professions, e.g nursing. (H Health, Education and Welfare; Wed, Apr 29) Meanwhile, S0481 encourages hospitals to have patients designate at least one caregiver “no later than twenty-four hours following the patient’s entry into a hospital”. (S Health and Human Services; Thu, Apr 30) Now, there is space between these two bills; the first is not supposed to apply in cases where an individual “receives services similar to personal care attendant services for no compensation”, however, given instances like the government decisions that led to the Harris v. Quinn case in Illinois, and given the zeal in certain quarters of the RI legislature for stronger government control of medicine (see bill set #2 this week), it’s not too early to be on the lookout for the foundations of a legal regime that start to move RI in the direction of requiring that medical benefits be delivered only through certain state-designated groups.

7. Bud. Art. 9 designates the department of elementary and secondary education as the state’s school building authority, and creates a school building authority capital fund to help it carry that mission out.  Bud. Art. 24 creates a state infrastructure bank out of the Rhode Island Clean Water Finance Agency. (H Finance; TT & S Finance; Tue, Apr 28) Both of these bills seem premised on the idea that Rhode Island problems stem from a lack of financial middlemen to make and oversee construction deals. Is that a valid assumption?

8. S0600: Requires a worker to pay an annual $50 fee and re-register each year, to be considered an “independent contractor”. (S Labor; Thu, Apr 30)

9. H5777: Just barely legalizes the use and possession of marijuana, and tightly regulates its growing; I say “just barely” because the operative part of the bill begins by exempting the use or possession of less than 1 oz of marijuana from civil action, criminal action and state prosecution. (H Judiciary; Wed, Apr 29)

10. S0318: Prohibits medical health insurance premium rates from varying based on gender (excluding policies for “hospital confinement indemnity”, “disability income”, “accident only”, “long-term care”, “medicare supplement”, “limited benefit health”, “specified diseased indemnity”, “sickness of bodily injury or death by accident or both” and “other limited benefit policies”. (S Health and Human Services; Tue, Apr 28)

11. S0183: “Employees who are covered by employer-sponsored disability insurance programs may elect to be exempt from” RI’s temporary disability insurance program. (S Labor; Thu, Apr 30)

12. S0786: According to the official description, “this act transfers jurisdiction over health insurance regulation from the director of business regulation to the office of health insurance commissioner”. (S Health and Human Services; Tue, Apr 28)

13. H6035: Requires a certificate of good standing from the Rhode Island Division of Taxation to be included with certain business “instruments” (i.e. paperwork) filed with the Rhode Island secretary of state. (H Corporations; Tue, Apr 28)

14. H6081: Requires businesses located in the Town of Hopkinton to register with the town clerk. (H Municipal Government; Thu, Apr 30) Article XIII, section 4 of the RI state constitution begins with: “The general assembly shall also have the power to act in relation to the property, affairs and government of a particular city or town provided that such legislative action shall become effective only upon approval by a majority of the qualified electors of the said city or town voting at a general or special election”. Since this bill clearly applies to the affairs and government of a particular city or town in a very substantial way, it should have to go to a referendum before becoming law.

15. Presently, municipal governments are allowed to “aggregate…one or more classes of the retail electrical loads located, respectively, within [them] and…enter into service agreements to facilitate for those loads the sale and purchase of electricity”, under the condition that 1) the agreement is done in consultation with the Public Utilities Commission, 2) two public hearings are held and 3) the agreement is approved by voter referendum. H5375 would reduce the above conditions, by eliminating consultation with the PUC and eliminating the voter referendum, and only requiring one hearing. (H Corporations; Tue, Apr 28) While other deals are getting more attention in the final weeks of the General Assembly session, be aware the someone obviously someone wants more of these kinds of agreements specified in this bill to be put into place. 

16. S0321: Prohibits health plans from denying coverage “solely because the health care service is provided through telemedicine and is not provided through in-person consultation or contact, so long as such health care services appropriately provided through telemedicine services.”. Telemedicine, in this bill, is defined as “the delivery of clinical health care services by means of real time two-way electronic audiovisual communications, including the application of secure video conferencing or store-and-forward technology to provide or support health care delivery, which facilitate the assessment, diagnosis, consultation, treatment education, care management and self-management of a patient’s health care while such patient is at an originating site and the health care provider is at a distant site”. (S Health and Human Services; Thu, Apr 30)

17. S0168: Prohibits health insurers from limiting a healthcare provider to a more limited scope of activities than allowed by the provider’s license; this section of the law is in addition to changes in the regulation of “certified registered nurse anesthetists”. (S Health and Human Services; Thu, Apr 30)

18. S0562: Increases the amount of tax paid on certain rent controlled and/or income controlled properties from 8% to 10% “of the property’s previous years’ gross scheduled rental income” in communities where “12% or more of the residential units within a municipality qualify for low-income housing”. (S Housing and Municipal Government; Wed, Apr 29)

19. H6112: “The state annual goal for veteran-owned small business enterprises to participate in state contracts shall be no less than three percent (3%) of the total value of all contracts available to businesses in each fiscal year”. (H Veterans Affairs; Wed, Apr 29)

20. H5472: Requires children 14 years or older and under the age of 16 to complete a “training program on worker rights” before receiving the “work permit” from their school committee that allows them to hold a job. (H Labor; Thu, Apr 30)

21. On Wednesday. April 29, the House Health, Education and Welfare Committee will hear a series of bills related to the treatment of animals, including H5800 which allows breed-specific local pet ordinances enacted prior to July 15, 2013 to remain in force (and which I believe would reinstate a ban on pitbulls in Pawtucket). (H Health, Education and Welfare; Wed, Apr 29)

22. S0555: Allows “developmental disability agencies…to self-insure health care provided to their employees, and their dependents and their retirees and their dependents and to create and establish a fund for this purpose”. (S Health and Human Services; Thu, Apr 30) From the text, it’s not immediately clear whether this bill is closing a loophole or defining an exception, but it does raise an interesting question of why a specific type of employer needs its own health insurance section of the law. 

23. H5131: Prohibits electric distribution companies from charging “an interconnecting renewable energy customer for any upgrades to its electric power system that can and should be funded through rates assessed pursuant to its electric infrastructure, safety and reliability provision and plan, including specifically any maintenance, repair or upgrade of any component of the electric power system that has been deferred for more than thirty years.” (H Corporations; Tue, Apr 28)

24. S0058: Allows bake sales at polling places on election days. (H Finance; Tue, Apr 28)

Ranking Indeterminate: H5923: Exempts the quasi-municipal(?) Pascoag utility district from being required to offer “offer retail access from nonregulated power producers to all customers”. (H Corporations; Tue, Apr 28)

Inobvious Priorities: H6093: >> “The American burying beetle is hereby designated as the official state insect”.

Local Impact: Charlestown, New Shoreham, Providence 2, Smithfield.



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