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

1. S2898: $39M of “state investment” into the Superman building, in the form of a $19,500,000 “direct allocation to the owner” in the second year of the program, “and then payments of $9,750,000 in each of the following fiscal years”, with the condition that “following the funding of the fourth and final payment, upon a capital event resulting from the sale or refinancing of the project, any amount paid to the owner under this program above thirty percent (30%) of QREs shall be repaid to the state of Rhode Island prior to the owner realizing any return over the actual amounts invested in the project”. (S Finance; Tue, Jun 3) As this bill authorizes appropriations to a private entity, it requires 2/3 majorities to pass on the floor.

2. S2950: Mandates that the RI Board of Education adopt “a competency-based/proficiency-based learning policy and a model district policy designed to increase programmatic opportunities for students to earn credits through demonstrations of competency”. (S Education; Wed, Jun 4) Proficiency based learning, effectively implemented, could be an effective outside-of-the-box solution for a host of education problems. It’s most significant difference from factory-model education is that very concrete incentives are created for students to learn academic material and demonstrate their mastery of it as quickly as they can, so that they can spend more time advancing in the subject areas they’d prefer to study while in school, or even complete school altogether in less time.

3. H7939: Provides for information related to mental-health related involuntarily commitments to be added to the National Instant Criminal Background Check (NICS) database used for conducting firearms purchase background checks. The records sent to database will be from cases where there has been a demonstration of “clear and convincing evidence that the subject of the hearing is in need of care and treatment in a facility, and…continued unsupervised presence in the community would, by reason of mental disability, create a likelihood of serious harm”. (H Judiciary; Tue, Jun 3)

4. S2801: New insurance requirements for “mental health and substance use disorders”, including a requirement that they be covered “under the same terms and conditions as…provided for other illnesses and diseases” and a ban on annual or lifetime limits on their coverage. (H Corporations; Tue, Jun 3) A slightly different version goes before the Senate Health and Human Services Committee on Tuesday, June 3, as H8042; obviously, to pass, the two bills need to be consolidated into one in order to be passed into law. Also, S2359 adds a section on “mental, emotional, or substance abuse disorders” into the law controlling healthcare utilization review procedures. (S Health and Human Services; Tue, Jun 3)

5. S2009: Prohibits funds from the restricted-receipt account used to pay legal costs for the state retirement system from being used to pay for litigation not directly based on a state retirement board decision. (S Finance; Tue, Jun 3)

6A. S2379: Legalizes certain uses of marijuana beginning with “actually and constructively using, obtaining, purchasing, transporting, or possessing one ounce (1 oz.) or less of marijuana, not including hashish” and “actually and constructively using, obtaining, purchasing, transporting, or possessing marijuana products, including up to five (5) grams or less of hashish, sixteen (16) ounces of marijuana-infused product in solid form and seventy-two (72) ounces of marijuana-infused product in liquid form”, authorizes marijuana to be sold by no more than 10 retailers each of whom shall pay a $10,000 annual fee, and sets up excise taxes on marijuana cultivation and a 10% sales tax on its purchase. (S Judiciary; Tue, Jun 3) …because if legalizing something is good, legalizing it under a government-organized cartel is better?

6B. S2566: Requires that medical marijuana cardholders obtain a “cultivation certificate” from the state, in order to grow their own.  Also, S2987: Reduces the number of marijuana plants that a qualifying medical marijuana patient without a “cultivation certificate” can grow on their own from 12 to 3, while increasing the number of marijuana plants a “compassion center” can increase from 150 to 400. (S Judiciary; Tue, Jun 3)

7. H8265/S3038: Proposed constitutional amendment, to be submitted to the voters in November, specifying that the location of gambling facility previously approved by local voters cannot be changed without a further referendum. (H Judiciary; Tue, Jun 3 & S Special Legislation and Veterans’ Affairs; Wed, Jun 4) That the legislature is in a hurry to put this on the ballot is clear, but has leadership checked with the moneyed interests in the gambling industry, to see if adding this to the state constitution would count or not?

8. S2222: Requires hospitals to compile and report average charges for their twenty-five most common inpatient and outpatient procedures, and “upon the request of any person without health coverage or an insurance deductible of five thousand dollars ($5,000) or higher, a hospital shall provide that person with a written estimate of the amount the hospital will require the person to pay for the health care services”. (S Health & Human Services; Tue, Jun 3)

9. S2249: Minimum wage increase, to $9 per hour on January 1, 2015, $10 per hour on January 1, 2016, and adjusting upward for inflation every year after that. (S Labor; Wed, Jun 4)

10. S2493 eliminates the work requirement for receiving state childcare assistance, and allows families who receiving assistance to maintain eligibility until they reach 225% of the Federal poverty level. S2317 makes an adult working 20 hours per week eligible for state childcare assistance, provided they are also participating in an “an education or training program”. (S Finance; Thu, Jun 5)

11. S2985: Allows “a health care facility licensed as an organized ambulatory care facility” to operate at multiple locations without having to seek an individual license for each site. (S Health & Human Services; Tue, Jun 3)

12. S2214: Subtracts military pension income and Federal pension income from Rhode Island income used to calculate the income tax. (S Finance; Thu, Jun 5)

13. S2972: Replaces the gubernatorial appointment of “a director of human services, a director of mental health, retardation, and hospitals and director for children, youth, and families” with the appointment of a single “secretary of the executive office of health and human services”, then has the secretary appoint the individual department heads “with the consent of the Governor” (H Corporations; Tue, Jun 3) Hopefully, this will be the last bill in the line premised on the faulty idea that Undergovernors are needed to carry out executive branch duties that the real Governor doesn’t give sufficient attention to. The premise is an over-reaction to a particular circumstance.

14. S2079: Creates tax-credits for “graduates of accredited institutions of higher education and who receive an associate’s degree, a bachelor of science or arts degree, or a master’s degree and who remain residents of and employed in Rhode Island” for up to 10 years after they graduate (S Finance; Thu, Jun 5)

15. H8225: $18M in proposed bonds for construction at Roger Williams Park Zoo to be sent to the voters in November, $15M “to construct a new education center” and $3M “for construction and reconstruction of roads, bridges, sidewalks and walkways”. (H Finance; Tue, Jun 3)

16. H7845: Creates a felony crime of online impersonation. (H Judiciary; Tue, Jun 3)

17. S2779: Makes it an unlawful employment practice “to refuse to reasonably accommodate an employee’s or prospective employee’s condition related to pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition”. (S Labor; Wed, Jun 4)

18. S2358: Health insurance mandate prohibiting “any alternative brand name prescription drugs or over-the-counter drugs” from being required, prior to the use of a brand-name prescription drug. (S Health & Human Services; Tue, Jun 3)

19. S2049: Allows the General Treasurer to withhold non-education state-aid “to any municipality that does not fully fund their annual required contribution (ARC) to any locally administered pension plan that the municipality and/or its employees participates in”. “Such funds may be held for a period of up to one year commencing from the date said funds are deposited, at the end of which time the funds plus any interest earned thereon shall be deposited by the general treasurer directly into the town’s locally administered pension plan.” (S Finance; Tue, Jun 3)

20. S2796: Creates a state contracting preference for “business enterprises whose highest paid executive receives compensation and/or salary equal to thirty-two (32) times or less than the compensation and/or salary paid to its lowest paid full-time employee”. (S Finance; Tue, Jun 3)

21. S2328: sets “income disregards” for Medicare at 185% of the Federal poverty level. (S Finance; Thu, Jun 5)

22. H7378/S2817: Adds the “element of surprise” to list of circumstances that define a second-degree sexual assualt (H Judiciary; Tue, Jun 3)

23. S2974: Replaces the town/city council president on a budget commission of a town/city that’s under one, with a member chosen by a vote of the town/city council. (H Municipal Government; Thu, Jun 5) Most likely put in to allow Woonsocket City Councilman Al Brien to keep his seat on the Budget Commission while resigning the City Council Presidency.

24. H8255: Repeals the entire section of the law on “itinerant vendors”. (H Small Business; Wed, Jun 4)

25. S2592: Remnant of old separation-of-powers problems in Rhode Island. This bill adds the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and the president of the Rhode Island Brotherhood of Correctional Officers to an “oversight committee for the purpose of maintaining the secure facilities at the adult correctional institutions”. (H Judiciary; Tue, Jun 3) The two new members would join, amongst others, 4 direct legislative appointments on board that appears to be more than advisory. This practice was supposed to have been eliminated with the addition of the separation of powers provision of the state constitution stating that the governor shall appoint “all members of any board, commission or other state or quasi-public entity which exercises executive power under the laws of this state”.

26. S2997: Changes the “Rhode Island Human Resources Investment Council” into the “Governor’s Workforce Board Rhode Island”, and gives the new board lots of new responsibilities like developing a biennial “strategic statewide employment and training plan”, “conven[ing] an advisory group to assist in the development of this comprehensive inventory and analysis that consists of stakeholders and organizations with specific knowledge and expertise in the area of workforce development”, etc. Also, S2998 is a single section of s2997, focusing on the “state career pathways system”, changing its purpose from “increasing the skill level of Rhode Island workers in alignment with industry needs” to “to develop[ing] and expand[ing] career pathways that enable individuals to secure employment within a specific industry or occupational sector, and to advance over time to successively higher levels of education and employment in that sector”. (S Labor; Wed, Jun 4) But it’s difficult to understand why a legislative body that doesn’t believe it’s possible to create a government education system that can teach students well enough to pass a basic test on the subjects they are supposed to be learning would expect government to be effective at managing the training and careers of individuals, once they’ve left the school system.

27. S2795: Creates a category of “certified angel investors” in the law, who are given a capital-gains tax exemption on “the sale or exchange of an interest in any entity which at the time the interest was acquired was a qualifying business entity”. (S Finance; Thu, Jun 5)

28. H7520: Includes financial institutions, insurance companies, natural resource brokers, developers, landscape architects, nonprofit institutions, entertainment production companies, utilities and petroleum and natural gas producers (all of which were previously excluded) as possible types of small businesses which the government must include in economic impact analysis when creating new regulations. (S Commerce; Tue, Jun 3)

29. S2396: Gives disabled veterans receiving tuition assistance priority registration into “courses and competitive programs” in a section of the law that applies to “any public institution of higher education”. (S Special Legislation and Veterans’ Affairs; Thu, Jun 5)

30. S2248: Reduces the corporate income tax by 0.25% by the “the aggregate amount of new employment of the eligible company and its eligible subsidiaries for such taxable year” up to a maximum reduction of 6% “for the applicable income tax rate” or 3% “for the applicable personal income tax rate”. (S Finance; Thu, Jun 5)

31. S2220: Establishes a “lifelong learning program within the state workforce investment board to provide the opportunity for employees, with the support of their employers, to create educational savings accounts that may be used to fund approved education and training”. (S Finance; Tue, Jun 3)

32. H8226: Reduces the amount of money used for state-aid incentive program tied to good administration (or elimination) of local pensions from $10M to $5M for fiscal years 2015 and 2016, and gives communities a 1-year period to make-up any conditions they may have missed. (H Finance; Tue, Jun 3)

33. By Rhode Island standards, this year’s entry in the automobile insurers versus repair shops category is a minimalist one. S2835 extends regulations on aftermarket auto body replacement parts to any automobile replacement part; S2833 prohibits insurance companies from mandating use of used or remanufactured airbags or suspension parts; S2834 establishes a two-tiered licensing system for body shops. (S Judiciary; Thu, Jun 5)

34. Here’s what will fix education in Rhode Island — a new board! H8204 mandates that the Board of Education create “a career and technical board of trustees which shall be responsible for the implementation of a comprehensive and coordinated career and technical system with the state of Rhode Island”. (H Health, Education and Welfare; Wed, Jun 4) Also, H8263/S2183 requires that the state board of education “prepare a plan that ensures that career and technical education, adult education and the community college of Rhode Island are given due consideration as important components of the state’s public education system as well as its workforce development efforts”. (H Health, Education and Welfare; Wed, Jun 4 & S Education; Wed, Jun 4)

35. S2952: Creates an advisory council to the Governor, responsible for developing “a plan that includes strategies, programs and measurable goals to meet targets for greenhouse gas emissions of…80% below 1990 levels by 2050”. (S Environment and Agriculture; Wed, Jun 4)

36. S2182: Requires that the state board of education “consider all available high school equivalency tests that adhere to state academic standards in determining which test shall be utilized and recognized by the state”.(S Education; Wed, Jun 4)

37. S2564: Reduces the discretion of the Director of Business administration in deciding what unfair insurance claims settlement practices to look into, when a complaint is filed with his or her office. (S Judiciary; Thu, Jun 5)

38. S2076: Eliminates the $500 minimum corporation tax for the first three years of a corporation’s existence. However, if the franchise tax is not changed in tandem, there is no change in liability for any corporation in Rhode Island. (S Finance; Thu, Jun 5)

39. H8239: A change at the statutory level, i.e. not a constitutional amendment requiring voter approval, to have Governor and Lieutenant Governor run as a single ticket. (H Judiciary; Tue, Jun 3) According to John Marion of Common Cause RI, this sponsor of this bill intends its to complement passage of a constitutional amendment requiring Governor and Lieutenant Governor to run together.  Introducing this before the amendment has passed, and four-and-a-half years before it would first be used strikes me as a tad premature.

40. S2472: “The office of management and budget shall produce an annual report regarding the state’s financial status using the GAAP (generally accepted accounting principles) method”. (S Finance; Thu, Jun 5)

41. H7722: Study commission, to study the possibility of creating a “state reinsurance agency” to provide “relief/alternatives/stability from the current federal-flood insurance program”. (H Corporations; Tue, Jun 3) Study commissions usually don’t make the rankings, but the idea that Rhode Island government is capable of coming up with an actuarially sound and honestly-run state insurance company should be presumed against.

Significant, But Required to Happen in One Form or Another: S2538: Places the question of whether a state constitutional convention should be held on the 2014 election ballot. (H Judiciary; Tue, Jun 3) If the legislature doesn’t pass a bill to do this, then the Secretary of State will place the question, under the authority of the State constitution.

Ranking Indeterminate: S2692: Creates a new “Renewable Energy Contractor” certificate within the body of Rhode Island contracting law. (H Corporations; Tue, Jun 3)

H8245: New regulations (including possible new licensing) regarding the “development and abandonment of wells, well pumps and water supply treatment systems.  (H Corporations; Tue, Jun 3)

S2439: New regulations concerning electrical and gas suppliers in RI. (S Environment and Agriculture; Wed, Jun 4)

S2690: A 27-page bill intended to “facilitate and promote installation of grid-connected generation of renewable energy; support and encourage development of distributed renewable energy generation systems; reduce environmental impacts; reduce carbon emissions that contribute to climate change by encouraging the siting of renewable energy projects in the load zone of the electric distribution company; diversify the energy generation sources within the load zone of the electric distribution company; stimulate economic development; improve distribution system resilience and reliability within the load zone of the electric distribution company; and reduce distribution system costs”. (S Environment and Agriculture; Wed, Jun 4)

S3035: Establishes a “Task Force on the Underground Economy and Employee Misclassification” within state government and chaired by the Director of Labor and Training, to “foster voluntary compliance with the law by educating business owners and employees about applicable requirements; conduct joint, targeted investigations and enforcement actions against violators; protect the health, safety and benefit rights of workers; and restore competitive equality for law-abiding businesses” (S Labor; Wed, Jun 4)

H7370/S2347: New regulations concerning dental anesthesia. (H Health, Education and Welfare; Wed, Jun 4)

Inobvious Priorities: S2925 >> Allows retailers to sell non-simple “reading magnifying glasses, toy glasses, goggles consisting of plano white or plano colored lenses or ordinary colored glasses” without a prescription (in addition to the simple ones they can already sell); H8135/S2858 >> “Authorizes” the office of regulatory reform to “develop online maps, flow charts, and other visualizations” of regulatory and permitting processes “to increase their navigability and efficiency”. But should a government agency really need “authorization” to make their processes understandable?

Local Impact: Bristol, East Greenwich, Middletown/Newport, Narrgansett, North Providence, North Smithfield, Pawtucket, South Kingstown 2, Warwick.

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