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 mean 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.

5. S0625/S0630: Makes it illegal to distribute indecent material that was created “without the consent of the person or all persons depicted in the visual image”.  (S Judiciary; Tue, Mar 24)

6. S0381: Removes the religious exemption allowing students at public schools to refuse “immunization and/or testing for communicable diseases”. (S Health and Human Services; Thu, Mar 26)

7. S0039: Limits electric rate increases that can be approved by the public utilities commission to “no greater than five and 5 one-half percent (5.5%) or the percentage increase in the Consumer Price Index…unless the increase shall have been previously approved by affirmative action of the general assembly”. (S Commerce; Tue, Mar 24) This is a case of the General Assembly trying to end-run the State Constitution, giving it the power to take actions that have force of law, without submitting a bill to the Governor for his approval or veto. S0399, on the other hand, is a straightforward price-control, limiting electric rate increases to “two and one-half percent within any consecutive twenty-four month period”.

8. H5622: Creates a statewide system for voter registration, to be implemented by the Secretary of State. (H Judiciary; Wed, Mar 25)

9. S0645: 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. (S Labor; Thu, Mar 26)

10. H5802: Increases the cost of obtaining a “first” badge require to lobby the General Assembly from $5 to $150. If an individual wants additional badges to represent other organizations, they would be $10 each (H Finance; Tue, Mar 24)

11. S0531: Abolishes expiration dates from RI police and fire contracts, making their terms permanent until a new contract is agreed upon, or an interest arbitration ruling is rendered. (H Labor; Thu, Mar 5)

12. S0673: Allows mutual aid agreements between campus and municipal police departments. (S Judiciary; Tue, Mar 24) The funny thing about this “mutual” aid legislation is that it goes into some detail about campus police coming under the command authority of a municipal department, but not the reverse situation, which doesn’t sound very mutual.

13. S0659: Prohibits an “agent of the state or any political subdivisions” from obtaining location information from an electronic device without a warrant (with various emergency exceptions). (S Judiciary; Tue, Mar 24)

14. H5155: Clarifies existing law stating that the home address of someone confined to a correctional facility, for voting purposes, is the address they had before they began serving their sentence and creates processes to make sure this law is properly enforced.(H Judiciary; Wed, Mar 25)

15. H5931: Allows an application for a mail-ballot, by itself, to serve as confirmation that a voters address is still legitimate, after an official mailing from the state or municipality has been returned as undeliverable. (H Judiciary; Wed, Mar 25)

16. H5731: Maintenance of effort requirement for the state contribution to its pension system, until the system is 80% funded. (H Finance; Tue, Mar 24)

17. H5860: Prohibits General Assembly members from holding appointed municipal government or state quasi-government positions. (H Judiciary; Wed, Mar 25)

18. H5372: Most of this bill is about new regulations for provisional ballots, but it also contains a pilot program for auditing election results, which may be its most significant section. (H Judiciary; Wed, Mar 25)

19. S0700: Adds teachers at Mayoral Academies to the state pension system. (S Education; Wed, Mar 25)

20. S0533: Subjects fire-department “platoon structure and/or shift schedule” to collective bargaining. (S Labor; Wed, Mar 25)

21. S0643: Changes the standard for total disability for a police officer from “impossible for one to follow continuously a gainful occupation” to “no longer possible for one to perform his or her duties as a police officer”. (S Labor; Wed, Mar 25)

22. H5878: Adds “requirement for public safety reinforcement” to list of circumstances where the Governor can activate the National Guard. (H Veterans’ Affairs; Wed, Mar 25)

23. H5140: Mandates that any state surplus in a fiscal year be evenly divided between the state’s general fund and cities and towns, with the city/town part being dedicated to paying for unfunded liabilities, bond indebtedness and pension obligations”. (H Finance; Tue, Mar 24)

24. H5462: Constitutional amendment (to be sumitted to the voters) mandating instant runoff voting in general officer and General Assembly elections. (H Judiciary; Wed, Mar 25) IMHO, the proposed amendment needs to specify a little more detail, about how a proposed instant runoff system would be carried out.

25. H5225: Raises from 18 to 21 the minimum age for buying tobacco products. (H Health, Education and Welfare; Wed, Mar 25)

26. H5869: Repeals a law, that would probably be declared unconstitutional if challenged, prohibiting campaign literature “designed or tending to injure or defeat any candidate for nomination or election to any public office, by criticizing the candidate’s personal character or political action, or designed or tending to aid, injure, or defeat any question submitted to the voters, unless there appears upon the circular, flier, or poster in a conspicuous place the name of the author and either the names of the chairperson and secretary, or of two officers, of the political or other organization issuing the poster, flier, or circular, or of some voter who is responsible for it, with the voter’s name and residence, and the street and numbers, if any”. (H Judiciary; Wed, Mar 25)

27. S0179: Requires Rhode Island law enforcement agencies to obtain a warrant before using aerial drones “for any purpose whatsoever”. (S Judiciary; Tue, Mar 24)

28. S0094/S0331: Regulations for naturopathic physicians, including having the Secretary of State appoint two adivsors to the director of the Rhode Island department of health “in matters relating to naturopathic physicians”. (S Health & Human Services; Tue, Mar 24) Note to Rhode Island General Assembly: Lincoln Chafee is not Governor anymore, so you no longer need to continually propose these oddball governmental structures intended to minimize his influence on executive branch decision making.

29A. H5749: Charges the Office of Regulatory Reform with implementing a “Lean government initiative”, e.g. “comprehensively mapping processes to define and understand what is happening in government and to identify ‘waste’, as defined in the context of Lean analysis, in their processes”. (H Finance; Tue, Mar 24) This bill is premised on the idea that government can be made more efficient by adding a new layer of processes to manage existing processes. Also, the bill makes enigmatic references to “Lean tools and enterprises” with a capital L. Would those have to be brought from a particular vendor?

29B. HH5567: Creates a “municipal performance management program…to help all government entities learn quality tools and techniques and deploy them throughout their workforce and facilities in order to improve governmental efficiency and effectiveness, and enhance governmental services for the residents of Rhode Island”, utilizing scholarships and awards, as well as a performance management roundtable. (H Finance; Tue, Mar 24)

30. H5938: More stringent rules for non-payment of wages by an employer (H Labor; Thu, Mar 26)

31. S0082: 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.” (S Commerce; Thu, Mar 26)

32. S0254: Authorizes law enforcement officers to provide verbal warnings to motorists who are smoking in a vehicle “containing a child who is restrained or required to be restrained” under current safety law. (S Judiciary; Tue, Mar 24)

33. The 2015 version of Rhode Island’s continuing battle between body shops versus automobile insurers; new court procedures (H5471), broadening the definition of “aftermarket part” (H5783), plus new licensing of motor vehicle glass repair shops (H5783) and the creation of a two-tiered licensing system for auto body shops (H5491) (H Corporations; Tue, Mar 24)

34. H5542: $750,000 appropriation to the Polaris Manufacturing Extension Partnership, “a statewide nonprofit organization based in Providence”. (H Finance; Thu, Mar 26) Appropriations to a private organization require a 2/3 vote to pass the full House and Senate.

35. Bills intended to convince the public that the General Assembly is taking some kind of strong ethical stand in the wake of Gordon Fox’s guilty plea– Oooops, sorry; editorializing comments are supposed to be italicized. So I’ll say it again. Bills intended to convince the public that the General Assembly is taking some kind of strong ethical stand in the wake of Gordon Fox’s guilty plea. H5840 requires bank statements (that don’t become part of the public record) to be filed with campaign finance accounts. H5840 requires that political candidates maintain separate bank accounts for their campaign money. H5865 requires requires that political candidates who receive more than $1000 in a campaign cycle maintain separate bank accounts for their campaign money. H5920 requires requires that political candidates who receive more than $25000 in any year appoint a campaign treasurer who is not themselves. (H Judiciary; Wed, Mar 25)

Ranking Indeterminate: The House Judiciary agenda for Tuesday, March 24 contains a number of bills related to the handling and rules of civil lawsuits: H5761, H5759, H5760, H5763, H5247, H5248.

Inobvious Priorities: H5560 >> Creates a position of “Rhode Island economic representative to the European Union”; H5941 >> Creates a general (but expressly powerless) position of Rhode Island Ecnomoic Ambassador; S0716 >> Adds “inspectors of the public utilities commission and division of motor carriers” to the list of RI “peace officers” with the power to make arrests; H5755 >> Clarifies the definition of mattresses.

Local Impact: Central Falls, Coventry, East Greenwich, Glocester, Middletown, North Kingstown, Richmond 2, Smithfield 2, Warren.

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