Coming up in Committee: Thirty-Two Sets of Bills Being Heard by the RI General Assembly, April 29 – May 1

1. H7512: Eliminates the straight-party option, aka “the master lever”, from Rhode Island general election ballots. Also, H8072 eliminates the the master lever from Rhode Island general election ballots, and provides for “community outreach” in order “to educate the public, including the elderly” about how to vote without using the master lever. (H Judiciary; Tue, Apr 29)

2. H7767: Repeal of Rhode Island’s voter-ID law. (H Judiciary; Tue, Apr 29)

3. Proposed amendments to the State Constitution, that would require ratification by the voters:

H7024: Trades an extension of Senator/Representative terms to 4 years, for a term-limit of 3 terms. (H Judiciary; Tue, Apr 29) I’m not in favor of across the board 4 year terms for the Rhode Island General Assembly, but if they were to be implemented, shouldn’t they be staggered so roughly half the seats are up every two years?

H7458: Reduces the number of House districts to 50, with two representatives being elected from each district, one male and one female. (H Judiciary; Tue, Apr 29)

H7593: Unambiguously extends the jurisdiction of the State Ethics Commission to the legislature (H Judiciary; Tue, Apr 29)

H7594/S2420: Removes free-speech protections from any activity that involves the spending of money. (H Judiciary; Tuesday, April 29 & S Special Legislation and Veterans’ Affairs; Wed, Apr 30) The publication of newspaper editorials that offer candidate endorsements could be regulated by the government under this amendment — that is, if there’s weren’t a First Amendment to the Federal Constitution, that supersedes any attempt by Rhode Island’s governing class to limit political speech.

S2113: Requires “Senators, representatives and general office holders [to] contribute twenty percent (20%) towards the premium for health care coverage paid for by the state of Rhode Island”. (S Special Legislation and Veterans’ Affairs; Wed, Apr 30)

S2397: Changes the state’s current duty under Article XII to promote schools and libraries into a (judicially enforceable) “right to an adequate education”. (S Special Legislation and Veterans’ Affairs; Wed, Apr 30)

H8014: Line item veto (including the option of line-item reductions), with the GA able to override any item through the usual process. (H Judiciary; Tue, Apr 29) One thought here: Does a provision like this need some kind of protection, so that the GA can’t just override everything that was line-item vetoed, with a single en masse override vote?

4. S2309: Repeals the the provisions in the law allowing “deferred deposit” loans, i.e. “pay-day” loans, and that allow check-cashing businesses to automatically operate as pay-day lenders. (S Commerce; Thu, May 1) According to the official description, this is a complete repeal of pay-day lending.

5. H7263: Clarifies that existing law states 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; Tue, Apr 29)

6. H7437: Writes  in-state tuition for illegal aliens (but not non-immigrant aliens) attending Rhode Island public colleges and universities into the law, for students who graduated from a Rhode Island high school that they spent three years at, and who have applied for citizenship (if the Federal government has provided a pathway to citizenship as part of an amnesty law). (H Finance; Wed, Apr 30)

7. H7011: Utility rate price controls, i.e. “no public utility, common carrier or other entity shall be entitled to an aggregate rate increase in excess of two and one-half percent (2.5%) within any consecutive twenty-four month period”. (H Finance; Thu, May 1)

8A. H7421 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. H7563 raises the threshold for state childcare assistance to 225% of the Federal poverty level (without trying to strike out the work requirement, while no one is looking). H7241 eliminates the $10,000 liquid asset test for eligibility for state childcare assistance. H7243 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”. H7733 extends a temporary program for providing short term state childcare assistance for people in job training for an additional six months. (H Finance; Wed, Apr 30)

8B. H7242 eliminates the six-month limit on “adult education in an intensive work readiness program” counting towards the work requirement for welfare assistance. H7734: allows the 35-hour work requirement for welfare eligibility to be split between two members of a household. H7288 sets “income disregards” for Medicare at 185% of the Federal poverty level.

9. H7601: Mandates that the Board of Elections create an online voter registration system. (H Judiciary; Tue, Apr 29)

10.H8007: Establishes racial set-asides for loans to be made in 2014 from funds remaining in the State Small Business Credit Initiative program. (H Finance; Thu, May 1)

11. S2070: Eliminates the capital gains tax on assets purchased in 2014 or after and sold in 2017 or after, if they represent “an ownership interest in an entity incorporated and having its headquarters located in the state of Rhode Island”, were not previously owned by the purchaser, are worth a “minimum amount of ten thousand dollars” representing “newly issued capital of the Rhode Island entity” and “owned by the taxpayer for at least three uninterrupted years prior to the sale or transaction that created the capital gain”. (S Finance; Tue, Apr 29)

12. H7748: Exempts “community action program agencies and any predecessor named” from real and personal property taxes (H Finance; Tue, Apr 29) “Any predecessor named” suggests this bill might have the Community Action Partnership of Providence in mind, whose predecessor was the Providence Community Action Partnership, which had entered into receivership. On the other hand, ProCAP’s receiver told the Projo last year “that because of ProCAP’s nonprofit status, the agency was not required to pay city property taxes”. Could he have been referring to a local ordinance, that the city is threatening to change? This bill would also likely affect the situation in Woonsocket where, according to the Valley Breeze, the city is talking about levying property taxes on the Family Resources Community Action organization.

12, cont’d. H7557: More bills to help out “community action program agencies” by establishing an “emergency housing assistance fund which shall be administered by the department of human services in conjunction with community action program agencies”, with a purpose of “providing safe and affordable housing to residents”. The bill calls for appropriations, but no specific amount is mentioned in the bill (but H7735 appropriates $3.4M for a “housing rental subsidy program” and $439K for “homeless prevention and assistance”). (H Finance; Tue, Apr 29)

13. H7325: Sends various motor vehicle fees to a restricted receipt account that “may only be used to cover the costs of maintenance relating to state and local highway and bridge proposals”. (H Finance; Thu, May 1)

14A S2063: “An individual shall not use direct cash assistance funds held on electronic benefit transfer cards for the purchase of alcoholic beverages, lottery tickets, or tobacco products”. (S Finance; Tue, Apr 29)

14B H7661: Requires an electronic benefits transfer card to have a photo of the person it was issued to (H Finance; Wed, Apr 30)

15. H7377: Creates a regular schedule for the state government adoption of non-emergency regulations; proposed regulations to be published in December, public hearings to be held in January, and adoption to be completed no later than April. (H Judiciary; Wed, Apr 30)

16. S2579: Makes permanent a sales tax exemption for certain Rhode Island Commerce Corporation projects, that previously only applied to projects approved in 2011 or prior. (S Finance; Tue, Apr 29) Sources knowledgeable about RI construction tell me there are non-Superman building projects this bill could immediately help.

17. H7613 requires a mortgagee who is foreclosing on a property to maintain it up to the level of state or local housing code, should the property become vacant during the foreclosure process. H7504 requires a “financial institution or business entity” that purchases a foreclosed property to do appropriate maintenance. (H Judiciary; Wed, Apr 30)

18. H7171/S2165: Creates a process for the General Assembly to fill the office of Lieutenant Governor, in the event of a vacancy. (H Judiciary; Tue, Apr 29 & S Special Legislation and Veterans’ Affairs; Wed, Apr 30)

19. H7620: Removes the civil forfeiture penalty for direct acts of prostitution, while adding civil forfeiture penalties to “pandering or permitting prostitution”. (H Judiciary; Tue, Apr 29)

20. H7450: Makes it illegal to discriminate against someone, on the basis that they have been involved in a discrimination claim. (H Judiciary; Wed, Apr 30)

21. S2598: Makes the knockout-game into a felony punishable by up to 3 years in prison and/or a $1500 fine. (S Judiciary; Tue, Apr 29)

22. H7038/H7247: Increases the amount of money in the Clean Water Finance Agency Municipal Road and Bridge Revolving Fund that cities and towns can borrow to $50M (from $20M). (H Finance; Thu, May 1)

23. H7526/S2502: Eliminates the 2015 sunset date on the “Health Care Services Utilization Review Act” (H Corporations; Tue, Apr 29 & S Health and Human Services; Tue, Apr 29) Worth noting this is being considered in two committees, on the same day, and would be a permanent “fix” to a law that would otherwise be temporary, and that has been extended at least once before.

24A. H7022: “No lobbyist, governed by this chapter, shall make any political contributions to any member of the general assembly from January 1, through July 1, for each session”. (H Judiciary; Tue, Apr 29)

24B. H7617: Prohibits vendors who contract with state agencies for more than $5,000 from contributing to political candidates seeking the office responsible for awarding their contracts. (H Judiciary; Tue, Apr 29)

24C. H7864: Some pretty serious restrictions on the political activity of members of the judicial nominating commission, preventing them from holding or campaigning for any other public office, holding any political party office, participating or contributing to a political campaign, “directly or indirectly attempt[ing] to influence any decision by a governmental body, other than as the duly authorized representative of the commission”, or having an ownership interest in a lobbying firm. (H Judiciary; Tue, Apr 29) I’m skeptical that all of these provisions could pass constitutional muster if challenged (*unless the challenge was brought by a Republican party member, with the case somehow making its way into the Federal system, and being decided by Jack McConnell)

25. S2644: Makes it illegal to disseminate indecent material that was created “with or without that other person’s knowledge and consent under circumstances in which that other person would have a reasonable expectation of privacy and, thereafter, without the consent of the person or all persons depicted in the visual image”. (S Judiciary; Tue, Apr 29)

26. S2480: 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 types of businesses which the government must include in economic impact analysis when creating new regulations. (S Commerce; Tue, Apr 29)

27. S2274: Reduces the corporate income tax on “any electronic vehicle manufacturer” by 0.25% per “the number of units of new employment for each taxable year through the taxable year ending in 2014 and for each taxable year thereafter” up to a maximum reduction of 6%. (S Finance; Tue, Apr 29)

28. S2085: Allows certain “mobile and manufactured homes within a mobile and manufactured home park” to count towards a city or town’s stock of low and moderate income housing. (S Housing and Municipal Government; Thu, May 1)

29. H7236: Appropriates $5 per each non-institutionalized person age 65 and over to municipalities and that provide “an equal amount of cash or in-kind resources for senior programs” for use in a “community senior services grant program”. (H Finance; Wed, Apr 30)

30. H7041: Replaces the four gubernatorial appointments on the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority Board with officials from four East Bay cities/towns. (H Finance; Thu, May 1) I’m not getting the punchline to this joke.

31. S2705: Requires that 501c(3)s in cities or towns where zoning ordinances are being considered, who have register with the proper authorities, receive notification by mail of hearings on the proposed changes. (S Housing and Municipal Government; Thu, May 1) The legislature is moving dangerously close to turning private organizations into a branch of government with this bill.

32. S2567: Bans people prohibited from possessing firearms from possessing blasting explosives or fireworks. (S Judiciary; Tue, Apr 29)

Ranking Indeterminate: H7895: Rules for calculating the “property tax rate for residential property subject to low-income housing covenant restrictions”. (H Finance; Tue, Apr 29)

H7503: Multiple changes to election law, including the creation of a “risk-limiting audit pilot program”. (H Judiciary; Tue, Apr 29)

H7517: Defines a crime of “residential mortgage fraud”.(H Judiciary; Wed, Apr 30)

H7921: Creates an “Economic Hardship Relief Fund” to compensate certain business owners who experience a decline in business revenue as a direct result of the failure of any contractor licensed or registered pursuant to this chapter, to complete any road or bridge construction project in a timely fashion in accordance with any contract entered into with the department of transportation”. (H Finance; Thu, May 1)

S2656: “A mortgage naming a third party as the mortgagee who is not the named payee or lender on the underlying promissory note or other negotiable instrument as defined in chapter 3 of title 6A of the general laws secured by the mortgage shall be invalid for recording, and shall not be enforceable as a mortgage lien except as provided in §34-11-43”, but “the invalidity of the mortgage shall not invalidate the underlying indebtedness intended to be secured by the mortgage. (S Judiciary; Tue, Apr 29)

Inobvious Priorities: S2899 >> Allows Providence fire-department arson investigators to carry firearms statewide (and will the URI faculty have a collective aneurysm over this bill?); S2858 >> Does the legislature really need to pass a law, to get the rest of government to understand that their rules should be understandable? H7151 >> Ratifying direct election of US Senators.

Local Impact: Coventry (and should require a town referendum to take effect), Johnston, Narragansett, North Providence (revolving door law for elected officials), North Providence (also changes two capital T’s in “Town of Burrillville” to small t’s), Portsmouth, Smithfield 2 3.

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