Coming up in Committee: Thirty-Two Sets of Bills to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, May 7 – May 9

1. On Tuesday, May 7, the House Finance Committee will hear several bills that reorganize government with respect to the regulation and promotion of commerce in the state of Rhode Island. The most interesting contrast is the difference between H6074, a GOP sponsored proposal to terminate the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation and pull some of its current functions into an Executive Office of Economic Development within government, versus the combination of H6063/H6071: which would add an Executive Office of Commerce to a largely unchanged but renamed Economic Development Corporation (it would become the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation), both of which be headed by a Secretary of Commerce, who would not be subject to Senate advice and consent.

2. H5207: Creates a “Joint Committee of the Repealer” within the legislature, to recommend laws & regulations to be repealed. (H Judiciary; Thu, May 9) IMHO, it is possible that this is the best economic development bill currently before the General Assembly.

3. A series of pro-life bills concerning abortion.  H5566 bans abortions as a means of sex-selection of a child.  H5488 requires the “voluntary and informed consent” of a woman seeking an abortion before it is performed, and the Department of health to distribute public service and physiological information relevant to abortion. H5435 requires that an obstetric ultrasound be performed, before informed consent can be given for an abortion.  H5334 adds some specificity to the definition and the penalties in Rhode Island laws that prohibit partial-birth abortion. H5104 establishes crimes of murder, voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter, battery and assault of an unborn child. (H Judiciary; Wed, May 8)

4. S0768: The title of the bill is “Drivers license for foreign nationals”. The text of the bill makes no reference to illegal or legal immigration status, though it’s hard to see why a legal immigrant to Rhode Island would want the second-class driver’s license created by this bill, if he or she is eligible for a regular one. The bill requires “foreign nationals” to “present evidence of pre-paid liability insurance for the term of one year or proof of financial responsibility” and to “submit fingerprints to the Rhode Island state police who shall conduct fingerprint-based criminal background checks” when applying for a license. And when renewing the license, the foreign national must “provide evidence of having filed both state and federal taxes”. (S Judiciary; Tue, May 7)

5. H5751 creates a new 8% tax-bracket for income above $250,000 per year (currently, the highest tax bracket is 6% beginning at $125,000 per year); H5805: extends the 6% bracket up to $200,000 and creates a new 10% bracket for incomes of $200,000 or above. (H Finance; Wed, May 8)

6. H6051: Proposed constitutional amendment 1) stating that “artificial entities established by the laws of any state, the United States, or any foreign state” (read “corporations”) “shall have no rights under this Constitution” and 2) rolling back Constitutional freedom-of-expression guarantees, by mandating that the government restrict the amount that individuals are allowed to spend on political communications. (H Judiciary; Thu, May 9) This amendment would have very far reaching consequences, which I’m going to guess that our legislators haven’t really thought through. To name just a few a) the news content of large newspapers or television stations could be subject to regulation, if media “corporations” were stripped of the constitutional-level freedom of speech b) there is no bar to seizure of property owned by corporations, if they do not possess property rights c) collective bargaining organizations wouldn’t automatically be covered under the US Constitution’s “no impairment of contracts” clause, if it cannot be presumed that organizations possess a right to enter contracts d) even for an individual candidate who does nothing but collect money in small donations from other individuals, a simple act like buying a printer cartridge to print out a few flyers could run afoul of the law, if it occurs after a campaign expenditure limit has been reached.

7A. S0833: Creates a “program integrity division within the office of health and human services…to oversee and coordinate state and local efforts to investigate and eliminate Medicaid and public assistance fraud and to recover state and federal funds”. Submitted at the request of the Governor. (S Health and Human Services; Tue, May 7)

7B. H5059: Makes conversion of food stamps into cash into a felony. (H Judiciary; Tue, May 7)

8. S0794: Unionizes child-care providers who receive financial assistance from the department of human services, and allows the union to collect dues from qualified providers who choose not to join the union. (S Labor; Wed, May 8)

9. H5930: Places fire-districts under the state property tax cap. (H Finance; Thu, May 9)

10. H5765: “Any employee or official of [a city, town or fire district] shall not be sued in his or her personal or individual capacity except upon a showing, by clear and convincing evidence, that the act or omission was not within the scope of employment, or the act or omission was because of actual fraud, actual misconduct, or actual malice”; H5766: “A city, town, or fire district employee or official may be sued in his or her individual capacity, only if it can be established that his or her act or omission, upon which the cause of action was based, was not performed within the scope of his or her employment or involved actual fraud or malice or willful misconduct”. (H Judiciary; Wed, May 8)

11. H5497: Defines a section of crimes against the public trust in Rhode Island law. (H Judiciary; Thu, May 9)

12. H5770: As a condition of eligibility for certain state-funded medical assistance programs, “every applicant or recipient who owns a life estate in property with retained rights to revoke, amend or redesignate the remainderman must exercise those rights as directed by the executive office of health and human services”. (H Judiciary; Tue, May 7)

13. H6005: Allows campus police officers at RI colleges and universities to carry firearms. (H Judiciary; Thu, May 9)

14. S0751: Creates a tax-credit program for employers that establish “wellness programs” at work. (S Health & Human Services; Thu, May 9) In order to get a “wellness seal of approval” from state government, one factor the department of health is to consider is the “participation rate by employees”. Raise your hand, if you’d like to have your employer taking an interest in your individual health as a possible condition of getting a tax break.

15. S0832: Converts the “health care planning and accountability advisory council”, an in-government advisory panel, into the “health analytics, policy and planning commission”, a quasi-public body (with an executive director who “shall set his or her compensation and terms of employment”(?)), responsible for performing analyses on financial and quality reports for licensed health care providers, health outcomes and health expenditures”. Submitted at the request of the Lieutenant Governor. (S Health and Human Services; Tue, May 7) Why should this be a quasi-public agency outside of the main government be performing this function; perhaps so it can eventually become a state level version of the Federal IPAB?

16. S0145: “The Comprehensive Racial Profiling Prevention Act of 2013”, including such provisions as requiring police officers to document the grounds of their “reasonable suspicion” or “probable cause” searches, to contact a dispatcher or supervising officer where practicable before conducting a search, and requiring traffic stops to be recorded when a police vehicle is equipped to do so. (S Judiciary; Tue, May 7)

17. On Tuesday, May 7, the Senate Finance Committee will hear a group of significant local-impact bills. S0820 allows the City of Woonsocket to levy $2.5M worth of supplemental taxes for this year.S0677 exempts the property of the Stadium Theater in Woonsocket from state and local taxes. S0856 changes the boundaries of the Coventry, Western Coventry, and Hopkins Hill Road Fire Districts, presumably to break the Central Coventry Fire District up amongst them, and states explicitly that “this act should not be construed to mean, under any circumstances, that the Coventry fire district, Western Coventry Fire District, Hopkins Hill Road Fire District shall assume any of the Central Coventry Fire District’s debts and liabilities”.

18. S0357: Prohibits employers from asking if potential employees have been convicted of a crime on a job application (the question could be asked if the applicant is made a finalist, or given a conditional offer of employment). (S Judiciary; Tue, May 7)

19. S0819: Requires the I-195 commission to pay property taxes on land that it owns to the City of Providence. (S Finance; Thu, May 9) Exactly how much revenue can government raise by taxing itself?

20. H5854: Increases the fee for a marriage license by $46, and gives $44 to the “the Rhode Island coalition against domestic violence”. (H Judiciary; Thu, May 9) Is it “pragmatism” or ideology to think of newlyweds a source of funding for domestic violence programs?

21. H5877: Bans unsolicited telemarketing calls to cell phones. (H Judiciary; Tue, May 7)

22. S0816: “Not later than July 1, 2014, and thereafter, all heating oil sold in the state shall contain not less than five percent (5%) of a biobased product”. (S Environment and Agriculture; Wed, May 8)

23. H5944: Allows antitrust lawsuits by persons or public bodies “who have not dealt directly” with the party being sued. (H Judiciary; Thu, May 9)

24. S0576: Directs the state board of education to create a policy for awarding academic credit for suitable military training and coursework, and to give combat veterans preference in class registration at the state’s public colleges and universities. (S Special Legislation and Veterans Affairs; Wed, May 8)

25. H5899: Requires that use of ignition interlocks be part of the sentence for driving under the influence. (H Judiciary; Thu, May 9)

26. H5827: Requires parents of drivers license applicants who are under the age of 18 to take a course on drivers’ education curriculum and licensing. (H Judiciary; Thu, May 9)

27. S0136: Adds Federal military installations to the list of properties eligible for payments-in-lieu of taxes (PILOT) paid to their hosting communities. Note that PILOT amounts are computed as a percentage of taxable value, so this would impose an additional cost on state taxpayers, not simply redistribute existing payments. (S Finance; Thu, May 9)

28. H6021: Lowers the retail sales tax on alcoholic beverages from 6% to 3%, while changing around some other volume-based “manufacturing tax rates” on “beverages manufactured, rectified, blended, or reduced for sale in this state”. (H Finance; Thu, May 9)

29. S0067: Eliminates the sales tax on taxicab services. (S Finance; Thu, May 9)

30. S0755: Allows “developmental disability agencies” to operate their own “self-insurance” plans for “employees, retirees and other beneficiaries”. (S Health and Human Services; Thu, May 9) 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.

31. H5425: Prohibits local governments from setting any on-site sewage disposal or wetland setback standards that are “inconsistent with or in excess” of DEM or CRMC standards. (H Environment and Natural Resources; Wed, May 8)

32. H5228: “The tax on sugar-sweetened beverages shall be one dollar and twenty-eight cents ($1.28) per gallon of sugar-sweetened beverage” (H Finance; Wed, May 8)

Not Sure How High or Low to Rank This: H6030/S0809: Creates a 9-member board, including several “cabinet” heads or their designees, to decide on criteria to let businesses advertise their products as “Made in Rhode Island” and to study ways to increase the production and demand of locally produced goods and services. (H Small Business; Tue, May 7 & S Commerce; Tue, May 7)

Not Sure How High or Low to Rank This II: On Tuesday, May 7, the House Corporations Committee will hear several bills on the regulation the insurance and real estate businesses, e.g. S0667 updates the current “Credit for Reinsurance” law, so that it matches the National Association of Insurance Commissioners model law. Someone needs to remind me. Is “model legislation” inherently good or inherently bad this week?

Local Impact: Charlestown, Newport (and cruise ships docking there), North Providence, Pawtucket, Portsmouth , Scituate.

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