Coming up in Committee: Twenty-Four Sets of Bills Plus One Ceremonial Resolution Being Heard by the RI General Assembly, April 8 – April 10

1. S2091: Repeal of the master-lever, i.e. the option of using a single mark to vote for all of the candidates from one party (while ignoring non-partisan races, and creating general confusion in elect more-than-one races), from RI General election ballots. (S Judiciary; Tue, Apr 8)

2A. H7944/S2778: Adds fire districts to the “fiscal stabilization law”, the law that allows the state to displace the elected local governments of financially distressed communities and supersede them with budget commissions and receivers. (H Finance; Tue, Apr 8 & S Finance; Tue, Apr 8) This is pretty obviously directed at the Central Coventry Fire district. It’s a single-sponsor bill — but the single sponsor is Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello, though it had been submitted by then-Rep Mattiello before all heck broke loose at the statehouse. Also worth noting is the simultaneous-hearing fast-track the bill appears to be on.

2B. H7943: 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, Apr 10) This bill could also be described as “replaces Albert Brien on the Woonsocket Budget Commission with someone yet to be determined (at least as far as the public knows)”. People have a better case for taking to the streets shouting “It’s a coup! It’s a coup!” in response to this bill (though it would still be a stretch) than they do in response to Gordon Fox’s resignation.

3A. 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, Apr 8)

3B. H7587: Changes firearms permitting by local law enforcement agencies from a “shall issue” process, to a “may issue” process requiring an applicant to show a “good reason to fear an injury to his or her person or property” or another “proper showing of need”. (H Judiciary; Tue, Apr 8) As noted previously on this blog, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled that issuing permits allowing the carrying of firearms off of private private on an exclusively “may issue” basis is violates the Constitutional right to bear arms. 

4A. H896: Proposed amendment to the state constitution (requiring voter approval), changing the state’s current duty under Article XII to promote schools and libraries into a (judicially enforceable) “right to an adequate education”. (H Health, Education and Welfare; Wed, Apr 9)

4B. S2184 prohibits “measures of student growth and achievement” from being used in public-school teacher evaluation before July 1, 2019. (S Education; Wed, Apr 9). H7887 allows student growth and achievement to be considered in teacher evaluations, while limiting it to 1/3 of a “total final rating”, and specifying that it must be “comprised of multiple measures”. (H Health, Education and Welfare; Wed, Apr 9)

4C. S2014 requires teachers to be notified of layoffs due to “fiscal exigency or program reorganization” by June 1. (Currently, layoff notices of any kind must be sent by March 1). S2416 adds program reduction/elimination and budget reduction to a “decrease in pupil population” as cases where teacher layoffs must be carried out on the basis of seniority, and sets May 15 as the corresponding layoff notice date. (S Labor; Wed, Apr 9)

5. On Thursday, April 10, the House Finance Committee will hear a series of tax-change proposals:

  • H7064: Raises the estate tax threshold in Rhode Island to $2M, and taxes only the amount over $2M.
  • H7140: Raises the estate tax threshold in Rhode Island to $1.5M, and taxes only the amount over $1.5M.
  • H7814: Excludes the first $5M of value of a farm or small business from the estate tax calculation.
  • H7139: Repeals both the minimum corporate income tax AND the franchise tax for businesses 3 or fewer years old.  Congratluations to the sponsors for getting both parts of the minimum business tax, meaning it really would be a tax-cut of $500.
  • H7034: Purportedly, repeals the $500 RI franchise tax for the first three years of a corporation’s existence, and from then on reduces it by $100 per employee, through a tax-credit, up to a maximum of a $400 credit (for 4 or more employees) However, because the minimum income tax is not touched by this bill, the three-year moratorium applies only to S-Corporations, and not C-corporations or LLCs; they would still owe the $500 minimum income tax, even if the franchise tax is repealed.  Because it has the structure of the tax credit, the long-term part may apply to all corporations,
  • H7290: Reduces the corporate income tax in RI from 9% to 7%.
  • H7729: The “JUMPSTART RI” program, which gives certain qualifying kinds of new businesses, that create a net-number of new jobs in Rhode Island, a substantial package of tax-breaks for a seven-year period.

5B. S2210: Raises the income tax on incomes over $250,000 from 6% to 8%. (S Finance; Thu, Apr 10)

6. S2757: Allows retired police officers and firefighters to go to arbitration, to seek enforcement of the contract in place at the time they retired. (S Labor; Wed, Apr 9)

7. H7773: What seems to be a pretty broad grant of civil immunity for municipal employees, i.e. a municipal employee “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 it involved actual fraud, malice or willful misconduct”. (H Judiciary; Wed, Apr 9)

8. S2223: Limits health insurance rate increases to an amount less than the percentage increase of the Consumer Price Index, i.e. to less than the rate of inflation. (S Health and Human Services; Tue, Apr 8)

9. H7040: “If during any fiscal year the state reimbursement to cities and towns and school districts is insufficient to cover the costs of state mandates as reported by the department of revenue, the affected cities, towns and school districts may cease implementation of the state mandates at their discretion up to fifty percent of the value of the reimbursement shortfall”. (H Finance; Tue, Apr 8)

10. H7531: Prohibits anyone under 21 years old from attending a nightclub. (H Corporations; Tue, Apr 8)

11. H7668: Creates an Undergovernor for Education, similar to the Undergovernor for Commerce, to pay attention to education issues for the Governor.  The role as defined in this bill is mostly advisory, with no change made to the rest of RI’s convoluted education bureaucracy, except for the new Undergovernor becoming a voting member of the Board of Education. (H Health, Education and Welfare; Wed, Apr 9) Is this attitude of let’s create Undergovernors to do the actual Governor’s job really going to catch on?  Couldn’t we just elect a Governor who’s capable of doing his own job instead?

12. S2057: Allows the Department of Human Services to require students from families receiving cash and/or medical assistance from the state to have an 80% attendance record at school (“not including illness, or injury-related absence”) in order for the family to qualify for benefits. (S Education; Wed, Apr 9)

13. H7459 establishes a “public corruption and white collar crime unit” within the department of the Attorney General. H7618 establishes a “crimes against the public trust” section in Rhode Island law. (H Judiciary; Tue, Apr 8) Again, an important part of the second bill should be making sure it applies to the type of corruption that occurred involving the former Mayor of Central Falls, where a conviction was overturned on the grounds that it’s OK to give money to a politician in return for favors, as long as you’re not too specific about the favors you want.  We can’t really expect corrupt politicians to start issuing receipts for payoffs, to make enforcing the current law easier.

14. H7578: Requires a parent, guardian or another authorized person to be present when their child in kindergarten through grade 6 is dropped off by a school bus. “Any child not met at his or her designated home bound bus stop by a parent, guardian or authorized person, shall remain on the bus and be returned to the school or bus terminal as determined by school policy.” (H Health, Education and Welfare; Wed, Apr 9)

15. H7990: Removes the minimum charge for use of non-taxicabs hired for single trips, so long as the trip is “prearranged, and…the rate is disclosed to the passenger in advance through a software application”. (H Corporations; Tue, Apr 8)

16. H7122/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.” (H Finance; Tue, Apr 8 & S Finance; Tue, Apr 8)

17. S2488: Repeals a law giving “any person, who has served as a member of the general assembly, as a general officer, and as a justice of the supreme court, the superior court, the family court, or the district court, whose combined service as a member of the general assembly, a justice, and a general officer is twenty (20) years or more and who has retired, resigned, or completed such service” a pension “upon reaching the age of sixty-two (62) years…equal to three-fourths (3/4) of the highest annual salary that the person was receiving during such service”. (S Finance; Tue, Apr 8) Is this in anticipation of the elevation of Richard Licht to a judgeship?

18. H8003: “Any person or entity who shall purchase any revolving loan or credit card debt or obligation from any creditor after such debt is in default, shall not be entitled to recover from the obligor of said debt more than three (3) times the total amount of the original debt, including, but not limited to, interest, attorney’s fees or any other penalty, charge or fee which may be due in connection with said debt”. (H Corporations; Tue, Apr 8)

19. H7752: Prevents any “public, private or parochial or charter school” from being located within two hundred feet of an existing establishment with a Class B, C, D, or I liquor license. (H Health, Education and Welfare; Wed, Apr 9) The first sponsor on this bill is Rep. James McLaughlin, who earlier in the session sponsored the “Mineshaft Gap” bill, ostensibly to delay opening of a new Blackstone Valley Prep elementary school. Could this bill also be intended to impact BVP, or any other proposed new school getting ready to open?

20. S2235: Requires candidates, political parties and political action committees to report their expenditures over $100 “in furtherance of the nomination, election, or defeat of any candidate or the approval or rejection of any question submitted to the voters, or at any financial town meeting, financial town referendum, or other election at which amendments to a city or town charter are proposed”. (Reporting of contributions for any of the reasons cited above is already required). (S Judiciary; Tue, Apr 8)

21. S2428: Allows “individuals with two or more years of a college education [to] serve as substitute teachers for no more than forty days” in a given school year. (S Education; Wed, Apr 9)

22. H7867: Prohibits state and local government from conducting “surveillance” on the roadways, with surveillance defined as “the act of determining the ownership of a motor vehicle or the identity of a motor vehicle’s occupants”. However, the bills then adds list of exceptions, includes things “operation of a toll collection system”. (H Judiciary; Wed, Apr 9)

23. S2442: Mandates that RI water suppliers directly manage funds they receive for water quality protection, instead of remitting them to the Rhode Island Clean Water Finance Agency. (S Environment and Agriculture; Wed, Apr 9)

24. S2575: “Any board or commission vested with governing powers over a mobile or manufactured home community shall establish and/or adhere to fair and impartial guidelines and bylaws for conducting elections”. (S Commerce; Tue, Apr 8)

Exception to My Usual Practice of Not Listing Ceremonial Resolutions: S2828: “RESOLVED, That this Senate of the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations hereby strongly supports United States Senate Resolution 378 and condemns Russian military aggression against Ukraine”. (S Special Legislation and Veterans’ Affairs; Thu, Apr 10)

Ranking Indeterminate: H7970: The “Rhode Island Behavioral Health Care Reform Act of 2014”.(H Corporations; Tue, Apr 8)

H7997: New licensing and regulation for third-party loan servicers and deferred deposit lenders (aka, as the bill says directly, “pay-day lenders”) (H Corporations; Wed, Apr 9)

S2692: Creates a new “Renewable Energy Contractor” certificate within the body of Rhode Island contracting law. (S Environment and Agriculture; Wed, Apr 9)

H7605: “The office of management and budget shall develop an implementation plan for a centralized hearing agency which will standardize the state’s administrative hearing process, reduce confusion, improve efficiency by dedicating qualified state personnel to administrative hearing duties only, and increase trust and transparency in the state hearing process”. (H Judiciary; Wed, Apr 9)

S2704: Moves the responsibility for reviewing health-insurance rate changes from the Department of Business Regulation to the Office of the Health Insurance Commissioner, and also requires the insurance advocacy unit of the attorney general’s office to be informed of a planned change. (S Health and Human Services; Tue, Apr 8)

Local Impact: Barrington, Middletown/Newport?, North Providence 2 3 4 5 6, Providence, Tiverton, West Warwick 2,Woonsocket.

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