Sunscreen Allowed in Schools, Renewable Energy Growth Progam Expanded: This Week at the State House
Saturday, May 13, 2017
GoLocalProv Political Team
The Senate passes a bill expanding the Renewable Energy Growth program, students are allowed sunscreen in schools and more. This week at the State House.
Senate passes Conley bill expanding Renewable Energy Growth Program
The State Senate has passed legislation introduced by Sen. William J. Conley Jr. (D-Dist. 18, East Providence, Pawtucket) that would expand the successful Renewable Energy Growth Program with an additional 400 megawatts of renewable energy over 10 years. The program allows large commercial projects as well as small renewable energy producers — such as rooftop solar — to sell their energy to National Grid at a set price over a set time (15 to 20 years). Similar legislation has been introduced in the House by Rep. Deborah Ruggiero (D-Dist. 74, Jamestown, Middletown).
House OKs Bennett bill to allow students sunscreen in schools
Students in Rhode Island schools will not be denied the right to possess and apply sunscreen under legislation sponsored by Rep. David Bennett (D-Dist. 20, Cranston, Warwick) and unanimously approved by the House. The bill creates an exemption in school medication regulations for sunscreen, which, as a Food and Drug Administration-regulated substance, requires a prescription or doctor’s note for possession at school. Sen. Joshua Miller (D-Dist. 28, Cranston, Providence) is sponsoring identical legislation in the Senate.
House approves bill requiring rear-facing car seats for tots under 2
The House passed legislation sponsored by House Majority Leader K. Joseph Shekarchi (D-Dist. 23, Warwick) to protect small children by requiring those under age 2 or weighing less than 30 pounds to be in rear-facing car seats in automobiles. Senate President Dominick Ruggerio (D-Dist. 4, North Providence, Providence) is sponsoring identical legislation in the Senate.
House Finance Committee hears Morin’s student loan forgiveness bill
The House Finance Committee has heard legislation introduced by Rep. Michael Morin (D-Dist. 49, Woonsocket) that would establish the ‘Get on Your Feet’ student loan forgiveness program, which would assist recent college and university graduates in the repayment of their student loans, by providing a grace period for the first two years after graduation. For those who meet the requirements, the state would pay the difference between what the federal government covers and the individual’s total loan payment.
Senate Policy Caucus bill will enact Affordable Care Act at state level
The Senate Health and Human Services Committee heard a bill sponsored by the Senate Policy Caucus and Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio (D-Dist. 4, North Providence, Providence) to protect Rhode Island consumers from changes at the federal level should Congress repeal or weaken the Affordable Care Act. Health and Human Services Chairman Joshua Miller (D-Dist. 28, Cranston, Providence) is the primary sponsor of the legislation. Identical legislation has been introduced in the House by Rep. Brian Patrick Kennedy (D-Dist. 38, Hopkinton, Westerly).
House Minority Leader Morgan pushes for statewide dispatch system
House Minority Leader Patricia Morgan (R-Dist. 26, Coventry, Warwick, West Warwick) has proposed legislation that would use surcharge fees collected by telecommunications providers to create a statewide computer assisted dispatch (CAD) system. The 911 fees collected for various billed services would be deposited into a restricted receipt account instead of the general fund.
Ranglin-Vassell proposes end to shaming with universal school lunch
With bipartisan support, Rep. Marcia Ranglin-Vassell (D-Dist. 5, Providence) introduced legislation to provide free lunch to all public school students. The bill is a response to “lunch shaming,” the practice of limiting students who owe money for school lunches to a cold cheese sandwich entrée or identifying them by other means, but also aims to ensure all students are well-fed and ready to learn.
Rep. Lima to introduce legislation to ban 'forever pets'
Rep. Charlene M. Lima (D-Dist. 14, Cranston, Providence) said she will introduce legislation to prohibit any business or individual in Rhode Island from renting, leasing, or in any other way offering a live animal for sale as a “forever pet” other than by a full outright sale. The legislation will make the renting or leasing of a “forever pet” a cruelty to animal violation punishable by a fine and/or imprisonment.
Rep. Kazarian introduces bill to keep guns out of schools
Rep. Katherine S. Kazarian (D-Dist. 63, East Providence) has introduced legislation that would allow only peace officers and persons approved by school authorities for the purposes of educational instruction to carry firearms or other weapons on school grounds. The legislation would apply for the property of any public or private elementary or secondary school, including school buses. Violation of the proposed law would result in imprisonment for no less than one year nor more than five years and a potential fine of no less than $500 and no more than $5,000.
Rep. Nardolillo hosts ‘Bowties Against Bullying’ event in House chamber
Rep. Robert A. Nardolillo III (R-Dist. 28, Coventry) hosted the third annual “Bowties Against Bullying” in the House chamber. For each legislator, staffer or House page who wore a bowtie, Representative Nardolillo donated $10 to CABINS (Community Against Bullying in Schools), a Rhode Island organization that formed when a teenager committed suicide after being bullied by classmates. The event raised $740 for the organization.
Criminal Justice Reform
Per recommendations from the Justice Reinvestment Working Group, the Governor is proposing nearly $1 million in investments such as the public defender mental health program ($185,000), improved mental health services at the ACI ($410,000), recovery housing ($200,000) and domestic violence intervention, in her FY18 budget.
English Language Learners
Under the heading of “promoting 3rd grade reading,” Raimondo proposed adding $2.5 million to make English Language Learning (ELL) K-12 funding permanent. The Governor’s office points out that RI is one of four states that doesn’t have permanent funding.
The suggestion was one made by the Funding Formula Working Group in January 2016, who said that “in the event that Rhode Island chooses to make an additional investment in ELLs, the funding should be calculated to be responsive to the number of ELLs in the system and based on reliable data, and include reasonable restrictions to ensure that the money is used to benefit ELLs — and promote the appropriate exiting of ELL students from services.”
Car Owners - and Drivers
Governor Raimondo wants to reduce assessed motor vehicle values by 30% - a change that would reduce total car tax bills by about $58 million in calendar year 2018. Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello, however, has indicated that he might want to go further in its repeal.
In her budget proposal, Raimondo also put forth adding 8 staffers to the the Department of Motor Vehicles to "address wait times."
The “Air Services Development Fund” would get an influx of $500,000 to “provide incentives to airlines interested in launching new routes or increasing service to T.F. Green Airport.” The Commerce Corporation set the criteria at the end of 2016 for how to grant money through the new (at the time $1.5 million fund).
Also getting a shot in the arm is the I-195 development fund, which would receive $10.1 million from debt-service savings to “resupply” the Fund to “catalyze development & attract anchor employers.”
Minimum Wage Increase
An increase in the state minimum wage is part of Raimondo’s proposal, which would see it go from $9.60 an hour to $10.50 an hour. Raimondo was unsuccessful in her effort in 2016 to bring it up to $10.10 — it was June 2015 that she signed legislation into law that last raised Rhode Island’s minimum wage, from $9 to 9.60.
The state's minimum hourly wage has gone up from $6.75 in January 2004 to $7.75 in 2013, $8 in 2014, and $9 on Jan. 1, 2015. Business groups such as the National Federation of Independent Business however have historically been against such measures, citing a hamper on job creation.
Like the minimum wage, Raimondo is looking for an increase - in this instance, the cigarette tax, and revenue to state coffers. Raimondo was unsuccessful in her effort to go from a tax of $3.75 to $4 last year. Now she is looking for an increase to $4.25 per pack, which the administration says would equate to $8.7 million in general revenue — and go in part towards outdoor recreation and smoking cessation programs.
The National Federation of Independent Business and other trade groups have historically been against such an increase, saying it will hurt small businesses - i.e. convenience stores. And clearly, if you’re a smoker, you’re likely to place this squarely in the loser category instead.
As often happens in the state budget, winner one year, loser the next. As GoLocal reported in 2016, “the Rhode Island Hospital Association immediately lauded the budget following its introduction, and addressed that while it is facing some reductions, that it "applauds" this years budget after landing on the "loser" list last year.”
This year, it falls back on the loser list, with a Medicaid rate freeze to hospitals, nursing homes, providers, and payers — at FY 2017 levels, with a 1% rate cut come January 1, 2018.
The taxman cometh — maybe. Raimondo proposed an “Internet Sales Tax Initiative” — which would purportedly equate to $34.7 million in revenues.
"Online sales and the fact that online sellers do not collect sales tax has created a structural problem for Rhode Island's budget — our sales taxes have been flat," said Director of Administration Michael DiBiase, of the tax that Amazon collects in 33 states, but not Rhode Island. "We think mostly due to online sales, we’re able to capture the growth. The revenue number is $35 million dollars — it improves our structural deficit problem. It’s an important fiscal development."
Long Term Care Funding
The Governor’s proposal recommends “redesigning the nature” of the State’s Integrated Care Initiative, by transferring long-term stay nursing home members from Neighborhood Health to Medicaid Fee-for-Service and repurposing a portion of the anticipated savings (from reduced administrative payments to Neighborhood Health) for “enhanced services in the community.” “The investments in home- and community-based care will help achieve the goal of rebalancing the long-term care system," states the Administration.
Cutting that program is tagged at saving $12.2 million; cuts and “restructuring” at Health and Human Services is slated to save $46.3 million.