Tribute to Former Senator Walaska, Solomon Bill: This Week at the State House
Sunday, April 09, 2017
GoLocalProv Political Team
Rhode Island leaders paid tribute to fomer Senator William Walaska, the House passed the Solomon Bill and much more. This Week at the State House.
R.I. leaders pay tribute to former Sen. William A. Walaska, 1945-2017
State leaders paid their respect to former Sen.William A. Walaska, who passed away after a two-year battle with leukemia. He served in the Senate from 1994 until January, most recently as president pro tempore and vice chairman of the Commerce Committee. Gov. Gina Raimondo has ordered flags at state facilities to be flown at half-staff in his memory through the weekend.
House passes Solomon bill protecting dogs from extreme temperatures
The House of Representatives has passed legislation introduced by Rep. Joseph J. Solomon Jr. (D-Dist. 22, Warwick) that would regulate the treatment of dogs kept outside in extreme temperatures, based on the Tufts Animal Care and Condition Weather Safety Scale. The measure now heads to the Senate.
Senate leaders seek swift response, action from DCYF on child fatalities report
In a letter following up on a recent joint meeting of their committees with the state’s child advocate, the leaders of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee and the Senate Finance Committee asked the director of the Department of Children, Youth and Families to swiftly respond to a list of recommendations made by the Office of the Child Advocate’s Fatality Review Panel following the deaths in the last year of four young children due to abuse or neglect. The letter is signed by Health and Human Services Committee Chairman Joshua Miller (D-Dist. 28, Cranston, Providence) and Vice Chairwoman Gayle L. Goldin (D-Dist. 3, Providence), and Finance Committee Chairman William J. Conley Jr. (D-Dist. 18, East Providence, Pawtucket) and First Vice Chairman Louis P. DiPalma (D-Dist. 12, Middletown, Newport, Little Compton, Tiverton).
Rep. Morin bill would ban dangerous chemicals in furniture, bedding
Rep. Michael Morin (D-Dist. 49, Woonsocket) has introduced legislation that would prohibit the sale of furniture, bedding and children products that contain certain cancer-causing chemicals. Similar legislation has been introduced in the Senate by Sen. Adam J. Satchell (D-Dist. 9, West Warwick).
Leader Shekarchi reintroduces bill to license pet groomers in wake of tragedy
House Majority Leader K. Joseph Shekarchi (D-Dist. 23, Warwick) reintroduced legislation that would require pet groomers to be licensed with the state following the recent tragedy of a 5-year-old pug named Ollie who suddenly died while being groomed at a Petco in Middletown. The legislation would call for an annual $100 license in order to perform any kind of pet grooming services.
Sen. Raptakis bill would protect young children from being left alone in vehicle
The Senate Committee on Judiciary heard legislation introduced by Sen. Leonidas P. Raptakis (D-Dist. 33, Coventry, West Greenwich, East Greenwich) that would make it an offense to leave a child under the age of 7 unattended in a motor vehicle. The bill would make the offense a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and up to one year in jail. Similar legislation has been introduced in the House by Rep. Patricia Serpa (D-Dist. 27, West Warwick, Coventry, Warwick).
Rep. Ackerman bill would make safe harbor for sexually exploited children
Rep. Mia Ackerman (D-Dist. 45, Cumberland, Lincoln) has introduced the Rhode Island Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Children Act. The legislation would make sex trafficking victims eligible for benefits from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Fund, establish “safe harbor” provisions for sexually exploited children and designate them as abused and neglected children.
Rep. Nardolillo announces ‘Taking Care of Business’ small business package
Rep. Robert Nardolillo III (R-Dist. 28, Coventry) introduced a package of legislation aimed at improving Rhode Island’s economy. The package consists of three bills eliminating the estate tax, reducing the sales tax from 7 percent to 3 percent and eliminating the tangible personal property tax.
Rep. Shanley bill protects internet users from personal information disclosure
Rep. Evan P. Shanley (D-Dist. 24, Warwick) has introduced legislation that would protect Rhode Islanders from disclosure of personally identifiable information through the internet by operators of commercial websites or online services and would create a right of action for any operator violations.
Rep. Serpa bill would protect infants affected by substance abuse
Rep. Patricia Serpa (D-Dist. 27, West Warwick, Coventry, Warwick) has introduced legislation that would require physicians, nurses and other health care professionals to report to the Department of Children, Youth and Families when a newborn has been exposed to illegal substance abuse, experiences withdrawal symptoms resulting from prenatal drug exposure, or has fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. Similar legislation (2017-S 0672) has been introduced in the Senate by Sen. Adam J. Satchell (D-Dist. 9, West Warwick).
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.