State House view from the southThis year at the

General Assembly

 

STATE HOUSE — Here are the highlights from news and events that took place in the General Assembly this year. For more information on any of these items visit http://www.rilegislature.gov/pressrelease

 

HEALTH CARE

§  Several bills that were included in the Senate leadership’s HEALTH (Holistic Enhancement and Access Legislation for Total Health) initiative were enacted by General Assembly, including bills to join five interstate licensing compacts to make it easier for Rhode Islanders to access the care they need and budget provisions to use $1 million of general revenue to purchase medical debts of struggling Rhode Islanders and incentivize providers to enter primary care fields.

§  The Assembly included over $160 million from all sources to fully fund the plan recommended by the Office of the Health Insurance Commissioner to raise Medicaid reimbursement rates next year, including $3.8 million for Early Intervention providers.

§  The legislature passed the Healthcare Provider Shield Act to protect medical providers who provide transgender and reproductive health care services in Rhode Island from civil or criminal suits from other states or their residents.

 

HOUSING

  • Legislators approved and sent to the governor several bills included in the legislative package put forth by Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi (D-Dist. 23, Warwick) to address the state’s housing crisis.  Many of the bills are aimed at speeding housing production by streamlining and removing roadblocks in permitting processes.
  • Lawmakers provided a boost to housing production by helping Rhode Islanders to develop accessory dwelling units on their property.
  • Legislators put forth a $120 million bond question on the November ballot to support more affordable housing creation. The bond would provide $80 million for affordable housing, $20 million for acquisition and revitalization, $10 million for homeownership programs, $5 million for site acquisition, $4 million for housing-related infrastructure and $1 million for municipal planning.

 

JUSTICE and PUBLIC SAFETY

  • A new law requires that all firearms, when not in use by the owner or another authorized user, be safely stored in a locked container.
  • The General Assembly passed the Law Enforcement Officers’ Due Process, Accountability and Transparency Act which will bring significant and long-overdue reforms to the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights.
  • The General Assembly extended the lookback period for repeat offenses of driving under the influence from five to 10 years.

 

LABOR/WORKFORCE

§  The General Assembly expanded Rhode Island’s Temporary Caregiver Insurance program from six weeks to eight, allowing new parents more time for parental leave and caregivers more time to care for a critically ill family member.

§  The General Assembly established Secure Choice, a convenient, low-cost public-option retirement savings program for Rhode Islanders.

§  A new law requires workers in domestic service to be paid Rhode Island’s minimum wage.

 

EDUCATION K-12

§  Under the spending plan approved by the Assembly, schools will receive a $70.9 million increase in state aid.

§  Under the budget, multi-language learners will get 20% extra over the core education aid, which will be incorporated directly into the education funding formula.

§  A new law allows cities and towns to authorize “partner” programs to assist students with an individualized education plan (IEP) for specially designed physical education classes.

 

HIGHER EDUCATION

§  The budget provides an additional $1 million in operating supports for Community College of Rhode Island and $2 million for University of Rhode Island, and continues both the Rhode Island Promise and the Hope scholarship programs, which provide two years of free tuition to Rhode Islanders at CCRI and Rhode Island College, respectively. 

§  A November bond question would fund two major facilities at URI and RIC. It would provide $87 million to build a state-of-the-art Biomedical Sciences Building at the Kingston campus of the University of Rhode Island. It would also provide $73 million to fully fund renovation of Whipple Hall at RIC to house the new Institute for Cybersecurity and Emerging Technologies.

§  URI, RIC and CCRI will see numerous campus improvement projects, many funded partly through state Capital Plan funds.

 

ENVIRONMENT

  • The Assembly added open space programs to the “green bond” to appear on November’s ballot: $5 million for farmland protection, $5 million to the Department of Environmental Management’s open space program and $3 million to DEM’s Division of Agriculture and Forest Environment to fund forest and habitat management on state property.
  • Lawmakers created the Rhode Island Renewable Ready program to ensure renewable energy projects, such as solar farms, are built without increasing electric rates or clearing Rhode Island’s forests.
  • The General Assembly banned so-called “forever chemicals,” a group of manufactured chemicals that have detrimental health effects.

 

SENIORS

 

BUSINESS/ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

  • The budget doubled the amount of assistance for businesses hurt by the closure of the Washington Bridge, from $1.3 million in the recent governor’s proposal to $2.6 million.
  • The General Assembly passed a law to make Rhode Island’s banking tax structure more competitive with other states.
  • The General Assembly established standards for municipalities to regulate permanent outdoor dining.

 

TRANSPORTATION

  • The Assembly added another $5 million to the $10 million the governor proposed to help the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority close an $18.1 million budget gap following the end of federal pandemic aid, avoiding service cuts.
  • The Assembly directed $7 million of unspent federal ARPA funds — $2 million more than proposed — for an existing municipal grant program for construction of roads, sidewalks and bridges.
  • The spending plan allocates $83.6 million for the state match for federal funds for the reconstruction of the shuttered westbound Washington Bridge that brings I-195 over the Seekonk River between Providence and East Providence.

 

CHILD WELFARE

  • Recipients of Rhode Island Works, the state’s cash assistance and work-readiness program for low-income children and their families, will get a 20% raise in cash benefits and higher income disregards, and children will no longer lose their benefits if their parents are sanctioned.
  • The budget adds $30.6 million to the governor’s request of $30.3 million to fund pending increases to support providers contracted by the Department of Children, Youth and Families.
  • The Assembly fully funded an $813,000 proposal by the governor to provide free breakfast and lunch to the 6,500 students statewide who currently receive reduced-price school meals, and provide them a monthly $40 benefit for three months in the summer.

 

CONSUMER PROTECTION

 

VICTIMS’ RIGHTS

 

ELECTIONS

 

ANIMAL PROTECTION

  • Lawmakers increased the penalty for violations of the care of dogs statute to a minimum fine of $100 and a maximum fine of $1,000 per violation.
  • A new law prohibits captive hunting in Rhode Island.  “Captive hunting” is defined in the legislation as a hunt that occurs within a structure designed to restrict the free movement of animals and prevents the animal from escaping.
  • Lawmakers created custody procedures for pets during divorce or separation proceedings.
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