2014-07-03 / Around Town

General Assembly Highlights

For more information visit http://www.rilin.state.ri.us/News/

n BUDGET
The 2015 state budget bill cut
the corporate tax rate from 9
percent to 7 percent, and raised
the credit on the estate tax from
$921,655 to $1.5 million, eliminating the cliff provision so families will pay taxes only on the
amount above that threshold.
The $1.5 million credit will be adjusted annually for inflation.
It eliminated tolls on the Sakonnet River Bridge while creating a new fund for maintenance
of roads and bridges. Vehiclerelated fees will be gradually redirected from the state’s general
fund to the new infrastructure
fund over the next five years.
The budget fully funds the
continued implementation of
the state’s education aid formula,
adding $33.4 million over the Fiscal Year 2014 level.

n GAMING
Rhode Island voters will be
asked two questions on November’s ballot concerning Newport
Grand, under legislation approved by the General Assembly. One would amend the state
constitution to specify that no
gambling facility may change
locations within its city or town
without an affirmative vote from
the citizens of that city or town.
The other would allow Newport
Grand to expand to offer table
games, but only with the approval of voters statewide and in Newport, and only if the other question is also approved statewide.
Lawmakers allowed Twin River
in Lincoln to offer lines of credit
of up to $50,000 to patrons, and
stipulated that no casino may
place a lien on a person’s real estate as a result of such a marker.
The budget included funding,
effectively $1.1 million, to boost
Twin River’s marketing efforts at
a time when the Lincoln gaming
facility could soon face increased
competition from expansion of
gaming in Massachusetts.

n CONSUMER/QUALITY
OF LIFE
The General Assembly voted to
raise the state’s minimum wage
to $9 per hour beginning Jan.
1, 2015. That’s a $1 per hour increase over the current minimum
wage of $8, which went into effect at the beginning of this year.
Lawmakers approved legislation that will aid in preventing
foreclosing owners from evicting tenants in one- to four-family
dwellings without “just cause.”
The bills spell out the circumstances under which an eviction
may take place and require notices to tenants 30 days prior to
any foreclosure sale.
Passed by the legislature and
signed into law was legislation to
permit the use of electronic proof
of auto insurance coverage, in
any format that can be displayed
on any mobile electronic device.

n VETERANS AND MILITARY
Legislation passed by the Assembly will allow disabled veterans who are permanent residents
of Rhode Island and who are
eligible for waivers for free admission into competitive college
programs to register for classes
during the regular enrollment
period.
The legislature OK’d bills to allow honorably discharged veterans and National Guard reservists
to use the skills they learned during their military service to fulfill
requirements when they seek apprenticeships in various trades.
The Assembly approved and
the governor signed legislation
to create a commission to study
the establishment of a Desert
Storm and Desert Shield Memorial at the Veterans’ Cemetery in
Exeter. Also approved by the Assembly was legislation to place
inside the State House a POW/
MIA Chair of Honor to pay tribute
to those who were prisoners or
war or listed as missing in action.

n EDUCATION
The General Assembly approved bills stating that any
teacher who is, upon an initial
evaluation, rated “highly effective” or given a number “4” mark
or the equivalent would only
need to be evaluated once every
three years. A teacher rated as
“effective” or given a number “3”
mark would need to be evaluated
only every two years. Any teacher
who scores a lesser rating could
be subject to annual evaluations.
Lawmakers put a three-year
moratorium on using standardized assessments to determine
a student’s ability to graduate,
beginning with this current
school year when students were
assessed using the New England
Common Assessment Program
(NECAP). This would affect seniors graduating prior to 2017.
The General Assembly approved legislation to provide full
education aid funding for children enrolled in full-day kindergarten, beginning with the 2016-
17 school year.

n HEALTH
The Assembly approved several measures to address the region’s opioid overdose epidemic,
strengthening parity in coverage
of mental health and substance
use disorders, requiring insurance coverage for methadone
and opioid overdose treatment
and better hospital discharge
plans for patients with substance
abuse disorders, and encouraging more widespread use of the
state’s electronic prescription
drug monitoring program.
The General Assembly approved several bills to better integrate behavioral health and primary care, including a bill calling
upon the Department of Health
and the Office of the Insurance
Commissioner to scrutinize the

state’s laws and regulations to ensure that those with behavioral health care needs receive the services they require, and another for the creation of a pilot project to integrate health promotion and primary and behavioral health care.

The General Assembly approved legislation designed to help expedite the Department of Health “certificate of need” process and to help open doors for domestic medical tourism companies to locate in Rhode Island.

n ENVIRONMENT Lawmakers approved the creation of the Climate Change Council, charged with coordinating efforts to ensure the state is doing everything in its power to reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions while advancing the public’s understanding of changes in sea level, severe weather events and critical infrastructure vulnerability. Legislators expanded the distributed generation program, which will encourage the development of small-scale commercial and residential renewable energy projects around the state. Under legislation passed this year, beginning in 2016, institutions that are large producers of food scraps will be required to dispose of them by composting onsite, sending them to be used agriculturally, such as for animal feed, or by having them processed by a composting or anaerobic digesting facility, if such a facility is available within 15 miles.

n ELECTIONS AND GOOD GOVERNMENT The General Assembly passed legislation requiring Rhode Island’s quasi-public agencies to carry out their government missions effectively and to exemplify a commitment to transparent, accountable and effective government. All 20 quasi-public agencies and subsidiaries of Commerce RI would also be required to conduct a performance audit every five years beginning in 2015. Lawmakers passed legislation that will eliminate the “master lever,” or straight-party voting option, on all non-primary Rhode Island elections beginning after Jan. 1, 2015. Legislation was passed and signed by the governor to put a question on the November ballot, asking voters if they wish to call a convention to consider revisions to the state’s constitution.

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