The General Assembly acted Friday on a flurry of proposed legislation as the current legislative session neared its end.
Business Sustainability: Lawmakers approved legislation sponsored by Rep. Deborah Ruggiero and Sen. James A. Seveney to encourage Rhode Island businesses to adopt stronger environmental standards on sustainability. The bill now goes to the governor.
The legislation would create a voluntary, flexible program that would allow businesses to earn a sustainability designation by creating their own set of benchmarks for operating sustainably, and publicly reporting annually on their efforts to adhere to them.
The sponsors said the bill will encourage more sustainable business practices while also helping businesses communicate with the public about their efforts.
Student Loan Bill of Rights: Legislators gave their final approval to legislation sponsored by Sen. Dawn Euer and Rep. Joseph M. McNamara to protect student loan borrowers and establish oversight of student loan servicers operating in Rhode Island. The bill, which is backed by General Treasurer Seth Magaziner and Attorney General Peter F. Neronha, now goes to the governor.
The legislation sets standards for student loan servicing, both prohibiting predatory behavior and providing best practices for protecting consumers’ rights. It requires that student loan servicers register with the state and allows state regulators to examine servicers’ business practices. Additionally, the legislation allows the Attorney General and Department of Business Regulation to penalize servicers who violate borrower rights and to seek restitution on behalf of borrowers in Rhode Island.
Hospital conversion oversight: This legislation seeks to provide stronger oversight for hospitals being acquired by nonprofit entities. The measure, sponsored by Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio and Rep. Raymond H. Johnston Jr., will now go to the governor. It is a response to the St. Joseph pension system crisis. The hospital system’s pension fund became insolvent when contributions to it ceased following the sale of Fatima Hospital and Roger Williams Hospital to Prospect Medical Holdings in 2014. The $85 million fund covered about 2,700 current and former employees of the two hospitals.
“This legislation will help prevent what happened with the St. Joseph’s Health Services pension plan from ever happening again in Rhode Island,” said Ruggerio. “Extended monitoring will provide the necessary increased oversight, while stiffer penalties will work to ensure those who don’t comply with the law are held accountable.” The legislation requires monitoring for hospital conversions involving nonprofit acquirors, at the expense of the acquirer, and extends the monitoring following a conversion from 3 to 5 years.
The bill also doubles penalties for failure to comply with the terms of the conversion from $1 million to $2 million.
Natural hair braiding: Legislators voted to exempt natural hair braiders from the state’s requirement for hairdressers and cosmeticians to be licensed with the state. The bill will now be sent to the governor. The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Anastasia P. Williams and Sen. Ana B. Quezada, is the result of a four-year effort to recognize natural hair braiding as a safe, natural, cultural practice, distinct from hairdressing and barbering, which requires licensing due to their use of chemicals and sharp instruments.