Here are the highlights from news and events that took place in the General Assembly last week.
Shekarchi files bill to cut taxes
House Majority Leader K. Joseph Shekarchi, D-Warwick, has introduced legislation to help the many Rhode Island small business owners who will be hit by higher federal taxes under the Trump administration's new tax laws. The bill (2019-H 5576), which is revenue-neutral for the state, would provide a work-around for owners of “pass-through” entities whose state and local taxes exceed the new $10,000 cap on the state and local tax (SALT) deduction on their federal tax returns. Sen. Mark P. McKenney (D-Dist. 30, Warwick) has introduced the bill in the Senate.
Freezing beach fees for next three years
In the wake of a proposal to increase the state’s beach parking fees, Rep. Grace Diaz, D-Providence, has introduced legislation (2019-H 5792) that would guarantee that the rates remain the same for the next three seasons. Parking fees were increased in 2011, and the legislature rolled back the fees to the pre-2011 rates.
Expanding support after overdose, mental health ER visits
The Senate approved legislation sponsored by Sen. Joshua Miller, D-Cranston, to expand the Alexander C. Perry and Brandon Goldner Act on hospital discharge planning. The legislation (2019-S 0139A), which now goes to the House, would amend the Rhode Island statute consistent with new federal guidance by allowing hospitals to contact the patient’s emergency contact and certified peer recovery specialist in certain situations. House Majority Whip John G. Edwards, D- Tiverton, has filed similar legislation (2019-H 5383) in the House.
$15 minimum wage for caregivers
Rep. Evan P. Shanley, D-Warwick, and Sen. Louis DiPalma, D-Middletown, have introduced legislation (2019-H 5338, 2019-S 0437) that would move direct support caregivers — those who assist Rhode Islanders living with intellectual and developmental disabilities — to a $15 minimum wage over the next two years.
Public campaign funding
Sen. James C. Sheehan, D-North Kingstown, and Rep. Rebecca M. Kislak, D-Providence, have introduced legislation (2019-S 0457, 2019-H 5726) that would provide public funding for legislative political campaigns in addition to those for statewide offices. Participation in the program would be voluntary.
Sales tax holiday proposed
Rep. Joseph J. Solomon Jr., D-Warwick, and Sen. Mark McKenney, D-Warwick, have filed legislation to establish a sales tax holiday for the weekend of Aug. 10-11, 2019. The legislation (2019-H 5048, 2019-S 0286) would exempt items costing less than $2,500 from the state’s 7 percent sales tax. The holiday would not apply to sales of telecommunications, tobacco products, gas, steam, oil, electricity, motor vehicles or motorboats.
Eliminating the ‘tampon tax’
Rep. Edith H. Ajello, D-Providence, and Sen. Louis P. DiPalma, D-Middletown, have filed legislation (2019-H 5307, 2019-S 0049) to make tampons, panty liners, menstrual cups, sanitary napkins, and other similar products used in connection with women’s menstrual cycles exempt from the ales tax.
Treatment a priority over prosecution
Senate Majority Leader Michael J. McCaffrey, D-Warwick, and Rep. Scott A. Slater, D-Providence, have introduced legislation (2019-S 0472, 2019-H 5760) that would reclassify simple drug possession for personal use as a misdemeanor, bringing Rhode Island's statute in line with at least 20 other states. The measure reform is intended to reduce the prison population and generate related savings for the state.
Compensation for wrongful imprisonment
Rep. Patricia Serpa, D-West Warwick, has introduced legislation (2019-H 5329) that would give compensation to innocent people who have spent time behind bars but later released when new evidence shows they were not guilty. The law would authorize an award of $50,000 for each year served in a correctional facility.
Protect the right to pay with cash
Rep. Mia Ackerman, D-Cumberland, has introduced legislation that would protect the rights of customers to pay for things in cash. The legislation (2019-H 5116) would make it unlawful for any retail establishment offering goods or services to discriminate against a prospective customer by requiring the use of credit.