PROVIDENCE — Rhode Island lawmakers have recessed for the summer by approving a range of bills, including one that would move up the state's primary elections.
The General Assembly on Friday gave final approval to setting the state primaries to the eighth Tuesday before Election Day. That means they will fall on Sept. 8 next year. Voters will also be allowed to change party affiliation or declare themselves unaffiliated 30 days ahead of an election, compared with the 90 day deadline now.
Lawmakers also passed contentious legislation giving Pawtucket broad powers to redevelop its downtown as it faces economic development challenges. The Pawtucket Red Sox are leaving for Worcester, Massachusetts, in 2021, and toy maker Hasbro is also considering leaving Pawtucket.
The Pawcatuck bill would allow the city to acquire land under the power of eminent domain by paying an owner market value, rather than 150% of the value plus relocation costs. House Minority Leader Blake Filippi strongly opposed the measure. He was quoted in The Providence Journal as saying that it could allow a big developer "to come and take something on the cheap and use the power of government to do it." The measure was approved along party lines by big majorities in the House and Senate.
Legislation dealing with the auto body industry was also approved. It allows vehicle owners to win triple damages and legal fees if they prevail in disputes with insurance companies over total loss declarations.
A bill to legalize stun guns for people 21 and over failed to pass after the Rhode Island State Police raised objections. In a message to lawmakers, James Manni, the superintendent, said that the devices could be deadly and could pose a threat to law enforcement personnel.
Lawmakers are expected to reconvene in the fall to consider a lucrative contract extension for IGT, which effectively runs the Lottery and controls many of the slot machines at the state's casinos. Gov. Gina Raimondo has offered the company a 20-year contract on a no-bid basis, defending it as a jobs and investment measure. The agreement could be worth more than $1 billion. The company's current contract expires in 2023.